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Showing posts from November, 2013

Thought for the Day: The Five Mistakes in Philosophy/Religion/Dogma That Knowing HaShem Is One Avoids

After explaining the reason that HaShem chose to reveal Himself to us via His One-ness, the Da'as T'vunos goes on to explain that there are five categories of mistakes that the false dogmas make.

First, there are two kinds of avoda zara.  The first category of avoda zara believes that there is a creator,but he is so exalted and transcendent that he doesn't have anything to do with this lower world.  Rather, he created lower powers and assigned them managerial roles.  These managers have complete control of their division, while their creator is off playing golf or living the life of a recluse in a penthouse suite eating banana nut or chocolate marshmallow ice cream; we'll call this the Howard Hughes model.

The second category of avoda zara sees the obvious contradiction between an all good creator and the evil we see in the world.  Hence it posits that there are two gods; one good and one evil.  It is their struggle with each other that results in all the churn in the …

Thought for the Day: Why HaShem Is One Is Our Mission Statement

It must be pretty important: "Hearken, O Israel!"  This one statement is the clarion call to action for our entire nation.  "HaShem is our G-d."  That sounds like a great statement of purpose for any religion; why not just stop there?  "HaShem is One!"  That's it?  If the expression "is one" simply means that there is only one HaShem, then there isn't much value added.  There is also only one United States.  "Here, O citizens!  The United States is our country!  There is only one USA!"  Umm... true, but not so inspiring, and it certainly is not a call to action.

The Ramchal in Da'as T'vunos explains why HaShem has made the revelation of His One-ness the very core and reason for being of our faith.  When measuring something, you can only get one of three results: 0, finite, or infinite.  In truth, there is really only one result: finite.  Both zero and infinite mean that it has no measure.  Finite, no matter how small, c…

Thought for the Day: Chanuka Licht When No One Is Home

I don't like traveling without my wife.  Ok... I don't like traveling at all, but it's even worse without my wife.  I have one comfort this time, though; I am traveling during Chanuka and my wife is staying the whole week with a friend a few blocks from our house.  Do you realize how many cool sh'eilos that raises?  So the ha'na'ah of basking in the glow of limud ha'Torah to discover the halacha in an intricate but dead on l'ma'aseh situation helps to make up for missing my wife.  Just a little, honey; really!  That and, of course, meeting my newest einikl and spending time with her older brother and sister, and with my daughter and her husband.  Even so, I miss you, honey; really.  Don't even think thought such as, "Methinks he doth protest too much."  Even surrounded by our beautiful children and grandchildren, I miss you.  A lot.  Really.

Here's the issue.  The basic situation that requires chanuka licht to be lit is "ish u…

Thought for the Day: Cost/Benefit vs K'fira

I sometimes feel sorry for my yeitzer hara.  I mean, he gets up every morning and sees one item on his to-do list: Entice Michael to sin.  Can you imagine a more boring job than that!?  Honestly, that's about as boring as a tic-tac-toe competition where he gets the first three moves.  So he plays with me sometimes, just to relieve the boredom.

Like this one: a driver in a 3/4 ton red pickup truck gets irritated seeing me riding a bike on "his" road.  So he lays on the horn as he roars past me and makes a point of just missing me.  But then I see him stopped at the intersection and my yeitzer hara whispers, "Just pull around him, park your bike right in front of his truck, go over to his window, tell him how much you miss having a radio on your bike, and thank him sincerely for his horn rendition.  What could go wrong?"  First of all, I have learned from bitter experience that the answer to "What could go wrong?" is the same as the answer the question …

Thought for the Day: Nachas Ruach l'Bori

The Michtav mei'Eliyahu notes that the "mida k'neged mida" can be read both ways.  That is, punishments and rewards are delivered from our Creator that match the crime or victory.  The last few days have been pretty interesting, including a near miss accident that I am taking as reward; though I suppose one could question that and consider it more a warning shot across the bow.  However, a text from my eldest two nights ago and subsequent conversation has solidified my confidence in my p'shat.

My daughter is a math teacher, and I got this text from her:
There are 10 types of people; those who understand binary numbers and those that don’t. If you get it, great; if not... go back to 8th grade math enrichment.  In any case, getting a corny math joke from my daughter warmed my soul.  I called her the next day and mentioned that I need to talk to R' Fuerst because I am going to be visiting her sister in Calif for the first few days of Chanuka and her mother will b…

Thought for the Day: Torah Guides You, Protects You, and Speaks for You

I have, Baruch HaShem and bli ayin hara, had the z'chus in the past to make a siyum now and again.  Part of the hadran is to quote the pasuk from Mishlei (6:22):
בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ, תַּנְחֶה אֹתָךְ-- בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ, תִּשְׁמֹר עָלֶיךָ וַהֲקִיצוֹתָ, הִיא תְשִׂיחֶךָ.When you walk, she will lead you; when you lie down, she will protect you, and when you awaken, she will speak for you. Of course we all understand that it is referring allegorically to the Torah.  The Torah guides you in this world, protects you in the grave, and will speak on you behalf (ie, the z'chus of learning Torah and doing mitzvos) after t'chiyas ha'meisim.  True, of course, but the simple p'shat also has to mean something.  The G"ra gives some fascinating insights into that (and more).

For one, the G"ra notes that you can read the going, lying down, and awakening as results rather than situations.  That is, for positive mitzvos you need to get going and to them.  For negative mitzvos (issu…

Thought for the Day: Thoughtful Speech That Leads to Divine Service Is What Makes You Human

The mishna (Bava Kama 34b) uses a common pedagogical tool of listing contrasting cases to ease memorization: "There are cases where the action of a person's animal incurs a penalty, but the same action by the person himself is exempt from penalty; where the action of a person's animal is exempt from penalty, but the same action by the person himself  incurs a penalty;  Howso?"  A list of such scenarios is presented, ending with: if the ox ignites a hay stack on Shabbos, the owner must pay for damages, while if the person himself does so he is exempt from paying damages because he has incurred the death penalty.

The person is exempt due to the principle of "kam lei mi'd'raba minei"; Once he has transgressed a capital crime, he is exempt from paying monetary damages that were also incurred in his transgression; he's had a bad enough day without adding insult to injury.  The gemara, however, it taken aback by this p'sak.  From the wording of th…

Thought for the Day: The Chesed of Near Misses

I was all set to go this morning; a beautiful day for a bike ride to work.  Well, ok, 33 mph gusts and roads still damp from yesterday's tornado watch weather could make things a bit dicey; that's part of the excitement of life, right?  I said good-bye to my wife, carried my bike down to the sidewalk, swung my leg over, pressed down on the peddle... and fell over.  Mercifully it was only witnessed by one neighbor; still quite embarrassing.  My embarrassment changed to both relief and annoyance, though, as I looked down and saw that my front tire was flat.  So that's why the bike slipped from under me!  (Hence, no more embarrassment.)  Ah; so I am not loosing my sense of balance.  (Hence the relief.)  Now I had to take the bus/train to work.  (Hence the annoyance.)

It's not even a good hashgacha story.  What am I going to say?  "Wow!  The streets were slippery and it was really windy!  HaShem must have been saving me from an accident!"  Yeah; right.  Last nigh…

Thought for the Day: The Yeitzer HaRa Will Take Any Opening, No Matter How Small

I have never sat down to read a Kli Yakar that didn't fill me with a sense of fulfillment and deeper understanding.  The Kli Yakar tends to be one of the longer m'forshim on Chumash and generally uses the pasuk as an opportunity to discuss a topic depth, rather than just p'shat/drash in that pasuk.  The Kli Yakar on the all night struggle between Yaakov Avinu and the malach is particularly long (even by Kli Yakar standards), but very well worth the time invested.  The Kli Yakar, in fact, begins by noting that so much as been written on this epic struggle that he doesn't have enough paper to given even a summary.  However, he continues, since there is so much to learn from this event that he is going to wade in with his insights.

The Kli Yakar begins by noting that the consensus is that the angel was Sama'el; aka Malach HaMeves, aka Yeitzer HaRah, aka Sar shel Esaiv.  (Yeah, pretty creepy that the spiritual energy that drives western society is the angel of death; a…

Thought for the Day: Olive Oil Is Best, Wax Candles Is Good; What About Little Sticks for Chanuka Licht?

Here's a cool thing to show your kids.  Blow out a candle, then hold a lit match just above -- but not touching -- the wick.  The candle will (re)burst into flame!  Cool, eh?  The trick works and is fun because we think that wax burns.  It doesn't.  Neither does oil, for that matter.  What happens with was candles is that the heat used to light the candle first melts the was into a little pool of liquid.  (With oil, of course, you skip this step.)  The liquid is then further heated and evaporates into a flammable cloud, which immediately (more or less) catches fire.  That's how the trick works.  When you blow out the flame, the pool of liquid is still hot enough for a short time to still be producing flammable gas.  Of course, we are not here to talk about cute bar tricks; well... we not only here for that.

The mitzvah of lighting chanuka licht is to fulfill the requirement of "pirsuma nisa"/publicize the miracle.  The main components of that mitzvah are: the kin…

Thought for the Day: Accountability Makes All the Difference

I once gave a midterm about an astronaut floating in deep space traveling due north (celestial north, of course) at 30 mph.  At some point he jettisons his 30 pound back pack straight to the east.  Given that his initial speed was 20 mph and that he weighs 200lb, what is his final speed and direction of travel?  A few days after the exam, a disgruntled student came to me to complain that we never had a problem like that on the homework.  I pointed him to problem 14, Chap 6 (right; like I remember): two cars approach an intersection, one from the north and one from the east and collide forming a big mush of metal; ignoring friction calculate the final speed and direction of the conglomerate.  "See?  Exact same problem", I said.  He walked away realizing he was not going to get anywhere with me and looking for the department head to sign his drop slip.

The nature of physics is to be able to look at a real situation and abstract out the distinguishing physical characteristics. …

Thought for the Day: Drawing on Metaphysical Resources in This World to Achieve Eternity

I sometimes like to listen to music while I am driving.  Not enough to actually buy CDs, so I have the radio tuned to a country western station.  The nice thing about country western is that the lyrics are usually reasonably about "down home values" and/or losing the same.  (You know what happens when you play a country western song backwards?  You get your dog, your job, and your wife back.)  Unfortunately, though, radio is really a sales media that hooks you in with music. If I hear an ad, then I just turn the radio off; better luck next time.  This morning, though, before I could get the radio switched off, I heard one line from an ad campaign: "All men are created equal; then they get dressed."  Holy hashgacha!  That was just what I needed to understand a G"ra I had learned with my Mishlei chavrusa this morning.

The G"ra is on Mishlei 6:20, for those of you who want to look it up yourself; which I highly recommend.  It's one of those G"ra'…

Thought for the Day: You Shall Live by the Torah

One of the charges leveled against Torah Judaism is that it isn't livable.  "Your old testament [sic] G-d is vengeful; not like our gentle as a lamb, sweet, loving god in the new testament [sic]."  So let's leave aside the horrifying tortures and massacres of the Crusades, Inquisition. Tat v'Tat, and all the pogroms throughout history; all in the name of that gentle as a lamb, sweet, loving god in the new testament [sick].  Leaving all that aside we do, in fact, find that they have a point.  In fact, this point was already made by Chazal.  "sh'noson lanu toras emes"/Who gave us a Torah of Truth -- this is the torah sh'bichtave/The Written Law.  "v'chayei olam nata b'socheinu"/and planted within us eternal life -- zeh torah sh'b'al'peh/The Oral Law.  The goyim only have (well, stole) the written law, which truly is unlivable.  It is the Oral Law, with it's drash of "v'chai ba'hem"/you shall live…

Thought for the Day: When You Are Doing a Mitzvah, You Are Doing the Lord's Work

While I do not go out of my way to make a point of going to pray in the middle of the day, I also do not avoid mentioning it.  (By the way, that is a huge step forward for me.)  That is, if someone makes note of me wearing a tie/jacket/hat in the afternoon, I will volunteer that I am going to (or returning from) afternoon prayers.  This once happened while I was putting on my tie; since this particular coworker is Jewish (not yet frum) I volunteered a bit more info: that I only have one tie at work because it is important to be dressed properly for prayer, but I don't think G-d cares that it is the same tie every day.  Her response was to question if G-d cares about me wearing a tie at all. To her I just said, "Yes, because I would wear a tie to an important meeting, so it speaks to my attitude about prayer."  To you, my dear reader, I have a bit more to say on that topic.

Film (remember that?) was basically a plastic substrate smeared with a substance that contained min…

Thought for the Day: The Torah Is Completely Composed of Names of HaKadosh Baruch Hu

Technology is causing a distressing growth of ignorance.  I am not talking about automatic spell checkers/correctors, which increases both for the readability and humor (due to correctly spelled but horribly out of context words creeping into my message) these Thoughts for the Day.  Nor am I talking about calculators, which relieve our young'uns of having to memorize their times tables.  I am not even even talking about Google, which relieves all us of the burden of actually remembering anything.  Nay!  I speak of a must more pernicious ignorance: being able to read a clock.  (I refuse to call a box with numbers on it a clock.  A clock has a face and hands.  I even finally found an app for my phone that will put a clock dial on my phone.  Not that I am stubborn or anything.)  Worse, for all us physics and engineering teachers; the younger members of our society just sort of glaze over when you say "clockwise".

Before your eyes go into a permanent spin... do you know wher…

Thought for the Day: Hiddur MItzvah Vs Bal Tosif

My eldest daughter's Bas Mitzvah parsha included the issurim of bal tigra (do not deduct from a mitzvah) and bal tosif (do no add onto a mitzvah).  As Rashi explains, this means that one should not do things like have three or five parshios in one's t'filllin; one should not have three or five species in one's lulav bundle; and so forth.  Subtracting from the mitzvah is clearly wrong; in fact, it is so wrong one wonders why there needs to be an issur for it.  On the other hand, what's wrong with adding another parsha to t'fillin or adding another kind of tree/fruit to the arba minim; it's got what you need, plus more.  Together we came up with a nice mashal.
My daughter likes baking, and the idea is azoi.  You might think it is ok to leave out part of a mitzvah; after all, you are at least getting partial credit, right?  Think about baking a cake.  Leave out one ingredient, say, for example, flour; that's not a partial cake, that's not a cake at all…

Thought for the Day: Mai Chanuka!

Imagine the passion as Antiochus's messengers come marching into cities across Eretz Yisrael with his new decrees.  The tension is already high.  First decree: "Jews are forbidden to circumcise their sons!"  The crowds roars, "Bris mila?!  The sign sealed into our flesh of the covenant between the Creator and his beloved nation?  We will never capitulate!"  Second decree: "Jews are forbidden to observe the Sabbath!"  The crowds is livid, "Our nation testimony that HaShem created the world?  The beautiful and precious gift from our beloved Creator?  We will give our lives rather than violate the Holy Sabbath!"  The crowd is getting uglier by the moment and even the messenger, who is surrounded by the king's own guard, is getting nervous.  Final decree: "Jews are forbidden to observer Rosh Chodesh!"  The crowd's mood changes from angry mob to... "Ummm.... What?"

The gemara (T.B. Shabbos 21a) asks, "mai chanuka?…

Thought for the Day: Attending a Non-Orthodox Chasuna

Since becoming Orthodox Jewish, I have been invited to two non-orthodox weddings.  In both cases I had the z'chus of have a moreh ho'ra'ah to guide us in what we could and could not do, how much of the event we could attend, etc.  But let's suppose you wanted to find a discussion of this topic in the Mishna Brura; where would you look?  True enough the Mishna Brura is structured as a commentary on the Orach Chaim section of the Shulchan Aruch, but R' Yisrael Meir Kagan planted oodles of goodies (aka easter eggs) on all sorts of topics that face a Jew in his daily life.  So where would you look?

The place you are most likely to first stumble on this topic is in hilchos Chanuka, siman 670, sk 8.  The Shulchan Aruch says (syef 2) that the extra eating on Chanuka is not a mitzvah, but (adds the Rema) by singing songs in praise of the Creator, the s'udah becomes a s'udas mitvah.  The Mishna Brura comments, "and similarly when the daughter of a talmid chacha…

Thought for the Day: Emuna P'shuta Vs. Scientific Evidence

The little bit of scientist left in me that has not yet been beaten to a pulp gets its teeth set on edge by the expression, "It's only a theory."  Honestly, it's worse than fingernails on a chalk board (aka blackboard; an ancient reusable writing surface usually made of dark grey or black slate).  After years of suffering, I have developed a new way to explain what a theory is, and here is it's debut.  Scientist use three levels of models: conjecture, hypothesis, and theory.  A conjecture is the girl you met in the bar last night; she definitely looked better before you sobered up and saw her in the light of day.  Hypothesis: the girl you are serious enough to consider marriage, which makes you a little nervous and you are looking for flaws.  A theory is, of course, your wife; problems anyone sees is because of their misunderstanding and you are ready to defend her.  (See end for a G-Rated/Lakewood Cheder version of conjecture.)

Gravity, for example, is a theory.…

Thought for the Day: I am an Orthodox Jew Because I Can't Muster Enough Blind Faith for Anything Else

I saw a nice article on the internet concerning why there is insufficient evidence to believe that miracles have ever happened.  Not that miracles haven't happened, just insufficient evidence.  Sounds nice and scientific and rational, eh?  Let's examine that conclusion.

The structure of the argument goes like this.  Suppose your doctor tells you that you have tested positive for a certain condition.  He also tells you that the test gives false positive reports one out of a 1,000 times.  Sounds good, right?  Not if the condition itself appears in the general population only once in 1,000 people.  Now you chances of having the condition are more like 50-50; a false positive is just as likely as having the condition itself.  Tests are only valuable if the false positive rate is much lower than the random chance rate.  Now comes our skeptic's punch line.  Even if we have really, really good witnesses who are only wrong one out of a million times, the chance of the miracle is m…

Thought for the Day: Bracha for Shechting Ben Paku'ah But Not for Extra Chanukiah

Right.  Having now established precisely (more or less) what a ben paku'ah is, we are now ready to understand why a bracha is required for the sh'chita of a ben paku'ah, but not bracha is required (nay! even permitted) when lighting a chanukiah in a second window that faces a different direction.  The source of our consternation is that in both cases it is Chazal who required the additional action and that action is required for the same reason; namely, to prevent onlookers from drawing a false conclusion based on our suspicious activity.  R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach gives four differences in the situations that help us to understand the difference in decrees of our Sages.

First there is a timing issue.  The second chanukiyah is usually going to be lit at the same time (or within minutes) of the first one.  The ben paku'ah, on the other hand, could very well be shechted even years later.  It is perfectly reasonable, therefore, to consider the lighting of the second c…

Thought for the Day: Ben Paku'ah Vs Chanukia in Second Window -- The Setup

Come on!  How often is it possible to put those two topics in one sentence?  Ok, ok... technically it is always possible; I mean how often is it possible to write a cogent article that has those two topics in the title?

In case you don't know what a ben paku'ah is, then this is worth reading just to learn about that.  When a child is first conceived, it is wholly dependent on the environment provided my the mother's body for its survival, and is considered in halacha as just another limb/organ of the host mother.  At some point the child becomes an independent organism.  I am not sure when that happens practically (I'll let you know when my children become fully independent... ), but halachically that occurs when the head and most of the body has left the mother.  This is all the same for animals and humans (though animals become independent sooner).

Obviously, when a cow is slaughtered, all of its organs and limbs become eligible to be eaten without any more slaughter…