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Showing posts from October, 2015

Thought for the Day: Recognition That You Are Owed Nothing Is The Foundation Of All

Suppose I asked you if you believed in atoms.  You would probably look at me like I was from another planet and wonder what I was up to.  (Fair enough... I'm usually up to something when I ask a question like that.)  Still, you would likely play along and answer in the affirmative.  What if I then asked you for evidence you have for that belief, being as neither you nor anyone else has ever or will ever actually see an atom?  ("Aha!", you think, "I knew he was up to no good!")

Now suppose I were to ask you if you believe that stealing is morally wrong.  Same eye rolling on your part, again deciding to play along and answer in the affirmative.  This time when I ask you for your evidence, however, your answer is, "I don't need evidence; it is logical that taking something that belongs to someone else is morally wrong."

Now we can begin.

There is a strange discussion in the gemara (Brachos 35a) (my free translation):
Fact 1: It is forbidden to benefi…

Thought for the Day: Learning is So Fun and Here's an Example: Why Eiruv Tavshilin Requires an Oral Declaration

I was in a play in 9th grade.  An in-class play, but I had a big role.  During one of the rehearsals I was holding a pencil during one of the more dramatic speeches and the teacher noted that my performance was much improved.  After discussion, it seemed that holding the pencil helped to give my hands something important to do and so kept me more focussed.  (Yes, I know that "focussed" is technically the British spelling, not American; it looks better to me, so deal.)  Her words made an impression and I started applying that principle wherever I could.  Now you know why I hold a pencil when I learn.

I am on a mission to finish learning the entire Mishna Brura; all six volumes.  I was actually on track to finish for my 55th birthday, but that plan was derailed when a set of Dirshu Mishna Brura appeared mysteriously at my doorstep one day.  (Technically, the appearance wasn't so mysterious -- delivered by UPS in a plain brown box; but I hadn't ordered it; that's th…

Thought for the Day: Enabling Everyone to Appreciate a Siyum Mishnayos

We just commemorated the yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, Aaron Dovid ben Yitchak, a"h.  I was able, Baruch HaShem, to organize a siyum on all of Sh'as Mishnayos.  Being as we are the black sheep/hats of the family, this turned out to have several challenges.  I am sharing my experience because I believe it could be beneficial to others.  I am not, after all, the only Orthodox Jew who has non-frum family.  Moreover, even though both positive and negative experiences are useful to share (positive to encourage certain behaviors, negative to save others from repeating the same mistakes), this actually went very well, so it is more fun to share.

The first decision was to make the siyum on the yahrtzeit and not on the shloshim (30 day) anniversary.  My in-laws had no frum friends, so putting out a sign up sheet during shiva was an option.  That left me asking friends to help.  Everyone I know already has busy learning schedule and is also working.  There are a few very small masecht…

Thought for the Day: Determining P'sak Halacha from Gemara

Repeat after me: The gemara is not a shulchan aruch, the gemara is not a shulchan aruch, the gemara is not a shulchan aruch, the ... On the other hand, all halacha is ultimately decided by and must trace its roots to those very discussions transmitted to us by our sages through the millennia.  So how does one go from תנו רבנן to פסק הלכה?

Obviously, it ain't that easy, but there are rules that give guidelines.  I know a few, and I just saw a new really cool one in a תוספות (Brachos 34a, d'h the middle ones have no order).  Just so we are clear, I am quite aware that anyone who uses the word "cool" is not.  Moreover, anyone who uses the word cool to refer to a תוספות never was.  I'm such a rebel.

One guideline is that we generally rule like a סתם mishna; that is, an unattributed mishna.  An unattributed mishna basically represents a consensus.  Generally also a mishna beats a bareisa.  (The b'reisos are not less authoritative, but were less known.)  The opinio…

Thought for the Day: Changing a Habit/Praying For Rain/Goring Oxen

Ok... before we go any further, we need to be absolutely clear about one thing: "Ox" is not a species of animal any more than "computer programmer" is a species of human.  Any bovine that is used as a draft (draught for us snobs) animal -- ie, to do work around and for the farm -- is an ox.  Sometimes they also take freshman physics, as I remember from my teaching days.  Whew... I feel much better.

We recognize two seasons in our prayer -- rainy and not rainy.  Our prayers, of course, change with the season in two places: the second bracha (גבורה) because rain goes with תחית המתים/resurrection, and the ninth bracha (ברך עלינו) because rain goes with livelihood.  We (human beings) are creatures of habit, which has benefits and drawbacks.  A benefit for prayer is that our prayers become more fluent with repetition; a drawback is that we could stop thinking and start just reciting.  Because of that, Chazal decreed a 30 day window during which one needs to be mindful t…

Thought for the Day: Noah's Ark -- About the Size of a Supercarrier

Since I have Google available from my phone, I decided to research how the biblical dimensions for Noah's ark, 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits compared to a modern aircraft carrier.  The results are pretty cool.

The dimensions at water level of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier (the pride of the United Stated Navy; aka nuclear supercarrier) is 333 m long by 40.1 m wide.  In other words, roughly the same shape as Noah's ark, but dimensions in meters instead of cubits.  Since a cubit is roughly half a meter, that means that Noah's ark is approximately 1/4 the size of our nuclear supercarriers.  Cool, eh?  There's more.  The ark had a draft (depth of hull below water level) of 11 cubits (see Rashi on Genesis 8:4), and the Nimitz-class supercarrier has a draft of 11.7 meters.  Given all that, it seems reasonable to look at the crew facilities to get an idea of how much life the ark, in a completely natural setting, could support.

The ark had three floors, the Nimitz-cla…

Thought for the Day: A Love That Doesn't Depend On Anything, My Relationship With Aaron Nosson Cohen, ztz"l

On the first night of Yom Tov, I heard a shiur on the topic of rejoicing on our festivals.  Apparently when the Gr"a was asked which mitzvah he found to be more difficult, his answer was the mitzvah of ושמחת בחגך/rejoice on your holiday.  Hard enough to feel joy on command, but for seven days and nights is quite a tall order.  I had a particularly difficult challenge in feeling joy 24/9 this year when my world was rocked with the פטירה of Rev. Aharon Nosson Cohen; whom I never called anything but Zaida, even from the very first time I met him at the Chicago Vasikin minyan.  I found comfort and even joy in that pain.

For several years (but not nearly enough for me), we would walk home and share a s'uda together on Shabbos mornings.  He would tell me, week in and week out, "I have the best wife."  I tried a few times to say, "You mean the best for your, right?"  He would smile (he had a beautiful smile) and say yes, but his smile and tone of voice told me th…

Thought for the Day: The Age of Reason Should Have Read The Kuzari

I am quite certain that I never bought a copy of "The Age of Reason", by Thomas Paine.  Nonetheless, I found a copy in the house.  I suspect that I inherited it along jumble of other books I was sent when a spinster cousin (who had been a librarian and a bit of an intellectual) passed away.  I was the closest anyone in my family had to being an intellectual, so I got sent all of her off beat books.  I recently (having run out of other bathroom reading) decided to give it a whirl.  It's actually quite a good read.

It is with good reason that the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of religion.  Many of the more prominent founding fathers were not Christian, but were more along the lines that I would classify as Unitarian, but is also called deism and theistic rationalism... blah, blah, blah... meaning to say that they believed in a G-d who created the world, and who could certainly communicate with said world if He so chose, but that we have no record of …

Thought for the Day: Carrying Outside a Private Domain On Yom Tov and קרבת השם

The issue of carrying outside a private domain on Yom Tov is different than on Shabbos.  The issue on Shabbos is, of course, that the Torah forbids transporting an item both more than four cubits (six feet; give or take) in a public domain and also across the boundary of public and private domains.  (NB: The terms "public" and "private" here vis-à-vis Shabbos and Yom Tov refer to occupancy and size, not to ownership.)  Chazal extended that restriction on Shabbos to include domains that are neither private nor public, private domains that look like public domains, and from one private domain to another.  Chazal also, as is well known, mandated a procedure -- know affectionately as שיתופי מבואות and עירוב חצירות, or just עירוב, for short -- that would if properly constructed and within the prescribed guidelines of populace and whatnot permit such transportation.

On Yom Tov, however, the Torah permits a variety of crafts/labors on Yom Tov under the rubric of "the…