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Showing posts from November, 2015

Thought for the Day: Making a Bracha Before the Mitzvah/Action May Be Performed

We do not live in a heliocentric solar system.  You don't have to take my word for it... here is a scholarly article entitled, The sun's orbital motion from High Energy Astrophysics Division at the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  For those who prefer Yahoo Answers, here you go.  All that being said, of course, you aren't very far off at all to assume a heliocentric solar system.  In fact, I find it an interesting kindness from the Creator to make the sun so (relatively) heavy, for otherwise Newton and Kepler would have had a devil of a time making any sense of the date.  None the less, whether or not you ever actually make a calculation that will be wrong of you assume a heliocentric solar system, you should know that there is such a concept.

I had a question rattling around for a long time: Suppose you have a mitzvah that cannot be performed before a certain time; tzitzis, t'fillin, chanuka candles, etc.  Is one permitted to make the bracha before the tim…

Thought for the Day: Eating Without Making a Bracha is Killing a Kiddush HaShem In the Prime of Its Life

This year I got my flu shot and made an appointment for my annual physical (four years late...) and scheduled a colonoscopy (eight years late... sigh....).  After all that I got the flu; relatively severe case.  After that (three days into the flu when I was starting to feel better and my fever had gone down) my fever went back up; turns out I got a superinfection (not "super" as in superman, just super as in "on top of").  When I called my (ultra orthodox) physician to get antibiotics, I complained a bit and noted that for five years I had ignored good sense and not had regularly scheduled visits, but now that I was trying to be "good" and d, I got sick on top of sick!  He just laughed at with me and replied that is sounded as though HaShem was saying to me, "Oh!  You want השתדלות, do you?  Fine; I'll give you השתדלות!"  (Interestingly, Google's first translation of השתדלות is "intercession", not "effort". )

Ok, that…

Thought for the Day: Why To Learn Hilchos Brachos

My four year old grandson has worked out a system for saying brachos: He always says the bracha of "בורא מיני מזונות".  Now, it is true that the bracha of בורא מיני מזונות works (ex post facto) for any food except water and salt (which are not nourishing), so you might think that it is ok (and even cute) for a four year old to do that.  Actually, it is really cute and adorable; however, when I said he always uses that bracha, I mean always: for all food, upon washing his hands, putting on tzitzis, etc.  He's learning, but it's a process that requires patience, diligence, and persistence. (Actually, the largest obstacle to him learning his brachos is probably us; we think he is so adorable that we give him lots of positive feedback for making that bracha.  We're working on ourselves.)

Learning brachos is a lifetime endeavor.  There are many small details that can make big difference in the correct bracha.  Details, in fact, that can change over time.  For example,…

Thought for the Day: When Damage Is Inflicted By Two Parties Who Have Different Culpability

Here's a riddle: Three men check into a hotel and are told the room is $30; they each contribute $10.  (It's an old riddle; change it to 300$/100$ is that makes you happy.)  The hotel manager later realizes that they room is only $25, so he gives $5 to the bellhop and tells him to return it to the men.  The bellhop figures that giving three men $5 to split will only cause a fight, so he pockets $2 and returns the other $3 to the men.  Now here's the thing: Each man paid (10 - 1)$ = 9$ for the room; that's a total of 27$.  Add to that the $2 in the bellhop's pocket and you have $29.  Hmm... where's the missing dollar?  We'll come back to this in a moment. (Or more; depends on how fast your read, now, doesn't it?)

The gemara (Bava Kama 53a) discusses the distribution of blame (ie, how much it will cost each of the participants) when Reuvein's ox pushes Yehuda's ox (Ferdinand) into Levi's pit and Yehuda's ox subsequently dies.  The gemara b…

Thought for the Day: Erasing/Destroying Letters and Words on Shabbos

I am an amazing בעל עלייה/growing in spirituality daily in leaps and bounds.  Of course, like any בעל עלייה, I deny myself luxuries to show how serious I am.  My biggest sacrifice is that I eat candy only on Shabbos; and Yom Tov... and Chol HaMoed... and Rosh Chodesh... and Purim... and Chanuka... and the day before Yom Kippur.  Still, if you work that out, it means that I restrict my candy consumption to less than a third of the available time.  Impressive, no?  I thought about adding cookies and cakes to that list, but I don't want to get crazy with the my self-imposed restrictions.

There is one problem we have all experienced with eating cake (especially birthday cake) on Shabbos and Yom Tov; the problem with letters.  Any kosher bakery has a plentiful supply of plastic (or paper) mats on which they write "Happy Birthday/Anniversary/Mazal Tov/Bar/Bas Mitzvah Sprinza/Yaakov!" in cloyingly sweet frosting.  Why?  Because, as we all know, to destroy the words on Shabbos w…

Thought for the Day: Sweeping Floors -- Maybe Not On Shabbos

My father, a"h, tried very much to be respectful of our choice to join the cult known as Orthodox Judaism.  One Shabbos morning he asked me why we were allowed to flush the toilets.  I asked him what could possibly be wrong flushing a toilet in Shabbos.  (Knowing me, there was probably a tone of exasperation in my voice.)  He replied that, "How should I know what could be wrong with it?  There are lots of things you don't do on Shabbos that don't make any sense to me."  (No exasperation, just seeking information.  He was good that way.)  I was duly chastised.

It's true, though; we do and don't do lots of stuff.  As I am coming to the end of the third volume of the Mishna Brura (hilchos Shabbos), I find more and more things that I should and shouldn't be doing that I am not and am doing down.  Just look at the headings: A bunch of details regarding stuff we do on Shabbos (339) and A bunch of stuff we don't do on Shabbos because they are kind of li…

Thought for the Day: Kiddush and Kiddush b'Makom S'uda -- They are Different

The following is some of what I learned from the shiur given by R' Fuerst, shlita, on Sunday, Nov 1. That shiur (as well as his other Sunday morning shiurim), is available at, Kiddush B'Makom Seudah.  There are some directly applicable הלכה למעשה new thoughts here; you should listen to the shiur yourself and/or CYLOR before altering your behavior.

The background is that there is a Torah obligation of kiddush on Friday nights and a rabbinic obligation for Yom Tov evenings and all Shabbos and Yom Tov days.  The Torah obligation can be satisfied by words alone, but Chazal wine and a meal to be involved.  We are not going to discuss the obligation of wine vs other beverages vs bread; assume you have wine in sufficient quantity.  Chazal also required that kiddush be recited at the onset and as part of a meal; a requirement affectionately known to all of us as kiddush b'makom s'uda.  The requirement is so strong, in fact, that Chazal have exercised their G-d Given r…

Thought for the Day: The Power of Rationalization, the Importance of Da'as Torah

One of the joys of teaching freshman physics is being able to do cool demonstrations.  One of my favorites was floating an ordinary sewing needle in a bowl of water and then -- nothing up my sleeve (if that expression doesn't evoke the image of a six foot, sleeveless moose holding and aviator capped squirrel by the scruff of the neck, then I just feel sorry for you) -- I add one drop of detergent to the water and the needle immediately drops to the bottom of the bowl.  The point was to show how strong surface tension is when the entire surface cooperates, but how easily it is torn apart when the force is disrupted at one point.  The detergent, being a emulsifier, disrupts the surface tension at one spot; similar to the way a cloth under tension rips easily when one weakness is introduced.  Thank you for that walk down memory lane.

Lot left his comfortable home and society to follow his uncle, Avraham Avinu, across the world as a dedicated student and heir apparent.  Yet this same …