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Showing posts from January, 2014

Thought for the Day: Borer -- The Choice Malacha

I know, I know... no cute titles!  That's the rule.  Hey... wait... that means that I can, nay must, have one cute title in order to fulfill the dictum of "every rule has an exception".  Whew.

The malacha of borer involves separating what you want (ochel) from what you don't want (p'soles).  There are lots of very important details because separating ochel from p'soles goes by another name: eating.  Relatively minor changes can take you from a building olam haba by eating your Shabbos s'uda to turning up the thermostat in gehinom.

Acts performed to get food into your mouth are called eating, acts performed to prepare for later are called borer.  There are three basic categories of actions that are by nature borer.
Preparing for later; bad news.  How much is later and from when do you measure?  Most poskim let you prepare for the next meal as long as you finish close to meal.  If either the meal or the preparation are protracted, however, you are just askin…

Thought for the Day: Encouragement to Do T'shuva

In case you had any doubt as to the power and effectiveness of the yeitzer ha'rah, he staged an extraordinary public demonstration in Chicago over the last few days.  We had below zero (that's Fahrenheit, boys and girls) temperatures with wind chills down to 30 below due to winds gusting to 20 mph.  Even with parka, face mask, down gloves, over-boots, and ski pants it was still painful to be out for more than a few minutes.  Yet there were people without gloves or face masks, sometimes even just a light coat.  Who were these supermen?  Smokers.  Those guys will brave any weather for their 10 minute smoke break.  It's not just fearlessness, either.  Oh no, they have also developed amazing skills; being able to light a match in gale force winds and driving rain.

With such a powerful adversary, we need powerful ammunition.  Chazal have given us takanos to help.  Even though the word takana is translated as "regulation", it comes from the same root as the word "…

Thought for the Day: Why Bracha l'Vatala Is So Seriously Bad

Now that Minchas Shlomo has explained to us that making a bracha is fulfilling a Rabinic obligation and not removing an issur, one could ask, "So what's the big deal about a bracha l'vatala?"  In fact, a big "one" did ask that question, the Chayei Adam.  The Chayei Adam notes that one could (and, in fact, it is praiseworthy to do so) say, "Atah, HaShem Elokeinu, Melech HaOlam, borei pri ha'eitz!"/You, HaShem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, creates tree fruits!  In fact, you can say that all day, with all the variations: borei pri ha'gafen, borei pri ha'adama, sh'hakol n'hi'yeh bidvaro... How can it be, asks the Chayei Adam, that just putting "Baruch" in front changes it from a praiseworthy act of midas chasidus to an issur d'oraisa of taking HaShem's name in vain?!
Hmm... when you put it that way, that really is a very good question!  Minchas Shlomo (Vol 1 18:10) has a very good answer.
There are four pla…

Thought for the Day: Why It Is Forbidden to Eat Before Making a Bracha

I take full responsibility for the rough night you had last night worrying about the Maharsha's concern that sefeik brachos l'hakeil shouldn't apply to birkos ha'ne'henin because eating without making a bracha is considered stealing.  That would mean that a safeik bracha is also safeik stealing, and stealing is d'oraiso, so that rule of safeik d'oraisa would mean that you should make a (possibly second) bracha.  I forgot to add that we don't pasken like this Maharsha, so you can stand down.  Or maybe you should be nervous... let's see.

Why is eating without first making a bracha considered stealing?  It's a drash from Chazal contrasting two p'sukim from T'hilim.  First, "LaShem ha'aretz u'm'lo'ah"/The world and everything in it belongs to HaShem (T'hilim 24:1).  Second, "ha'shamyim shamyim LaShem, v'ha'aretz nosson livnei adam"/The heavens belong to HaShem, and the earth He has given to…

Thought for the Day: When Toveling Doesn't Work

Of course, once I found out how serious the Torah was that I needed to convert, I wanted to do all the mitzvos I could to prove my worth and sincerity.  At some point the mitzvah of t'vilas keilim was revealed to me.  I was all ready to tovel all my keilim when I realized a big problem.  The only time keilim require t'vila is when a Jew acquires them from a goy.  Whoops... my keilim certainly had been acquired from a goy, but they were also owned by a goy (yours truly).

You might ask, though, perhaps the keilim were jointly owned by a goy and a Jew; namely the stunning bas yisroel to whom I am currently married.  Ok.... so what?  "So," you say, "maybe they need to be toveled by the Jewish partner so she and her beautiful children can use them?"  The answer to that is that as long as a goy has partial ownership, the tuma can't be removed.  So now you might be wondering how those Jews are allowed to use tamei keilim.  In fact, the Haga'os Beis Meir is…

Thought for the Day: If It's True Then It's in the Torah

If I were to ask you where you see in the Torah a source for the expresssion, "a stitch in time saves nine", you'd probably think me daft.  Actually, you know me pretty well by now, so you'd more likely just roll your eyes and say, "I don't know; where?"

Before you go rolling your eyes too much, though, please take a look at Bava Kama 92, where Rava asks Raba bar Mari where he sees a source for about several common expressions.  The exchange begins with Rava sking Raba bar Mari for the source in the Torah of the rabinic dictum that whoever prays for his friend, and he (the pray-er) needs the same thing (that the pray-ee) needs, he (the pray-er) will be answered first?  Not too surprising that a ma'amar Chazal would have a source in Torah.  But then the discussion continues asking about such expression as:
The cabbage gets struck by the thorn bush (ie, when pulling weeds growing among the cabbages, sometimes a cabbage gets uprooted accidently).Poverty…

Thought for the Day: From Eved to Jew

Here's another cool thing about an eved k'na'ani, when freed, he becomes a Jew.  Quite a transition, from essentially property to a member of the tribe, but that's the way it works.  That's why I was bothered for the last couple of weeks by one of the consequences of Takanas Usha.

Suppose a woman comes into a marriage with an eved k'na'ani as part of her nichsei m'log portfolio.  As mentioned, one of the ways he goes free is if the master causes the eved to lose one of his 24 limb tips; fingers, toes, nose, etc.  What I did not mention before, is that Torah only frees him if he has only one master.  If he is jointly owned (two people went in on the tickets for the Beis Yaakov Chinese Auction, for example), then the actions of one partner do not free the eved.  So far so good.  Since Takanas Usha, the owner is made "like a partner".  If the husband knocks out one of the eved's teeth, then he does not go free; after all, as Rashi explains, h…

Thought for the Day: Takanas Usha -- Shalom Bayis Is That Important

R' Moshe Tendler noticed one day that his father-in-law, R' Moshe, was pacing back and forth for nearly two hours in deep concentration.  When asked, R' Moshe replied that he was working on a difficult marah trying to decide if the woman could go to the mikvah that night, or would have to wait till the next night.  R' Tendler expressed surprise that R' Moshe would spend two hours of his precious time when being machmir would only delay the t'vila by one day.  R' Moshe was taken aback, "It's so light in your eyes to keep a husband and wife apart for one night!?"

The gemara (Bava Kama 88b) describes a case where a woman gifted her nichsei m'log to her son from a previous marriage.  Of course, her current husband still had usufruct on the property, but her intent was for the property to go to that son once the husband was done with it.  (So cool to be able to use that word properly in a sentence!  I feel so smart!)  As it happened, she died b…

Thought for the Day: Eved Ivri and Eved K'na'ani

I heard an what I like to call a swine d'rush yesterday.  Just as a pig shows external signs of kashrus and hides the signs that prove him to be as tamei as they come, this speech purported to be a d'var torah, but its content was nothing but apikorsus.  I may be particularly sensitive to this brand of chillul HaShem because it was the Union Hagada (sans makkos; not politically correct) that started me on the journey to Truth.
The speaker started by paraphrasing a Moreh N'vuchim, but calling it simply a "Rambam"; you know you are in trouble when that happens.  It was the infamous Moreh N'vuchim that the sacrificial system instituted in the Torah because all primitive nations did that and it would have been too hard to tell them to just stop it.  That was bad enough.  The speaker then went on to say that, "With this principle of the Rambam" -- hang on!  no philosophical principle was being promulgated here, it was a specific statement (misquoted) on…

Thought for the Day: Between Goy and Jew -- Ger

One of the earliest political cartoons I have seen was poking fun at the early evolution trials.  The cartoon has a group of well dressed gentlemen standing outside a court with an ape; a very, very unhappy (crying, actually) ape.  The caption is something like, "He just heard that Mr. Darwin claims that apes and humans are related and he finds that very insulting!"

I mentioned that the B'nei Yissachar says that HaShem created a transition between all extremes.  Among them: apes between man and beast; gerim between Jew and goy.  In the achievement tests, that could have been the key to filling the question, "ape is to human as _____ is to Jew".  I am not particularly insulted, as the apes have not produced any Hitlers or Lucrezia Borgias, after all.  Still, it leads one to ponder if there is a deeper connection than just another of my flat jokes.

Whenever Chazal discuss people coming to convert, it refers to them as gerim.  I have wondered about that from time …

Thought for the Day: The Sabbath and Holiday Sanctification Ceremony with Wine

I remember realizing when I was 12 or so that it wasn't really that hard to always be right; just don't say anything if you aren't sure.  Of course, as I have gotten older (no, not matured), I realized that is an unacceptable solution; keep my mouth shut when I have an unfounded opinion!?  Therefore I have backed off to Plan B; never being wrong.  That's much easier, because I just need to add enough qualifiers.

As far as I can determine right now, having given the topic a full seven minutes of almost all available attention (while riding my bicycle this morning in traffic), the bracha of "borei pri ha'gafen" is unique because it is sometimes a birkas ha'ne'he'nin, sometimes a birkas ha'mitzvah, and sometimes sort of kind of both.  "What difference does it make?", you ask; "Huge!", I answer (always true, since huge is by definition comparative and I can always find something relative to which this will appear huge).  Th…

Thought for the Day: Bein Adam l'Chavreiro Bein Adam ;laMakom -- Kibud Av v'Eim

While each mitzvah is a unique entity, they also fall pretty obviously into groups.  As the Derech HaShem says, you don't really understand a topic until you understand both its parts and how its parts are arranged into the whole.  That understanding of how the parts fit into a whole give us some idea about how the mitzvos are meant to function.  Not to say, chas v'shalom, that we really understand any of the mitzvos or how they operate, but is is part of the mitzvah of talmud torah to deepen whatever understanding we can regarding how HaShem runs His world.  Moreover, it is spiritually invigorating to realize another dimension of meaning to even the most mundane actions.

One way to group mitzvos is as bein adam l'chaveiro and bein adam la'makom; between man and his fellow and between man and his Creator.  Yesterday's shalosh s'udos drush delved into how to classify the mitzvah of kibud av v'eim.   On the one hand, it seems clear as day that this is a mitzv…

Thought for the Day: Fine for Taking a Mitzvah is 10 Gold Dinarim (~ $792.00 on Jan 17, 2014 CE)

S'char mitzvah b'hai alma leicha!  The reward for even the smallest mitzvah is so unimaginably huge that it can't be fit into this world.  Wow!  Holy Amazing Olam HaBah, Batman!  Take, for example, the mitzvah of tzedaka; a real, live, Torah mandated mitzvah.  Let's keep this "small", say... giving a dollar to the m'shulach who is trudging though this freezing winter in Chicago.  He walks by during chazaras ha'shatz and you absent-mindedly (except to make darn sure he isn't trying for a second dollar this year) hand him a dollar.  We all know and believe that the reward for that mitzvah is greater than all the wealth in this world.

Theoretically, that is.  I haven't tried this experiment, but I am confident of my prediction as to the outcome.  The experiment is to have two different collectors going through beis medrashim... which collector goes to which beis medrashim chosen at random.  One collector goes with a green card and gives a the mit…

Thought for the Day: Temporary and Almost Temporary Knots

Sewing and tying are two ways to create a permanent connection.   Buttons and buckles are often used to create temporary connections; that is connections that by there very nature are meant to be  broken.  Buttons and buckles, in fact, are only used to create temporary connections, so it is always permitted to button/unbutton and buckle/unbuckle on Shabbos.  That's true even if the intent is to leave the connection till after Shabbos (putting on my shoes for mincha), or the garment came into Shabbos connected (my suit jacket Friday night).  Sewing is almost always meant to be permanent, and so is essentially forbidden on Shabbos.  (There are some possible exceptions.)

Knots are funny because they can be used both for temporary and permanent connections.  Knots that are meant to be undone soon (preferably within the day, but up to a week in case of need) are permitted l'chatchila.  Tying shoes, putting on a gartel, cinching my robe closed; all no problem.  Knots that are meant …

Thought for the Day: Aseres HaDibros -- Instructions for Eternity

I have had many conversations with my children.  I said many, many things that should not have been said.  I am also confident that there conversations I should have had, but didn't.  There is one conversation that I didn't have, however, that I am confident that there will be no complaint against me in heaven.  Here's the conversation that I didn't have with any of my children:
Thank you, dear child, for meeting with me today.  You are going out into the world soon and I feel an urgent need to give you my feelings on certain matters.  I appreciate that you prepared, as I asked, and have come today with all due seriousness to have this life critical conversation.  My dear child, I do not want you to be a murderer. I did not have that conversation because it never in my wildest imagination even occurred to me  that I needed to have that conversation.  I mean, if a parent needs to have that conversation, perhaps there are other conversation and/or interventions that need…

Thought for the Day: The Malacha of K'shira -- Tying Knots

Several malachos of Shabbos come in pairs: building/destroying, sewing/tearing, writing/erasing, and the star of today: tying/untying knots.  The basic concept of the assur m'd'oraisa malacha of k'shira is to create a knot that is never supposed to be untied.  There is a machlokes M'chaber and Rema about whether or not the professionalism of the knot affects its status, but the basic principle is as stated.  The malacha of untying is, simply stated, any knot that is forbidden to be tied is also forbidden to be untied; everyone agrees to that (even though they disagree on what conditions make tying a knot assur).

That's weird.  I am certainly not allowed write a note as long as I promise to erase it in a few hours.  True, if I write something that will fade (or otherwise self-destruct) in a few hours, then I have not violated the d'oraisa malacha of writing on Shabbos.  (It is still, of course, assur m'd'rabanan.)  If, though, I were to write something a…

Thought for the Day: Clearing the Confusion about Doubt

I learned another new word this week: selvage.  To produce a woven garment, one must first attach several threads to a frame, forming a sort of harp like effect of parallel threads; that's called the warp.  One then weaves a thread or threads through the warp (above one and below the next); that's called the weft.  At the conclusion of that process, their are some threads from the warp and/or weft sticking out.  Those may be cut off or, as often happens, they may be woven either together or with other threads to form a margin around the garment.  That margin (finished with another weaving or not) is known as selvage.  (Selvage is better than usufruct, because (1) you might actually have an occasion to use it, and (2) it doesn't sound like you are saying something rude.)

What's important about that, you ask.  I am so glad you asked!  Tzitzis are to be placed "on the corner" of a garment.  The Torah is precise: on the corner garment, not on the edge of the garm…

Thought for the Day: Purim... There Really Was No Choice

I just looked up the definition of footnote to make sure I had clarity.  Here it is:
an ancillary piece of information printed at the bottom of a page That's what I thought, but just be 100% certain, before I say something publicly, I double checked "ancillary", and found:
providing necessary support to the primary activities (emphasis mine) Ah.  We are in this world to act.  There are six mitzvos that are constant and thought only (see second Biur Halacha), but the rest pretty much are about actions we are to perform or avoid.  Halichos Shlomo is amazing in that it has short, to the point halachos -- instructions for how to act, copiously footnoted with the reasoning, justification, and demonstrations of the gadol himself, R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zecher tzadik v'kodesh livracha.

There is a profound footnote on Hilchos Purim that reveals the very heart and essence of Purim.  First, there is the name itself.  Haman, y'mach sh'mo v'zichro, meant to des…

Thought for the Day: Produce, Not Produce of Produce, Between Husband and Wife

So Shaindy and Shloimy get married; mazal tov!  Shaindy came into this, her first marriage, with a 10 camel dowry and also her favorite cow, Bessy.  Shaindy's k'suba, therefore, says that she gets $10,400.00 if Shloimy dies or divorces Shaindy; that's 200 zuz plus the appraised value of dowry she brought into the marriage.  Shloimy gets Bessy's milk and babies, Bessy herself remains owned by Shaindy.  Vanilla nichsei m'log and nichsei tzon barzal.

Shloimy gets Bessy's milk and babies because he get the produce (peiros) of Shaindy's property.  What about produce from those peiros (pira d'pera)?  Usually that means something like Shloimy sells the milk and buys property, or raises the calf and gets milk from it.  That kind of pira d'pirh certainly belong to Shloimy.  In fact, it is hard to understand what owning the peiros would mean if it didn't include those rights.  Chazal, though, say that Shloimy only gets peiros and not peirei d'peiros (…

Thought for the Day: Dowry, Property, and Profit Rights for Woman

I couldn't make this up.  According to my very, very cool Hebrew-American-English dictionary, the word "m'log" (mem-lamed-cholam-gimmel) means "usufruct".  I am not even going to bother to translate that; you can look it up if you are that interested.  When that sort of thing happens, my plan is to try the word as a verb instead of a noun.  I was not disappointed: malag (mem-lamed-gimmel) means: to scald (hmm... not what I am seeking); to pour boiling water on (shouldn't end a sentence -- even a fragment -- in a preposition, but I assume it is Israelis who wrote this dictionary, so I'll be forgiving; still not it); to benefit from rent/dividends -- THAT'S IT!

The woman in a Jewish marriage takes a lot of responsibility and risk; the Torah mitigates that somewhat via the k'suva.  The usual situation is that the man takes ownership of income and anything the wife acquires during the marriage, in consideration of which the k'suvah guarantee…

Thought for the Day: When Action Precedes Realization, and Realization Creates the M'lacha

Catchy title, eh?  So here's the deal.  To transgress Shabbos on a Torah level requires "m'leches machsheves".  That is, the action that constitutes the malacha was done with intent for the result of that action and acting on the intended items.  If an action was performed in that manner by a Jew, then the result of that malacha is forbidden forever (at least) to that Jew and anyone he specifically intended to benefit with said action.

As it turns out, most malachos change the object upon which they are acting.  Baking/cooking, sewing, building, etc effect a change in the object under consideration.  What that kind of malacha is done on Shabbos the result of the malacha, as far as possible, needs to be undone.  If a garment was sewn on Shabbos, for example, that would need to be undone (after Shabbos).  If seeds were planted, they would need to be dug up.

Some malachos, though, affect only the environment of the object, but have no effect on the object itself at all.…

Thought for the Day: We Have a Mesora for That

As I get older, the chill that starts this time of year gets harder to bear and seems to start earlier.  No, I do not mean the weather; I can dress for that.  I mean response from my wife when I mention that I am learning hilchos Purim; because Purim starts with P and that rhymes with P and that reminds her of Pesach, right here in River City.  I tried to ease into it by saying I was learning about hilchos Adar, but she's on to me.

Halichos Shlomo says that Adar is different, so it is ok to make a chasuna right up the the end of the month.  I might as well have read, "it is permitted to stir a milichig pot with a milchig spoon."  Fortunately, the footnotes sent me to the Rema on Shulchan Aruch, Even haEzer 64:3.  Sure enough, the Rema says the minhag is not to make chasunas near the end of the month.  Apparently "end" means after the 23 or so.  We made on on Rosh Chodesh and one on the 12th, so -- whew -- we were fine.  When asked, R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach…

Thought for the Day: T'shuva for Stealing

I really like Neos; they just do their job effectively with no frills.  The only problem is that they only come in one color (black) and lots of people have them.  To help distinguish my new Neos, I didn't remove the tag.  It may look silly to some (alright, alright... only Minnie Pearl and I think of it as a fashion statement), but at least no one will accidentally take my Neos.

One night last week, a noted talmid chacham came over to me to inquire about my boots.  "They're Neos," I answered, feeling very full of myself that my reputation as a ba'al seichel was such that a talmid chacham would ask my advice concerning mili d'alma/worldly matters.  "And what size?", he continued.  "Extra large," I answered, happy to advise him on fit as well as fashion and utility.  "Did you bring them last night?"  I nodded, starting to wonder where this was leading.  "Are you sure those are yours?", he persisted.  Ah; now I got it, so…

Thought for the Day: The Gift of Time

Today is the earliest day of the year that the work day starts; barely two hours after ha'neitz ha'chama on Rosh Chodesh.  What with Hallel, K'rias haTorah, and Musaf, that means that the work day starts only 1½ hours after the end of davening.  Work starts much later during the summer... as much as additional two hours later.  I wish work would start the same time every day, but I do have a chiyuv hishtadlus, and this is the only job for which I am qualified that almost covers my bills.  Ok, ok... I could have chosen a lifestyle with smaller monetary obligations, but I'm American!

Perhaps you are wondering why I don't just daven some place that finishes earlier.  I am glad you asked.  The second sefer of the Rambam's Mishnah Torah is "Sefer Ahava".  The first is "Sefer Mada", the book of knowledge, which discusses fundamental beliefs, learning Torah, the issur of foreign worship (avoda zara), and hilchos t'shuva.  That is, the fundament…