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Showing posts from August, 2013

Thought for the Day: Ha'azinu

Since I've started doing shtayim mikra v'echad targum (reading the parsha twice, followed by reading targum Onkelos), I always start out by checking out how many p'sukim I have this week.  It's like my own little s'gula.  Parshas Ha'azinu only has 52 p'sukim, so the first time through I thought, "Whew... this will be a snap!"  Once I started, of course, I found that it is comprised almost entirely of words that were even too hard for the Navi'im.  Oh yes, and it's poetry, so even reading any of the various English translations doesn't help much.  Then there is are teacher, Rashi.  Rashi in uncharacteristically expansive; another indication that you are in for quite a ride.  And then... then... as you near the end of the parsha, you see way more Rashi than can possibly be "p'shat" in the remaining p'sukim.  As it turns out, that is correct.  Rashi springs on you that even the tanaim had issues with Ha'azinu; leavin…

Thought for the Day: Being Yotzi With T'kiyas Shofar

Just for the record.  It's "korei" or "ba'al kriya"; it's "tokei'a" or "ba'al t'kiya".  When a ba'al k'riya is asked, "Are you a ba'al korei?", an accurate answer would be, "No".  A more informative answer would be, "No, I am Orthodox.  My wife, however, is a ba'alas korei."  The appropriate answer is, of course, "Yes."

There are some fascinating issues with being yotzi t'kiyas shofar when someone else is blowing.  More than fascinating, we are talking a very chashuv and chaviv mitzvas asei m'd'oraiso, so it's worth getting things right.  The first rule that everyone knows is that for this to work at all, the ba'al t'kiya needs to:
be obligated in the mitzvah himselfhave kavana to be blowing a "mitzvah blast", and not just tooting a tunehave intent to be motzi the intended hearer; aka "shomei'a" or "ba'al shmiya…

Thought for the Day: Greatness By Emulation

Most anyone who has ever taken a math, science (real science like physics and chemistry, that is; yes, I'm a physics snob and only include chemistry to be polite), or engineering class has said, "I understand the material, I just can't do the problems."  Every single person who has ever taught one of those classes hears that statement on at least a weekly basis.  My response to that question, by the way, has always been, "Then you don't understand the material."

My response was true in the absolute sense, but a bit insensitive.  (Are you shocked?)  What they meant was that they understood the basic concepts as building blocks, but did not understand how to make them work together.  Something like a person who has never used a computer, but understands that one types on a keyboard, moves and presses buttons (button if you are an Apple snob) on a mouse, and then wonderful things are supposed to happen.  But they don't.

There really is only one way to …

Thought for the Day: Mercy Does Not Contradict Strict Judgement

It is not uncommon (I've done it myself, actually) to begin a drash this time of year with the question of why should we be judged before we ask for atonement.  Wouldn't it make more sense, begins the darshan, to gain atonement first and then go to court with a plea bargain in hand?  Various answers are offered; and many beautiful d'rashes have been formulated.  I would like to contend, however, that the question is built on a misunderstanding of what is happening this time of year.  I came to this realization after a lovely day spent with my wife.  (No, smarty, it was not one of those times I needed to ask for forgiveness from her.)

We started our day together learning from M'silas Yesharim after breakfast.  The M'silas Yesharim notes that the attribute of mercy does not contradict the attribute of strict justice.  I sort of got what he was saying, but not the depth of it; it still seems like mercy lets you get way with stuff that justice would say, "Not so f…

Thought for the Day: Living Effectively Mean Paying Attention

We (Jews, that is) don't eat mollusks, often thought of as "shell fish".  However, an octopus is also a mollusk.  So is the hexapus.  "What's a hexapus?", you are wondering.  No, this is not a joke where I use the word henway in a sentence, then you respond, "What's a henway?", and then I answer (amid peals of laughter, of course), "About three lbs!".  There really is a hexapus.  It's just like and octopus, but this one has six legs/tentacles instead of eight.

I was being precise when I wrote "the hexapus".  There is only one known in existence.  There were two, but an American tourist on vacation in Greece fried up the other one with tomato and lemon and then ate it; just about a month ago, July 27.  The hotel cook refused to cook it for him, so he had to cook it himself.  The cook explained afterward why he didn't want to cook it...  The tourist's comment, "It tasted pretty much like regular octopus."…

Thought for the Day: No Shofar Nor Megilla on Shabbos, But Yes Bris Mila on Shabbos

When the first day of Rosh HaShana falls in Shabbos (which is the only day of Rosh HaShana that can fall on Shabbos nowadays), we don't blow shofar; as discussed in a previous TfdD.  Similarly, when Shushan Purim falls on Shabbos (which is the only day of Purim that can fall on Shabbos nowadays), then those in a walled city from the time of Yehoshu'ah bin Nun would read M'gilas Esther one day earlier (the same day as the rest of the world); as not discussed in a previous TfdD.  The underlying (revealed) reason is a concern that someone would come to carry on Shabbos; the shofar on Rosh HaShana, the m'gila on Purim.
On the other hand, if the eighth day of a healthy, full term, born naturally Jewish boy's life falls on Shabbos then we do give him his Bris Mila on Shabbos.  Chazal were apparently not concerned that someone might come to carry a knife (or the baby) through a r'shus harabim to get the job done.  Why the difference?
The Dirshu Mishna Brura brings thr…

Thought for the Day: Fulfilling Mitzvos is Avodas HaShem and D'varim Sh'b'k'dusha

Until you have children and experience babies running around the house in diapers, you could feel that the Shulchan Aruch spends entirely too much time on the topic of davening, k'ri'as sh'ma, mikra megilla, and saying brachos in the neighborhood of excrement and urine.  How far in front of you, when is to the side does it have to be before it's not longer in front of you, in another room, behind glass, under snow... I mean, how often does this happen?  Us rich, pampered Americans all have indoor plumbing, after all.  Then you have a baby running around the house... that section of Mishna Brura becomes very well worn, indeed.

Now here's a halacha that really, really is not very common: if the shofar blasts are spread out even over the whole day and each one by a different person, you are still good to go (OC 588:2, as explained by the Mishna Brura).  The Biur Halacha there (d.h. shama tisha t'ki'os) notes that the Magen Avraham amends that this only works i…

Thought for the Day: Repaying a Loan Is a Mitzvah

Often my difficulties in gemara are due to me being thick and/or obstinate and/or lazy.  Meaning to say that I don't see things the way the gemara does and I really want the gemara just to look at the world as I do and it's just too much work right now to do the research that will convince me to change.  That, of course, can be very frustrating.  HaShem, however, "throws me a bone" once in a while and lets me have a really, really good question.  The responses I get ("oooo!  Good question!" or "I know!  I spent a week on that myself.") feed my ego enough to keep me going for a long time.  Big egos need very little encouragement, as they are largely self-sustaining, so I only get these great questions once in a while.
The gemara (Gitten 36b), in its discussion of prozbul, takes a small detour to understand why we need prozbul now a days according to Rebbi, who holds that we do not have shmittas k'safim (forgiving of loans in the shmitta year) w…

Thought for the Day: Celebrating HaShem's Providence

Nearly every year for the last 13 years, I have had the z'chus of attending a siyum in commemoration of the yahrzteit of my good friend Rafael Dovid Kaganoff, ztz"l, on 12 Elul.  (Having spent much time with him both before an during his illness, I feel fully justified in using ztz"l as opposed to a"h.)  The first year was siyum on Sha"s; not Sha"s mishnayos, but the entire Sha"s.  Every year since then, his sons (who were 6,6, and 3 when he was niftar) have made a siyum; at first mishnayos and now a masechta or two or three.  In addition, R' Dovid Zucker, shlita, gave divrei hisorerus; inspirational words taking note of the tremendous accomplishments over the years.  This year was particularly poignant, as R' Zucker has just recently suffered his own personal tragedy and has only recently emerged from Shloshim for his rebitzin.

R' Zucker began with a Tosefta in Pe'ah.  A certain chasid had forgotten one sheaf of grain, thus having the…

Thought for the Day: Birth of the World and Day of Judgement

We started our journey to frumkeit by easing in, so to speak, to Shabbos and kashurs.  For kashrus, we bought only kosher meat, read labels for anything else, and only ate fish or vegetarian in restaurants.  For Shabbos, we lit candles, made kiddush, and only drove to and from temple and/or synagogue.  In other words, we didn't keep shabbos or kosher, but we were sincere.  Proof that we were sincere?  HaShem give us a gentle nudge (if you call being told "you aren't Jewish and the only way to proceed is to start keeping Shabbos, kashrus, and taharas ha'mishpacha according to orthodox practice starting today", gentle) to keep shabbos and kosher.

There was an interesting change that occurred over the first three months or so.  Shabbos (before the change) during the summer had been a very, very long day; summer reruns are a bore and the cartoons are all in the morning!  By the end of those first month, though, Shabbos went from long and boring to, "Whoa!  How d…

Thought for the Day: Pleasures Permitted and Forbidden

The adage goes: If it tastes good, it's fattening.  If it's fun, it's a sin.  We even have a sign on our refrigerator that says, "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels!"  (My daughter argues on that sign and has listed several foods that taste much better than being thin feels.)  And yet, the M'silas Yesharim tells us that his program is designed to helps us achieve the purpose for which we were created and put into this world, namely: to have the most fun and experience the most intense pleasure that is possible for a created being.  I know you'll be shocked, but I am siding with the M'silas Yesharim on this one.  On the other hand, we need to understand why and how the adage is going so wrong.  This is in partial fulfillment of the directive (Avos 2:14) to know what to answer the apikorus.

Shlomo haMelech tells us (Mishlei 5:3,4): The lips of the foreign woman are sweet like fresh honey, her palate smooth like oil.  [A relationship with her, ho…

Thought for the Day: Exile Is Beginning of Redemption

My father, alav hashalom, was deeply moved by our Orthodox observance (he had grown up in a shomer shabbos/kosher home till age 12 and had very fond memories).  Even when he found it frustrating, he was always a good sport.  During one visit, he asked my why we were allowed to flush the toilet on Shabbos.  I looked at him quizzically and asked why not.  He replied simply, "How would I know?  I just see there are lots of things you can't do."  I finally "chahped" that much of our observance just looked like just so much unrelated rituals.  I was a bit more sensitive when he asked about washing on pancakes.  (At the risk of belaboring the point; keep this in mind if you have non-frum family.)

This time of year is a whirlwind of different emotional ups and downs.  First we have three weeks of mourning, culminating the most brutal day of the year, Tisha b'Av.  Then we have seven weeks of comfort/consolation that leads into Elul.  Hold onto your hats, but next i…

Thought for the Day: Living Every Moment

I have a standard mashal I break out whenever I want to make a point about the transience of this world and the importance of setting priorities.  The mashal is to suppose you won the right to have 15 minutes in a shopping mall and you could keep anything you could get out in that 15 minutes.  The obvious answer (to me) is to figure out where all the jewelry stores are and run around like a mad man grabbing as many precious stones as you can carry before they call, "Time up!"  Obviously if you had more time (a whole day, for example) you'd start pacing yourself; planning sleep/rest breaks to be more efficient and not because it was geshmack to sleep.  Yada, yada... the nimshal is obvious.

I was trying to make a point to a colleague at work once and tried the mashal on her.  Her response totally stopped me in my tracks (of thought, that is).  She said she would go try on dresses and take the nicest one.  I said, "But, but.. with all those jewels you could buy all the…

Thought for the Day: 50 Years Is Eternity

I was zocheh to attend a kiddush given in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of my good friends Miriam and Joel Newlander; they should merit continued success and nachas on their life together as they continue to grow together in Torah.  I told them, though, that I was not impressed.  After all, they are both amazingly nice people; how hard is it to stay together when you are both so compatible and nice.  "You want to know something worth praising?  Look at my wife; she has had to put up with me for almost 36 years!"  My wife nodded in enthusiastic agreement.  In fact, I can't remember when she has shown such heartfelt and enthusiastic agreement for something I said.  Hey... wait a minute...

Any way, it is no longer "almost 36 years"; today marks a full 36 years since her first marriage.  R' Plotnik explained a strange passage in the Torah and used it to explain the significance of a 50th wedding anniversary.  The Torah says that if an eved ivri at the e…

Thought for the Day: Forgetting Ya'aleh v'Yavo On Rosh HaShanah Evening

Rosh HaShanah is the only holiday we have (besides Rosh Chodesh itself) that falls on the first of a month.  That is much more than a bit of trivia to tuck away for occasions that require showing off; this is real stuff for a few reasons.  For one thing, b'zman haMikdash (may be be rebuilt soon and in our days), Rosh Chodesh happened by decree of the Sanhedrin on the basis of eye witness testimony.  That makes things tricky.

All of our holidays are established as occurring a fixed number of days after that monthly announcement, so it was important to get the word out.  Any avodah that is Yerushalayim-centric (korbanos, shir shel yom) will be fine since the Sanhedrin held court in the Beis haMikdash.  When you needed to have chameitz destroyed, when you needed to each matzah, when you needed to start sitting in a sukkah, and so forth, required messengers be sent to get the word out.  Since that took more than two weeks, we ended up with yom tov sheini shel galius.  (It did not, how…

Thought for the Day: Simanim on Rosh HaShanah

Besides all the other reasons to distance ourselves from the Reform Jewish Religion, the nail in the coffin comes at Rosh HaShanah.  They have no idea what they are missing.  Sure, they have a shofar service, but on the first night of Rosh HaShanah (nebbich, their only night) they will have apples and honey.  That's it.  Apples and honey.  We, on the other hand, are going to have (besides the apples and honey), dates, pomegranates, squash, leeks, star fruit, persimmon, beets, carrots... a whole orchestra of flavors and colors.  Thankfully, most of them are goyim, so the tragedy is somewhat mitigated.  Here's some cool stuff about our cool tradition of simanin on Rosh HaShanah evenings.

First of all, there is a whole siman in  Shulchan Aruch (OC 583) dedicated to this august (well, september, this year) minhag.  The Mishna Brura notes that the custom is to eat any foods whose name in the language of that country sounds like bracha and/or bounty.  We usually have raisins on cele…