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Showing posts from March, 2014

Thought for the Day:Kavod HaChaim vs Kavod HaMeis and Erev Pesach

If I was looking for guidelines in interpersonal relationships, I would look first to Sha'arei T'shuva, M'silas Yesharim, Chafeitz Chaim, etc.  I would not look in Hilchos Pesach; and I would obviously not even be glancing down at the footnotes.

If I were looking for how to treat a corpse with proper dignity, I'd probably go to Yoreh Dei'ah somewhere.  (That's a lie; I'd call R' Fuerst; but bear with me, please.)  I know it is important, though, because of a Rashi in Chumash; where he notes that even the kohein gadol on his way to do the avoda of Yom Kippur would be required to first take care of a meis mitzvah.  That's astounding!  As important as the avoda of the kohein gadol on Yom Kippur is for all of Klal Yisrael, it does not take precedence over the kavod due a simple Jew whose corpse is lingering unburied; no relative or friend close enough to take care of his last needs in this world, so distant from the community that even the chevra kadish…

Thought for the Day: Less Than a K'Zayis of Karpas; Really

I am pretty sure you are not going to hear/read this comparison any where else: The karpas is the hobbit of the seder.  I really enjoyed reading The Hobbit and all the other J. R. R. Tolkien stories about Middle Earth.  It was one of my interests that I was not able to pass on to my children (one of many, actually).  In case you have also not been so interested in the doings of Middle Earth, a hobbit has no particularly interesting qualities; not a wizard, orc, goblin, elf, or even man.  Just a little creature whose greatest talent is to stay out of the way; yet he ends up being at the center of a battle for all that is good.

What's on the seder plate? Matzos -- lechem oni, the bread of affliction over which the story of miracles wrought for our redemption unfolds. Maror  -- a memorial to the bitterness we endured in preparation for the greatest gift possible, the Torah, and to become the treasured nation of HaKodosh Baruch Hu, our Father, our King. Z'ro'ah -- in remembran…

Thought for the Day: S'firas HaOmer, Kavana for Mitzvos, Safeik, Etc

In a few weeks, if anyone asks me how old I am, I may very likely respond, "Last year I was 55."  Or, "Hey... what day is it?"  "Yesterday was Wednesday."  We all get a bit nuts this/that time of year because of our zeal to be able to "tzel s'fira"/count the omer with a bracha.  There is a lot going into why the best answer to "What's day of the s'fira today?", is "Yesterday was kach."  ("kach" is the object form of "ploni").

Zeroth is, of course, that you need to know the day of the s'fira before you can count.  While the Shulchan Aruch does permit one who is not sure of the count to make the bracha with the congregation and then wait till he hears the number from his neighbor's counting, it's certainly not l'chatchila.  (Here's a horrible scene: the whole shul looking like an EF Hutton commercial as it slowly dawns on everyone that no one actually knew the count.)  So ther…

Thought for the Day: When You Forget Havdala At First Cup Seder Night Motzai Shabbos

Everyone loves halacha that isn't l'ma'aseh.  You feel accomplished, but it doesn't require any lifestyle changes.  Eisav, for example, inquired into ma'aser for salt and straw for that reason.  Eisav, of course, was also trying to fool his father Yitzchak Avinu.  Yitzchak, of course, understood Eisav's intentions clearly, but encouraged him in hopes of igniting a spark.  You can lead a yisrael mumar to Torah, but you can't make him drink.

In any case, Siman 473 discusses the first cup of the four cups at the seder.  In that siman, the Shulchan Aruch notes the order of events when the first night of Pesach occurs on motzai Shabbos.  The issue is, of course, that both kiddush and havdalah have to happen with that first cup.  The basic order is YaK'N'HaZ -- Yayin (bracha of borei pri hagafen), Kiddush (right, borei pri hagafen is necessary for the kiddush ceremony, but technically kiddush is the bracha that ends "m'kadesh yisrael v'hazman…

Thought for the Day: All Is For Me and I Am For All

Passover is coming soon; ready or not.  I prefer to be ready.  It's a lot of tasks and things go much more smoothly if those tasks are shared; and that requires coordination.  This year I found a project/task management tool that has both web and mobile app components.  I can create, assign, follow, set reminders for, and track tasks.  I have tasks for getting haircuts, moving chametz out of kitchen, ordering pesach food, getting wine, etc.  A non-frum colleague at work thought is was overkill.  "Well, we are having about 15 people, but I'll go on Saturday to do the shopping."  Misreading the look on my face, he added, "I know, it's easier for me because I am allowed to shop on Saturday."

I, of course, felt compelled to respond.  Which I did.  "No, you are not allowed to, you are choosing to do something wrong."  He's known me for a while now, so he simply replied, "True." Of course you need to know your audience (a skill I conti…

Thought for the Day: Shabbos Candles Should Be Lit Where You Eat

Weather is better (or was, anyway...), so I heard another shiur from R' Fuerst: Hadlakos Neiros, sleeping at home but eating somewhere else.  Now that you know the p'sak (it's in today's title), let me give you some background.  By the way, in case you have never heard, "One minute, other line" (ie, you've never called R' Fuerst), you should know that that word "should" makes a big difference.

Let's start from the beginning.  Why do we light Shabbos candles in the first place?  Three reasons are given: kavod Shabbos (a candle lit dinner is more formal/special), oneg Shabbos (it's more fun when you can see what you are eating), and (shalom bayis (so you don't trip over things and each other).  Kavod and oneg Shabbos turn out to be basically two sides of the same coin; kavod is before Shabbos, oneg is during.  Lighting candles before Shabbos (kavod) provides light on Shabbos (oneg).  Shalom bayis, actually, is just another aspect o…

Thought for the Day: Wait... How Big Are Those Eggs?

Based on the results of my usual scholarly research into such matters (first or second hit on google), I have discovered that there are 4.5 medium eggs in a cup.  Which means (not higher math) that 1.5 medium eggs is ⅓ cup.  Which means, ipso facto, that a r'vi'is of wine (or anything else, for that matter) ought to be 2.7 or so ounces.  In fact, the small shiur is 2.9 ounces; easily within the error bars of my exhaustive research and analysis.

There is a machlokes Rambam and Rashi as to how many olive volumes add up to one egg.  The Rambam says three, Rashi two.  That means that a k'zayis of matzah should be roughly an ounce or a bit more... about enough so the crumbled matzah would fill a shot glass (more or less, depending on where you drink).  So why are we all eating a whole box of matzah by ourselves each seder?  (Or at least it feels like that for the next few days...)

You can thank the Tzlach, R' Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793) [aka Noda b'Yehudah], Chief Rabb…

Thought for the Day: Why You Can't Run the Dishwasher After Friday Night

Let's say you don't mind using timers to run stuff on Shabbos.  R' Moshe, by the way, told R' Fuerst (I heard him say) that if there had been timers at the time of Chazal, they surely would have assured them just as they assured amir l'akum (arranging to have a goy do things for you on Shabbos).  Because, R' Moshe reasoned, by setting timers to start and stop things on Shabbos, your Shabbos experience can be made not much different than during the week; just like having a goy work for you.  (I personally found it interesting that of all the reasons given for the issur of amira l'akum, R' Moshe felt so strongly about the main reason that he was confident that Chazal would have applied the same issur to time clocks.)  The one exception is time clocks for lights (though R' Moshe was personally makpid on that also, so R' Fuerst is, so I am), because there once could argue the purpose is kavod Shabbos.

Any who... let's say that doesn't bother…

Thought for the Day: Accomplishment and Role Model; Come From the Outside In

We are very organized at the k'vasikin minyan on Chicago.  To be more precise, our master of ceremonies is very organized and keeps us on track.  Take Purim, for example.  We all want to daven correctly and with enthusiastic decorum.  On the other hand, immediately after kriyas ha'megila, of course, we all want to get busy with the next mitvah of the day -- mishloach manos ish l'rei'eihu.  Since many or our friends are right there, it is efficient to make the deliveries right there... which until a couple of years ago led to quite a bilbul during uva l'tzion till the end of davening.  An executive decision was made a few years ago to put baskets in the lunch room labeled the names of the regulars; after kriyas ha'm'gila mishloach manos can be delivered very efficiently.

This year I had a great idea, a chahp, as it were.  I got there early and figured I'd just drop mine deliveries off before davening.  Don't worry, it was before alos ha'shachar, …

Thought for the Day: Having Hot Food on Shabbos

It is, of course, forbidden to cook on Shabbos.  On the other hand, we all want hot food on Shabbos.  Actually, it is more than "want", we are actually making a strong statement that we believe in the Torah sh'B'al Peh and that Chazal have accurately transmitted it to us.  All that from having cholent?  You betcha!  Every time you enjoy the radiance of the lights at your Friday night s'uda and eat a bite of tasty hot cholent, you are saying that HaShem gave us the Torah with all it's instructions at Har Sinai and we are faithfully adhering to that divine standard till today.
Chazal also built safeguards to prevent us from slipping out of the heavenly bliss of Shabbos that is mei'ein olam habah into ... well, the warmer place that isn't so friendly.  One of the mainstays of that safeguard system is the friendly old blech; covering the flame with a metal cover that is not usually there.  The blech accomplishes two things.  First, it is not the normal wa…

Thought for the Day: The Serious Problem With Using Baby Wipes On Shabbos

S'chita!  It even sounds vicious.  It could be the name of a movie about snakes.  "Ssss'chita!  You'll feel them coiling around your ankles... Ssss'chita!"  It fills us with terror because it seems so elusive.  Sometimes squeezing wine out of something is assur m'di'oraisa.  In fact, even cutting grapes on Shabbos is assur because it is impossible to cut them with out squeezing out some juice; aka "yayin mi'gito"/wine from the pressing vat. Using a wet towel to dry your hands (after 10 other people have already used that towel) can present real d'oraisa problems.  See?  Scary!

In reality, though, it's not so scary if you just break it down.  S'chita (only one samech) is actually involved with two different malachos; that's the source of the confusion.  As discussed previously: s'chita always means removing a liquid from an absorbent matrix; if you want the liquid, it's m'farek, but if you want to be rid of the…

Thought for the Day: Bein Baruch Mordechai and Arur Haman -- What Was the Question?

When I was young and stupid (as opposed to now, when I am no longer so young), I made some remark to one of my "older" co-workers about his elevated age (he was probably in his 40s).  He asked me if ever longed to be a teenager again.  "Argh! No way!"  "Right," he replied, "and I also don't want to be in my 20s again."  Getting older isn't just better than the alternative, it's really just plain good.  Besides the goodness of personal growth and deepened understanding of why we are here in this world and how to achieve our purpose, there is also the pleasure of the shared knowledge and world outlook with one's peer group.  That what the heightened pleasure of learning a R' Dessler on Purim; when my chavrusa said, "Ah!  To do that voodoo that you do so well!"  I knew exactly what he meant and we both knew we were getting the R' Dessler.

That last R' Dessler in the third volume of "Strive for Truth" …

Thought for the Day: Safeik d'Rabanan l'Kula, Except B'dika

We all go more than a little nuts before Pesach (more than usual, I mean).  It's not entirely our own fault, Chazal added some fuel to this fire.  The Torah requires that we not have chameitz during Pesach; in fact, it demands that we destroy any chameitz that we have (that's why we like to specifically leave over chameitz and burn it before the Torah takes it away from us; but that's another story).  Chazal have required us to fulfill this requirement by doing two things before Pesach: bikur/bi'ur (search/check  and destroy any chameitz in our environs) and bitul (nullification of any chameitz in our environs).  Mi'di'oraisa, either would be enough, but Chazal required both.

Bikur/bi'ur is required because Chazal were nervous that you might not be wholeheartedly sincere in your declaration that all that beer and cake in the fridge/pantry is ownerless (uh-huh... sure you meant it).  Bitul is required in case you missed something in your search and destroy m…

Thought for the Day: Obvious Lessons

This morning I woke up to snow... expected, but still not welcome so early.  Nice, heavy snow; good upper body workout.  I got the sidewalk cleared, then went to learn and daven.  I hurried out to skedaddle (did you know that word shows up in spell check!?!) out to catch my bus to the Brown Line to get to work as on time as possible.  Aargh...  it had snowed more while I had been doing HaShem a favor by learning and davening (k'vasiken, yet)!  To demonstrate my annoyance, I spent extra time clearing off every corner of the windshield and back window; I know how to get my point across, after all.  Now I was late getting home, so I was late leaving for the bus.  So.. I was ½ block from the corner when I saw the bus go flying past.  I thought, "Wow!  What crazy hashgacha!  Obviously if I had not spent those few seconds to show my (quite unreasonable) annoyment, I would have made the bus.

I had the next few minutes waiting for the bus to let that soak in as I opened my Mishna Bru…

Thought for the Day: Women's Obligation to Hear Parshas Zachor

Over the last couple shalosh s'udos shmuesim, the rav at Ohr Yissochar has been discussing the topic of "somei'ach b'chelko".  One the questions he addressed was why the mishna defines that as ashirus (wealth); call it happy, call it calm... but calling it wealthy seems to be co-opting a perfectly good word for new meaning.  Whereas Western Society can't seem to describe anything the way it is (he's not deaf, he's hearing impaired; she's not short, she's height challenged), Chazal are honest till it hurts.  The rav brought us to understand that wealth is not measured simply by one's bank account balance, but you need to subtract off the outstanding obligation.  Someone who has 37.4 gazillion dollars in the bank, but has outstanding debts of 37.5 gazillion dollars is actually 0.1 gazillion dollars in the hole.  Someone who is happy with what he has is zero dollars in the hole; making him fabulously wealthy by modern accounting.

Rashi gives …

Thought for the Day: The Contradiction of Earned Reward Vs It's All a Gift

I try to have my learning organized and scheduled; things work more efficiently that way.  I also hate to be bored; I get all antsy and stuff.  Given that I strive to get to shul at least a few minutes before davening (running in, panting "ashrei" on the inhale, "yoshvei" on the exhale, "veisecha" on the inhale, "od" on the exhale, etc... is just not my idea of setting the right tone to greet the Creator).  That means I need to get there a few minutes early, and that means that I need something to do in those few minutes.  It has to be something I can start and finish in a (variable number of) few minutes.  During the week I often work on shnayim mikra v'echad targum, but on erev Shabbos (when I have a bit more time, typically) my "go to" sefer is Ta'alei Oros, which contains beautiful, succinct gems on the parsha.  The gem I saw last Friday night is still putting extra bounce in my step and sparkle in my eyes.

Rashi brings a m…

Thought for the Day: Being Careful With Your Friends' Money, Sensibly

One is not only permitted to protect his well-being; the Torah actually command him to do so: u'shmartem es nafshoseichem/y'all shall protect your lives.  Chazel discuss a situation where one is fleeing from unlawful seizure by an unfriendly (goyish) government (Bava Kama 116).  Our fugitive comes to a river and the only way across is a ferry.  Suppose the fare is $5.00; surely someone running for his life is willing to shell out that kind of money.  The ferry captain, however, is lazy and doesn't want to take just one passenger across; he'll wait for a full boat and ferry across once.  Our fugitive is nervous to wait that long, so he blurts out, "I'll pay you $100.00 to take me across right now!"  That gets the ferry captain's attention and the boat is dispatched forthwith.  At the other side, the fugitive, thanking the captain profusely, pays the standard fare of $5.00.  When the red-faced captain finishes screaming that's not what he was promis…

Thought for the Day: Takanas HaShuk -- Buyer Protection

This actually happened to my kids.  They had hired a new cleaning lady (with references).  My daughter came home unexpectedly at lunch time and found that the new cleaning lady had invited a couple of friends... one of whom was at the front door standing lookout.  Long story short: the friends had stolen my son-in-law's laptop and managed to fence it for $100 to a local pawn shop.  The police put the perpetrators in custody and told my son-in-law he could buy his laptop back from the pawn shop.  I was astounded!  Why should he have to buy back his own property?

I really should learn more.  Anyone who has bought a house knows that before you make an investment like that, you are going to want a thorough title search to be sure your investment is safe.  Without a title search, most would-be buyers would be scared off by the fear that at any moment they could lose their home to the rightful owners of the house.  It is impossible to do a title search on moveable property -- clothing, …

Thought for the Day: Precision in Halacha, Especially for Pesach

One of the distressing aspects of parenting is seeing your own less than sterling traits reflected in your children.  Somehow when it comes to grandchildren, though, one of the great pleasures is seeing traits that you've actually worked to improve appearing in later generations.  My four year old granddaughter likes to sing and chant, but she feels no compunction to change lyrics when it makes sense.  She was chanting, "eenie meenie mini mo, catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers... he is probably going to eat you."  Not only did she change the words to make more sense, she was also careful to note "probably"; after all, he might just be annoyed and not so hungry.

I have been asked why I over analyze things.  What things?  Oh, pretty much and and all things.  After much thought and careful analysis I have finally come up with an answer that seems to satisfy their curiosity.  I simply reply, "What do you mean over?"  They usually just walk away shaki…

Thought for the Day: Shabbos HaGadol, Named for the Great Miracle That Happened That Day

The joke is that the Shabbos before Pesach (unless erev Pesach is on Shabbos, in which case we are talking about the Shabbos before the Shabbos before Pesach) earned the title "Shabbos HaGadol" because the rav speaks for a long time.  Shockingly, that's not the reason that the Mishna Brura (citation here) gives.

The reason given by the Mishna Brura for that title is because of the great miracle that happened on that day:  The korban pesach (Miriam's little lamb) was tied to the bedposts of the Jews four days before it was to be slaughtered (for b'dika).  When the Mitzrim asked about the nature of that lamb, the Jews answered that they were going to slaughter it at the command of HaShem.  The Mitzrim were quite aggravated (set their teeth on edge, actually) because the lamb was their god, but they couldn't do anything about it.  That's the great miracle.  The Jews left on Thursday, so the lamb was slaughtered on Wednesday, so the tying up happened on Shabb…

Thought for the Day: Start Hilchos Pesach 30 Days Before Pesach

This has not been a biking friendly winter in Chicago.  The up side of that generally sorry situation is that I am getting an extra hour and a half each week day to learn.  That hour and a half turns out to be very effective, because there are no distractions; no coffee to make, no one with whom to discuss "more important stuff".  Therefore, when I walked out this morning (after the beautiful breakfast that my wife had prepared for me even though she was tired and still acclimating to the polar vortex generated weather in Chicago, having just returned from two weeks in Florida) without my my Mishna Brura, I stopped dead in my tracks, did an about face and returned home.  I told my wife I was going back to hilchos Shabbos, having (thanks to the weather) finished hilchos Purim.  Then she said, "Shouldn't you be starting hilchos Pesach?"

Now, after 36 years, I have finally learned that when my wife begins, "Shouldn't you...?", she is not expressing a…

Thought for the Day: Recognizing the Gift

I went to South Lake Tahoe High School; nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a few scant miles from Lake Tahoe.  Beautiful.  I learned to drive there; lots of snow and lots of hills.  I am therefore a pretty good driver in snow, having now over 40 years of experience.  The best advice for safety while driving in snow is: don't do it.  If you don't absolutely need to go out, then stay in.  No matter how well you drive, the roads are slippery and the other drivers are very likely neither as expert nor as cautious as you.

I was not thrilled, therefore, when I needed to drive with my young (not youngest, anymore, by the way) chavrusa to the Aguda of West Rogers Park last motzai Shabbos for the Pirkei end of year program.  I know I should have been excited; a chance to learn, to do a mitzvah, l'fum tza'arah agra (the more pain, the more gain), etc.  I even chided myself as I was cleaning off the snow with the story of the inn keeper who poured out three glasses of v…