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Showing posts from January, 2015

Thought for the Day: Talking to Your Children -- Lessons From the Four Sons

We speak of four types of sons at the seder: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know to ask. To the wise son, we explain all the details of Pesach observance.  To the simple son, who asks nothing more than, "What is all this?", we give a simple answer.  So far so good; we answer according to the level of understanding and interest of the child.  To the wicked son, however, we give a sharp answer -- ha'keh es shinav/blunt his teeth.  Not really in consonance with even tough love; just hit him in the teeth.  And the one who doesn't know to ask?  We are told that we need to start, we need to open him up.  And what is the guidance we are given to start the conversation?  The very same answer that we use to blunt the teeth of the wicked son!  We started off with clear and understandable direction from our Sages, but we end with confusing and seemingly counter-productive advice!

But Chazal speak in riddles and hints; they are passing to us the keys to u…

Thought for the Day: Seriously -- One Should Learn Sh'lo Lishma For the Right Reasons

There is no advantage to living far from one's grandchildren.  That being said, and being in the unfortunate position of living far from my grandchildren, I attempt to console myself by making up benefits.  Here's one: when one sees his grandchildren only two or three times a year, you really get an acute realization of how much they are growing and changing.  When I visited at Pesach, my oldest granddaughter (all of barely 7) was then reading hebrew and I had the pleasure of doing her reading homework with her -- bah, boo, ki, shah, etc.  When I visited just last week, we could now learn chumash -- real content, not just reading skills -- with her.  Even better, I finally understood a Rashi with which I have struggled for years.

We learned pashas lech l'cha, and the end of verse 3 in chapter 12 says, "and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you."  Asked my granddaughter, "Why is that a bracha for Avram?"  I answered simply because he…

Thought for the Day: How Tuma Leaks Out and How to Contain It

Tuma is kind of like the spiritual equivalent of radioactivity.  You can't see it, taste it, nor smell it; but it's there and it can do damage.  It only affects Jews, though it affects some Jews -- notably kohanim -- more than others.  So let's suppose you have a kohein coming for dinner and you have a ladle full of corpse lying around.  (I don't know how you ended up with that problem -- kasha af ah maisa/figure out a scenario.)

First of all, like everything else in halacha, there are shiurim/sizes.  It takes at least a k'zayis of corpse to cause any problems at all.  If the ladle of corpse (LOC, going forward) is under the sky, then the kohein would have to actually step over or under it to be affected (unless its in a cemetery, but he probably shouldn't be anyway).  If, however, the LOC is covered by at least a tefach (about 4") square of ceiling that is at least a tefach away, then the tuma is contained; the kohein could even pick up that box and walk …

Thought for the Day: Violating Shabbos to Prepare Food for a Choleh Sh'Yeish Bo Sakana

This is purportedly a true story and I have no reason to doubt it; I just don't remember all the names and dates.  A frum lady was deathly ill and was told (based on the medical knowledge and practice of the day... likely late 1800s) that the only cure involved eating some concoction that was made from pig liver.  She was aghast, but her rav assured her that she was not only allowed to eat it, but that halacha required her to eat it to save her life.  She agreed, but only on condition that they pig be properly shechted.  The rav said, "It's a pig; you can't make it kosher."  But she was insistent.  They found a shochet who agreed.  Then she said, "I want the lungs checked."  At that point, the rav said, "No.  It's a pig.  You can't even make it kosher; you certainly can't make it glatt kosher!"

Halacha has a lot of lenience for someone who is a choleh sh'yeish bo sakana/deathly ill; but there are limits.  Siman 328 (which I rem…

Thought for the Day: Da'as Torah -- 100% Hishtadlus/100% Gift

I've spent my life learning that what I knew up until then was wrong.  My earliest recollection of learning that fact of life was when my grandfather (a brilliant professor of electrical engineering) told me that that -- contrary to people's belief -- Thomas Edison did not invent the electric light bulb.  There were lots of electric light bulbs out there.  What Thomas Edison did invent was the high voltage, low current electric light bulbs; all the others were low voltage high, high current.  That seemingly small detail made the difference between being able to distribute electricity on a power grid, thus lighting up whole cities, and light bulbs being an oddity demonstrated at carnival sideshows.  Knowing which details are important can change history.

I had the z'chus to learn Mishna Brura for a year or two with R' Chaim Tzvi Hollander, shlita; formerly of Chicago, now a rebbi in Beis Yisrael in Neve Yaakov.  Learning halacha and learning how to learn halacha from a …

Thought for the Day: The Light of Chanuka is the Light of the Human Soul

In case you haven't heard, an orangutan was ruled to be a non-human person by an Argentine court.  (If you don't believe me, just google "Sandra the Orangutan".)  The orangutan, further ruled the court, is therefore due certain rights; two of which are privacy and freedom from captivity.  Animal rights activists around the world are elated and celebrating.  Humans around the world should be fasting and engaged in serious soul searching to reinstill in themselves what it means to be human; as we Jews do every year on Asara b'Teves; the fast of the 10th of Teives.

There is a tragic error people make in understanding what the Greeks wanted from us in the first place and why that led to an "all hands on deck" rebellion -- even HaShem Himself got involved by supplying a miracle.  First a review of history:  The Greeks contaminated the oil for the menorah, punched 13 holes in the fence that ran around the inner courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash, and required th…

Thought for the Day: A Plethora of S'feikos

The general rule, of course, is "safeik d'rabanan l'kula" -- In a situation where one may or not be running afoul of a rabbinic prohibition, the halacha is that one is not running afoul of the prohibition.  I tried to state that carefully, because "safeik d'rabanan l'kula" does not mean that you can assume there is no problem.  It is the situation that has the s'feikos/doubts, not the halacha.  That can mean that sometimes s'feik safeik d'rabanan l'kula can lead to a chumra/stringency.  For example, we add "al ha'nisim"/for the miracles to bentching and shmone esrei during Chanuka and Purim.  If one is in doubt if he said them, then he is not obligated to repeat with the insertion.  Once he is not obligated, then he now not allowed to repeat, because the (now) unnecessary insertion becomes a forbidden interruption.
The interesting thing about "safeik d'rabanan l'kula" is all of the exceptions.  Consider…

Thought for the Day: Bracha On Vegetable Soup Broth

Many years ago (decades, now, actually), I asked a talmid chacham what he thought of the English translations of the Mishna Brura.  His reply made an impression that affected my learning of halacha: "If your Hebrew is not good enough to understand the Mishna Brura, then are other s'farim you should be learning for halacha."  Another talmid chacham (sometime years later) similarly observed, "The Mishna Brura is not an easy limud.  It is really a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch."  That point was further reinforced for me when I made a siyum on completing the Misnha Brura; the rav announced that I would be making a siyum on having learned the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch with the commentary of the Mishna Brura.  That helped put it in perspective -- I knew the halachos in Orach Chaim about as well as I would know a masechta of gemara that I had learned with Rashi.  Good enough to have some cake and maybe a schnapps, but nothing I wanted to chance with my …

Thought for the Day: Bit of Corpse In Dead Dog Lying Across Threshold -- Questions?

I know one country western song joke.  (Apparently there is only one joke in that genre; as verified by the Google search I just did.)  This joke will only be funny to you if you grew up in the 60s and 70s when people were playing records backwards (trying doing that with them newfangled DVDs!) looking to find hidden messages from the obviously enlightened teenagers and 20somethings who were writing rock songs back then; even then, though, your mileage may vary.  Here's the joke:  What happens when you play a country western song backwards?  Answer: you get your dog back, your truck back, and your wife back.  (If you tell me that's an old one, you will only merit a blank stare.)

The mishna in Ohalos (11:7) asks a similar question: If a dog eats a k'zayis of corpse, then dies lying across your threshold, under what circumstances will your house be tamei?  (Ok, there's no truck, but I guarantee that your wife is out of there until you clean up this mess.)  It turns out y…