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Showing posts from February, 2014

Thought for the Day: Bentching After Shalosh S'udos When Rosh Chodesh Occurs On Sunday

Apparently getting as little as 51% of the electorate is called "received a clear mandate from the people" vis a vis presidential elections.  While I usually consider such statements as so much inconsequential nonsense, if it provides support for something I want to do anyway; why not?  Based on the fact that a whopping 66.667% of responses to yesterday's post regarding al ha'nisim when Purim falls on Sunday (and the pothole situation this winter) asked about Rosh Chodesh falling on Sunday, I have a mandate from the people!  Moreover, the response rate itself was up by nearly 207%!  I humbly accept the confidence and trust that both of you have put in me.

If you finish your s'uda sh'lisis on Shabbos before sundown, then you have no issues with bentching; just add only "r'tzei", obviously.  Let's look at another almost as obvious case.  You washed after shkiya and davened ma'ariv during the s'uda after tzeis ha'kochavim, but befor…

Thought for the Day: Al Ha'Nisim in Bentching Motzei Shabbos

I heard a great statistic this morning: if you add up the predicted highs for today, tomorrow, and the next day, you will get a number whose value is less than the average high for any of those days.  That's why I grabbed my opportunity yesterday (when temperatures soared into the high teens) to bike to work.  I enjoy commuting to work by bicycle.  It's not a pleasure ride, but it's very satisfying and it's important for both my present financial situation and my long term health; in short, it's an obligation, but an obligation that I accept with enthusiasm.  That being said; yesterday was very cold, especially on the way home with wind chill.  Also the road conditions were not great.  While there is some ice, the big problem is the potholes; cavernous potholes that could easily damage a wheel and send the rider (moi, in this case) flying off the bike.

That's a small taste of what it's like learning Mishna Brura.  Very enjoyable, but not a pleasure ride of …

Thought for the Day: Machlokes Means Building Consensus, Not Argument

The old joke is, "How does a talmud scholar scratch his left ear?"  It's a visual joke, so you now have to imagine extending one's right arm over his head and scratching the left ear with the right hand.  Ha ha ha.

The root cause of jokes like this is, of course, that anyone reading the gemara sees nothing but a mish mash of disconnected thoughts.  Classic example near the end of Bava Kama.  The topic is clarifying the intent of the Torah in requiring a thief to return the stolen property.  The mishna on 103a clearly states that the thief has fulfilled his obligation as along as his victim forgives the loss (not just the crime, but actually tells the thief that he needn't return the stolen goods nor their value).  The mishna on 108b, however, clearly says that the thief must get the stolen goods out of his pocket -- even if the victim has died and the thief is the sole heir, as discussed previously.  Both of those mishnayos are "stam" -- stated anonymou…

Thought for the Day: Those Who Deny the Oral Law are Not Benign

I am not by nature a squeamish person.  As one example, as an undergraduate decided on my own to work learn about the skeletal system by removing the skeleton from a rabbit and mounting it.  My grandfather (who, interestingly enough was quite squeamish) had gotten me a book detailing the project (he really loved me; I really miss him).  The project took a few weeks and the college gave me space to keep my things and work on it.  That's not the proof I am not squeamish.  The spot I had was in the room where they prepared cadavers for the human anatomy class and the only time I had to work on the project was during lunch.  That's the proof.

I have seen many films depicting the horrors of the holocaust.  They are, of course, awful and sad; but only one gave me chills and was difficult to watch.  It was a short home movie that had been taken of Adolf Hitler, yimach sh'mo v'zichrono, spending some downtime with his family (siblings and their children) at the Berghof.  What …

Thought for the Day: Purim -- Using Happenstance to Reveal Hashgacha

I highly, highly recommend that before hearing M'gilas Esther this year, you learn these two ma'amarim in Michtvav mei'Eliyahu, vol 2, pps 128-130; v'ne'hapoch hu (and it's reversed) and inyan hipuch (on the topic of reversal).  They will stand you on your head!

R' Dessler notes several examples of the extreme precision with which Haman's plans are not merely thwarted, they are reversed (with extreme prejudice).  Haman plans to have all the Jews destroyed; BANG -- on that very day, the Jews, in fact, destroy all their enemies.  Haman plans to hang Mordechai; BANG -- on that very day Haman is forced to honor Mordechai.  Haman prepares the gallows on which Mordechai is to be hung; BANG -- Haman is hung on that very gallows.

The Maharal explains that it had to be that way.  Haman was attempting the destroy Klal Yisrael, the Am Nitzchi (the eternal nation), the nation whose existence is guaranteed and ensured by the Creator of the Universe Himself.  Throw a…

Thought for the Day: Undoing the Effect of Stealing

You may already know this, but just to be clear: HaShem runs the world.  Obvious, right?  Well... the Chovos HaLevavos carries this to its logical conclusion and notes the following two facts.  If you are supposed to have something -- even something of great value -- then no one can prevent you from having it, nor can they take it away from you.  If, on the other hand, you are not suppose to have something -- even something of absolutely trivial value -- then there is no way you can keep it in your possession.

How then, you are wondering, is it possible to have steal anything?  In fact, how can stealing be an aveira?  Wait... how can there even be free will?!  Hang on, hang on... that, of course, is a ridiculously complex subject, but let's stick to our original question and a surface answer.  Stealing means taking someone else's stuff without their permission.  It doesn't matter that the thief couldn't have taken it and the victim couldn't have lost it unless HaSh…

Thought for the Day: Stringencies of Purim Over Chanuka

To me, one of the starkest demonstrations that we (ie, Jews) take our religion (ie, Orthodox Judaism) seriously is that we celebrate holidays because HaShem told us to.  We didn't just pick events, like... say... oh I don't know... Moshe Rabeinu's birth and decided to dedicate a winter holiday to its commemoration.  We eat matzah in the spring, count to 50 and eat cheesecake, then blow a horn, fast, and build huts in the autumn; all and only because HaShem told us to.  Members of the Christian and Reform Jewish religions, on the other hand, eat colored eggs and oranges, respectively, in the spring; because they decided that would be cool.  'Nuff said.

There are, of course, two holidays that do not have an explicit source in the Chumash -- those would be, or course, Purim and Chanuka.  I used the term "explicit source", because both actually needed to find support in the Chumash before they could even be considered.  Moreover, we make the standard bracha of &q…

Thought for the Day: The Mitzvah to Return Stolen Goods Is a Real, Live Mitzvah

The transgression of a lav sh'nitek l'asei (a prohibition whose violation can be repaired by a positive action) lies somewhere between bitul asei (failing to perform a mandated action; which it's more severe than) and a simple lav (prohibition; which it's not as bad as).  Rabbeinu Yona in Sha'arei T'shuva discusses that point at some length.

I always read "l'asei" part of "lav sh'nitek l'asei" as meaning that you can essentially undo the effect of the lav be doing something; no harm no foul, sort of thing.  You left a korban past its expiration date, so burn it; no harm, no foul.  You stole something, so return it; no harm, no foul.  Yet again, I was wrong.  (At this point maybe I should just start noting when I am actually right...)  In fact, the action really does get credited as fulfillment of a positive commandment; not just a good deed.

Howso?  The mishna in Bava Kama at the bottom of 108b describes the following very sad si…

Thought for the Day: Ta'anis Esther -- A Celebration of HaShem Keeping Us Close

There are five rabbinically mandated fasts during the year: Tzom Gedaliah, Asara b'Teives, Shiva Asar b'Tammus, Tisha b'Av, and Ta'anis Esther.  (I know I left out Ta'anis B'choros; first, it is only a fast for the first born; second, it is almost entirely observed by voiding fasting by attending  a siyum.)  One of these fasts is not like the other.  One of these fasts just doesn't belong.  Can you tell which fast is not like the others?  Did you guess which fast is not like the others?  Did you guess which fast just doesn't belong?  If you guessed that Ta'anis Esther is not like the others, then you ... are ... right!

How do the differences manifest?  For one thing, Chazal never decreed a fast to be on Shabbos.  The general rule is not to rush into problems, so if the scheduled date of a fast were to fall on Shabbos, we usually push it off till Sunday.  Not Ta'anis Esther; that one we pull forward to Thursday.  Ta'anis Esther is also so eas…

Thought for the Day: Zatu Bo Dahd Uvyo -- The Four Parshiyos

There are four Shabbosim during the year that Chazal want us to add a short selection to the normal Shabbos leining between Rosh Chodesh Adar and Rosh Chodesh Nissan.  These are known fondly to klal yisrael as Shabbos Sh'kalim, Shabbos Zachor, Shabbos Para, and Shabbos haChodesh.

Shabbos Sh'kalim is to remind us that the machtzis ha'shekel is due before Nissan.  The Torah distinguishes Nissan as the first of months (though not the first month of the year).  That distinction is commemorated by a requirement to buy the communal korban tamid offerings with funds collected from Nissan to Adar.  Nissan is coming up, so it's time pony up (or lamb up, I suppose) that machtzis ha'shekel to fill the coffers with the funded needed to restock the flock.

Next come Shabbos Zachor; the shabbos of "We will never forget!"  We read again of the sneaky and cowardly behavior of Amaleik attacking the weak of the newly formed klal yisrael as they left Mitzrayim.  This reading…

Thought for the Day: Reform Jewish Religion Does Not Walk Even Their Own Talk

I was late coming home this morning from minyan.  Then I was late getting to the train.  Then I wasn't able to learn very effectively on the train.  It's all my wife's fault.  This morning, while preparing a hot breakfast for me to start my day, she remembered that she hadn't forwarded the email she had written to Rabbi Nancy (the spiritual co-leader of my in-laws' soon-to-be-ex congregation) last night after comforting her overwrought and justifiably upset mother.  Before I left shul this morning, I checked my phone for messages... saw that I had an email, opened it (ok, ok... I'm really do check my email much more often than I need to) and saw the email that my wife had sent to Rabbi Nancy.  I not only couldn't believe what I was reading, I called a friend over to read some particularly juicy sections to him.

When we first started to keep kosher and semi keep Shabbos, there were nothing really ideological about it; it was mostly doing more of the traditio…

Thought for the Day: Celebration of Purim Depends On Where You Intend To Be

Having been through this several times now, I think I have it right.  Purim is the one holiday we have whose date of celebration depends on location.  This is not quite the same as "yom tov sheini shel galiyos", because there everyone is supposed to celebrate the holiday on the same day, it is just that there is uncertainty about when that date occurs.  The date of the Purim celebration, however, is actually different for cities that were walled from the time of Y'ho'shu bin Nun than for unwalled cities.  Even better, it depends on where you intend to be, as well as where you are.  Even better, it depends on where you intend to be in the morning, but there is already stuff to do the night before.  So here goes...

A Tel Aviv-nik decides to spend the day in Yerushalayim... the day, though, is the 14th of Adar.  He plans to return late-ish (after tzeis ha'kochavim) on the 15th.  Since he plans to have left Yerushalayim before one would be obligated in the morning me…

Thought for the Day: The Essence of the Torah? The Torah, the Whole Torah, and Nothing But the Torah

My wife, she should continue to live and be well and go from strength to strength (all needed just to be able to survive living with me), once had an IVP.  You can look it up, if you like, but all you need to know for this story is that it's a diagnostic procedure.  Diagnostic; not for treatment of anything, just to check out what's going on.  Diagnostic.  A few days later she noticed a painful swelling and reddening on her upper arm.  She called the doctor and he told her to get to the hospital quickly; where she stayed for three days.  It turns out one of the (not uncommon) complications is deep vein thrombosis -- an internal blood clot.  Those can be cause strokes and even be fatal; hence the rush to the hospital.

We asked why they hadn't told her about that, and they said it was in the release she had signed.  She didn't remember any such warning, so they showed us her signed release for the IVP.  Sure enough, the release did mention the possibility of thrombosis..…

Thought for the Day: Building the Mishkan Is Building Yourself

Violating Shabbos intentionally is a capital crime; with witnesses and warning beis din is empowered to remove the person from this world, but in any case he has removed himself from the next.  You would think that something with such dire consequences would have the rules and all their details clearly stated.  Yet, all of hilchos Shabbos is revealed to us by reminding us not to violate the Shabbos even while building that most holy of structures, the mishkan.  That's tantamount to the human resources director telling you, "Of course I told you about our zero tolerance policy regarding immediate dismissal for sexual harassment; I mentioned that we expect you to keep all our rules just as we walked past the receptionist desk!"

There is a lot to say about why the Torah chose to reveal hilchos Shabbos via this simple adjacency, so let's just take that as a given for now.  The S'porono however, adds a chilling nuance.  If one violates Shabbos in building the mishkan,…

Thought for the Day: Squeezing Liquids Out Of Stuff

I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time I plugged a wine barrel with a linen stopper.  In fact, I am pretty darn sure that I never have.  So when I saw that 320:18 started that way, I figured this will be quick.  After all, it's not the first syef in Shulchan Aruch I've ever seen, nor the first Mishna Brura I've learned.  I had a good feeling about this.  Of course, I was wrong.

That syef takes two full pages of the Mishna Brura, including eight sub-paragraphs and three juicy Bi'ur Halachas.  Why?  Because of the little bit of wine that inevitably gets squeezed out of the cloth when the barrel is either stoppered or unstoppered.  That, friend, is the issur of s'chita.  Note, however, that s'chita is not one of the 39.  There's a bit of a machlokes about what the problem really is, and whether/under what conditions it is d'oraiso or d'rabanan.  We'll talk about that anon.  Then there is that "inevitably", aka …

Thought for the Day: Snow On Shabbos

R' Henoch Liebowitz, ztz"l, would often say that you need two things to make it in this world: Emuna and a healthy sense of humor.  Usually I feel my emuna is the weak link, but this winter has been trying my sense of humor.  I made the mistake of being vocal before the winter about how cold doesn't deter me from riding my bicycle, but snow will; after all, I am wont to quip, "I strive to be not stupid."  I have been getting a pointed lesson this winter in, "Cold no problem?  Hmm... let's just test that theory."  Ok... I get it, but a joke is a joke, so can we ease up now?  One the other hand, I am getting more upper body exercise with with all the shoveling.

I was delighted, though, to get to a halacha that is right on inyana d'yoma and again tickles my inner nine year old boy funny bone:
The R"ahm mei'Rotenberg permits urinating on snow, but the Rosh advises caution. (320:14) What might be the problem?  This halacha follows on the he…

Thought for the Day: Getting Rid of What You Don't Want Without Desecrating the Holy Sabbath

Here's another halachic situation the appeals to the nine year old boy in me.  But first, the setup.  The issur of borer is  to separate p'soles from ochel -- the stuff I don't want from the stuff I do want.  There is no issur at all to separate ochel from ochel.  That is not quite as empty a statement as it may seem at first glance.  The malacha of borer can apply to many things besides food: silverware, coats, s'farim, toys, etc.  Obviously, therefore, what characteristic defines ochel vs p'soles will needs to change with the situation.  However, when it comes to food, the discrimination factor is taste.  Not color, not smell, not origin; taste.

That can either be l'chumra or l'kula.  It is l'chumra when it comes to, for example, chicken cutlets.  If some are really crispy and some are succulent and you really, really want the crispy ones, then the succulent ones are p'soles; even though they are all the same ingredients (protein covered in carboh…

Thought for the Day: Protecting HaShem's Investment In You

A coworker stopped by and and asked if I knew where so-and-so (yet another coworker) sat.  I did and offered to show him rather than just explaining.  As we were walking he told me how nice I was to be doing this.  I, ever (falsely) modest, demurred that I need the exercise anyway.  "Ah," he noted, "so you are selfish."  I had no quip for that; it's essentially true.

There's a concept in halacha know as "zeh ne'he'neh v'zeh lo chahser"; literally: this one benefits and this one does not suffer a loss.  A classic example is where Ruvein has an unused apartment that he never rents out and has no guests who needs it now.  If Yehuda occupies the apartment, even without permission from Ruvein, he does not owe any rent for his use of the apartment.  Obviously, derech eretz demands that Yehuda get permission (and derech eretz kadma la'torah), but Yehuda lives there rent free, nonetheless.  Of course, if Ruvein usually rents out that apart…