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Showing posts from May, 2014

Thought for the Day: Counting S'fira, T'mi'mous, and Being Motzi When You Can't Be Yotzi

If you did not count s'firas ha'omer for one complete day, that you can no longer count with a bracha.  You should, of course, continue counting.  This is one of those situations where it is very important to have clarity on what you are doing and all of its parts.

On this there is no machlokes: When we have the Beis HaMikdash (may it be rebuilt soon and in our days), there is a mitzvah d'oraisa for each Jewish man to count s'firas ha'omer himself.  There is also a mitzvah d'rabanan for counter to make a bracha before performing said mitzvah; just as there is for many mitzvos.  You can't have someone motzi you in the counting (the Torah says each individual must count for himself), but you can be yotzi with someone else's bracha (though the minhag is for everyone to say the bracha himself).  Whether the mitzvah of counting now a days is d'oraisa or d'rabanan, whether women are obligated (the Ramban holds this is not a mitzvas asei sh'z'm…

Thought for the Day: Eradicating Jealosy, Lust, and Haughtiness

Now that Adam haRishon has given us a mission by eating from the eitz ha'da'as tov v'rah, we need a plan.  Our mission is to return ourselves to the level of perfection at which we were created, which means we need to eradicate from our being kina/jealousy, ta'avah/lust, and kavod/craving power.  Baruch HaShem, Chazal have provided us with a high level plan and encouraged us to review the plan three times each day, right after davening.

Each of these bad midos have an outer/apparent/masculine dimension and an inner/hidden/feminine dimension.  The outer dimension of kina is simply known as rah/evil.  The cure for that is to avoid lashon ha'rah: "Elokai n'tzor l'shoni mei'rah"/My G-d, guard my tongue from evil.  The inner dimension is mirmah/deceit: "u's'fa'sai mi'daber mirmah"/my lips from speaking deceit.  The G"ra notes the precision with which Chazal express themselves.  The tongue is associated with rah; just…

Thought for the Day: Avodas HaShem Is Returning to Perfection

As mentioned before, oxygen is required for life because it removes the poisons that cells are constantly producing as part of their normal functioning.  One very important ramification of that fact is that getting oxygen into the organism is not enough; the waste (in the form of CO2) needs to get out.  That is, the main function of breathing is to get rid of waste.  It has always struck was as a funny way to evolve; one would thing it's pretty hard to evolve when the species is always trying to kill itself.  Ah well, be that as it may, we (who understand that we are a creation and not an accident) should be asking, "What am I supposed to learn from the fact that the Creator made the system that way?"  (Not, "why did HaShem do it that way?", which is a pointless exercise in frustration because it is impossible for the creature to ever understand the motivations of his Creator.)  After all, it seems odd that our main activity in this world should be getting rid …

Thought for the Day: Lighting Shabbos Candles and Eiruv Tavshilin

I love questions like this: how are you allowed to light Shabbos candles when erev Shabbos is Yom Tov and you do not have an eiruv tavshilin on Friday afternoon at candle lighting time?  Mark Twain didn't actually say, "For every problem there is a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong."; but if he did this case would be the exception that proved the rule.  There is nothing simple nor obvious about how to handle the situation.

One reason not to have an eiruv tavshilin is, of course, forgetfulness.  In that case, you can rely on the eiruv made by the rav in the city.  Suppose, though, you have no intent to either cook or bake on Friday for Shabbos, either because you finished all your cooking/baking before Yom Tov (smart!) or you are staying with in-laws for the holidays and they are cooking/baking (once you get married, both sides are in-laws).  Or you finished all your baking/cooking for Shabbos, so you let Shaindy and Sammy (who have been whining about being stuc…

Thought for the Day: Your Life Should Get As Much Consideration As Your Car

The "Check Engine" light illuminated on my way home from learning Thursday night.  Nu, nu... not great, but not the end of the world.  I took it to the mechanic on Friday morning only to find out he was really backed up.  "You can leave it if you want, but I can't guarantee I'll be able to look at it before Tuesday."  Oh... right... Memorial Day weekend.  We only have one car, so I asked what he thought of my driving it all weekend.  "Well... the light is on steady and the car feels like it is running ok; you'll probably be ok.  However, I don't want to be responsible for you getting out somewhere and the car dying on you.  It's your decision and responsibility."  I also didn't want to take the chance of being stuck in the middle of nowhere, so I left the car.

I was once living in an area where there was a machlokes about the eiruv.  (Yes, as a matter of face, I did once live in an area where there was absolutely no machlokes about…

Thought for the Day: Eiruv Tavshilin, Rosh Chodesh, and Purim

I am, b'ezrash HaShem, going to tell you why you don't need an eiruv tavshilin when rosh chodesh or Purim fall on erev Shabbos.  Personally, I think the answer will be more meaning full if I first tell you why you would even think such a thing in the first place.  After all, you are probably just now wondering that.  In case, though, you've been wondering about this for eons I don't want to increase your distress by making you wait even another two paragraphs.  Hmm... ok:
Because there is no chiyuv s'uda (rosh chodesh), and we don't make g'zeiros on g'zeiros (Purim)

For those of you who are left... The Shulchan Aruch 525:14, says that you should make the eiruv tavshilin mamash erev Yom Tov, but you are fine even if you make the eiruv tavshilin on one Yom Tov for a later Yom Tov (as long as the eiruv is still good to eat after all that time; smoked fish or whatnot).  The Mishna Brura explains that there are…

Thought for the Day: Charging/Paying Ribis -- A Really Bad Idea

When Rabbi Fuerst, shlit"a, gave a series of shium on ribis (interest), he decided to start with a shiur dedicated to how bad the issur of ribis really is; Hilchos Ribbis: Hakdama and who is not chayiv b'ribbis.  I have heard shiurim from R' Fuerst for many years, and I do not recall another instance where he did that.  Of course, all of his shiurim are sprinkled with mussar; not the least of which is the consistency with which he needs to say "let my finish" and never raises his voice or loses his temper.  (By the way, I once called him with sh'eila about my grandson's bris.  It was 10:30PM; a little late but I was sure the rav was still awake.  As the was picking up the receiver, though, I realized that since I was calling from California it was really 12:30AM... Though I was mortified, the rav answered the questions as calmly as usual; albeit groggier than usual.)

So how bad is it?  The m'forshim say that one who lends (or borrows, for that matter…

Thought for the Day: Lifnei Iver wrt/ Doctors on Shabbos

"וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל" (Do not put a stumbling block in front of a blind person.)
-- Vayikra 19:14 This seems to be a unique verse in the Torah, as the simple meaning of the words are not at all the meaning of this statement.  In fact, suppose someone actually puts a stumbling block in front of a blind person.  We may not give him shishi (or even, nebach chamishi) on Shabbos, but he has not violated a Torah offense.  If the blind person actually stumbles and suffers damages, of course, he is obligated to pay those damages; that's a separate matter.

What the verse does mean, though (as Rashi notes), is that one is not allowed to give misleading advice to a Jew who has no insight into the issue at hand.  For example, a life insurance salesman has two different policies to sell and he makes a larger commision on one of them.  If he encourages his clients to buy the policy that make more money for him -- even though the other policy would actually be …

Thought for the Day: Adam haRishon's Challenge

I am 6'1" tall; that is some number of centimeters, but I am American, not metric.  I like being 6'1".   I don't look down on shorter people, though I do (of course) have to look down to see them.   6'1" is tall enough to be considered "tall", but not so tall as to be a problem fitting through doors and whatnot (except when I was in Japan... then it was tricky).  The only time it has been a problem was when I was asked to put some cups away on the cup hooks.  I said, "What cup hooks?"  It turns out there were cup hooks under one shelf in one cupboard; I had lived there for years, but had never seen the underside of that shelf.

One of the most treasured advantages I have due to being 6'1" is that I don't have to stand on anything (besides the floor, smarty pants) do put up the sheet of paper displaying the of time of ha'neitz ha'chama (to the second, mind you) at the vasikin minyan here in Chicago.  Not only is tha…

Thought for the Day: Attaching Conditions to Mitzvah Fulfillment

It's not uncommon to hear on Friday afternoon, "I'll light candles al t'nai that I am accepting Shabbos later."  The statement doesn't mean "on condition", but "according to the conditions herewith expressed."  The point is that mitzvah observance is mediated by kavana/intent.  There are basically three ways you can go with this: kavana b'feirush (explicit intention), stam kavana (eh... que sera, sera), and kavana l'hepech (oh, no, I certainly do not mean that to take effect).
The Friday afternoon ritual is required because women have a long standing tradition of accepting Shabbos with their candle lighting.  If a women is running late, however, she can have kavana l'hepech that this act of lighting not be connected to her acceptance of Shabbos.
A similar t'nai is commonly used for eiruv tavshilin.  The rav of the city will make his eiruv earlyish on erev Yom Tov with the condition to include anyone who does not have an eir…

Thought for the Day: HaShem Has No "Has To"s, We Have Only "And Therefore"s

I happen to be a Calvin & Hobbes fan.  The strip uses the vehicle of a six year old (my guestimate) and his imaginary (or is he?) tiger to explore all sorts of philosophical issues.  (At this point I know with certainty that many, if not most, of my friends and acquaintances are wondering why I can't just enjoy the comics like a normal person; 'cause I can't.)  Free will, in particular, is addressed from many different angles.  The sport known as Calvin Ball (only rule: can't do anything you've done before), in particular, is a thrilling romp exploring free will at its most unfettered.

However, there is something even beyond free will, and that is will itself.  One of the seminal points in my journey to Orthodox Judaism (aka Reality) was a full appreciation of Pascal's wager.  (In case you need a refresher, my summary is here, Making a Rational Choice to Embrace Orthodox Judaism; feel free to google if you think you need more, but I really believe that cove…

Thought for the Day: Explanation of Liability for Damage Done by Rented/Rentable Oxen

Yesterday I wrote about the obligations of the owners and renters to pay for damage done by the oxen for rent.  There are two cases, in each Ralph rents regular (but leibadich) ox from Leon.  You may want to review, but here is the executive summary is:
Case I: The rented ox kills another ox while Ralph is renting it.  It is revealed that Leon actually rented Ralph a certified violent ox.  The damaged party is due full compensation, since the damage was done by a certified violent ox Ralph is obligated to pay the half damages that would be due if the ox had, in fact, been regular (not certified violent); Leon is responsible for the rest.Case II: The ox becomes certified violent during the rental period.  The ox, after Ralph returns her, kills another ox.  The damaged party is due only limited half damages, as the ox has returned to her status of normal (no longer certified violent) once she was returned to Leon.  Leon pays the limited half damages; Ralph is off the hook completely. Not…

Thought for the Day: Damage Done by a Rented Ox

Nature vs nurture is an ongoing argument; in fact, it is actually a machlokes ta'na'im.  Which means, of course, that both positions are true and it will always be a struggle to determine how much of each is responsible in any given situation.  The situation we'll consider (Bava Kama, 40a) is an ox that is owned by one party, let's call him Leon the lender, and rented by, oh heck... let's call him Ralph.  Before we go further, we need some background on payment due for damage done to one ox by another.

Your standard issue ox is known as a "tahm"/innocent.  Oxen, being big and not so bright (hence the expression, "you dumb ox"), sometimes do damage; even the most docile ox can do pretty hefty damage (hence the expression, "bull in a china shop").  The Torah says that the one in control of the ox will have to pay half the damages incurred, limited by the worth of the animal.  This is know as "chatzi nezek mi'gufo".  The own…

Thought for the Day: K'doshim T'hiyu -- A Statement of Fact

I have had the z'chus to both ask R' Fuerst, shlita, sh'eilos (much more frum than questions) and also to hear him answer sh'eilos.  There is a lot to learn even from the way the rav answers the questions; afilu sichas chulin shel talmidei chachamim tz’richa talmud.  I once heard someone asking the following three questions: (1) Does a woman who lights an extra Shabbos candle as as k'nas (fine) for having forgotten to light one Friday night need to light that extra candle even when she is eating out (and therefore not lighting at home)?  (Answer: yes)  (2)  A towel was left on the stove Friday night and caught fire.  I pulled it off the stove, put it on the floor, poured water around it, then slid a cookie sheet underneath to keep the floor from burning.  Was that ok?  (Answer: Yes.  In fact, added the rav, I would have put it in the sink.)  (3) Are you allowed to put seasoned salt on cholent?  (Answer:  Davar gush... that's a problem.)

What impressed me the mo…

Thought for the Day: Erev Tavshilin -- What It Helps

The Torah wants us to live in the here and now; each and every here and now.  It makes sense when you realize that each here and now is a brand new creation.  Given that, it's a bit funny to say, "I'll prepare now for tomorrow," when tomorrow doesn't even exist yet.  Moreover, it won't exist until it is needed, and it will be created to provide whatever purpose the Creator decides.

That's true during the week just as a matter of philosophy.  On Shabbos and Yom Tov, though, it's a matter of halacha.  One is not allowed to prepare from one day to the next.  Not on Shabbos for Sunday, obviously, but also from Yom Tov to Shabbos and even one day of Yom Tov to the next.  That's why we don't fold our tallis after davening in the morning (the main reason, any way), don't light candles for second day of Yom Tov until way after dark, and have very late s'udos on second day Yom Tov evening.  We're all used to that that.

However, when we have…

Thought for the Day: Paying for Lost Wages Resulting From Damages

I had a research advisor who started his freshman physics classes with the following two "jokes".  First, he would explain that physics is about solving problems.  "Perhaps," he would muse aloud, "You don't like problem solving.  Perhaps, in fact, you prefer creating problems.  In that case, you are in the wrong building; you need to head over to the Mrak Hall (the admin building)."  (Yes, it was (and probably is still) spelled "Mrak".)  The second joke was, "Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question.  They are wrong."

I have "joke" quotationmarkified (that's "mark", not "mrak"), because they were as much warning as jokes.  I have spent my career eschewing administrative roles as much as possible (still managed to cause plenty of problems, though...)  And to avoid stupid questions; that's definitely a work in in progress (at least, I hope I am making progress).  My experience …

Thought for the Day: Incredible Shidduch Question Answered From Bava Kama and Sukkah

A rabbi, priest, and imam walk into a bar; the bartender says, "What is this... a joke?"

That is, but the following ma'aseh really happened (as elucidated by R' Fuerst; Shiduchim, Incredible But True Shailos).  Shimon was upset with Reuven and wanted to take revenge.  (That's forbidden, of course; but sometimes Jews do things they shouldn't, unfortunately.)  Shimon approached Reuven and told him he had a wonderful shidduch for him.  The girl was amazing and her family had already done all their checking; they were ready to go forward to make a shidduch with Reuven.  The "proposed shidduch" (in quotes because Shimon had not, of course, spoken with anyone) was very attractive to Reuven, who did his checking very quickly and went back to Shimon to ask him to proceed.  Shimon was over the moon, his plan to embarrass Reuven was going better than he hoped.  Reuven told Shimon (after waiting enough time to keep Reuven from suspecting anything fishy) that a…

Thought for the Day: Smoking in Halacha

The following have approximately equal risk, according to this carefully researched source:
one puff on a cigarettewatching TV for four months (due to radiation)nibbling one extra pointy tip off a Hershey's kisscrossing the street By risk, of course, I mean only the risk to your physical health.  Watching four months of TV will certainly mushify and numb your brain.  Crossing the street to a movie theatre or other moshav leitzim/beis z'nus will certainly adversely affect your eternal soul.  None the less. the list is instructive when assessing the halachik status of smoking.
I am marching through R' Fuerst's shiurim on, and just listened to Smoking in Halacha.  I almost skipped it, as I was quite confident that I already knew the salient features of the argument.  But it was on the list and I am kind of stupid that way; taking the advice on what's important from people who are wiser than I even when I think I know better this time.  This shiur is really a c…

Thought for the Day: Yom Tov Sheini Shel Galuyos and Listening to Chazal

Siman 496 in the Shulchan Aruch discusses Yom Tov Sheini shel Galuyos.  When you first think about it, second day yontif seems that it should be more lenient than the first day.  After all, it is only (shudder whenever you hear that, trouble is close) d'rabanan.  Yet the first syef says that in galus where two days of yom tov are celebrated, anything that is forbidden on the first day is likewise forbidden on the second day.  So far sounds like it just the same; but it's not.  As the m'chaber continues: anyone who treats the second day irreverently (m'zalzel) is to be excommunicated... unless he is a young rabbinic scholar, then beat him up instead.  Yikes!  That's really unfriendly!

The second syef, though says you can take care of a meis and even treat minor illnesses; things that are definitely forbidden on the first day.  Not real malachos, but some things that are forbidden on the first day m'd'rabanan are permitted on the second day.  The whole day is…

Thought for the Day: Why Is Shavuos Two Days In Chutz La'Aretz?

I was accused the other day of having a "physicist brain."  The context was that he remembered I had asked R' Fuerst a question many years ago; he remembered the question "that you, with your physicist brain, had asked", but couldn't remember what R' Fuerst had answered.  As far as I can tell, "physicist brain" means that I consider the logical implications of the proffered data, check those implications against what I already know, and look for conflict/confusion.  Guilty; or, at least, that is my goal.  (In this case, I didn't remember asking the question, but I told him what I do in that case.  He was happy with that, figuring that I certainly would have done whatever the rabbi said.  Again, that's my goal.)

Here's another question that my physicist brain generated: Why is Shavuos two days in chutz la'aretz?  What's the question?  Well; why do we celebrate a second day of Yom Tov in chutz la'aretz anyway?  Many years…

Thought for the Day: Mezuzah Needs To Be Attached, Not Found To Be Attached

No, this is not a Harry Potter hypothetical question when *POOF* a doorpost appears attached to your mezuzah.  This is a real live, halacha l'ma'aseh question.  How does this happen?  Let's get some background.

The Torah ha'k'dosha says, "u'k'savtam al m'zuzos beiseicha u'visha'recha"/you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.  The Torah does not mean, obviously, to take a pen and write "them" on your doorposts.  It actually means, as we all know, that you should attach bits of parchment (made with the intention to have at least k'dushas m'zuzah) that have two parashas from the Written Torah (sh'ma and v'haya im shamo'ah), that have been written (again, with proper intent and in order) with appropriate ink (again, made with proper intent).

Of course.  So what, then, does the imperative "you shall write" come to teach us?  That you have to attach the mezuzos to appropriate…

Thought for the Day: Hilchos Mezuzah Are Not In Mishna Brura

One of the frustrations I had when beginning to learn Mishna Brura was his the references out to other sections of the Shulchan Aruch.  "The nerve!  I came here to learn Jewish Law... now teach it to me, please.  Sheesh."  I was even more annoyed that there was no Mishna Brura on those other sections, meaning they were essentially closed to me and (in my mind), the Mishna Brura was failing in its appointed task.

There is a term used in computer support: PICNIC -- Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.  I was actually correct in my assessment that the Mishna Brura was failing in its appointed task.  The problem, however, was that I had appointed it that task.  The Mishna Brura failing to accomplish a task that I, in my vast wisdom had assigned to it.  Fortunately for me, the Mishna Brura was patient with me and continued to forge ahead; gently, yet firmly, instructing me that Orach Chaim is only the introduction.  Gently, yet firmly, demonstrating that my wisdom was not so vast a…

Thought for the Day: The One B'Di'Avad That Is L'Chatchila

Let's say Bob walks into a 7-11, brandishing a revolver, and demands a Big Gulp size slurpee; which the clerk nervously gives him.  Stan walks into a different 7-11, also brandishing a revolver, and demands $3.00 from the till.  The clerk nervously gives Stan the money and Stan makes his getaway.  Stan drives to yet another 7-11, walks in, and asks, "May I please have a large slurpee?"  Stan gets his slurpee, pays the clerk, says "Keep the change!", and walks out calmly and very happy.

Question: Does Bob own his slurpee?  Answer: No, he has a stolen slurpee in his possession.  What about if Stan asks you about his slurpee?  "Slurpee!? You aren't allowed to commit armed robbery in the first place!", you opine.  "I didn't ask that", says Stan (rolling his eyes), "I know that l'chatchila I am not allowed to steal the money; I didn't ask that.  I am asking if, b'di'avad, I own the slurpee."  "Well... yes, n…

Thought for the Day: Milk After Meat -- In Case of Need

It's amazing how important taste is; it's not just a "nice to have".  During much of chemotherapy I could not taste my food; my eating experience was pretty much like eating soft sand, or crunchy sand, or chewy sand, or... I could even be hungry, but it was still a struggle to get the food down.  Add to that the ulcers I had in my esophagus, so eating was actually painful, and add to that the general queasiness that is part of the process and you can start to appreciate that why I lost a lot of weight.  I used to read labels and choose whatever had the greatest calorie to volume ratio, thereby getting the number of calories per day I needed to live with the least amount of swallowing.

Even with that, things didn't always go/stay down.  I could take one bite of food and then not be able to eat more of that food, but need to switch to something different.  That can present a problem if the first food was chicken and the desired food was yogurt.  I asked R' Fuer…