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Showing posts from October, 2014

Thought for the Day: HaShem Gives Your T'filos As Much Attention As You Do

One of the perks of writing down a thought or two each day is that is helps me to crystalize that thought and give it a permanence in my my psyche.  It also helps me to keep focus when listening to a shiur, because when I hear an interesting idea I immediately think about how to condense it into a paragraph or two.  I discovered a downside to that process this morning, when I started listening to a set of shiurim from R' Efraim Twerski of Khal Chasidim on t'fila.  The downside is that during the time it takes to contemplate how to best express an interesting chidush, three more interesting chidushim have been expressed.  Oh well... I'll try my best.

T'fila, notes R' Twerski, is the defining attribute being human.  Animals communicate; animals even talk.  Only humans pray.  One would think, therefore, that prayer would be among those things in which we take most pride.  Yet, Chazal tell us and experience confirms, prayer is largely taken for granted and relegated to…

Thought for the Day: When Chinuch and Hanhaga Collide

There is very little that can compare to the nachas of walking with an einikl (oh yeah? so you figure out how to transliterate the yiddish word for grandchild) to shul.  Beyond that, of course, it is also important chinuch for the child.  I regularly daven k'vasikin (when I wake up in time) and my grandchildren live in communities that don't have a vasikin minyan.  That means I daven early on Shabbos and Yom Tov, then just need to get to shul for k'rias ha'torah and mussaf.  As a consequence, I have the opportunity take my darling einiklach (that's plural) at a younger age than usual, since we can leave later than daddy and tati who need to get there for shacharis.

On this last Thursday/Friday/Shabbos yontif, I walked with my granddaughter and a bag of books to shul Thursday morning.  We had a fascinating conversation about snozberries; into which she had put a surprising amount of thought.  Thursday afternoon she asked me if the next day was Yom Tov again; I repli…

Thought for the Day: Lesson from Iyov -- HaShem Prefers Honest Criticism to Ingratiating Flattery

When I first took college physics, I had wonderful professor: Mr. Work.  (No, really, his name was Lloyd Work; great name for a physics teacher, no?)  I learned a lot from Mr. Work.  I went to his office once to ask some questions, which lead to a more advanced discussion, and he pulled out a quantum mechanics text to elucidate his point.  I looked at the pictures and said I got most of it, but was confused by certain details.  (Not really important for my point here, but I was confused by the meaning of the quantum mechanical electron cloud and how that related to electron shells that I knew from chemistry.)  Mr. Work got a whimsical smile on his face and said, "The only difference between you and me is that I get confused on a higher level than you do, and Feynman (gadol ha'dor in modern physics; died 1988) gets confused at a higher level than I do."  I am not sure if his intent was to humble me or to inspire me, but it did both.  I got a feel for the enormity of my ig…

Thought for the Day: Sefer Iyov from 20,000 Leagues Over the Sky

One of the things you are allowed to learn in Tisha b'Av is Iyov.  I wish my reaction to that halacha was more than a sardonic "yay".  Having just heard 46 extremely elucidating shiurim from R' Yisoel Belsky on how to answer very fundamental challenges from apikorsim, I was happy to see shiurim from R' Belsky on Iyov.  I was less happy when I saw it was only on chapters 25 through 31.  However, beggars can't be choosers, so I took the plunge.  Imagine my surprise to hear R' Belsky saying on the first shiur that since he was taking over the shiur at the 25th chapter, he would give a basis overview of the sefer.  JACKPOT!
Aside: I was already impressed by R' Belsky's depth and breadth of knowledge on so many topics.  (I know a more physics than he does, but he knows more biology than I do... and I started as a pre-med.)  Realizing, though, that he could "just take over" a shiur on Iyov like I could take over a shiur on algebra was another …

Thought for the Day: You Are In This World to Change, But It's Your Choice

Finding an intelligent atheist is not as hard as it may seem.  On the one hand, you might think it's a contradiction to be both intelligent and an atheist; something akin to finding someone who doesn't believe in air or viruses because he can't see them.  However, the inclination to want a free lunch (that is, to live a life of "if it feels good, do it") is so powerful that even the most rational mind can turn a blind eye to that incongruity.  When you find one, therefore, you have found a treasure trove of
(See, for example, how atheists tailor make a god whose existence they can deny.)  So when you do find one, you have found a treasure trove of absurdities that is easily mined.

How about this one?  "Well, " the atheist will say with all do pomposity, "religion is a crutch, so you have to admire someone (ie, himself) who doesn't need that crutch."  No, I replied in all innocence, I don't feel at all compelled to admire someone with a…

Thought for the Day: Why the HaShem Refers to Epochs of Creation as Days

Chazal say you should know how to answer an apikorus.  Anyone who has learned a daf or two of gemara knows that they following diyuk (precise dissection) is accurate: "know how to answer", indeed; "actually go out and answer", avoid.  Anyone who has had a minute or two of conversation with an apikorus feels deeply the wisdom of that advice.  However, it can't always be avoided.

I was in a sukkah with a very nice and intelligent goy with no particular religious leanings.  He asked me, "I heard this Reform rabbi say that so-and-so is certainly in a high place in heaven.  Can they just do that... make up anything they want and state it as Jewish belief?  What is the Jewish belief of heaven and hell?"  I mean, come on, this non-religious but well educated goy has noticed that Reform rabbis just say whatever comes into there minds and asks me for affirmation and the real explanation... no one could possibly expect me to let that go.  What ensued was a few …

Thought for the Day: Keeping Shabbos Is Considered As Keeping the Entire Torah Completely

When I first heard about the The Shabbos Project, I was not impressed.  The idea was presented to me as, "We must go out and show Jews the beauty of Shabbos!"  In other words (the words into which I translated that in my head, that is), "Let's market holiness."  Eyew.  I worked for a marketing company for nine miserable years.  Why miserable?  Because marketing means lying to get people to buy your product; I don't do lying well.   Besides, the Torah is not merchandise that needs to be sold.

In fact, I had a very bad taste in my mouth from dabbling in showing the beauty of Shabbos to non--observant Jews.  I had once invite a couple for Shabbos -- a complete, beautiful Shabbos experience.  We planned it for the summer so they wouldn't have to leave work early in Friday.  We were completely open and up front that it had to be an entire, 25 hour, experience.  They were game.  We had a beautiful Friday night, and a nice Shabbos s'uda on Saturday.  Then,…

Thought for the Day: Want to Understand Purpose of This World? Enjoy Your Grandchildren

When I first heard about the idea of putting cameras on phones, I thought is had about as much merit as putting cassette tape players on refrigerators.  However, since having grandchildren who live in different states than I do, I have recanted.  (On the phone/camera thing, not on the refrigerator/cassette thing.)  I woke up this morning to see a picture of my three year old grandson reading to his one year (and change) old sister.  I spoke to my daughter not long after and got the whole story: the younger sister loves to have someone read to her, her brother saw her looking at the books and said, "Do you want me to read to you?"  They sat down and the picture was snapped.

There are several old jokes regarding the relationship between grandchildren and grandparents; most of them are true in one way or another.  One is: If I'd known having grandchildren was so much fun, I would had them first.  The irony of the joke, of course, is that you can't have grandchildren wit…

Thought for the Day: The Torah Doesn't Open the Rabbinate to Women Nor Childbirth to Men

Separate but equal has a really, really bad reputation in the US.  In truth, much of its putrid reputation  in this country is well deserved given its application in the last century.  The idea itself is not so bad, but it has been so badly abused that it has suffered from the ideological analog of racial profiling.  Using it to explain the role of women in Torah Judaism (something I have been wont to do), is an uphill battle at best; and usually a losing one.  Having recently heard a shiur from R' Yisroel Belsky on the topic and upon reconsideration, I think it really was a mistake.  The roles of women, men, kohanim, leviim, rabbonim, etc are not equal.

The mashal/allegory R' Belsky gives is to consider two businesses: General Motors vs Joe's Bar and Grill.  Suppose the head design engineer of GM walks into the CEOs office and says he'd like to start spending two hours a day sweeping floors.  He really needs that to feel fulfilled as a human being.  The CEO will tell …

Thought for the Day: Drinking Water Before Havdala Motza'ei Yom Kippur Requires a Bracha

There are two good reasons I went into theoretical physics instead of experimental physics.  The first reason is that experimental physics is really, really hard!  You have to deal with all sorts of real problems, such as electrical connectors, big metal frames of equipment that has to be bolted together, and worst of all: real data.  Recently, for example, researchers needed to make an iron wire that was one atom thick and three atoms wide (You read that right... atoms) to study a theoretically predicted particle know as a  "Majorana fermion"; basically particle that is its own antiparticle.  (Not as much fun as as being your own grandfather; unless, of course, you are a physicist.)  That took approximately two years of "painstaking work" (that's a quote).  I'll say.

The second problem is that I am just not very good with all those little details of the real world.  I have enough trouble thinking things through without having to worry about if I got a sold…

Thought for the Day: The Order of the Brachos of Shmone Esrei

In ma'amar 3, paragraph 21, the Chacham explains to the Kuzari king the order of our brachos in shmone esrei.  I always like to find new insights into shmone esrei, as it helps me to keep some semblance of focus on my davening.  I also found this interesting because the ordering seems so logical that I can have it in mind while davening... helping me to remember where I am, how I got here, and where I am headed.

The first three brachos are simply (hah! simply, he says) to get our attention as we realize before Whom we are standing and making our petitions.  Then we are ready to make our supplications.

Our purpose of being in this world is to establish, strengthen, and deepen our relationship with the Ein Sof -- the One who presents Himself as HaShem/Elokim/HaKodosh Baruch Hu in this world.  That relationship is built and mediated by our seichel (intelligence/common sense), so the first supplication is for intelligence, understanding, and knowledge (chonein ha'da'as).  Of c…

Thought for the Day: Why Age Of Universe Questions Are Not Interesting

How old is the universe?  It is 5775 years and change.  If you ask google, however, you will get this answer:
In physical cosmology, the age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang. The current measurement of the age of the universe is 13.798±0.037 billion years  How does one reconcile the current scientific "measurement" with the our knowledge that the number the Torah gives us is true?

One way is to dismiss the scientific "measurement".  You can first question the use of the word "measurement".  Measuring is an activity that involves actually observing a phenomenon or object and comparing its size/weight/temperature/spectrum/density/etc with known standards.  (Please note my precise use of words: all scientific measurements are made by comparing to a standard.  More on that later.  Of course, it can't be too much later, I only have three or four paragraphs to spend.)  We therefore cannot actually measure the age of the universe.  What…