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Showing posts from September, 2013

Thought for the Day: Garments and Adornments for Carrying Keys

R' Moshe, ztz"l, at one Aguda dinner picked up a carton of milk, set it down, and picked up the competitors's carton.  A buzz went out that R' Moshe did not hold of the kashrus of the first company.  Actually, though, the first carton had simply been empty.  The Ohr HaYom once broke his leg and during one of the follow up visits was asked how he had broken his leg by a goy sitting with him in the waiting room.  The Ohr HaYom came up with a very clever (and funny... he told me privately later) answer, but decided to play things straight because he was wearing a yarmulke.  I have learned from events such as these that people do watch and one must be mindful of the public eye.

Accordingly...

For a few months, I wore suspenders on Shabbos in Dallas.  It was not quite the fashion faux pas you think.  Well, ok... it was certainly a fashion faux pas (especially since they were quite colorfully striped), but that's not why I wore them.  I needed to get my house key back a…

Thought for the Day: My Beautiful Esrog Case

I have a rebbi and rebbitzin in shalom bayis.  They've been married for more decades than the years my oldest grandchild has been in this world.  I walk my rebbi home on Shabbos and he more often than not he tells me how good HaShem has been to him by giving him the best wife in the world.  When we walk in the door, she looks at him like she still can't believe she got the best bachur.  On their Heinz anniversary, I commented to the rebbitzin, "Wow!  57 years and not one fight?"  She answered with a big smile, "That's right. Not onefight!"

I never had an esrog case till last year.  Since our wedding didn't happen according to the usual orthodox sequence of things, we didn't really know about which presents the chasson and kallah are supposed to give each other and at what juncture; and neither of our parents were providing any assistence, for that matter.  It didn't really bother me, but it certainly was on my "nice to have list". …

Thought for the Day: Dealing With Spiritual Illness

I was off the derech yesterday... "off the D", as they say.  It wasn't so bad, I just had to mostly rest my knee, but also apply appropriate pressure to get it back in 100% working order.  I was able to handle this one myself, not like 18 years ago.  Whew!  That was so far off the derech that I needed professional intervention; three months of intense chemotherapy, a couple of blood transfusions, and then months of recovery and monitoring.

What's that you say?  Sounds more like illness and muscle strain than "off the derech"?  Yes.  In case you hadn't caught my drift, let me be explicit: I am making a point.  The Rambam, in Hilchos Dei'os, begins by noting:
When a person is physically sick, things that are sweet taste bitter and things that are bitter taste sweet.The symptoms of spiritual illness are that things that are good for us seem bad and things that are destructive seem good. From that point on, the Rambam treats spiritual and physical ailmen…

Thought for the Day: Watches on Shabbos

The only words more chilling than, "But is it in the spirit of Shabbos?", are: "You have to be honest with yourself."  I don't want to worry about spirit or honesty when I am looking for a heter.  Unfortunately, though, the HaShem demands both.

When dealing with a controversial issue, I like to start where there is agreement and then carefully circle till you have closed in on the actual issues.  (Doesn't sound like as much fun as just everyone shouting there opinions using ever more colorful and clever jibes?  Surprisingly, it turns out that frustrating the jibers is even more fun than exchanging witty repartee.)

Siman 301 is where all the fun starts; With which items one is permitted to go out on Shabbos, and which are forbidden.  It's made even more more fun because it is 51 s'ifim; but that's only the beginning.  After a short interlude (Siman 302) about folding clothes on Shabbos, siman 303, Jewelry for women on Shabbos, wraps up with anoth…

Thought for the Day: Difference Between Pesach and Sukkos

The first joke I learned in Hebrew is pretty much the only joke I know in Hebrew.  Here goes:  Mah ha-hevdel bein pil l'p'santer?  (What's the difference between an elephant and  piano?)  T'shuva (answer :D ): Efshar l'ha'pil p'santer, aval i efshar l'hip'tanter pil!  Ha ha ha ha ha!  (It is possible to throw down a piano, but it's impossible to pianofy an elephant! Ha ha ha ha ha!)  (Are you proud of my, Tzvika?)  Yes, it loses something in the translation; and anyway I have a kasha on the joke.  "Tickling the ivory" is a slang expression for playing the piano, because the keys were (at one time, at least) made of ivory, and ivory comes from elephant tusks, so maybe it is possible l'hip'tanter pil.  (My wife is again/still shaking her head in dismay about how much I over-analyze everything.  Hi, honey!)

So could anything be more different than Pesach and Sukkos?  Besides the specifics, there is a vast gulf of difference in att…

Thought for the Day: Living in the Sukkah the First Night/G'zeira Shava Tes-vav/Tes-vav

I don't usually want to deface an ad with graffiti.  In fact, I have never had the urge in my life until just a few months ago.  There is an ad on a bus stop near my house that features a beautiful close up, looking straight into the eyes of a tiger.  The caption underneath reads, "I am not a rug."  I have to restrain myself each and every time form appending to the caption, "Yet.  Come to Rupert and Sons Big Game Hunting Supplies and Taxidermy, and I can be a beautiful addition to your home furnishings!"

The Torah says to make the sukkah your main dwelling one week a year; "teshvu -- k'ein t'duru"/live there as your main residence.  The "k'ein t'duru" is what releases us from the obligation to live in the sukkah when it is raining, too hot, too cold, etc.  The criteria is simple:  If you experienced those conditions in your dining room, would you leave?  If yes, then you are patur.  If it is raining hard enough to ruin your …

Thought for the Day: The Majestic Innocence of the Sukka

I'd like to start with the beginning of a story, end with the end of the story, but sandwich some thoughts in the middle.

It was our first Sukkos in Dallas (and my first Sukkos as Jew, actually).  We had no deck, and Dallas is usually hot this time of year, so I was off to Home Depot to buy lattice work for siding and 2x2s for rafters.  For a physicist, it marked an apex of structure design.  In Dallas people actually park in their garages, which open to the back, and use the alleys.  I saw my neighbor  mowing his lawn and told him what I was up to.  (When I am exciting about something, I figure everyone must be excited about the same thing.)  I knew my neighbor was Jewish, but I also knew he was a member of one of the largest reform jewish temples in the world and seemed to have little to no interest.  Surprisingly, he said, "You know; I've always thought it would be fun to have a sukkah."  More surprisingly, I said, "Do you want to go with me?"  Shockingl…

Thought for the Day: Eating/Sleeping/Living in A Sukkah Requires Explicit Kavana

An average bull will run you about $3,000.  How confident am I in that number?  Heck... I typed "cost of average bull" into Google and picked the first link that looked like it had an answer in the first paragraph or so.  Similar research revealed you could get a ram for under $500; goats a drop cheaper.

Why should you care?  I made two mistakes this week.  First, while saying the "al cheits" I checked the footnotes to see what I was signing up for when I said "al chatayim sh'chayav aleihem korban olah".  Turns out one needs to bring a korban olah (hence the bull, ram, and goat research) for being m'vatel an asei; not performing a biblically mandated positive commandment.  So far so good, though; I put on t'fillin, I make kiddush shabbos and holidays, I say k'ri'as sh'ma twice a day.  When it comes to bitul asei, I felt in pretty good shape.  The big mistake was opening Halichos Shlomo to hilchos yishvas sukkah.

Halicho…

Thought for the Day: Serving HaShem Out of Love and Out of Fear

Last year, one of my grandsons (along with the rest of his family) moved to  Florida from New York; an aliyah if there ever was one.  They have a different kind of nisayon for Sukkos there.  In Chicago (and apparently in Poland, based on the Rema) we are all worried about how to deal with the cold (layer, is the eitza; suffer is the reality) and bees.  In Florida, on the other hand, it is 90 degrees in the shade, 95% humidity, and mosquitoes as big as your fist.  (I exaggerate, of course, it's only 90% humidity.)  My grandson, all of four, wanted nothing more than to eat in the Sukkah.  They took a family vote; his quivering lower lip won the day and they all donated generously to the Mosquito Red Cross blood drive.

The Rambam (Hilchos T'shuva, Chapter 10, Halacha 1) says that person should not say, "I'll fulfill all the mitzvos of the Torah and to be delve into its wisdom in order to receive all the brachos or so I'll merit the eternal life of Olam HaBah."  …

Thought for the Day: I Am Asking M'chila Erev Yom Kippur 5744

While doing t'shuva is always good, doing t'shuva this time of year, and particularly in preparation for Yom Kippur is on the top of the list.  Every sin that I commit that has a direct negative impact on my fellow Jew or Jews is double -- one sin against my fellow Jew(s) and one sin again HaShem.  Yom Kippur can take care of the sins between me and HaShem, but it doesn't work at all for my sins against my fellow Jew(s); I have to take care of that myself.

First, of course, I need to repair and/or pay back for any damage with a monetary value.  Second, though, I need to make amends and ask m'chila.  Of course, one can and should ask m'chila as soon as one realized his error, but there is also a special obligation to make amends by asking m'chila on erev Yom Kippur.  Asking for generic m'chila in front of a group is very, very b'di'avad.. blasting out an email is certainly worse, and may not work at all.  Posting on a blog has got be be worse yet.  S…

Thought for the Day: Ba'alei T'shuva Must Take Special Precautions To Remain Standing Higher

It is said that R' Berel Wein says that while not all of his stories happened, they are all true.  Whether or not he actually said, that I agree with the sentiment.  And so...

A ba'al tshuva who lived in Bnei Brak (transplanted from America somewhere) was once interviewed by a reporter for the non-religious Israeli press.  She pointed to a group of children who had never been outside of their religious neighborhood and asked him, "Who is more tempted to leave the confines of this sheltered neighborhood; you or them?"  He surprised her by answering, "They have a much bigger nisayon than I do!  They think there is something interesting out there, but I've been there and know that there is nothing of value there at all."

This story pleases us because it validates our surface understanding of Chazal's statement that in place that ba'alei t'shuva stand, not even the wholly righteous can stand.  (And don't forget the added benefit of a nice sh…

Thought for the Day: Answer to "Why So Many Mitzvos?" -- Depends On Who Is Asking

They say that a king was once traveling in a foreign and barbaric land.  The king came under attack and was saved by one of the locals; a savage brute of a man, but with high aspirations.  The king wanted to reward the native for saving his life, and decided to let him have an entire night in the royal treasury to load up and take as much as he could carry of his choice from the treasury.  The native, though, being from such a remote region of the king's realm was hardly able to appreciate what he was being given.  The king's men were finally able to get the savage to understand that he was to accompany them back to the palace.  The savage was left alone in the treasury with all the gems and coins; and a huge pile of bags.  The poor savage, though, only saw rocks and slivers of metal; looking to him like one big garbage dump.  Left alone, he bemoaned his fate, "All saving the kings life did for me was to show that I have a strong back!  Here they put me to work cleaning u…

Thought for the Day: Maris Ayin vs L'zus S'fasayim

Maris Ayin is a technical halachic term that gets lots of sloppy abuse.  Maris ayin (it appears to the observer) can be a factor in determining halacha, but only where Chazal used it that way.  For example, wearing a signet ring is patur aval assur according to some because the viewer may think that one is wearing the ring as a subterfuge to be able to use the seal.  The Halichos Shlomo in Yom Kippur brings two halachos regarding shoes that seem to contradict each other, but actually very neatly show when maris ayin just doesn't apply and when it could apply.
One who has a heter to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur (for whatever reason; sores on his feet, for example) may wear them with impunity; in full view of any and all.  No maris ayin here!  (You may want to be a bit circumspect because of l'zus s'fasayim/crooked lips, ie, slander; but that is personal taste.)One may not wear simulated leather shoes in Yom Kippur because of maris ayin.  Even at home alone in your seale…

Thought for the Day: Giving Precedence to the Right

In general, halacha gives precedence to the right (not correct, but as opposed to left) side.  When washing -- whether first thing in the morning, after using the wash room, or for a bread meal -- the right hand is washed first.  When backing up from Shmoneh Esrei, we bow to our left which is to the right of the sh'china.  When putting on shoes we put on the right first.  Two notable exceptions: tying the left shoe (for men) and (usually) removing the left shoe both take precedence over the right.

Men tie their left shoe first because of t'filin.  The pasuk tells us, "ukshartam al yadecha"/tie them onto your bicep (Chazal tell us the "al yadecha" here means "on your bicep").  M'sora also tells us that from the spelling we see that it means your weak/left side.  Note than in halacha, "left" means "weak", except when otherwise specified.  So a left handed man put his t'filin on the arm that for everyone else is the right,…

Thought for the Day: HaShem Is In Charge, Our Ancestors Lived That, We Need to Improve

I have this wonderful machzor, the Machzor haM'foresh.  It has lots and lots of stuff I've never read.  To be way more honest than I should be, I bought it because I thought it was so cool to have an all Hebrew machzor with lots of footnotes and margin notes explaining the t'filos.  It is also chock full of all those piyutim we never say.  I got the whole set when I went to Israel with my wife for our 20th wedding anniversary.  Of course it was 80% or more gaiva to buy them at that point in my career.  On the other hand, my Hebrew has improved a bit over the last 16 years and I saw recently that R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach held them in very high esteem.

This year I decided to take some time to learn through the kavanos for shofar section of my machzor,   Heady stuff.  Lots of cool Zohar's and medrashim with a translation into simple Hebrew in the margin.  Paradise!  The first thing I learned made me feel pretty silly because I had never thought of it before.  Remembe…

Thought for the Day: Importance of Chumros During Aseres Y'mei T'shuva

They say there was a chasid who felt he couldn't have a beard in his line of work.  Every year when he went to see the rebbi at Sukkos was a new opportunity for embarrassment.  He wouldn't shave after Rosh HaShana so at least he would have some kind of beard for Sukkos.  One year, though, he decided, "Who am I kidding?  The rebbi can tell I am not shaving!"  So he decided that year that he would stop being a fraud and at least save himself the embarrassment of being a fraud in front of the rebbi.  When he arrived, however, he was told that the rebbi would not see him.  Plead and beg as much as he could, there was no budging.  Finally, as he was preparing to return home after simchas torah (which had not been much of a simcha for him), the rebbi sent for him.

The rebbi explained:
I want to you understand, my dear chasid, what happened this year.  Of course I know that you have been shaving for years.  You have a yeitzer hara, business is challenging; I can accept that…