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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 starting point.  The main "trick", if you will, is that my infinitesimal is as small as I want, so infinitesimal squared is so small it can be ignored.  (Usually; though there are details...)
As an aside, I note: All of differential calculus really boils down to working breaking arbitrarily complex problems into tiny little easy problems, the put that back together one step at a time.  Not a bad approach to life, actually.
Now, the Hebrew word for infinitesimal is משהו (mah-sh'-hu).  On Pesach itself even a משהו of chameitz is forbidden.  What about a משהו of a משהו, that is, a משהו  squared?  How could that happen?  Suppose single grain of wheat is discovered in your chicken soup on Pesach.  After you revive your wife, just tell her, no problem: we have to throw out the soup (maybe even sell it to a goy if it would be a tremendous loss), and we can just store the pot away until after Pesach.  Why?  Because the soup isn't chameitz, it only has a משהו of absorbed chameitz.  The one grain of wheat -- which is certainly chamitz -- has to be immediately destroyed, of course.  Your wife breathes a sigh of relief that she doesn't have to toss the pot; moreover, she is also cooking up beef stew for dinner, so at least she won't have to start dinner all over again.

As you are moving the pot for your grateful wife, you slip and a tiny piece of carrot (or chicken or zucchini) drops into the beef stew your wife is also making.  She plahtzes again.  You revive her and she say, "aagh!  That was all we had for dinner and you just dropped chameitz chicken into the pot!"  You say, "No, honey that second pot has a משהו  squared of absorbed chnameitz!  That is a machlokes Shach and Taz.  We'll just call the rabbi and ask a sh'eila."

What's the machklokes?  The Taz says that while we are forbidden to ingest a משהו chameitz, we are not forbidden to ingest a משהו of a משהו of chameiez; the Schach says we are.  I would like to suggest that the Taz is interpreting משהו  as "really, really small, but still detectable".  Therefore the Taz learns that with enough dilution, whatever chameitz was there originally drops below the detectable range and is no longer even a משהו.  The Shach, however, interprets משהו to mean that we have knowledge that it could be there, even if we can't actually detect it.

For extra credit (for those of you who also like differential calculus), I will note that the Taz agrees that if some drops of the soup with the משהו of chameitz splashed into the other soup, then you would be required to throw out the second soup also.  Why?  The poskim give real answers, but it also fits in with my differential calculus way of looking at things.  Because the dilution of a משהו by some big factor doesn't get smaller as fast as squaring a משהו, so you always need to reckon with it.  Cool, eh?

Now you know what Purim Torah sounds like in a frum physics department.  Ahh... makes me homesick.


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