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Thought for the Day: Helping a Robber -- Unintentional and Forced; Part II

But instead, if a Jew is forced to help a robber, then what is the level of obligation?  (I do that sometimes, continue a conversation out of the blue as if there had been no break.  At least in this case I can refer you back to the beginning of this conversation here, in Part I.)

The back story is that a 10 year old bachur was coming home from cheder in Mexico City.  Mexico City has a high crime rate and so many of the apartments houses have external cameras at the entrance for residents to check who is as the door before buzzing them in.  The boy was accosted by gun man before getting to his building and was told to ring the bell and get him inside, "or else".  The boy did as he was told and gained entry from himself and the gun man.  The brave young man, we'll call him Moshe, was then told to lead the way to his parents' apartment.  Moshe did not take the gun man to his parents, but to a neighbor.  The neighbor heard the knock on his door, looked through the peep …

Thought for the Day: Helping a Robber -- Unintentional and Forced; Part I

The gemara (Bava Kama 117a) teaches that if Shimon is forced by robbers to show them where his friend Leivi keeps his money, then Shimon does not need to reimburse Leivi for his loss.  If, however, Shimon is threatened with bodily harm unless he gives them some money and he says, "Wait! I know where Leivi has some money stashed, let me get it for you!", then Shimon is obligated to repay Leivi.  Rava adds that if Shimon, in no immediate danger, simply points out to some robbers where Leivi keeps his money and thy take it, then it is as if Shimon went himself to take Leivi's money and hand it over to the robbers.

Another concept, one that you will find all over Sha"s is that of grama and garmi.  Both mean to indirectly cause a financial loss to another Jew; grama is more indirect and that perpetrator is exempt from paying, garmi is less indirect -- even verging on being direct -- and the perpetrator of that is liable for the damages.  Note that exempt and liable here …

Thought for the Day: Takanas HaShavim for Property, Kim Li, Muchzak

Here's something really cool I discovered tonight.  I have a Hebrew keyboard on my Android phone (no, that's neither cool nor a new discovery tonight).  I was looking for some help in understanding the meta-halachic concept of "kim li".  I'd only heard it, so I didn't even know how to spell it, certainly not what it meant.  (Again, not cool new discovery for me tonight; my ignorance knows few bounds.)  For kicks I typed "קים לי" into my Google app on my phone, and ... LO AND BEHOLD! there is a Hebrew Wikipedia page all about "קים לי"!  (Sigh... YES!  That's my new cool discovery.)

Now gather 'round and I'll tell you how this all started.

I heard a shiur from R' Fuerst, shilt"a, on another choshen mishpat question.  Shimon built a new 10 story office building.  A very successful endeavor, as all the office space was leased even before the building was finished.  As Shimon is giving the building one last inspection befor…

Thought for the Day: Immersing a New Pot On Shabbos

The Shulchan Aruch (323:7) brings a machlokes whether or not it is permitted to immerse a new pot (that was bought from a non-Jew and thus requires immersion before using it to cook food) on Shabbos.  We typically don't worry about tuma nowadays, so when we think of immersing keilim, we are usually thinking about pots, pans, hot water urns, and the like that we recently acquired or received as a gift.  In order to understand this machlokes, however, we need to be more broad minded.  There are two basic factors that contribute to this machlokes.  First, while pots and pans are keilim, so are blankets and sofas.  Second, there are two reasons one might want to tovel a keili: (1) remove the tuma; (2) allow a cooking utensil that was acquired from a non-Jew to be used.   (More details about what a keili is and under what circumstances it need to be immersed can be found here: A Deep Dive Into T'vila.)

The biur halacha (d.h. mutar l'hatbil v'chulu v'yeish osrim v'c…

Thought for the Day: A Jew's Soul Always Yearns for Her Creator

One of the consternations on Shavuos morning is being yotzei birkas ha'torah.  One the one hand, we haven't slept (no hefsek/interruption) and we have been learning all night (not even hesech ha'da'as/turning one's mind to other matters), so there doesn't seem to be a reason to make another bracha on learning Torah.  On the other hand, it sure seems that Chazal wanted us to make those brachos every day; analogous to the birchos ha'shachar we make every morning in praise of the different dimensions of you daily living.  There's a lot of discussion about this topic and it's not my worry today.

My worry today is that Tosafos (Brachos 11b d.h. sh'k'var niftar b'ahva raba) asks the question the other way around: why don't we make birkas ha'torah several times a day?  After all, don't get a chance to learn immediately after shacharis because we have to run out to work.  (Yes, the ba'alei tosafos apparently had to work for a liv…

Thought for the Day: The Main Part of a Bracha Is the Beginning

When I was first contemplating becoming Orthodox, way back in Dallas, started attending some adult education classes.  These classes were held in peoples' homes and always had food (cookies and what not); here's a good tip: if you want someone  to attend a meeting, offer them food.  I was a little shocked when I saw someone already frum pick up a cookie, mumble something under his breath, then eat the cookie.  What shocked me was that he was fully engaged in a conversation at the time; he was simply saying the words of the bracha as a sort of incantation before putting food in his mouth.  It just didn't seem like correct protocol for addressing the King.

After more than 20 years of contemplation, it still doesn't seem right.  Chazal (TB Brachos 12a) discuss the minimum requirement for saying a bracha "well enough"; ie, not correctly, but also not so bad as to require starting from scratch.  The gemara first notes that it is obvious that one who picks a cup of…

Thought for the Day: How Connected Does a Patch Need to Be In Order to Be Considered Part of the Garment?

Another catchy title and topic brought to you by masechta Keilim.  I was a chubby kid, so  Mom bought my pants in the "husky" section (hated that word, by the way).  Husky sizes were more expensive, so she also bought them long; so the knees wore through my pants long before I outgrew them.  (Fat little boy in wide jeans with rolled up legs -- got the picture?)  Mom was not a top seamstress, but those were the days of iron on patches.  Mom even eventually learned to iron them on to the inside of the pant leg (just turn it inside out first), so it wasn't so embarrassing.  The patch I mean; they were still husky size with rolled up legs.  (She must have bought them really big, because I don't remember them ever wearing jeans with less that two inches of faded denim cuff showing.)

But imagine she had sown them, and that we had lived during the times of the Beis HaMikdash; and... oh yeah... that I had been Jewish.  When would that patch have been attached enough that the…

Thought for the Day: Using Electric Lights In Chanuka Menorah -- Probably Not a Great Idea

Spoiler alert: We are not going to come to a conclusion about whether one fulfills his obligation to light Chanuka lights using electric lamps.  On the other hand, we are going to have a lot of fun along the way.

Minchas Shlomo T'nina 58:7 is all about this topic.  Let's first set some basic principles.  Using electricity to heat a tungsten filament to incandescence is halachically equivalent to lighting a fire.  You can certainly (even l'chatchila according to many poskim) use an electric light (the old fashioned ones... with a filament, not florescent -- including CFLs -- and certainly not LEDs) for havdala.  Someone who turns on an electric light  (the old fashioned ones... with a filament, though maybe not florescent nor LEDs) on Shabbos has earned himself a chatas; that is he has violated the prohibition of making fire m'di'oraisa. (Don't try that at home, kids.)  The question of using electric lamps for Chanuka has nothing to do with whether or not screwi…

Thought for the Day: When There Is No Religion, There Is Murder

I listen to news radio on my way to and from beis medrash in the morning.  I figure 10 minutes or so of news a day is not bitul torah.  I heard a distressing report this morning -- vandals decapitated statues and egged a nativity scene at a local church.  Now, it is certainly true that Christianity is avoda zara (Rambam, Hilchos Avoda Zara 9:4; also see Visiting a Church or Mosque for more sources and information), and avoda zara is one of the three crimes -- along with murder and adultery -- for which one must give his life rather than transgress.  However, we are currently living in diaspora without our Beis HaMikdash; may it be rebuilt soon and in our days.  That means that there is precious little divinity in the world today.  What, then should our stance, as Orthodox/Torah Jews, be to incidents such as this?

R' Yisroel Belsky was once visited by 11 cardinals.  (Long story... he had them visit him on the day of the siyum ha'shas so the beis medrash would be empty.)  One th…

Thought for the Day: Unique Character of Eretz Yisrael and How To Have

One of my favorite digs at religions other than Torah Judaism, is that their mode of interacting with their god is all of their own making.  For example, there is one reasonably well known religion that celebrates the birth of their god by decorating trees, using fancy cups for fast food coffee, and having sales.  I am sure that a god's birthday is at least as important as a grandchild's, so as a grandparent I certainly understand the emotional desire to celebrate.  None the less, while it may perk up their god that people are thinking about him, you certainly cannot claim to be doing his will.  After all, they never even asked him if that would be a good idea.

The Kuzari king actually got started on his quest for Truth by a vision/dream he had that heaven was happy with his intentions, but not pleased with his actions.  The problem was precisely the issue presented above: You can't impose on anyone your idea of what you think they should want; certainly not your god; abso…

Thought for the Day: Chesed On Which The World Can Be Built

My hebrew reading level is not bad.  My spoken hebrew is really, really bad.  I can usually listen to (and understand) a shiur in hebrew if I know the context.  My conversational is so bad that anyone's english is better than my hebrew.  My conversations with m'shulachim are pretty much constrained to "yeih l'cha green card?" (I used to ask about their "kartis yarok"; but that became too pretentious for even me), and "yeish l'cha odef?" (so I can hand them a five and get four change; I figure that if I mess that up, the worst that can happen is I give more tzedaka than I had planned).  With that in mind, I'll spare you the kind of pidgin english you find in Uncle Tom's Cabin and just give the gist of the conversation.

On Monday, a m'shulach approached me asking for a ride to Chodorov (aka Ohr Yissochar, aka a name I won't use).  That shul is less than a block from my house; so no problem!  On Tuesday, I saw he needed a ride…

Thought for the Day: When a Vessel Has Multiple Uses and It Is No Longer Suitable for Its Main Function

I didn't go to middle school.  We had elementary school, which was grades 1-6; we finished with high school, which was grades 9-12; in between we went to junior high, grades 7 and 8.  We were in one classroom all day in elementary school and ran from classroom to classroom during a three minute break in high school.  Junior high was basically where we learned how to do that.  The junior high I attended was brand new and had one big room that was used for lunch (mostly), school plays and concerts, and addresses from the principal to the entire school.  It was called the "Multipurpose Room".  My mom, she should rest in peace, loved that.  "It says just what it is and no more!"  She seriously used to giggle every time she thought about it.

One of the ways tuma can be transmitted is by treading/sitting/lying on something which is meant to be treaded/sat/lied upon.  This is known as "tumas midras".  The condition "meant to be treaded/sat/lied upon&quo…

Thought for the Day: Kofin Al Midas S'dom -- Forcing Good Behavior

The city of S'dom (Sodom, if you will) is enshrined in our Western weltanschauung as the epitome of evil.  What was "root cause" of all the evil?  You might think this is merely a philosophical question, but it is actually a very practical "halacha l'ma'aseh" principle known as "kofin al midas s'dom"/forcing behavior to eradicate the character trait that epitomizes S'dom.  This character trait most clearly reveals itself when one party (we'll call him Benny, the beneficiary) could benefit from another party (we'll call him Lewis, who suffers no loss), and the second party suffers no loss as a result; known in halacha as "ze ne'he'ne v'zeh lo chahser"/this one benefits and this one doesn't lose.  In S'dom, it was forbidden for Lewis to help Benny without charging him.  We combat that with the full force of beis din/Jewish court, who can force Lewis to do the right thing.

Pretty straightforward, but …

Thought for the Day: Friendly Torts

What is a tort?  Simple: a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to civil legal liability.  Doesn't sound very friendly, does it?  The halacha for torts is found, of course, in the Choshen Mishpat section of the Shulchan Aruch.  You are not going to find and Art Scroll version, nor even a Mishna Brura on those laws.  The laws are complex and detailed; the tiniest differences can change who owes whom and how much.

There is a story that a R' Yisrael Salanter was once traveling and struck up a conversation with a fellow Jew.  The other passenger related that he was changing careers.  Up till now he had been a shochet (ritual slaughterer), but he was becoming increasingly nervous and worried about what could happen if he made a mistake.  He could be responsible for untold number of innocent Jews eating treif food!  It had gotten to the point that he couldn't sleep any more.  R' Salantar asked what he planned to do for a livelihood, …

Thought for the Day: David HaMelech's Five Stages of Finding HaShem In the World

Many of us "sing" (once you have heard what I call carrying a tune, you'll question how I can, in good conscience, use that verb, even with the quotation marks) Eishes Chayil before the Friday night Shabbos meal.  We feel like we are singing the praises of our wives.  In fact, I have also been to chasunas where the chasson proudly (sometimes even tearfully) sings Eishes Chayil to his new eishes chayil.  Beautiful.  Also wrong.  (The sentiments, of course, are not wrong; just a misunderstanding of the intent of the author of these exalted words.)

Chazal (TB Brachos, 10a) tell us that when Sholmo HaMelech wrote the words "She opens her mouth Mwith wisdom; the torah of kindness is on her tongue", that he was referring to his father, Dovid HaMelech, who (I am continuing to quote Chazal here) lived in five worlds and sang a song of praise [to each].  It seems to me that "world" here means a perception of reality.  Four times Dovid had to readjust his perce…

Thought for the Day: Learning What It Means To Be A Good Jew From What It Means To Be A Good Non-Jew

One of the most (on the surface) Chazals that I know is brought by Rashi at the end of parshas Vayikra (5:17): R' Yosi says:
 “If you wish to know the reward of the righteous, go and learn it from Adam, the first man. He was given only [one] negative commandment, and he transgressed it; see how many deaths were decreed upon him and his descendants!” Umm... huh?!  If I want to know the reward of the righteous, look at the horrendous punishment that Adam earned?  This Chazal, by the way, goes on to say that the HaShem bestows goodness in a measure that is hundreds of times the measure in which He metes out punishment; but still, funny way to start, no?  Right; no, it is not  at all a funny way to start.  There is no way to possibly comprehend the overwhelming goodness in which the righteous will bask, so the best we can do is compare it to the negative.

Similarly, when we want to understand what it means to be the best Jew you can be, it can be overwhelming.  Let's begin, theref…

Thought for the Day: First Priority Is Appreciating the Good

Chazal (Brachos 9b) relate that R' Yose ben Elyakim testifies in the name of the Holy Congregation of Yerushalyim that any one who immediately begins shomne esrei as he concludes the bracha of "ga'al yisrael"/who redeemed Yisrael [from Mitzrayim] (aka, "someich g'ula l't'fila") will not suffer any damages the entire day.  That's a pretty bold statement!  So bold, in fact, the R' Zeira challenged it.  "Really!?", exclaimed a perplexed R' Zeira, "I did that once and I hit with financial damage!"  R' Yose apparently knew what happened and replied, "Hang on... are you talking about the fact that you were forced to deliver a load of myrtle to the king's palace at great personal expense?  Pshaw!  That's not damage... it's worth spending a lot of money to be able to see a king!"
The marshals support from a statement by R' Yochanon: I person should always endeavor to run to see kings of Israe…

Thought for the Day: Chosen From Among the Nations, Because We Live Among the Nations -- Part II

As you recall from last time, we have a lot of questions about the whole incident with Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Eisav regarding the brachos.  Instead of asking more questions, let's take a look at the facts of the case.
Eisav really wants his father's bracha.  We, having the advantage of the Author giving us the back story, know that Eisav is not exactly what you'd call religious.  Yet he really, really wants his father's blessing.Yaakov really doesn't want that bracha.  However, when he is leaving to find his soul mate (which actually turns out to four soul mates), he very much wants his father's bracha.Yitzchak really wants to give this particular bracha to Eisav.  Yet, as soon as the subterfuge is revealed, Yitzchak declares that the bracha stands.  More than that, he keeps putting Eisav off when he asks for some kind of bracha.  Eisav has to ask three times and then actually start crying (really tears, mind you; there is nothing fake at this point) before Yitzc…

Thought for the Day: Chosen From Among the Nations, Because We Live Among the Nations -- Part I

In birkas ha'torah, we thank HaShem for choosing us from among all the nations to give us His Torah.  What difference does is make who else was in the running?  We were chosen!  Thus begins R' Efraim Twerski in his shiur regarding the bracha of "asher bachar banu".  Whether or not you feel the question is compelling; the answer is astounding!

To answer we need to go back to that first break from the nations of the world that the world even noticed: when Yitzchak Avinu gave the brachos to Yaakov Avinu instead of to Esav HaRasha.  (Oops...is my bias showing?  Good!  I am fine with being charged with preferring good to evil even when it's not -- well... especially when it's not, actually -- politically correct.)  We need a few more questions to stir up enthusiasm before proceeding to the answer.

Why, for instance, did Yitzchak want to give the brachos to Eisav anyway?  Hint: it was not because he did not recognize Eisav's nature; Yitzchak knew his nature ver…

Thought for the Day: Tomorrow Is Rosh Chodesh -- Change Your World

During Yom Tov and even during Chol Ha'Mo'ed, we take out a second sefer Torah and read the appropriate mussaf portion from parshas Pinchas.  We don't do that on Shabbos.  Tosefos (as soon as I remember or am reminded of the location, I will -- bli neder -- fill it in here) gives two reasons.  First, he (well... "they", technically)  says (sigh... yes, then this would have to be "say"; can we just get on with this now, please?  Thank you.) that there are only two p'sukim and we don't take out a sefer Torah for less than three p'sukim.  The truth is, though, that is not a very strong reason.  After all, even though the general rule is not to have a Torah reading session that is less than 10 p'sukim, the reading for Purim is only nine p'sukim.  The poskim all say that is allowed because the rule of 10 p'sukim applies when you aren't reading an entire topic, but if the entire topic is only nine p'sukim, then no problem.  May…

Thought for the Day: Lashon HaKodesh and Targum -- Reality, Appearance, Explanation

While still living in Dallas, so early in my career as an Orthodox Jew, I had the merit to attend a lecture by R' Berol Wein.  The rosh kollel, who had arranged the lecture, come over the me very excitedly and said, "R' Wein is here already and you are early, so take the opportunity to speak with him personally!"  "Great!", I thought... then I realized that I had nothing to say.  Since then, I've tried to always have a mental list of questions I have that still need resolution.  Some are big, some are small.  It is not unusual for one of those "small" questions to turn into big principles.

I have wondered for decades what the difference is between "adon", as in "adon olam", and "ribon", as in "ribono shel olam".  The siddur translates both as adon and ribon as "lord"; so what's the difference?  The simple answer is quite a let down: ribon is the aramaic translation of adon.  See, for exampl…

Thought for the Day: After the Washroom -- Thanking the Creator for Holes and Cavaties

I think most fathers and zeidys will appreciate this story, most mothers will be aghast, and most bubbies will just shake their heads.  We were on a chol ha'mo'ed trip last Pesach and it involved a significant (hour or two) car ride to reach our destination.  I was playing the alphabet game with the older (6 and 7 year old) grandchildren.  The game is to look for an "A", then look for a "B", etc.  License plates, road signs, billboards, etc all provide fodder for the game.  Each time they found a letter, I'd say, "Ok... and what comes after C?", they would answer "D!", and the game continued.  Great way to practice the alphabet and keep everyone engaged.  We were most of the way through the alphabet when I asked, "What comes after P?"  They answered, "Q".  I said, "No; asher yatzar."  Puzzled looks turned to beaming smiles.  My grandson (the 6 year old) must have told that joke at least a dozen times ove…

Thought for the Day: Wisdom Comes from Information/Disaster Follows Expressing Baseless Opinions

The second section (chapters 10 through 24) of sefer Mishlei (Proverbs) is where you find all the advice that traditionally think of as "proverbs".  They are statements in the format "Being  leads to , but being leads to ".  Without the insight and explanations provided by our sages, however, they can sound like "Do you take your lunch or the bus?"

One such statement is "When willful wickedness comes, then infamy will follow; but with the modest is wisdom."  (Mishlei 11:2)  First, I am not surprised that willfully wicked people can become infamous, but what does that have to do with wisdom or modesty?  The G"ra opens this up by explaining that "willful wickedness" means to come to beis medrash only for the intellectual stimulation of debate with smart people.  This is not Al Capone, it's the guy who constantly asks questions that are not intended to reveal the full intent of the mishna/gemara/halacha.  They may be really coo…

Thought for the Day: Patched Keilim Vs. Usable Broken Keilim

Tahor and tamei are words best left untranslated.  Lest you really want to translate "tahor" as "pure" and "tamei" as "contaminated", just remember that even a simply ingot of 24 karat gold is tamei, while even a complete vessel made of cow manure is tahor.  The terms "tahor" and "tuma" here do not actually refer to the state of the ingot or vessel, rather to their potential to become tamei.  Gold ingots can become tamei, vessels of cow manure cannot.  You might be wondering how it even entered my mind to consider what happens to a barrel made from cow manure (then baked, I suppose to be usable) when one dangles a dead rat into it.  It was not, I assure you, my simple (albeit warped) sense of intellectual curiosity.  In point of fact, there are several mishnayos in masechta keilim that discuss vessels that have either been made entirely from, strengthened by, or repaired with manure.  Gives new meaning to "any port in a …

Thought for the Day: The Advantage of Communal Prayer

At the bottom of daf 7b in masechta Brachos, R' Yitzchak asked R' Nachman why he hadn't come to shul to daven ma'ariv the night before.  R' Nachman answered that he was feeling a bit shvach ("weak" for you yankee doodle dandies).  R' Yitzchak asked if R' Nachman would like him to arrange for a minyan at his home.  R' Nacham demurred as he didn't feel it was worth bothering everyone for that.  R' Yitzchak rejoined that he should at least have the shaliach tzibur come tell R' Nachman that they were about to daven so he could daven at the same time.  R' Nachman expressed some surprise that there was any advantage to davening at the same time as the tzibur/community was davening.  R' Yitzchak said, "Oh, yes!  As R' Yochanan said in the name of R' Shimon ben Yochai..."

At this point, the story continues onto 8a, so just like I was left with that cliff hanger, I'll take this opportunity while I have your rap…

Thought for the Day: The Soul Opens Your Eyes to Divinity

More from R' Efraim Twerski's insightful t'fila shiurim.

There is a reasonably cut and dried halacha that long brachos -- not the one liners, but the ones that have a beginning, middle, and end -- always end with "baruch atah HaShem..." and must either start with "baruch atah HaShem" or be cuddled up to a preceding bracha; aka "samuch l'chaverta".  "asher yastzar" is an example of a long bracha.  Each bracha in shmone esrei and in birkas ha'mazon are also long brachos.  The first bracha of each starts and ends with "baruch atah HaShem...", while the subsequent brachos only end with said prescription.  (The fourth bracha of birkas ha'mazon is actually a later addition and is d'rabanan, so it starts again with "baruch atah HaShem".  I know it doesn't end that way; that's because it's really a short bracha that kept getting longer.  A story for another time.)

What about "elokai nesham…

Thought for the Day: Transmission of Tuma and Differences for Earthenware Vessels

"Wow!" you are thinking, "I always wanted to know about the details of how tuma can be transmitted and especially how earthenware vessels are different!  At last I can take all the worry and stress I have suffered because of this hole in my knowledge off my plate!"  Or maybe not.  None the less, I am interested because I am once again learning the mishnayos of masechta keilim.  (Since I have asked for participation in learning mishnayos l'zecher nishmas Aaron Dovid ben Yitzchak, a"h, I decided to act quickly to get one of the fun ones before they all got snapped up.  If you hurry, I am sure you can still find something you'll enjoy; just click here and let the good times roll!)  I chose keilim because it's not one the more popular masechtos (it is long and complicated).  I figured this way I'd get the better part of a year to go through it carefully and get some understanding.

The word "keilim" in lashon ha'kodesh is quite flexibl…