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Showing posts from September, 2014

Thought for the Day: The Most Basic Proof of the Veracity of Torah Judaism -- It Works and Nothing Else Does

I saw a call from my daughter yesterday morning (strange time, but always welcome); I "picked up the phone" (yeah, yeah... no one has picked up a receiver to answer a call in years) and it was not my daughter, but her son.  I heard my three year old grandson saying calmly, but tearfully, "Zeidy... Mommy is being mean to me."  It did not evoke the emotion he hoped, but I tried to answer him in all seriousness.

That's cute because he's three.  If he doesn't get exactly what he wants exactly when he asks for it, then whoever is preventing his immediate gratification is mean and he'll look for someone who is bigger to rectify the situation.  We don't expect that of an adult.  We expect a maturing to take place, for the totally selfish and self-involved baby  to turn into an adam ha'shaleim.  That is minimally what you can expect any civilized society to want of its way of life.  At work we call that the "smell test"... does this soluti…

Thought for the Day: Origins of the Most Populous of the Reform Jewish Religions

The Torah says we are not allowed to learn about other religions to do them.  Rashi comments that it is forbidden to learn about foreign religions to do them, but you are allowed to learn about them just to know their history and development.  So I asked R' Fuerst if that was l'ma'aseh; he responded, "Yes, as soon as you've mastered Shas and poskim."  Ah.  As it turns out, though, that's not the end of the story for me; R' Yisroel Belsky (who has mastered Shas and poskim, as well as almost everything else as far as I can tell) has some very interesting insights on the development of the most successful (in terms of membership, at the very least) of the Reform Jewish religions: Christianity.  Three points in particular I found interesting: origin of the person around whom the religion is built, how did he get rocketed to infamy, and why does the mother occupy such a central role (at least in the original Roman version).

First there is the conception, r…

Thought for the Day: Existence Is the Biggest Bracha of All

Continuing in his description of the Torah Jew, the Chacham tells the Khuzari (Ma'amar 3, 11-17) that the fully developed Torah Jew lives a life that is always  "עריב" -- pleasant/engaged/involved.  I find that word decidedly difficult to translate into English, but we say it at least thrice daily after shmone esrei: v'ar'va la'Shem minchas Yehuda v'Yerushalayim, ki'mei olam u'ch'shanim kadmonios -- HaShem should find pleasant/be interested in the mincha offering of Yehuda and Yerushalayim.  In any case, it does not mean pleasant in the sense of always running around with a silly grin on your face.  Rather, it means a life filled with meaning and importance, being engaged and interested every single moment.

How does he do that?  First, he looks around the world.  He observes and studies the incredible balance, structure, and inter-dependencies of the ecosystem.  Two examples he gives is that the fly is food for the spider and the rabbit for bi…

Thought for the Day: The Torah Is About This World

The Torah tells us, "See!  I have set before you today (ie, as clear as day) life and good, death and evil."  (D'varim 30:15)  Seems reasonably straightforward: do good and get rewarded with life, do evil and earn death.  Standard fare for any religion, the bread and butter of morality, so to speak.  Except for a few problems.  First, lots of people do bad stuff and are still alive, and the opposite is also glaringly true.  Beside that problem -- which all the religions of the world address in one way or another, usually with a double portion of gobbledegook (I just looked that up, it is spelled correctly), we have a much bigger problem: our saves throughout the ages have not  explained it that way.

Rashi comments, "each depends on the other: if you do good, you have life, do evil and you have death; as the Torah goes on to explain".  Rashi says that life and good are interlinked, like two sides of one coin; and similarly for death and evil.  The S'porno co…

Thought for the Day: Why HaShem Created Us and What We Should Learn From That

I heard a shiur where R' Yisroel Belsky was asked, "If G-d doesn't need anything, then why did he create the world?"  It's actually another one of those questions we used to discuss in the college dorm when we wanted to ridicule religion.  Basically same category, though more subtle than, "If HaShem can do anything, can he create a rock he can't lift?"  It's more subtle because even people who grew up religious can get caught up thinking that it's an interesting and/or deep question.  In fact, it is neither.  It is based on a mistake made by the immature personality.

I don't know if mothers ever actually say this anymore, but we are all familiar with: How can you waste food like that?  Don't you know there are starving children in ?!  My answer was, "So send it to them; then we'll both be happy."  R' Belsky said that he contemplated that question for years (ie, kindergarten and first grade) and even asked his classm…

Thought for the Day: Simple Faith and Intense Investigation

I thought I was downloading a shiur entitled "Dah Mah Shetashiv LeApekoris" (know what to answer an apikorus) by R' Yisroel Belsky, shlita.  As it turned out, though, I was not downloading one shiur... I was downloading a zip file of 48 shiurim!  Taking about striking it rich!  It the first time I have heard shiurim from R' Belsky and I am amazed by the depth of knowledge he has in science.  Although he didn't actually present any equations, it was clear from his concise and penetrating analysis that he knew exactly how the calculations are performed.

Just to give you an example of his approach: R' Belsky needed a new water heater.  The plumber who installed it told him that it heats water so fast that he'll never run out of hot water.  R' Belsky asked him how much water it held, at what rate it heated water, and how much water was used when taking a shower.  The first two were answered by from the documentation, but he didn't know how to answer t…

Thought for the Day: The Pleasures of This World Are Precious to the Torah Jew

When people at work comment on how calm I am when the world around us is falling apart, I just remind them, "I've been through three teenagers.  What can you do to me?"  One of our children, however, actually started giving us trouble even before she was born.  Long story short, a couple of weeks before she was born, her placenta suffered a trauma.  Those were probably the longest two weeks of my life as the situation was critical for both mother and baby.  For two weeks we were very focussed on the health and well-being of that placenta.  Then she was born and I couldn't tell you the last time I had a second thought about that placenta (before today, of course).

What happened?  That placenta went from center of my universe to effectively non-existent in the blink of an eye.  It's obvious what happened, one moment that lump of flesh and blood was enabling my daughter to become an organism that could live in this world, the next moment I was holding her in this wo…

Thought for the Day: Leniences of Shabbos That May Not Apply to Yom Kippur

As recently discussed, "ein bein yom ha'kippurim l'shabbos eleh zeh b'kares v'zeh b's'kilah"/there is no difference between Yom Kippur and Shabbos except that [violating] this one results in spiritual and eternal excommunication, whereas [violating] this one (Shabbos) results in execution (a cost of a mere 70 or 80 years of this world, rarely more; which is really much worse than it sounds, but that's for another time, the Good Lord Willing).  On the other hand, we have another statement from Chazal that anything that is permitted on Shabbos is also permitted on Yom Kippur; hmm... what about, oh I don't know... hmm.... eating?

Of course, as with many, many statements from our sages, they are absolutely true (True, even) in the appropriate context.  Chazal use this way of transmitting information to us in order to force us to think.  The exercise of thinking in and of itself is extraordinarily beneficial.  That turns every statement from our sa…

Thought for the Day: Why the Purim Miracle Convinced Us To Accept Oral Law Willingly

As we all know, there is a famous medrash that Klal Yisrael was initially forced to accept the Torah: Har Sinai was held over the heads of the entire nation, "Accept the Torah, then all is good; refuse, this is your grave."  (Obviously, of course, they said, "Yes, Sir!")  When did they accept the Torah willingly and with love?  At Purim, as we read in M'gillas Esther, "Kimlu v'kiblu ha'y'hudim"/the Jews fulfilled and accepted [the Torah] (Esther 9:27)  (The medrash is going on the logical absurdity of fulfilling before accepting.)

Then there is the other famous medrash that when Moshe Rabeinu proffered to Klal Yisrael (before the above incident, obviously) the opportunity to accept the Torah, that they answered "Everything that HaShem says, we will do and we will hear!" (Sh'mos 24:7), to which HaShem responded, "Who told My children the secret known only to the angels?"  That secret being that Klal Yisrael accepted …

Thought for the Day: Keeping Non-Mevushal Wine Kosher

What makes wine kosher?  With everything else the kashrus of a food item has to do with its ingredients -- use permitted ingredients, you get permitted food; right?  (At least at the d'oraisa level.  There are ways to make food forbidden at the rabbinic level: cooked by a goy any time, or cooked by a Jew on Shabbos, for example.)  Meat sort or breaks that rule.  After all, the meat started off as a living animal, which is forbidden -- d'oraisa to both Jews and goyim -- because of "eiver min ha'chai"/flesh from a living animal.  The meat is transformed from forbidden to dinner by shichita for a Jew and by death for a goy.  (Those are two different times; not our topic.)   None the less, the general rule of "kosher in, kosher out" is pretty good.

Every good rule has an exception, and this is no exception: take any kosher food and dedicate it for use in idolatrous worship -- POOF -- forbidden.  In truth, anything -- animal, vegetable, or mineral -- could b…

Thought for the Day: Obligations are Opportunities

I was sitting next the non-religious, but very respectful father of a newly married Orthodox kallah at their second Sheva Brachos s'uda.  Somehow the conversation turned to Orthodox practice and philosophy.  (That's what I said, "somehow"; what, you think I can't talk about anything else?)  At one point, he asked me, "That's a lot to do every day.  I assume, though, that if something came up  at work in the middle of the day that was more important than mincha, then you could skip it, right?  Or is it an obligation?"  I had to quickly quell the urge to respond rhetorically with, "What could possibly be more important about your work than going to mincha?"

What I did say is that mincha is certainly an obligation and one would need to stop what he is doing in order to daven.  I didn't stop there, though.  I noted that as a created being, there is nothing I can give to my Creator.  I am always in the position of having to be a taker; whic…

Thought for the Day: Is Pasteurized Wine M'vushal?

Wine has always been a food in a category of its own.  There are other intoxicating beverages, but wine is the symbol of jubilant celebration; beer is for football games, whiskey for bars.  That's for the world at large.  Moreover, wine has always been an integral part of avoda zara; from ancient times till today.  For us, wine is used in every important ceremony -- kiddush, bris mila, weddings, etc.  On the other hand, wine has been targeted as a root cause in many downfalls; from Noach to Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu.  In fact, Chazal tell us that the parsha of nazir immediately follows the parsha of sota because one who sees the disgrace of a sota should take a vow of narirus (which includes refraining from wine and even circumventing vineyards) as protection.

It is not at all surprising, therefore, that we have the rabbinic prohibition of stahm yeinam/their ordinary wines.  The two basic reasons for this stringency are to keep us distant from both their avoda zara and marr…

Thought for the Day: Paying a Worker Who Steals from You

Paying for weddings is an interesting business, but here's a new issue... the father (who was paying for the meal) decided he wanted to make his guests even more comfortable with the already well supervised kashrus by hiring an independent mashgiach.  So far, so good.  At the end of the evening, the caterer (who owned the hall) told him that several cases of chicken had been stolen.  This caterer, however, had cameras set up to video the chasuna -- including the kitchen area.  He invited the father to watch the videos with him to help him identify the thief.  By this time you may have already guessed the thief's identity: the mashgiach!  They called in the mashgiach, who very embarrassedly admitted his crime; "I am not making enough to support my family and I knew you (the father) could well afford a couple of cases of chickens and thought you wouldn't even miss them!"  He (the mashgiach) was correct on the first count and wrong on the second count.  The chickens…

Thought for the Day: Bitul Regarding Meat and Fish

I grew up thinking of "bagels, lox, and cream cheese" as a quintessential Jewish food.  Imagine my shock when I learned that there are poskim who hold that eating fish with dairy is assur!  I had some relief when subsequently learned that the prevailing opinion, led no less than the Taz, is to disregard that ruling in the Beis Yosef as a "ta'os sofrim"/scribal error.  That's not today's topic.  The Taz, by the way, says that it should have said, "fish with meat"; that is today's topic.  (For the interested reader, the YU Torah website has a well researched article on eating fish with meat.)

Chazal (TB P'sachim 76b) say not to eat fish and meat together lest it lead to "davar acher"; which Rashi understands to mean "tzara'as" (not leprosy, but something really not good).  In other words, eating fish with meat is forbidden -- by decree of the gemara and brought as halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 116:2) -…

Thought for the Day: Kiddush Friday Night -- To Stand Or Not To Stand, If Not Then, When?

Saying/making kiddush on Friday night is a mitzvas asei mi'd'oraisa -- a positive commandment whose obligation was revealed at the mass prophetic convocation of the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai.  The mitzvah is obviously time-bound; it must be performed weekly during Shabbos (including tosafos Shabbos, the extra bit we add at each end).  Whereas women are generally exempt from time-bound, positive mitzvos, Shabbos is different.  When the prophecy was experience, both "remember the Sabbath" (ie, do the positive commandments) and "keep/guard the Sabbath" (ie, refrain from the negative injunctions) were heard simultaneously.  The  halachic ramifications of which is that anyone who is obligated to refrain from the negative injunctions is likewise obligated to fulfill the positive commandments.  Men and women are therefore equally obligated in kiddush.

According to most poskim, the d'oraisa obligation for kiddush can be fulfilled with the Friday eveni…

Thought for the Day: Yom Kippur -- Between Shabbos and Yom Tov

I started learning gemara based on what Art Scroll had released and what was on sale.  (This was before there was an Art Scroll sha"s...)  My second masechta was Megillah (on sale for $14.95!) and was right around the time that R' Yerachmiel Fried moved to Dallas and began creating what would evolve into DATA (Dallas Area Torah Association).  R' Fried asked me what I was learning and where I was holding; I was proud to say "Megillah, daf zayin or so"  (I had barely learned the word "daf" and I felt so wise.)  R' Fried said, "Oh!  The 'ein beins'"; I was floored... it was my first contact with a talmid chacham of that order -- one who would know the topic off the top of his head when hearing any random daf in sha"s.

The "ein bein's" are a series of mishnayos (and subsequent discussions) contrasting the differences of various holidays and seasons.  "ein bein A l'B tov ele X bilvad "/there is no diffe…

Thought for the Day: Food Prepared by Goyim from Kosher Ingredients

Right up there with the expression "Judeo-Christian" ethic, is that old canard that the kosher dietary laws are the trumped up remnants of ancient (read: ignorant, but well meaning) health standards.  Their proof is, "Well, pork can be bad for you if you don't cook it well and pork is not kosher -- WALA and QED!"  When confronted with the fact that certain perfectly edible fats of kosher animals, milk of non-kosher animals, and non-Jewish wine used in their idolatrous practices (yayin nesech) are also not kosher, they have a ready answer: "Wow... those ancients were so illogical; that doesn't fit the pattern at all!"  Sigh...

In any case, yayin nesech is, indeed, a category of non kosher food.  Chazal broadened that to "stam yanam"/their ordinary wine.  Chazal added three other categories of non-Jewish foods: oils, baked goods, and cooked foods.  In all those cases, the non-Jewish food is forbidden even if there is no admixture of non-ko…