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Showing posts from March, 2016

Thought for the Day: What's the Deai with תענית בכורות?

When I first started becoming more observant, I started fasting תענית בכורות/Fast of the Firstborn on erev Pesach.  After I became fully observant, I learned that I had been wrong to fast on two counts:

I am no longer a בכור so I didn't have to fast.The custom is for בכורים to attend a siyum in order to participate in a s'udas mitzvah and not to fast. Live and learn.
The truth is that תענית בכורות is a strange fast anyway.  It's the only fast where the minhag is to not fast.  That is, attendance of a siyum is not seen as a "if you happen to attend a siyum you don't have to fast", instead it is the observance of choice.  Groups plan ahead to have a siyum scheduled with the express purpose of getting the בכורים off the hook.  I have seen two explanations of this phenomenon.
R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztz"l, explains that that the בכורים are fasting because originally it was the בכור in each family who was responsible for the avodah.  They only lost that…

Thought for the Day: Kashering Vessels from Absorption of Kosher (or Not) Food

Besides the normal issues that need to be addressed when getting coffee from a coffee shop, here's one you don't have: their keilim don't require t'vila.  What about when having coffee with non-frum Jews in their house?  Let's say they bought coffee cake from the kosher bakery and also are providing paper/plastic plates and forks.  One issue remains: they usually aren't going to buy a bucket o' coffee; they'll just make it.  After all, what could be wrong with a coffee maker that never has anything in it but kosher coffee?  Of course, we know the problem: they didn't tovel that carafe (probably didn't even know there is such a thing).  So how do you drink coffee there?

There's a simple (and fundamental) answer: A Jew is required to tovel his keilim and it is forbidden for him to use them until they have been properly immersed in a kosher mikvah.  (Not even once!)  None the less, if they made food in those keilim -- even though they were not …

Thought for the Day: Teaching/Learning Torah, A Uniquely Jewish Activity

In case you haven't noticed, I often start a TftD with a personal anecdote.  Today, though, I am saving the personal anecdote till the end, since it helped me understand an interesting halacha.  Instead, I'll start of with halachic anecdotes I heard from R' Fuerst, shlita.

Anecdote #1: A frum Israeli soldier was scheduled for a watch on the first night of Pesach.  He would have time to do the seder and say the Hagadah; that wasn't the problem.  His problem was that it isn't much fun to saying the Hagadah to himself.  While we don't usually worry if a mitzvah is fun to perform or not, the recitation of the Hagadah is a bit different.  The whole mitzvah is to engage even/especially the children and bring them -- and ourselves -- to a sense of wonder and excitement about the tremendous fortune with which we have been blessed by being Jewish.  The soldier was not going to be alone, but would be on duty with another soldier who was non-Jewish.  He wanted to know if …

Thought for the Day: Tzedaka to Goyim

We are about to become the proud owners of a new dining room set.  New to us, that is; a Jewish coworker lost and uncle recently and the dining room set belonged to her grandmother (who was also the uncle's mother).  My coworker is not frum, but she has fond memories of Pesach seders at that table and is happy to see it going to a Jewish home.  We don't need (nor even have the space for) our existing dining room set, so we offered it to our children's non-Jewish nanny (who was quite appreciative, by the way).

I know, I know... you are probably asking yourself right now: Hey!  What about the issur of לא תחנם/not to give gifts to non-Jews for no reason?!  First of all, this is not a problem, since she is a service provider for us and she will certainly be even more inclined to do a good job for us.  (I found a very nice write up by the Kof-K on this whole issue online here; it's worth a look see.)  However, this is a nice segue to relaying a story that R' Fuerst said…

Thought for the Day: How Much משהו Is Still a משהו On Pesach?

I was not and am not very good at arithmetic and I have less than no interest in improving my skills.  My interest in math really started with algebra, waned a bit with geometry, then shot up to permenant lifetime affinity with differential calculus.  Imaging my delight and glee, therefore, when seeing the concepts of differential calculus appearing in hilchos Pesach!

What's so cool about differential calculus?  It is a beautiful merging of theoretical mathematics and engineering.  The strategy is to start at one point and then move away by an infinitesimal amount and look out how things change.  Of course, the change is also infinitesimal, but at that scale all functions look basically like straight lines.  The behavior of straight lines is very easy to understand, so I have taken every problem -- regardless of complexity -- and reduced it to working with straight lines.  Once I get that, I just move a little (in infinitesimally small amount, of course), and use that as my new st…

Thought for the Day: Honey On Pesach and When Nullification Isn't

I know it is more than thirty days before Pesach (at the time of this writing, anyway), and I also know that our Sages have decreed that once should start learning the laws of Pesach 30 days before Pesach.  I even tried that once or twice.  Go ahead, ask, "So.. how did that go for you?"  Right, so the last few years I've tackled as much as I could and then when back to my regularly scheduled learning after Pesach.  This year, בעזרת השם, I'll be completing the Mishna Brura with Dirshu commentaries on Hilchos Pesach.  I actually started in the middle with the laws of erev Pesach and the seder, then have been back filling.  The last section I left for myself was preparing the water for baking, care of the flour, baking the matzos, and little odds and ends.  After all, how relevant is that to my life?

As it turns out, smack in the middle of siman 467 -- which is entitled, "Case of wheat upon which water has fallen and cooked foods in which wheat is found" -- yo…

Thought for the Day: Three Daily Approbations -- Existence/Spirituality/Eternity

In case you are not tired of hearing about (here and here, remember?) why we say שלא עשני גוי each morning, keep reading.  You have been warned.

Here's yater (yet another truly excellent reason) not to say simply, שעשני ישראל, then you would no longer be able to sayשלא עשני עבד  nor שלא עשני אשה, as they have already been included.  This is not a case of making unnecessary extra brachos; there are really three approbations a Jew needs to make upon starting a new day.  I would like to suggest that these correspond to the three brachos that immediately precede them: אל-קי נשמה ,אשר יצר, and הנותן לשכוי בינה להבחין בין יום ובין לילה.  (Yes, I know that some many siddurim don't put them together like that; that's their problem.)

The first approbation comes from realizing the incredible wisdom revealed in even the most mundane of physical activities.  It is certainly true that given enough monkeys banging on enough typewriters for long enough, the complete works of William Shake…

Thought for the Day: You May Not Save Yourself with Your Friend's Money... But...

Want a test of your resolve and bitachon?  Some people think it is how willing you are to give up buying coffee from a Starbucks that makes sandwiches.  Others think it is whether you are willing to buy chalav yisrael ice cream in the United States for triple the price and a tenth of the flavor choices that stahm (but glatt kosher) ice cream gives you.  Still others think it is whether you daven at the vasikin minyan during the summer.  Pshaw, I say, pshaw.  You want a real test?  Try davening at the vasikin minyan during the winter -- especially rosh chodesh Teiveis -- when you are going to be later for work.  That really separates the ba'alei bitachon from the rest of the crowd.

So... if you were there this morning (you frummy, you), you would have heard (O. Ch. 694:2 and Mishna Brura there) that any money collected to distribute to the poor for their Purim s'uda, must be given for that purpose and that purpose alone.  The gabbai tzedaka has no right to change it for any oth…

Thought for the Day: More On Why We All Say שלא עשני גוי

I really, really enjoy having grandchildren living with us.  I also, of course, really, really like giving them breakfast; and I don't mind at all needing to constantly remind them, "What do you say?"  They always say thank you right away and it's so darn cute.

We never even wonder why they need to be reminded; after all, they have every need provided and have no concern at all that their needs will be provided the next time they ask as well.  Of course they need to be reminded; they are children and knowing that all their needs are provided is just part of their reality.  The Chovos HaLevavos contrasts this to someone who was locked in prison (for no good reason) and is unexpectedly the recipient of kindness from a generous benefactor.  The benefactor pays his fines, brings him home, provides shelter, clothing, food, and even finds a trade for him.  Such a beneficiary will never have to be reminded to thank his benefactor.  Even years later whenever he faces his ben…

Thought for the Day: Don't You Dare Cook A Kid in Its Mother's Milk

A coworker (from India) asked me one day if I was a vegetarian.  I replied that I am not, but that I keep kosher.  Then ensued a very high level of the laws of kashrus, how we know them, and so forth.  I actually find it pretty interesting to speak to someone about these issues who has no preconceived notions; she had heard of the bible, for example, but that was about it.  That night I realized she had asked my about being a vegetarian because she has never seen my eat meat.  (I always eat at my desk, so she has certainly seen what I bring for lunch.)  The next day I explained to her that we are not allowed to eat meat with dairy, so that's why I never bring meat.  "That's interesting... why not?", she asked.  I answered that that Torah states the rule this way: Don't boil a baby animal in the very same thing that gave it life, its mother's milk.  The look on her face together with her response was priceless:  "Oh!  When you put it that way, ewww!"

Thought for the Day: Davening Mincha Followed By Ma'ariv

In fifth grade or so, the teacher told us one day that she expected our handwriting on spelling tests to be legible (what?!).  She was particularly annoyed with those of use (who?  me?) that wrote our cursive a's and o's intentionally ambiguous (that is, a circle with the trailing connector about midway -- not at bottom to be a definitive a, not at top to be a definitive o).  I was pretty annoyed myself, as I thought I was being pretty clever.  Not the last time I discovered that my innovative approach was a well worn subterfuge.

In a TftD some time ago, I mentioned the תרתי דסתרי of davening ma'ariv immediately after mincha.  I left things intentionally vague there because I as I wrote the TftD, I realized that I was not at all clear on all the details.  Luckily, it was not being graded by Miss Schneider; and, anyway, it was clear enough for the point I wanted to make anyway.  I have since done my homework and checked the answer key (ie, called R' Fuerst, shlita), and…

Thought for the Day: Why We Say שלא עשני גוי

John Fender was a friend of mine in junior high school.  My mother and his mother were both very pleased with the friendship.  John was a bit on the wild side and my mother was hoping that the friendship would bring me "out of my shell" (mom's words) and make me less nerdy (my translation of her words into her intent).  His mother was hoping our friendship would bring him to be a little more centered.  As you can imagine, it worked as well for him as it did for me.

One thing he did made an impression on me, though, was when we were just starting high school (and still friends...).  I saw him buying the green and white with an image of a fighting leprechaun (Upland High School, the football team was called the Uplanders) book covers.  I told him that he could make quite serviceable book covers from brown paper grocery bags (aside: do you remember those?).  He looked at me like I had a hole in my head: "What?! I want people to know I am in high school!"

One might…

Thought for the Day: One Day, One Step, One Breathe at a Time

I participated in the American Lung Association's "Fight for Air Climb" yesterday.  It is always inspiring to participate in these publicity/fund raising events for important issues.  As I have mentioned, breathing issues are very personal to me; having spent time in an oxygen tent myself as a child and now seeing one of my grandsons suffer with similar problems.  On the staircase I also met a woman who son had died just a few years ago from asthma.  So we are all climbing for a purpose.  I also got an unexpected inspiration from my climbing partner.

She has done this and other events hosted by various breathing organizations for years.  One year she volunteered as a "cheer leader" (standing at various floors urging the climbers on -- "you're doing great!  keep it up!") and saw many, many climbers from one team: Kari's Klimbers.  She finally asked someone who this Kari was.  It was the team captain, Steve; and he answered, "I have Kari…

Thought for the Day: Why Do We Have a Second Adar (Sometimes) Anyway?

Here is a very practical question: Which Adar is the "real" Adar and which one is just "the other one that we have sometimes"?  You are wondering, like... who cares?  Here's one example of someone who cares: Your son was born in Adar in a year when there was only one Adar, but he will turn 13 in a year with two Adars.  Practical difference: when are you going to spend money.  Suppose you are that boy: when do you put on t'fillin?  Suppose you are unfortunate enough to be among those of us whose father has left the world, and he left in Adar (again, in a year with only one Adar).  When is the yahrtzeit; when can you claim the amud from someone in the first year of aveilus for his parent?  First Adar? Second Adar?  Both?  Neither?

Before we go there, though, we need to understand why there are sometimes two Adars in the first place.  As we all know, all Jewish holy day events are referred to a day of lunar month.  In fact, the new moon itself is a holy day on…