Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2015

Thought for the Day: Sukkos and Lunar Eclipse/Celebration and Demonstration

The first night of Sukkos was a few nights ago.  As it turns out, a total eclipse of the moon was also visible from Chicago that night; becoming total at 9:47PM.  I mentioned that to someone walking home from shul and added, "It's a beautiful night to observe the eclipse!"  He answered me, with some disdain, "It is a beautiful night to be in the sukkah."  He apparently felt I had too much enthusiasm for this astronomical event and not enough for the sanctity of evening.  I accepted the mussar, but I had very spiritual reasons for being excited about a lunar eclipse... especially on Sukkos.

Before we get to the spirituality, it is worth taking just a few moments to appreciate the event.  The earth is 93,000,000 miles from the sun.  To get a lunar eclipse, you need the earth to come between the sun and the moon.  If you think about that, you'll realize that a lunar eclipse will only occur when the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the earth; ie, a full mo…

Thought for the Day: Thoughts On Preparing for Yom Kippur Gleaned from My Bicycle Commute

Last night I wired up a water-proof fluorescent light fixture for our Sukkah.  I knew what to do because my grandfather (he should rest in peace) taught me how to wire things up.  Getting a degree in physics didn't help me with wiring the fixture.  (In fact, ask me sometime about the time I tried to install a dimmer in a friend's dorm room based on my vast knowledge -- I was a junior in college at the time -- of physics.  Let's just say it sparked quite a round of well deserved jeering, including my name and description of my spectacular failure being enshrined around the door frame.)

With יום כיפור bearing down in less than a year (orginally, I had written "in just a few hours"; but stuff happened), I am focussing on very practical application of the general principles of change that Chazal have taught us.  R' Yisrael Salanter said that it is easier to learn ש''ס (the entire Talmud) than to change on character trait.  I reason that changing my conduc…

Thought for the Day: G-d Is One/Yisrael Is One -- He Is Our G-d/We are His Nation

In the Holy Tongue there is a critical difference between a king and a ruler.  Both have absolute control  over their populace; up to and including the right and power to decide life and death.  The difference is that a king rules by mandate of his nation.  On ראש השנה we make השם King.  That is accomplished by our declaration in the mussaf service of His Sovereignty -- using verses from Torah, Prophets, and Writings explicitly describing His Sovereignty, recalling the Beneficence of His Sovereignty, and our announcing His Sovereignty via shofar blast -- topped off with actual shofar blasts.  Very powerful and moving.

So powerful and moving, that it is easy to miss that in the middle of the whole ceremony -- the last verse that is supposed to be describing His Sovereignty, in fact -- is: שמע ישראל, השם אלוקינו, השם אחד/Harken, Yisrael; HaShem is Our G-d, HaShem is One! A lovely sentiment, of course, but what does it have to do with making Him King?  First of all, it doesn't mentio…

Thought for the Day: Weak Spots in Creation/Enemies of Klal Yisrael/Kingdoms of the Nations -- All One

One of my favorite poems (ok... I've only read about four poems -- excluding Nursery Rhymes -- in my life, but saying it this way gives me the appearance of well read) is The Deacon's Masterpiece (aka, The Deacon's One Hoss Shay).  The Deacon, you see, was irritated with things breaking.  He reasoned that when something broke, it meant the manufacturer had been lazy/cheap about the component that was responsible; that is, a piece had been included that was of less quality than the rest of the components of the contraption.  He therefore set out to build a one hoss shay that did not suffer from that malady; there was no weakest link.  I urge you to read the poem, but the bottom line is that the driver of the shay found himself one day sitting on just a mound of dust -- every component had failed at precisely the same time.  So the poem ends:
End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say. Still brings tears to my eyes.

Whenever you have a bridge from…

Thought for the Day: Our Four Challenges; Three Down, One to Go

I started listening to shiurim by R' Aharon Lopiansky on the the Maharal's נר מצוה; his treatise on Chanuka.  Why Chanuka, you ask?  Because of those available shiurim, those were on the next holiday.  My choices in shiurim are not entirely random, there is some associated pragmatism.  I also thought, "Heck... with Rosh HaShanah approaching, I could using something light."  (Get it?  "light" as in "not deep" and "light" as in festival of lights?  I crack me up.)  R' Lopiansky begins by noting that the Maharal sees Chanuka as part of the chain of four weaknesses designed into the the fabric of reality by the Creator, the rectification of which is part of Klal Yisrael's job in this world and our reason for existing.  So much for light.

The Maharal begins by quoting a prophecy (couched as a vision from a dream) by Daniel; a vision of four beasts that represent the four kingdoms -- Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome -- which have be…

Thought for the Day: Prophets and Prophecy -- What They Are, What They Aren't

I once visited the Grand Canyon; which I found to be a truly awe inspiring experience.  An experience so overwhelming, in fact, that I found even saying the bracha of "עושה מעשה בראשית" (Who does the work of creation) was too much for me while looking directly at this wonder of nature.   I tried saying the brach -- with the siddur open in front of me -- and could only barely stammer out some words.  I found that I had to look directly at each word and concentrate fully on just saying it correctly; that got me through.  Apparently I wasn't the only one who found the experience so awe inspiring, a young man dressed and looking like any other tourist (as opposed to me, in my standard white shirt and black pants) walked over to me to ask what was the appropriate bracha!

When first looking at the canyon, I couldn't really wrap my mind around the fact that it was real.  I had seen canyons before, of course, but this didn't fit even my wildest extrapolation from earlier…