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Showing posts from October, 2016

Thought for the Day: Your יֵצֶר הָרָע Wants Every Battle And The War

I worked many years for Motorola; the last couple of which were spent looking at availability and reliability.  (Reliability engineering seeks to decrease the frequency with which a system fails; availability engineering seeks to decrease the time to repair/replace a failed system.)  Motorola then had a culture of "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it".  I therefore began by looking at historical outage data for our systems.  One important piece of data we had in the database was "root cause".  Understanding root cause is perhaps the single most important bit of information one needs to improve any system.  As I analyzed that data, going through the engineering logs of what was done to fix the system, I found that the recorded root cause was essentially unrelated to reality.  Apparently the system required the person taking the call to record a root cause, but the engineer who actually did the repair never went back to update that field.  I publish…

Thought for the Day: When You Remember משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם Barely In the Nick of Time

I remember really random things.  I was once walking across campus sometime around summer quarter (yes, I could never think of any more fun way to spend my summer than taking more science courses...) after the lecture from my zoology class.  We had just learned about the details of lung structure and I was mulling over some questions I had.  I realized that I could not even have had these questions the day before, since I hadn't known about those particular lung structures (alveoli).  That's when I had an epiphany: You can't ask proper questions until you learn more data and have a better understanding of the subject!  (Yes, my friends were not so impressed either...)

Nerdy or not, the principle is true.  Moreover, even if you hear something very important, but you don't really understand the question, then you'll likely also dismiss the "something very important" as not so.  This point was brought home to me this last week as we transitioned to to adding…

Thought for the Day: The Newness of Every Day of Sukkos/Using the Mundane to Achieve Holiness

Hilchos Brachos is complicated.  On the one hand they are all of Rabbinic origin (except certainly birkas ha'mazon and probably birkas ha'torah).  On the other hand, making a bracha in a context not sanctioned by opens one up to the Torah prohibition of invoking HaShem's name without permission.  As you may remember, שהחיינו and סוכות have an interesting relationship.  Whereas we are very careful to treat the second day of Yom Tov very much like the first day, we find some striking differences between the first and second days of סוכות -- and those differences revolve around שהחיינו.

As we've discussed, we only recite a שהחיינו at the first time waving a lulav on סוכות and we switch the order of לישב בסוכה and שהחיינו on the second day of סוכות at kiddush.  Both for the same underlying reason: the שהחיינו could have been recited on the making of the lulav and on the making of the בסוכה, but the custom is to wait until the actual experience of waving/residing.  That sho…

Thought for the Day: Taking Something from The Days of Awe into the Rest of the Year

Here's a chutzpah (pretty cool that "chutzpah" has its own wikipedia page!):  A bloke on motorcycle cut me off today when he zipped into the bike lane.  That's not the chutzpah.  A few seconds later a car door opened that narrowly missed him, so he started yelling at the door opener to be more careful!

His chutzpah, as blatant as it was, seems to pale in comparison to the chutzpah I exhibited 10 times on Yom Kippur and dozens of times throughout the Days of Awe.  Howso?  Before each vidui (ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, ...), is an introduction:
Our G‑d and G‑d or our ancestors.  May our prayers come before you; may You not ignore our supplications.  For we are not so brazen nor stubborn to say: HaShem, our G‑d and G‑d of our ancestor, we are wholly righteous and have not sinned!  In truth, though, we and our ancestors have sinned. Really?  I have to reassure the Creator of the universe that during this most awesome time of year, and especially on the holiest day in the …

Thought for the Day: The Three Havdalah Ceremonies

My granddaughter who just started first grade this year wanted to know why we couldn't cook on Yom Kippur.  She knows, of course, that we fast; but she also knows that children don't fast.  Since Yom Kippur is not Shabbos and she knows that we are allowed to cook on Yom Tov, she was just curious why she couldn't have a hot meal.  Perfectly reasonable question and I gave her the only answer that she could understand and is also true: Because.  In fact, that is really the only answer for anyone.  Yom Kippur has its own set of rules.

Because of that, there are really three kinds of havdalah ceremonies (listed in order of frequency): (1) Shabbos, (2) Yom Tov, (3) Yom Kippur.  Shabbos is the most elaborate, requiring wine, spices (usually), and candle.  Yom Tov is the simplest, requiring only wine.  Before we get to Yom Kippur, let's understand why havdala for Shabbos and Yom Tov has those elements.

Wine is easy; all important ceremonies in the Jewish tradition are accompan…

Thought for the Day: Lessons from a Three Year Old to Understand השם נתן והשם לקח; יהי שם השם מבורך

It's only a little true that I spoil my three year old granddaughter, but she definitely knows whom to ask when she wants something.  The other morning, she walked over while I was standing at the kitchen sink and said she wanted "that".  I don't know how the window sill over your kitchen sink looks, but we have accumulated enough stuff there to accomplish anything from eating to simple household repairs to first aid to complex arts and crafts.  In any case, I needed more clarification than "that".  After several false guesses (each punctuated with a "no; that!" from two feet off the floor), I finally hit on the desired object: scissors.  Not big pinking shears, but children's safety scissors.  So I gave them to her.  She immediately opened their jaws and prepared to do surgery on one of her sister's "shopkins".  I, being more than a little suspicious of her need for scissors anyway, just as immediately took them away from her.  …

Thought for the Day: Perspective on the Days of Awe

I was once leaving work on the Friday before Rosh HaShanah (a year like this one; Rosh HaShanah was Monday/Tuesday) and told a coworker as I passed by, "I'll see you Monday, assuming I make it through the judgement."  He jumped up and called me out, "Hang on.  How many times have you celebrated Rosh HaShanah?  How many Jews have celebrated Rosh HaShanah?  And how many times has someone not made it through the day?  Give me a break."  I demurred, feeling duly chastised, and headed home.  I had, in fact, been flippant in my attitude and since then try each year to actually take the Days of Awe a bit more seriously.

So here's a perspective I saw in כוכבי אור (R' Yitzchak Blazer, aka Reb Itzelle Peterburger) based on the teachings of R' Yisrael Salanter.  The כוכבי אור starts with a simple question: How did יום הזיכרון/Day of Remembrance become יום הדין/Day of Judgement?  To flesh out the question: the theme of Rosh HaShanah is proclaiming HaShem as Kin…