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Showing posts from October, 2013

Thought for the Day: What You Are Permitted Ask a Non-Jew to Do for You on Shabbos

Hey!  This is way cool.  I just found there is now Halchapedia (tada)!  I can't say how reliable it is, but at first blush it looks pretty good; as always, your mileage may vary.  Shulchan Aruch OC Siman 307 details the the halachos that come out of the navi's exhortation that the way you speak on Shabbos should be different than the way you speak during the week; aka "daber davar".  This is one of the first place the topic of what you can ask/tell a goy to do for you on Shabbos.

There are (of course; this is halacha) oodles of details, but the basic premise is: If you can't do it on Shabbos, then you can't tell a goy to do it on Shabbos.  Yes, I left that intentionally readable two ways: on Shabbos, you may not tell the goy to do it, even to do it after Shabbos.  Even before Shabbos, you can't tell the goy do the it on Shabbos.  On Shabbos you most certainly cannot tell the goy to do something on Shabbos.  You also (mostly) can't hint; though that…

Thought for the Day: Staying Above Suspicion Even From Scoffers

There is a very funny halacha by Chanuka licht in Eretz Yisrael where the lights need to visible to the passing public  (as opposed to chutz la'aretz where the Rema paskens that it is not necessary, though the Mishna Brura says its a nice thing... ok... I think I've covered my bases).  If you have two openings that cannot both be seen at the same time from the outside (eg, there are on two sides of your house and they face two different streets), then you need to light in both openings so that people who don't know that both openings are to one household will not have reason to suspect that one household didn't light.  Curious, because it's a strange suspicion; wouldn't you expect that people are required to give you the benefit of the doubt?  Curiouser, because if the candles go out you are not (mi'ikar ha'din) required to relight them (though it is recommended that you do).  That means that we are only worried about the suspicion for the first few mom…

Thought for the Day: Chazal Meant What They Said The Way They Said It

I finally figured out "snips and snails and puppy dog tails; that's what little boys are made of."  While I have not spend a huge amount of time contemplating the apparently obvious contradiction between this recipe and the experimental evidence that little boys are made of the same stuff as every other human being.  Still... in the back of my mind it's been festering.  What brought this to the fore was a halacha regarding washing n'tilas yadayim for a bread meal.

Shulchan Aruch, OC, siman 160 discusses delineates the requirements for water to be kosher for n'tilas yadayim.  Before you get your knickers in a twist (I love the visual that expression engenders), as long as you are using plain water straight out of the tap, you are are fine.  (Use at least three ounces on each hand and you can skip this and the next two simanim, in fact.)  Still here?  Good; then lets get to one of my favorite s'ifim: 160:10.  Anything that has start as water can be used, ev…

Thought for the Day: Admitting to a Fine That Doesn't Incur a Cost

A car without brakes is not a vehicle anyone with a brain in their head wants to drive; so what would be its value in case someone runs into it (while it's parked, obviously) and totals it?  On the one hand, it wasn't driveable as it was, on the other hand it could have been fixed.  Now, what if it had been missing the engine?  Obviously, it was not much more than scrap before it got smashed, so its value hasn't changed much and the drunk driver who smashed it doesn't owe much to the owner.  One more step (bear with me, please)... suppose that engine-less vehicle was also missing brakes.  How much value is taken away by not having brakes, if any?  You could certainly hear that it either way... does the bum who hit that car pay the cost of brakes or not?

You've waited so patiently, and I thank you.  When one party damages another (either through negligence or stealing), the Torah's main concern is to make reparation to the damaged party.  In addition, the Torah …

Thought for the Day: Waiting at the Edge of T'chum Shabbos To Do Your Stuff

One of the earliest life lessons I remember being taught by my father, alav hashalom, was regarding hypothetical situations.  He had a cute expression to make his point.  As I got older the expression morphed into things less cute, but more "colorful"; yet that first is what made the deepest impression.  When I would ask, "but what if...", my dad would reply, "If a frog had six shooters and a ten gallon hat he would be a Texas ranger."  The implied "but he doesn't, so he isn't" was the answer to my question.  After many years, I did learn that lesson.  Torah, however, has a way of forcing one to unlearn previously learned lessons; sometimes to modify, sometimes to toss out completely.

Siman 306 (Shulchan Aruch, O.Ch.) discusses things you are an are not allowed to say on Shabbos.  (Even though, as R' Fuerst often notes, it's a free country; sometime that freedom means the freedom to just say no.)  As background, we need to review…

Thought for the Day: Every Change in Science Brings It Closer to Torah

I have always had a problem with Pluto.  First of all, he is about the same size as Mickey, doesn't talk, and runs around naked.  That's weird, but I guess I can buy that in his world dogs are normal, but mice and ducks can talk and (therefore?) wear clothes.  (Though the ducks seem to be relying a lot on feather cover; isn't that called fan dancing?)  That's all well and good... until you get to Goofy; who wears more clothes than any of them and talks better than Donald!  So what's with Pluto?

It turns out that science has a problem with Pluto also; it's not a planet any more.  Or maybe it is.  Maybe it's a dwarf planet, or maybe a moon.  I don't know, go ask the Library of Congress.  Nothing about Pluto changed.  All that changed was our definition of the word "planet" and our discovery of more stuff flying around the sun.

That's a very important lesson about all changes in science.  Nothing "under observation" is changed by ho…

Thought for the Day: The Refined Sensitivity of the Avos

Yesterday during our status meeting, a team member noted that my socks didn't match each other. I replied that as far as I am concerned, socks are to protect one's feet from one's shoes; I have two different feet, so I have no issue with two different socks.  Therefore, it is a waste of time to match the pattern and color.  I did admit that my wife is not of the same opinion, so she now (almost always) buys only black socks for me.  The socks I was wearing was one of her very few mistakes; namely, thinking that I had changed enough in 36 years to care about my socks.  Today, just to prove that I really don't care if they match or not, I wore matching socks (with a pattern).  It took a while to find socks that weren't plain black and that matched, but I felt it was worth the time to prove that I don't waste time on nonsense.  That's one way to work on midos.

The Avos haK'doshim had a somewhat different idea of what's important when it comes to midos.…

Thought for the Day: Lo Ba'Shamayim Hi; Even Angels Need a P'sak from the Gadol HaDor

One of the most frustrating experiences I had with my rav, R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, started when I asked the rav a detail I wasn't getting on a simple gemara.  What made it frustrating was that the rav went to look up the gemara.  I mean, it was a well known gemara that I was sure he had seen a hundred times; besides, I had given the rav the relevant facts.  I just needed a quick answer.  Fine; I got the gemara for the rav.  Next was even more unbelievable... the rav started reading the gemara as if it was the first time seeing it!  Reading from the beginning, getting context, even checking Rashi's!  Finally, finally the rav was getting to the point upon which my question revolved.  I listened patiently (more or less) as the rav learned up the gemara; then I blanched as I realized my question was based on a mistake in how I had read the gemara.  There was no question...

I have turned that frustrating experience into a life lesson.  I strive to never get p'shat based on…

Thought for the Day: Lighting Chanuka Lights as a Guest and in a Tank

I am looking forward to taking my grandchildren to a county fair.  I have very fond memories of visits to the Orange County Fair in my youth.  I am not sure why, as I don't particularly like pigs or quilts; none the less my memory of those visits all have a nice feel to them.  We didn't go on the rides (too dangerous), nor eat the food (too expensive), nor even play the games (all rigged);  I guess it was just fun to go as a family and see an eclectic bunch of stuff.  One thing I remember vividly was a real tank that we could go in and explore.  I use the word "explore" loosely; once you got in there really wasn't much wiggle room.

What brought this up was the cold weather; which reminded me that Chanuka is approaching.  Halichos Shlomo on hilchos Chanuka starts with various interesting cases regarding the obligation of light.  The basic obligation to light is one menorah per household.  A household, of course, needs a house.  Apparently the Israeli tank forces s…

Thought for the Day: Appreciating and Improving Davening

My poor Mom.  I once wanted to try the "rat in a maze experiment", so Mom dutifully took me to the pet store to by a rat.  The owner sold us a nice fat male... who had about eight babies a few days after we brought "him" home.  Either he couldn't tell or he also didn't want a whole new litter of rat babies.  (Over the years my opinion has shifted from the former to the latter.)  By that as it may/was, I built a maze with a friend (whose mother, by the way, did not buy him a rat).  We ran the rat through the maze several times, timing each run, and the rat did exhibit learning behavior.  Of course, the rat does not run through the maze for no reason; you need to provide a reward for correctly solving the maze as an incentive.  No reward, no learning.

We are not, of course, rats; but this is certainly is a lesson for all.  If you want to encourage behavior, you need to provide a reward as an incentive.  We do that all the time with our children, of course.  M…

Thought for the Day: The Ein Sof Can't Be Imperfect

Here's the "sting" we used to run in college.  We'd find someone who claimed to believe in G-d; either they owned a bible or went to catholic high school (we had one in each category when I was in the dorms).  We'd ask him/her, "So... according to you G-d can do anything, right?"  Of course he/she would agree; usally with conviction since they enjoyed the opportunity to demonstrate how faithful they were.  Then we'd ask, "So can G-d make a rock so heavy that He can't move it?"  Yes or no, it was another victory for the atheists.  We'd celebrate with much laughter and have another beer.  (It doesn't take much to get the intelligentsia in the dorms to laugh and drink beer.)

The question itself, of course, is built on a false premise.  Our poor victim was lost once he/she agreed that G-d could to anything.  G-d, in fact, cannot do anything.  Don't be shocked; I'm still wearing my yarmulka and tzitzis.  The correct assertio…

Thought for the Day: So... Why *Were* We Created, Anyway?

I work as a programmer.  That is, I get paid to write/fix computer programs to solve our business problems.  The interview (they were interviewing a few us of for different positions) started with a presentation that included a history of the company and why the original owner had started the company.  I don't really need to know that in order to do my job, but it's interesting.  Probably most of us have asked at one time or another about why the company that employs us get started in the first place.

In order to actually do my job, though, I certainly need to know for what purpose they are hiring me.  Moreover, I have an annual review where we review and update those expectations.  After all, if we don't agree on that, how can I possibly know if I am doing my job and how can my employer know if I am doing a good job?

As discussed previously, our goal is self perfection.  The dialogue in Da'as T'vunos continues with the neshama asking the seichel for some understan…

Thought for the Day: Perfection Is In The Process, Not In The Achievement

We had one of those dreary "help people get along better in the work place" workshops.  This one, however, had 90 seconds of insight, so I am glad I went.  The speaker noted that how you say things can overwhelm the message you are trying to convey, so one needs to take care.  His example was the difference between telling your wife, "Honey, you have a timeless beauty." vs. "You have a face that could stop a clock."

In Torah (and, truth be known, in science... which is where I got my training for learning), though, one must be absolutely precise in both saying and listening.  I have often heard the G"ra misquoted as saying that there is not an extra word in the first eight chapters of M'silas Yesharim.  That leads to the mistaken conclusion that after the first eight chapters, things start to get sloppy; chas v'shalom.  The precise statement is that the G"ra made an intense investigation of every word in the first eight chapters and foun…

Thought for the Day: Teiku -- Applied to d'Oraisa is Assur, to d'Rabanan is Mutar

A colleague walked in the other day, told us about some very simply insight that had finally dawned on him and concluded, "Sometimes I am so astounded at how stupid I can be."  I told him, "Don't worry.  With just a few more years of experience, you will cease to be surprised at how stupid you can be; you'll be an old pro at being stupid."

Case in point; while preparing for this TftD (yes, smart guy, I do prepare), I was struggling with a Rashi (Shabbos 65b, dh ti'ba'i l'mahn d'amar) that says the machloches about whether haramah is permitted is found in "kol kizvei kodesh" (all sacred writings)!  I mean, I've heard of a machlokes or idea being relevant in "kol ha'torah kulo" (the entire body of Torah), but this was a new on for me.  And I didn't even know what it meant.  Before asking someone, I decided to look into that Rashi one more time.  Yep... "plugta b'kol kisvei kodesh".  Strange.  I rea…

Thought for the Day: Not Quite Cunning Evasion, But Close

People used to wear a kind of garment that as keep closed by putting deely-bob under the garment on one side, bunching the cloth around the deely-bob, then wrapping a cord from the other side of the garment around the neck of the bunched up cloth under the deely-bob; these keeping the garment closed.  Think toga.

Imagine a kid sitting in the middle of a public thouroghfare on Shabbos and screaming at the top of his lungs that he wants a walnut.  His frantic mother has just found a walnut at home and is now trying to figure out how to get it it out to him (the little brat... I mean sweetheart won't budge without his walnut).  She sends her totally frustated husband to run to ask R' Fuerst what to do.  He get there and finds two groups queued up and he joins one; patiently waits his turn.  Finally, there is no one between him and the rav; R' Fuerst turns to him and says, "One moment; other line."

The Shulchan Aruch OC 303:23 says that if a mother needs to take a wa…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes A Cunning Evasion Is Permitted, But Not Usually

A harahmah ("cunning evasion"... isn't that the coolest translation ever?  I mean.., OMG!) is sort of the pork barrel of halacha.  Basically you want to get something done that is basically assur given the current situation, but is basically mutar in other situations, so basically you change the current situation in a sneaky way simply to get away with your fiendish plan.  A basic example would be where you want to cook something on Yom Tov to be ready right after Yom Tov.  That is basically assur.  On the other hand, you are allowed to cook something for yourself to eat right now, and you are even allowed to cook a lot if you think guests might arrive.  So you say, "I could sure go for some of that delicious frazzle and it would certainly make my Yom Tov happier; besides, some guests could show up in the next 17 minutes?"  You then cook up 37 servings of delicious frazzle and take one bite to show your ... ahem ... sincerity.  Basically; don't do that.

Har…

Thought for the Day: Encouragement and Direction, Not Reward and Punishment

When I had been at my current job for about a year, I was approached by my (very) difficult manager.  He asked me gleefully, "You've been here about a year, so you know a fair amount about the projects we have going.  What is the one project you would want to avoid at all costs?"  My heart sunk, because I knew this was his "cute" way of telling me about my new assignment.  I saw one of the directors (from the business side, so not my manager's direct boss) and asked if I was being given this assignment as a punishment.  He replied, with a big grin (but also sincerity; I actually quite like this director), "Not at all, Michael.  You are a man of faith, and only a man of faith could make it through this project."

Chazal give us a powerful mashal to explain why we have have so many dietary restrictions while the goyim have only one (they also aren't allowed to saw a leg off a living animal and eat it).  The mashal (brought by Rashi in chumash, wh…

Thought for the Day: Learning How Much of Tzitzis Making Needs To Be Lishma from Korban Pesach

I was once walking with a young tzurba d'rabanan and I commented that something he said was not in accordance with the Mishna Brura.  He replied, "There are other poskim besides the Mishna Brura."  I am sure this is painfully (literally, I fear) obvious to all; I am not at all good about keeping my mouth shut.  That time, however, I showed uncharacteristic restraint and discipline.  Actually, I was probably just in shock and realized that I wouldn't even know where to begin.  Between you and me, however...

I know there are other poskim.  As it turns out, of course, the Mishna Brura also knew that.  He also knew all of those poskim, plus more, plus had a deep understanding of the gemaras.  So I read a few poskim myself and draw my own conclusions, or I can take advantage of the Mishna Brura's uncanny grasp of kol ha'torah kula.  Moreover, when learning more recent poskim, it is clear as day that they treat the Mishna Brura with special reverence.  When I had c…

Thought for the Day: Toch k'Dei Dibur; The Importance of Saying Hello

"Toch k'dei dibur k'dibur dami" -- an interruption in speech which is less than some limit is considered not to be an interruption at all.  This concept is important all over halacha.  The gemara (Bava Kama 73a/b) takes a deep dive into the matter.  More than that, there are four Tosofoses (you try to make Tosofos plural, smarty) deal with different aspects of the issue.

One of cases used is what happens if a person says, "This animal is in exchange for an olah, a shlamim."  An olah is completely burned, a shlamim is eaten (split between the kohanim and the owner).  Since you can't do both with one animal, we are left on the horns of a dilemma.  (I happen to adore that expression, having once seen a stunning caricaturization of it in Mad magazine.  Besides, it makes a nice pun, as well.  Life if good.)  There are basically two possibilities.  First, we could simply say that once he called it an olah, that's it; fini, the fat lady has sung, that'…

Thought for the Day: Your Reward? Your Perfection

When I was growing up, I was often introduced as "Jerry's son."  I naturally thought that someday my children would be introduced someday as, "Michael's son/daughter."  Imagine my surprise when I brought my firstborn to shul for the first time and heard, "Hey!  There's Miriam... and her father."  Surely someday I would be known as me, right?  This morning a friend arrived from Eretz Yisrael with his son on a business trip.  He introduced me to his son, who gave me a friendly "Shalom Aleichem."  Then my friend told his son, "That's Debbie's husband, by the way."  "Oh!  Well that deserves a Shalom Aleichem all on it's own.  I had no idea who I was talking to.  Shalom Aleichem!!"  Sigh...

In Da'as T'vunos, the Ramchal presents to us a high level road map and mission statement of reality.  You would think this is the first thing any human being wants to know.  I would never just get in my car and s…

Thought for the Day: The Trying Experience of Hishtadlus

My grandmother had a rule about waiting at an intersection where you have a stop sign and the cross traffic has no stop sign; after three cars go by, it's your turn.  She felt that was fair.  I believe she also honored that rule when she was in the direction with no stop sign.  None the less, being a passenger in Grandma's car was a harrowing experience.  Moreover, she was never involved in a traffic accident nor even received a moving violation.  You may draw whatever conclusions you wish.

I was reminded of that when my daughter recently raised an interesting issue regarding hishtadlus.  The general lore is that one's level of hishtadlus needs to be matched to one's level of bitachon/emuna.  Two matters need clarification.  First, and suppose it doesn't?  Suppose you think you are on a much higher level of bitachon than you really are.  Does that mean that your lack of hishtadlus will result in a deficiency in parnassa?  Second, you don't live in a vacuum.  Es…

Thought for the Day: Davening k'Vaskin Instead of k'Normal

When people discuss my davening schedule, the conversation is something like, "I know what you do, but normal people ..."  I don't mind; having grown up Jewish in a non-Jewish neighborhood (then non-Jewish in a Jewish shul :) ), I am used to the idea of people considering my not "normal".  However, I have noticed that everyone who davens k'vasikin gets contrasted to "normal" people.  We actually refer to those who daven k'vasikin on a daily basis as "regulars", whereas those who join us for whatever reason on an occasional basis are simply, "the others".  I wondered what "normal" people do, so I did a little research.  I here present my findings, first halachic then hashkafic.  To be as PC as possible, I'll refer to the two groups as "regulars" (our label for ourselves) and "normal" (the word the others use to refer to themselves).

The Shulchan Aruch, OC 156 says that a person should make h…

Thought for the Day: Laundering on Shabbos

A not (yet -- ha ha ha ha ha.... I know it's PC to say it that way, but really, she's not likely to change at this point... sigh...) frum relative was once spending Shabbos with us and went to wash the dishes after lunch.  Of course we told her very nicely that we don't wash dishes on Shabbos.  She was, equally of course, incensed.  "What!?  I can't do the dishes?!?  This is crazy that I can't do what I want!"  I couldn't help thinking that her teenagers had probably had a similar fight with her a few years earlier.  "What!?  I have to do the dishes?!?  This is crazy that I can't do what I want!"  Mercifully, HaShem held my mouth shut; there are just certain things a son-in-law shouldn't say.  Whoops... I kinda outted that one...

One of the other crazy restrictions we have is that we are not allowed is launder.  It turns out, though, that it can be more difficult than you might have imagined to avoid doing laundry.  The source of the…

Thought for the Day: Noach Earned Man the Right to Eat Meat; Yaakov Avinu Earned Klal Yisrael the Right to Have the Torah

Man was not allowed to eat meat until the end of parshas Noach.  That's like 207 p'sukim (1656 years) without meat!  If you don't think that's a big deal, then you clearly do not daven with the same people I do.  For many of them and their mother, the four food groups are: meat and three others that nobody cares about.  The Ohr Chaim HaKodesh brings three reasons that Noach was allowed to eat meat.
Noach was chosen as the intermediary by whom the animals were saved.  The animals had "gone off the derech" along with the most of the rest of mankind.  Using the principle of "m'galg'lim z'chus al y'dei zachai" (HaShem chooses those who with merit to be the agents of good in the world), Noach is thus seen to be a meritorious fellow.Noach worked really, really hard feeding and otherwise caring for the entire animal population for a year -- under horrific conditions; cramped quarters, poor ventilation, 100% humidity (the epitome of the anti-…

Thought for the Day: Taking Responsibility for Your Actions

If asked, "Do you follow the laws of gravity because of your belief in physics?"; my answer would be an incredulous, "No; I follow the laws of physics because they are true and there is really no choice.  I could certainly choose to ignore them, I suppose, but the consequences are dire."  I have a similar answer to, "Do you follow halacha because you are religious?"  There are certainly times that it would be convenient for me if reality (both physical and spiritual) would take my feelings into account, but they don't.  Therefore I don't consider myself so much religious as simply rational.

I spent a glorious week in Florida with my grandchildren and their relatives.  If I weren't religious at all, I would say that the highlight of the visit was the two times I walked my grandsons (5 and 3) to school and my granddaughter (6) home from school.  Since I am a bit religious, though, I am compelled to say that those are among the highlights... afte…

Thought for the Day: Cleaning Garments by Shaking, Cleaning Garments with Water

Two chavrusos once went to visit R' Yaakov Kamenetsky, ztz"l, on a Shabbos afternoon in order to ask an important sh'eila.  R' Yaakov told that it was an excellent kasha and he would need to think about it.  Later, at shalosh s'udos, R' Yaakov told over the question and a straightforward terutz.  On the way home, R' Yaakov's grandson (who had witnessed both events) asked way the zeidy had not given the answer to the two yungeleit.  R' Yaakov answered that they had not come seeking an answer, but instead wanted validation of their learning by being told what a great question it was; so he accommodated them.

The Mishna Brura's job is to clarify halacha as it pertains to the daily and annual life of a Jew; nothing more and nothing less.  The Mishna Brura will give reasons for halacha, delve into the different shitos, and even engage in pilpul; but never for their own sake, always and only to clarify halacha.  I've recently taken to glancing do…