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Showing posts from February, 2015

Thought for the Day: The Obligation to Get Drunk on Purim

I have been told that it is not fun to argue with me.  First, I have lots of facts.  Second, when I don't have facts, I don't express and opinion.  The first kind of argument usually ends with someone saying, "oh".  The second usually ends with me saying, "I don't know"; though it may take several iterations of me repeating, "no; really...  I don't know".  I strive to become ever less fun as an argument player.

So now, speaking of getting drunk on Purim, you'll hear all sorts of "statements of fact".  "Getting drunk on Purim is a decree of our sages!  End of story."  "You only have to take a nap, you don't need to drink at all!"  "It can't be that Chazal actually obligated us to get drunk, when drunkenness is openly denigrated in the chumash and the prophets!"  The first is quoting the Shulchan Aruch.  The second is quoting the Rema.  The third is quoting the Bi'ur Halacha.  The state…

Thought for the Day: Hishtadlus -- Practical Advice

I am in a transition time of the year.  During the winter I learn before davening; during the summer, after davening.  (Sunrise in Chicago at the corner of Sacramento and Devon gets as early as 5:14 and as late as 7:19 .)  Personally, I feel rushed during the winter to get to work as soon as I can, but I have no second thoughts about whether or not to stay for davening; none.  I might have to leave as late as 7:40AM; but what can I do?  On the other hand, it takes a significant effort for me to learn after davening till even 7:15AM.  The difference for me is that davening is a fixed obligation; it's an hour or so in the morning that is already (as it were) committed.  The obligation to learn, on the other hand, has no fixed time requirement; a Jew is simply required to learn as much as possible.  There in lies the rub: what is "as much as possible"?

This is just one dimension of the general issue of hishtadlus (personal effort) vs. hashgacha pratis (divine providence).  …

Thought for the Day: Paying Creditors From an Estate and/or After Bankruptcy

Let's say Moe has died; baruch dayan ha'emes.  Moe had a beautiful funeral, lovingly and (of course) tearfully remembered by friends and loved ones.  In fact, there were three attendees -- Larry, Curly Joe, and Shemp -- who were weeping somewhat more than the rest of the gathered assemblage.  It is now a few days later and finances need to be settled.  As it turns out Moe had owed money to Larry, Curly Joe, and Shemp; ah, that explains why they were at the funeral.  Moe's estate is valued at $3000, Shemp is owed $10,000, Curly Joe is owed $20,000, and Larry is owed $30,000; ah, that explains the excess weeping.  How do we divide up the estate to pay the creditors?
Note: we are taking the case here where all notes have the same due date and we are not discussing the difference in whether paid in real estate or cash. The answer is based on a mishna (K'subos 93a): A man who had three wives died.  (It doesn't discuss the cause of death, but I think it's pretty obvi…

Thought for the Day: What You Can and Can't Pay/Do for a Loan

The Torah forbids a Jew to charge another Jew interest for a loan.  In fact, the Torah also forbids a borrower from paying interest on a loan.  In support of that, many (most?) Orthodox Jewish communities support one or more free loan funds.  The funds are called a "gemach"; which is really just an acronym for "g'milus chesed"/loving kindness.  These loans can be for a little as a few hundred dollars (or less, actually) to 10 of thousands of dollars (or more, actually).

The first loan I took from a frum Jew occurred when I was visiting a rav/friend in Eretz Yisrael.  I wanted to get a nice piece of silver jewelry for my wife (I got to Eretz Yisrael on a business trip).  My host took me to a jewelry store that specialized in silver.  I found something in my budget, went to pay and discovered I had left my wallet at my host's home.  He lent me the money and asked me to write a shtar/contract; just and IOU, really, but halachically binding -- and, in fact, hal…

Thought for the Day: The Laws of the Torah are Entirely Mercy, Kindness, and Peace

The first time I worked on learning through the Mishna Brura, I followed the Mishna Brura Amud  Yomi plan.  One amud (one side of one page) each day and you complete the entire Mishna Brura in five years.  I highly recommend it.  One amud a day is really doable, but there are more doable and less doable days.  When I saw a big Biur Halacha, my eyes would light up and my heart would sing -- it meant I was getting to bed early that night!  I am glad I completed that program, as it gave me a good, basic grounding in halacha l'ma'aseh needed in one's daily activities.

There are, of course, a down side to being held to a schedule.  Excitement that there is less to have to learn is not really a defensible position to the Heavenly Tribunal, after all.  Nor is that the attitude I want to foster in myself, since both gehinom and gan eden is a beis medrash without a clock.  In addition, though, there is just the basic problem of pressure to move on even with a less than complete (re…

Thought for the Day: Yes, You Should Fix A Place to Daven; No, You Don't Own the Spot Where You Learn

My first trip to Eretz Yisrael was sponsored by Motorola.  We had a meeting with Motorola Israel, my manager figured a nice Jewish boy like me would love a trip to Israel, so he assigned me as our group's representative.  The meeting was ho-hum, but I learned a lot.  First I learned that my Hebrew was way more woefully deficient than I had ever imagined.  Second, I learned that there were two minchas available in the office, one Ashkenaz and one S'fardi.  Third, I learned that the S'fardi workers in jeans and t-shirts davened with much more hislavus (enthusiasm/fire) than the Ashkenazim dressed in business casual.  (I happened on the S'fard minyan when I was delayed by a meeting and missed the Ashkenaz minyan.  I never went back.)

Shabbos was beautiful for many reasons, most too far off topic (yes, of course I have a topic and an agenda going on here) to expound on now.  Shabbos morning I went to where I thought the vasikin minyan davened... but I was wrong.  So I dave…

Thought for the Day: Breadth and Boundaries of Rabbinic Decrees

Rabbinic g'zeiros/fences often times seem eminently sensible.  Take muktza, for instance.  (Well, don't actually take it if you happen to have printed this out and are reading on Shabbos.  If you didn't print this out but are reading it on a computer on Shabbos; please stop now.)  If you don't even pick up a hammer (muktza, d'rabbanan), then you won't accidentally whack a nail and finish that bookcase (d'oraisa; yikes!).  In situations where you are allowed to pick up a hammer (you need the place where it is resting, or you need to crack some nuts), you will have already realized that you are in a safety zone and will take appropriate cautions.  That's similar to having guardrail on the walkway at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  (Important Aside: The chance you are taking by of recklessly transgressing a rabbinic decree and risking transgressing a Torah decree -- having eternal repercussions -- is infinitely worse than recklessly ignoring the guardrail -…

Thought for the Day: What Could Be Wrong With Drinking Instant Coffee on Shabbos?

I heard from R' Yisrael Belsky, shlita, that uncomfortable childhood experiences contribute to shaping your personality and outlook.  Reviewing them helps to enhance their good effect and subdue the collateral damage.  Baruch HaShem, I had oodles of painful childhood experiences (many my own creation), which may help to explain my personality.  One of the less painful, but nevertheless, effective experiences I remember was a discussion with one of my mother's cousins about coffee.  I was about 8, he was mid-20s.  He and I had an affinity, as he was a physical sciences major and I was a smart alek.  I asked him if he really liked coffee (something that I could not imagine liking... no matter how much milk and sugar you put in that stuff, it was bitter and disgusting), or if he just drank it to wake up.  I actually argued with him (I know, you are shocked) when he said he really liked coffee.  "Wait.. are you saying that even if you weren't tired, you'd sometime rat…