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Showing posts from April, 2016

Thought for the Day: Not "Nebbich" This Must Be Good, But With Enthusiasm This is for the Best

I had the opportunity to learn with R' Hillel Belsky, shlita (I met him when he was was daughter's principal at Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High School) at a ba'ala batische chavura that he said was targeted to what he called "2nd level ba'alei t'shuva".  That, not FFT (from from Tuesday), but not FFB either; sort of a sandwich generation.  We nominally learned Pachad Yitzchak, but R' Belsky used the chavura as a platform to bring us up to speed, so to speak, on the frum Weltanschauung.  A favorite story to poke fun at how many of us use "Baruch HaShem, I have no complaints" was the cockroach story:
Two cockroaches who were good friends were one day separated by a tractor tearing up their home.  The both went flying; one landed on a dung heap (shalal rav!), the other in the middle of an abandoned parking lot.  Some weeks later (that's decades in cockroach years), they happened to find each other.  The one who landed in the dung heap was fat…

Thought for the Day: Reason Not to Use Glazed Pottery on Pesach -- Not Just a Theoretical Concern

I am so excited.  I get to pull an example from physics to explain why learning the tiny details of halacha are so important.  Life is good.

Let's talk about quantum mechanics.  You've probably heard of the uncertainly principle.  For an electron, than means that you can't know it's position better than the size of an atom.  Do get a feel for how big that is, if the nucleus of an atom was blown up to the size of a ping pong ball and put at the top of the Willis Tower, then you would only know that its electrons are somewhere in downtown Chicago.  That's a big deal for the atom.  On the other hand, if you took a real ping pong ball, the uncertainty in it's position is less than the size of the nucleus of an atom; not a big deal, not even measurable.  So who cares if quantum mechanics is the more correct description of nature?  Well... without quantum mechanics, we would predict that that the entire universe would wink out of existence in less than a microsecond …

Thought for the Day: Laudable Goals Take a Back Seat to Obligations

When I was in graduate school (many decades ago) we would frequently discuss the philosophical implications of our knowledge of the world.  Modern physics, in fact, is built on work started by Liebnitz (among others), who wanted to prove that this was the best of all possible world.  Being a natural philosopher (in those days physics and philosophy were one field), he first invented a rigorous definition for "action", then invented calculus to solve max/min problems, then worked on various editions of the action function and minimizing it.  Nearly all physics since that time uses that basic premise and structure.  I don't expect you to actually follow that Wikipedia link from action, but if you did, you would see some (in the midst of the text) integral and partial differential equations; none of which looks anything like "exploration of alternate realities in search of the best possible existence".

I bring this up note the following crucial points: (1) the goa…

Thought for the Day: HaShem Gave Me Existence, So He Gets to Set My Priorities

I have a problem... fine, fine... one of the problems I have is repeating myself.  It is not a problem with aging, rather an issue I noticed a long time ago; probably early teens.  At some point the pain of hearing "yes, you told me" outweighed the pleasure of telling the story.  Since my memory was not working, I decided on a different course of action; namely, I would internally "age" stories.  Once a story was a day or two old, I would relegate it to long term memory.  Some stories are so fundamental to who I am and how I function, though, that I always look for opportunities/excuses to repeat them. Now that I this venue, things are even better.... I can do an online search to see if I've said it before.  That's how I know that I haven't mentioned my "coloring giraffes" story before.  (But if you know me, you may have heard it before...)

I was in first grade.  Mrs. Holtz (my favorite teacher ever; I had her for both 1st and 2nd grade) had s…

Thought for the Day: How Much of What to Eat at the Seder/Why I Like NPR

I am going say something about a report I heard in NPR this morning.  First, though, get it all out of your system... NPR = National Palestinian Radio, blah blah biased reporting, blah blah liberal agenda, blah blah; in fact, let me give you more ammunition: How Do I Hate NPR? Let Me Count the Ways.  Ok... got it out of your system?  Great, now I can make one point without getting sidetracked.  Regardless of how you view the reporting on NPR, one thing is certain: NPR is considered a serious news service and the listeners are by and large educated.  
What I heard this morning was an analysis of what a presidential candidate's favorite movie says about them.  Donald Trump likes "Citizen Kane", Ted Cruz likes "The Princess Bride", and Hillary Clinton likes the Wizard of Oz.  NPR had an invited movie critic and political analyst report that: (1) Trump likes strong male leads who do what they want without concern for others; (2) Cruz is pandering to the young femal…

Thought for the Day: Hilchos What To Do All Year 'Round From Hilchos Seder

When I first started to become frum, besides not knowing much at all about normative Orthodox Jewish practice, I also didn't know Hebrew.  (I knew the Aleph-Beit and how to pronounce Hebrew writing, but with zero comprehension.)  I therefore was excited to see there was an English translation of the Mishna Brura available.  It was (still is, I think) pricey, so I asked a rav what he thought of it.  His response: If your sophistication in Hebrew is too weak to read the Mishna Brura as is, then your sophistication in learning is too weak to learn the Mishna Brura.  There are plenty of English books on Jewish law and practice, so go learn those.  I, of course, thought "Oh yeah?!  I'll show you!"  So I went and learned Hebrew.

When I finally made siyum on Mishna Brura many years later, it was announced that I was making a siyum on the Orach Chayim section of the Shulchan Aruch with the commentary of the Mishna Brura.  At first I thought there had been a miscommunication…

Thought for the Day: Best Way to Fulfill Mitzvah of Eating Maror

I know someone who makes a big deal about eating the large shiur of fresh grated horseradish at the seder each year.  He is not satisfied unless his face turns beet red and he cries real tears. Mild choking is extra credit.  Very dramatic.  Hardly necessary, nor even halachically desired, as we shall discuss, בעזרת השם.  This guy I know who does this didn't grow up frum and thought he was doing the right thing... and it was entertaining for everyone when I did this each year.  Live and learn.

First of all: what is maror?  The Shulchan Aruch (O.Ch. 473:5) lists five vegetables that can be used: romaine lettuce, chicory, horseradish, חרחבינא, and -- last be certainly not least -- מרור.  A few notes before we get into the meat of things.  First of all, note that I've translated the second item on the list is chicory, not endive.  The confusion seems to stem from Belgiam Endive, which is a kind of chicory, not an endive at all.  Second, it's really difficult to find a good tra…

Thought for the Day: Not Bad Is Not The Same As Good

There is an interesting (your mileage may vary, of course; but I find it interesting) logical principle known as the law of the excluded middle.  In broad/loose terms, it asserts that every statement is either true or false.  It follows from that law that proving a statement is not false is the same as proving it is true.  There are some interesting "corner cases" (such as whether to call the following true or false:  "The current king of France is bald"; being as there is no current king of France, it is hard to call it true, but false implies there is a king of France).  Be that as it may, this law is not a good approach to avodas HaShem.

We had the z'chus (by "we", I mean the vasikin minyan) to have Rabbi Doniel Lehrfeld, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Beis Yisrael davening with us for nearly a week.  As is our custom, the Rosh Yeshiva was asked to say a d'var at our kiddush Shabbos morning.  As is his custom, the d'var torah was delightful, …

Thought for the Day: MIscellany Regarding The Obligation to Drink Four Cups of Wine at the Seder

I don't really rely on signs, wonders, and s'gulos; but I sure do believe in them.  I had the wonderful opportunity to learn with my five year old grandson Avos u'Banim this past Shabbos.  He chose the s'farim: the Art Scroll Children's brachos book (lots of pictures!) and a children's biography of R' Yehuda Assad.  The brachos I knew, but I had never heard of R' Assad and even thought to myself that he must be S'fardi (given the name and the fact that I had never heard of him).  As it turns out, my ignorance knows few bounds; R' Yehuda Assad was a gadol in Hungary, served as the Rav of Szerdahely for more than a decade (1853 - 1866), and was one of the leaders of Hungarian Jewry.
R' Assad is also known as המהר''י אסאד and is an author of a sefer of responsa.  That I know because it he is quoted in the Dirshu Edition Mishna Brura (Note 42 on Siman 472).  Given that I had never heard of המהר''י אסאד before yesterday (except, I…

Thought for the Day: Standards of Proof/Learning from the G'onim

There are two things people say that I find particularly annoying: "I always wanted to ..." and "I'll never forget ..."  Really?  Since your first breath in this world you had that desire?  Really?  You know the future and what other events might occur that will crowd this one out?

That being said; I've always wanted to learn האמונות והדעות/Beliefs and Opinions by R' Saadia Gaon.  It is one of (if not the) earliest treatise on the rational basis for our (that is, Orthodox Jewish) beliefs and "vortlach" from it are widely quoted.  (For example: that there is not eating nor drinking in the world to come; that world is an entirely spiritual experience.)  I am very glad that my Hebrew has finally gotten good enough and my understanding mature enough to work through this beautiful sefer.
The main difficulty is not the language.  Baruch HaShem, my modern Hebrew skills are pretty poor, but the language of our sages in all generations has a consisten…