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Showing posts from July, 2014

Thought for the Day: Immersing Vessels for Others -- If They Own It Already, Yes; If You Are Giving Them a Present; No

This might be an urban legend.  When I was in elementary school, almost half a century back (YIKES!!  Really?  Oh my, that's a long time ago...) there was a story going around that teachers were handing out a test to see how well we followed instructions.  There was a page of a dozen or 20 instructions; things such as, "Stand up, turn around", "Draw a heart with red ink on top right hand corner of this list", "announce that you just completed #4", etc.  The kicker was the first and last instructions.  First instruction: Read all instructions completely before beginning.  The last instruction was: Don't do any of the above instructions.  Of course we all knew that the teacher was getting a good laugh at the expense of all the students who were popping up and down, drawing on their papers, making announcements, etc.As I said, I never saw that test and I don't know if it really exists... but I tried to learn the lesson even without the actual exp…

Thought for the Day: Seeking Conciliation Erev Yom Kippur

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 606:1) notes that Yom Kippur does not provide atonement for sins between one Jew and another unless the perpetrator first conciliates his victim.  The Mishna Brura says that while there is always an obligation to seek reconciliation with one's victim, we all know how things go:  "I'm really busy today, I'll take care of that tomorrow"  Tomorrow turns into tomorrow turns into... "Whoa! Yikes!  It's Elul already?!" and then "No way!  Yom Kippur is tomorrow!  Aaargh!"  Erev Yom Kippur therefore, by default, becomes the Day of Conciliation.

[NB: Conciliate is, I believe, the correct translation of "m'fayes".  Placate and appease might also work, but those both have negative connotations to me.  They sound like I am not really re/building a relationship, but just doing whatever is expedient to get the person off my back.]

Halacha demands three attempts at conciliation.  Walking up the the person and saying, …

Thought for the Day: Taking an Oath to Fulfill a Mitzvah

I wanted to give my granddaughter a treat and my daughter -- be very understanding of a grandparent's need to give treats to grandchildren -- agreed.  I told my granddaughter that before I gave her the treat, she needed to finish he meal.  "I'm full," she announced (very) shortly.  "If you are full, I guess you don't have room for the treat, then."  I wasn't born yesterday, and I have also been a grandchild (and a child, and a parent), so I knew her game.  "I have a hole for sweets," she replied.  Even my daughter agreed that she could have the treat after that answer.

The Torah provides us the opportunity to add on our own mitzvos -- both positive and negative.  A person, for example, can take a neder (vow) to give a certain amount of money to tzedaka.  That neder has the force of any other d'oraisa.  We can also take a shavu'ah (oath) either to do something -- "I will definitely eat a hard boiled egg tomorrow before noon.&qu…

Thought for the Day: Why Punishment for Reckless Manslaughter Is Linked to Life of Kohein Gadol

The Torah puts a very high value on life in this world.  Even when a life is shortened by accident, if that accident would have been prevented by taking normal precautions, the perpetrator is deemed a murderer and is confined to a city of refuge for an indeterminate period.  The time of confinement (you could call it "incarceration", I suppose, but it is an entire city) is not indeterminate because the Torah doesn't specify length of sentence, but because the Torah specifies a sentence of indeterminate length: until the death of the Kohein Gadol/High Priest.
You could ask at least three good questions at this point: Why should the murderer's sentence depends specifically on the life of Kohein Gadol?  What kind of behavior are we trying to deter?Why is the good name of the Kohein Gadol being besmirched in the press by being linked with murders (albeit, accidental ones)?Why should some murderers get a long sentence and others a short one?  "Luck of the draw" d…

Thought for the Day: We Are One Nation, We Are the Torah Nation

I usually have a title when I start a TftD.  It's not always the title that gets "published", but I like to have plan.  This time I don't even have that; I have something I want to say, but not sure what the main message will really be.  I'll let you know at the end, bli neder and b'ezras HaShem.

My family and I went to Navy Pier last Sunday (July 20, 2014 CE/22 Tammuz 5774; that's for the archives).  It was a bunch of us (me, my better much-more-than-half, one daughter, three grandchildren), so we took the 'L' (Brown line, to be precise) and walked there from the Merchandise Mart.  Very nice day, by the way; but that's not the point.  As we walked back, I turned south one street too soon, which forced us to go further south than I expected, which put our course straight through the middle of an Arab rally (a "die in") as a show of solidarity with the Arabs who were left homeless almost 70 years ago by the neighboring Arab countries …

Thought for the Day: Using Distance to Come Closer to HaShem

This is even more self-serving than usual; math!  R' Moshe was once confronted by two parents who wanted to have their son continue on to college instead of beis medrash.  The father was a math professor and a bit of a talmid chacham, so he decided to play his strengths.  The father noted that Chazal tell us that a person is created by three partners: the mother (who contributes the red), the father (who contributes the white), and HaShem (who contributes the soul).  (NB: Before you ask... I have know idea what that means.)  The father further noted that in case of disagreement, we take a vote and follow the majority opinion.  Therefore, concluded the father: "I agree that HaShem wants my son to continue in beis medrash, but his mother and I want him to go to college.  That's ⅔ for college, ⅓ for yeshiva; so the boy should go to college."

I am sure the father had spent hours if not days preparing his arguments.  R' Moshe replied, without missing a beat, that he a…

Thought for the Day: Delving Into Proverbs -- Business, Charity, Midos

The goyim call it "Proverbs", which means "a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice".  We call it Mishlei, which is reasonably translated as "analogies of ".  Translated that way, most physics texts could be subtitled "Mishlei this or that topic."  That is, the way we teach physics is always by building models from systems with which we have everyday experience.  Waves (electromagnetic radiation, X-rays, microwaves, etc) are all built from our experience with waves on the beach.  Anything that wants to return to its original position after being whacked (MRI, diving boards, details of planetary motion, etc) are all built on our experience with springs.  Just as most physics books are not filled with "short pithy sayings", neither is Mishlei.

According to the G"ra, Mishlei is actually a trilogy.  The first volume discusses the nature of the evil inclination, schemes to thwart it, and the dist…

Thought for the Day: Eating Before Kiddush and Mitzvos, Minhagim, and Avoda Zara

Ok... this never happened.  No one has ever come to my house since I've been Jewish and asked to be served bacon.  However, if it were to happen, I have a ready answer: Not in my house.  I am confident you are not wondering why I would be so blunt and unequivocal about that.  You may, however, be wondering why in the world I would have a ready answer to a question that is really not likely to happen outside of a Twilight Zone episode.  I have a ready answer for that question:  Because of the following event that did happen.  Someone came to my house and asked for a glass of water.  I had a ready answer: Not in my house.  What's that?  You want some context?  Sure.

Maybe you have already concluded that it happened on Yom Kippur or Tisha b'Av.  Nope.  In fact, had that happened, I would not have given that answer.  Anyone coming to my house and asking for water is probably sick and needs it; I'd run to get it for them.  It was a Friday night, actually.  We had made early…

Thought for the Day: Why HaShem Gave Us Rosh Chodesh

I am very, very strict about wearing seat belts.  I don't move until everyone is belted, one person per belt.  (I've been known to make two trips rather than driving with double-belted passengers; much to the dismay of the passengers in the second group, I'm afraid.)  Yesterday my granddaughter released her seat belt when she thought I had already parked; I hadn't, I was still positioning the car.  All of the sudden I heard her call out, with great consternation, "Zeidy, please don't call the police!  I'm sorry!"  (Apparently Tati had at one time told her that it was the law that seat belts be fastened and she really didn't want to go to jail.)  I, of course, had no intention of calling the police; I was, just as of course, concerned that she had released the seat belt without confirmation that we had come to a full and complete stop at our terminal destination.

Sometimes we also make that mistake about our own sins.  We want to hide from HaShem a…

Thought for the Day: Siyum During Nine Days -- The Tip of the Iceberg of Spiritual Success or Ruin

When I first started learning about Orthodox Judaism, I listened to dozens (nearly 100s) of taped shiurim from Aish HaTorah.  One of my favorite speakers was R' Dovid Gottlieb; he is also a ba'al t'shuva whose journey began as a professor of philosophy and I find his approach really sings to me.  One statement in particular made a deep impression on me: in order to truly understand a deep/abstract philosophical concept, bring it down to reality by applying it to a real situation.  Learning Mishna Brura provides me with oodles of real life situations.  Learning the Gr"a on Mishlei, Da'as T'vunos, Pachad Yitzchak, etc provides one with oodles of deep/abstract philosophical concepts.  Commuting to work by bicycle affords me the time to finding the connections between those two worlds.
The Pachad Yitzchak notes that we humans are comprised of a soul -- which is spriritual and outside of time/space, and a body -- which is physical and deeply rooted inside time/spac…

Thought for the Day: Eating on Erev Yom Kippur

Hilchos Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, OC 604:1) begins by explaining that it is a mitzvah to eat on erev Yom Kippur and to increase both the size and number of meals.  The Rema adds further that it is a actually forbidden to fast.  The Mishna Brura notes that this doesn't mean mitzvah as in "a nice idea if you can"; it actually means there it is a real, live mitzvah d'oraisa/commandment from the Creator to eat on erev Yom Kippur.  There is something pretty cool going on here.

First, this mitzvah is revealed to us by the statement (Vayikra 23:32): You shall afflict yourselves (ie, fast, etc) on the 9th of the month (that would be Tishrei) from evening to evening.  Since we know that Yom Kippur is on the 10th of Tishrei, Chazal tell us that means that you need to eat on the ninth.  Why does it say to fast when it means to eat?  Because the reward for a mitzvah increases with difficulty.  It's easy to eat, but HaShem wanted to give us the reward appropriate to fasting…

Thought for the Day: Cheit Adam HaRishon -- Giving the Yeitzer HaRah an Opening

For about a year I worked as a radiation physicist in the radiation therapy department of a hospital in Southern California.  Since I have not been trained for that, I took several opportunities to observe different procedures, some of which took place in the operating room.  The first time I went to observe, I stepped up to the sink to wash my hands; "Don't wash your hands!"  Huh?  It turns out that had I washed my hands, I would have been listed as a participant (not just observer) and therefore would have been liable in case of lawsuit.  I shoved my hands in my pockets and just watched.

The hand washing procedure itself is kind of interesting.  They scrub for a specified amount of time (20 or 30 seconds, as I recall), with a specified disinfectant soap, with a specified brush, in a specified pattern.  Why so much process just to wash hand?  Because, of course (and obviously to our 21st century minds), our skin is teeming with bacteria.  It doesn't cause us problem…

Thought for the Day: Honoring Parents At All Ages

I had the pleasure and z'chus of hearing a shiur from R' Yerachmiel Fried, shlita, Rosh Kollel of the the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA).  R' Fried and the Dallas Kollel came to Dallas at a critical time in my families journey Orthodox Judaism and were a major force is encouraging us to move to Chicago.  Besides the hakaras hatov aspect of going to the shiur, there was also the topic: the challenges of honoring parents as they become older and infirm.  While I, unfortunately, do not have this challenge for my own parents (who have both left this world), I do have in-laws who are, Baruch HaShem, aging and are not yet infirm.  Moreover -- and just as important -- I am aging and will, G-d Willing, continue to do that for the foreseeable future; there are preparations I can make now that will help my children going forward.

Last things first.  R' Fried noted that one of the problems for us is when/if parents reach the stage where they are unable to fully comprehend t…

Thought for the Day: K'dusha, Kavod, and Oneg Shabbos

I recently related the p'sak of the Yam Shel Shlomo, quoted as halacha by the Mishna Brura that it is a tragic mistake made by many (קרא תגר) to make the Friday night meal fancier than the Shabbos day meal.  That seems to run counter to the common wisdom that the k'dusha of Shabbos increases with each passing hour; starting with wine and a hot meal and ending with a simple repast, ethereal nigunim, and intimate divrei torah.  Yet, the Yam Shel Shlomo has an excellent source: Chazal themselves, who tell us "kavod yom kodem l'kavod laila".  So where's the disconnect?  My thought today is that the disconnect is with us not putting the pieces together properly.

On Shabbos we get a "neshama y'seira"; literally: additional soul.  (Interestingly, Google translate renders that phrase as "Sabbath Soul".)  Rashi explains that the way "neshama y'seira" expresses itself is that we can eat and drink more on Shabbos.  Hmm... doesn'…

Thought for the Day: Priorities For Shabbos -- Kiddush (Day and Night), Delicacies (Day and Night)

The Shulchan Aruch, OC 271:3 discusses how to spend your money for Shabbos.  There are four basic expenses for Shabbos: wine for Friday night kiddush, delicacies for Friday night meal, wine for Shabbos day, delicacies for Shabbos day meal.  I say "delicacies" because, as the Mishna Brura notes, this whole halacha assumes that you already have bread for both meals.  Since I like drumettes and find typing "delicacy" annoying, I'll use drummette to mean delicacy henceforth.  You are welcome to mentally substitute "kugel" for "drumette" and understand "delicacy" in what follows.

The M'chaber starts by stating that Friday night kiddush takes precedence over everything else; ie, drumettes for either meal and wine for Shabbos day.  At first glance that seems obvious, since kiddush Friday night is d'oraisa, kiddush Shabbos day is only d'rabanan, and drumettes are just food; right?  Not so simple.  There certainly is an obligati…

Thought for the Day: Fish, Meat, Cheese, and Kashering Bottom of Pan

I've been listening to shiurim from R' Fuerst titled simply, "Ask the Posek".  Six shiurim filled with questions the rabbi received the previous Friday "that I can discuss in public."  This morning I heard about a lady who was having "one of those days."  The first problem was that she had cooked fish in a fleishig pan.  Her mother always had a fish pot, so she was nervous that she had treifed up the pan and would have to throw away the fish.

The pan was verified to have been clean, so there is no problem of fish with meat "b'ein"/tangible fish with tangible meat; this was only a question of taste being absorbed by the fish.  On the other hand, the pan was a "ben yomo"/had been used within the prior 24 hours for cooking meat, so any absorbed flavor would still be considered to have a good taste.  (After 24 hours, any absorbed tasted is considered to be "pagum"/ruined and no longer causes problems.)  While fish wit…