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Thought for the Day: When You Don't Have to Pick Up a Lost Object to Return

If ever there was mitzvah that seems absolutely logical, returning lost objects seems to exemplify that genre to perfection.  And yet, a good fraction of Bava Metzia discusses its intricacies.  In fact, though, one finds that most of the discussion is when the mitzvah to return lost objects does not, in fact, apply.  That tactic is often used by Chazal when mapping the applicability of this or that mitzvah.  By delineating the borders -- even if there is some small uncertainty (machlokes), we achieve clarity on what is definitely inside and what is definitely excluded.

Here are the primary exclusions to the obligation to even pick up a lost object.

First and foremost, you need to be sure it is a lost object you are retrieving.  As obvious as that sounds, it has quite practical implications.  First, an object that is lying in a protected area is not lost.  It may have been sitting there for months or years, as evidenced by the thick layer of dust and confirmed by carbon dating.  No mat…

Thought for the Day: Preparation for Tisha b'Av -- Improve Interpersonal Relationships Now

I had a rough time at the end of the day on Tisha b'Av this year.  In fact, I had to end my fast early (based on p'sak from a rav, of course).  When my granddaughter saw me eating and heard that the rav has told me I needed to eat, her comment was, "Oh.  Yes, I have heard that old people have trouble fasting."

Me?!  Old?!  Yes... me; old.  I didn't prepare any differently this year than previous years.  That was a mistake, because there is a big difference between this year and previous years; namely, the intervening years.  My first "take away" is that I need to start now preparing for Yom Kippur.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

My second take away is that I should really start now preparing for next Tisha b'Av.  As noted, the current observance of the Tisha b'Av season is lamenting our deficiency in our interpersonal relationships.  But we also know that the messiah is born (that is, the ultimate redemption begins) on …

Thought for the Day: Why Aveilus on Tisha b'Av? Fixing Our Relationship with HaShem by Fixing Our Relationship with Fellow Jews

I did not ride my bike to work today.  It is erev Tisha b'Av, 5777; though it is certainly permissible during the nine days to shower enough to not offend my coworkers, I felt that on erev Tisha b'Av itself there was no reason to bring myself to a situation of relying on a leniency that was easy to avoid.  I did, though, ride many of the nine days and certainly several days during the three weeks.  Since the whole period is one of increased danger, I listened to fewer shiurim than usual in order to pay more attention to the traffic.  Having that extra time (even with heightened vigilance, my mind had a chance to wander here and there), I was struck by two questions on the way we conduct ourselves during the three weeks, nine days, and week during which Tisha b'Av falls.

The Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch is the section on laws of daily living.  The organization is basically chronological by most frequent.  You will therefore first find laws of waking, getting dresse…

Thought for the Day: Hell, Reincarnation, and Ghosts are All Torah Concepts

My granddaughter wanted to know if there was really any such thing as ghosts.  I told her that of course there are ghosts!  Dovid HaMelech mentions them in Psalms (88:11): "Will You do wonders for the dead, do ghosts give You praise? Sela!"  You will probably see רפאים  quite inaccurately translated as "spirits" or "shades" or "the departed" or "the dead"; but I'm all about calling רפאים רפאים -- ghosts is ghosts.

I also ran across a reference to ghosts recently in Mishlei (21:16):
A person who wanders from the path of reason will repose in the community of ghosts. The G"ra explains this with a gemara (Pesachim 28a, in response to one Amora being refuted with his own arguments): R' Yosef said it's like the common expression, "the craftsman is burned by the mustard in his bowl";  Abaye said, "the carpenter is bound his stocks"; Rava said, "the fletcher is killed by his own arrows."   (I che…

Thought for the Day: Helping the Sinner Repent/Bringing Back the Beis HaMikdash

Rashi explains the difference between a חכם and a נבון.  (Google, by the way, translates both as intelligent, but adds wise for חכם and sagacious/discerning נבון.)  Rashi says that חכם is like a wealthy שולחני/money changer; bring him money and he can change it for you, and he is also content to wait for business.  A נבון on the other hand, is like a שולחני תגר/money dealer; if no one is bringing him business, he's out drumming it up.  The difference was really brought home to me yesterday while walking with my six year old grandson.  He stopped short and asked (really out of the blue): "Wait!  Our cousins cousins are... us?!?"  I was a bit startled, but managed to confirm his conclusion.  We were walking to look at some new houses being build (big machines and big holes in the ground are irresistible to boys of all ages), but apparently he had been thinking about his cousins who are planning to come for a visit and just had that insight.  That's a נבון; his mind nev…

Thought for the Day: Crackers, Cake, and Bentching

Remember the Uncrustables discussion?  R' Fuerst told me then that he was planning to do a series of shiurim on the topic of פת הבאה בכיסנין; ie, crackers/cake/pizza/what have you.  That series is now, Baruch HaShem, in full swing.  It's complicated stuff; the rav told me he has spent 50 - 60 hours preparing.  Last week (July 16, 2017), the shiur was on how much crackers/cake/sweet rolls you can eat -- and in what context -- before one would be required to wash and bentch.  I found two things particularly surprising/interesting (though not shocking) to me, which I present herewith.  However, due to the complexity of the topic, I feel compelled to make explicit the usual disclaimer:
The information contained in this posting in particular (as well as this blog in general) is for general information purposes only. Whilst I endeavour to keep the information up-to-date and correct, I make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accur…

Thought for the Day: How. When, Why of אמן/Awmein

As well document in Home Alone, even a very important mission can be ruined by failing to get all the participants at the right place at the right time.  Saying אמן with the correct intention, as mentioned, is important.  Still, if the אמן is misplaced or mispronounced, the entire mission can turn disastrous.

There are three defective sorts of אמן about which the Shulchan Aruch (124:8) warns: חטופה/hurried or snatched, קטופה/plucked, and יתומה/orphaned.  חטופה/hurried means either swallowing the first syllable (and just saying: 'mein) or saying the אמן before the bracha has been finished.  קטופה/plucked means dropping a hole letter or pronouncing the whole word as one syllable.  יתומה/orphaned means to just say אמן, but not as an answer or response to anything.  (That can happen if you walk into shul and hear everyone else answering אמן, so you figure, "heck!  I'll answer also!"  It can also happen if you have been in shul the whole time but your mind has been wander…

Thought for the Day: HaShem Protects Fools... and Therefore What?

After carefully learning through the Igros Moshe on smoking (Choshen Mishpat, 77) and publishing my findings, my chavrusa suggested that I check out of few of my conclusions and assumptions with R' Fuerst.  I was very happy to show him that I was right, so of course I agreed.  Baruch HaShem, I was even happier to find that I was wrong on a few points and to have R' Fuerst correct me.

I am about to brag, here... I hope you'll forgive me.  I approached R' Fuerst before mincha on erev Shabbos (I daven at that minyan largely because the rav davens that and it has afforded me many opportunities to speak to the rav directly for a few minutes at a time; which is all one gets on the phone anyway).  I told him I had a couple of questions on R' Moshe's t'shuva regarding smoking and general questions about the style of Igros Moshe.  Just then the chazan started "ashrei" and the rav held up his hand and said, "Time to daven..."  "Darn!", I…

Thought for the Day: What Do You (are Supposed to) Mean by אמן/Awmein?

Yes, I meant to spell it that way.  The Mishna Brura says very clearly (which is to say, the statement is literally there, as the entire text of the Mishna Brura is a model of clarity in both thought and expression) that the vocalization of אמן is with a קמץ גדול (the little "T" vowel, pronounced "aw" as in "awl") under the א and צירי (the two dots, pronounced "ey" as in "whey").  Who cares, you say?  I mean... it's just אמן, right?  Not such a big deal, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong, there are rules and regulations for אמן -- times when you must say it, times you are not permitted to say it, times when you must not delay in saying it; and is all comes with reward and punishment (as brought in the Biur Halacha).  Good... now that I have you attention...

אמן has two basic meanings, and it is important to know which to intend when responding.  One meaning is a simple acknowledgement of the facts: "I affirm my belief that such-and-…

Thought for the Day: How Big a Fool Does HaShem Protect/What is Called Acceptable Risk?

Living is dangerous.  In fact, we have centuries of incontrovertible proof that death is always preceded by life.  When I was teaching about radiation safety to nurses in a hospital who worked with radiation therapy, I wanted to give them a feel for how dangerous radiation is.  It turns out that the risk of death from the maximum legal yearly dose of radiation is approximately the same as just living for a day and a half at age 60.

Traveling is risky; which is why we have a special prayer when embarking on travel.  I recently asked R' Fuerst if I should say תפילת הדרך when I leave for work in the morning on my bike.  "Is it dangerous?", he asked.  Well... I'm in traffic and I'm on a bike.  R' Fuerst replied in his usual cut to the chase manner, "If it's so dangerous, then you are not allowed to ride your bicycle in traffic.  If it's normal risk, then there is no reason to recite תפילת הדרך."  I decided it wasn't that dangerous... at leas…

Thought for the Day: Why, Yes... The Creator *Does* Care How a Jew Makes Coffee on Shabbos

It began innocently enough... We were having Shabbos lunch with a very nice family whom we recently met.  Their son, a young rabbinic scholar (who by nature are pretty rigid... all part of the process) gave a very nice d'var Torah regarding a curious Rashi.  When Moshe struck the rock to which he was supposed to speak, a great miracle still occurred -- water for millions of people -- and yet Moshe was severely reprimanded and punished.  Rashi explains what was so terrible: Had Moshe spoken, the nation would have taken a lesson for themselves.  If a rock, which doesn't get rewarded for listening to HaShem nor punished for disobeying HaShem, obeys a spoken command; then all the more so we, who are rewarded for our obedience to HaShem and punished for transgressing His Will, should certainly obey the Torah!

The young rabbinic scholar said, "This Rashi makes sense on first glance, but upon taking a second look, it doesn't make any sense at all!  The rock, after all, doesn…

Thought for the Day: Stealing Is Not a Joke... Even When It Is Intended For One

I grew up fat and was always embarrassed that all my clothes were "husky" sizes.  (Nice euphemism, right?)  I finally managed to lose weight (after years and years of failure) in my early 20s.  The first time I bought a suit after that, the salesman complained that the suit wasn't fitting right because my rear end was too small.  I could have kissed him (but I didn't).  I did not grow up frum (to say the least), and it has been a struggle to learn halacha.  Someone recently complained after a shiur I gave to women that I demonstrated too much knowledge of halacha.  I could have kissed her (but I didn't).

Admittedly, though, I am a physicist at heart.  That means that I am much more interested in the underlying principles than any particular actual situation.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that not only do the esoteric cases of the gemara not bother me... I, in fact, relish their ingenuity.  Halacha had been a struggle for me both because of it's o…

Thought for the Day: Check Your Mezuzos Twice in Seven Years (A PSA)

My father, עליו השלום, once let me change the spark plugs on our car.  He warned me, "Be sure to take off only one at a time!"  I was a bit confused, as I had no thought to take them off (all eight... this was the 70s) by the handful.  As I started to remove the first one, though, I realized what he meant.  For those of you who are still mystified: Before electronic ignition, power was sent to the spark plugs via a distributor cap/rotor system.  The rotor, of course, delivers the power to the attached wires sequentially.  However, the cylinders of the car do not fire sequentially.  That means that the order of the spark plugs connected to the distributor cap is crucial to the running of the car.  In fact, the results of mixing up the order is at best a poorly running engine and at worst real damage to the engine.  So of course I replaced them one at a time, being careful with the order.  Also of course, though, I told my father, "Don't worry Dad.  I took them all of…

Thought for the Day: Theft of Intangibles

An interesting question came up with a chavrusa.  To understand the question, you need to know that there are many online games that are essentially multiplayer computer simulations.  One of the ways the game providers make money is to offer etools of various sorts for a price (real dollars).   The game provides provisions for players to buy/sell/loan such tools among themselves, as well as from the game provider.

Here's what transpired (names changed to protect the innocent and to comply with the laws of Lashon Hara even about the guilty):
Shmuel and Yehuda are friends playing in a game that offers, among other things, virtual e-swords for sale to be used in the game.  Shmuel owns an e-sword, but will be offline for a month, so he loans it to his friend Yehuda.  "Loan" is the term they use between themselves.  As far as the game is concerned, Shmuel has sold his e-sword to Yehuda for $0; Yehuda and Shmuel, though, have an oral agreement (no dispute on this) that Yehuda …

Thought for the Day: Using Your Money to Buy Eternity

We read in sh'ma, "You shall love the Lord, Your G-d with all of your heart(s), with your entire life, with all of your resources."  Chazal tell us that "your entire life" means even if it requires giving up your life; "all of your resources" means (one of the meanings), "all of your money."  You might wonder, as did Chazal: If I have to give up my life, why would the Torah also say that I have to give up my money?  Chazal answer: some people care more about their money, some more about their life, so the Torah said both to tell everyone that no matter what is most precious to you, love for your Creator comes first.  You may be wondering, as I have for years... what!?

This Chazal makes to value judgment as to whether it is appropriate to love your money more than your life.  Let's make that statement even stronger with a couple more Chazal's.  How about: Tzadikim care more about their money/property than about their bodies.  Here'…

Thought for the Day: Pizza, Uncrustables, and Stuff -- What Bracha?

Many years ago (in fact, more than two decades ago), I called R' Fuerst from my desk at work as I sat down to lunch.  I had a piece of (quite delicious) homemade pizza for lunch.  I nearly always eat at my desk as I am working (or writing TftD...), so my lunch at work cannot in any way be considered as sitting down to a formal meal; aka קביעת סעודה.  That being the case, I wasn't sure whether to wash, say ha'motzi, and bentch; or was the pizza downgraded to a m'zonos.  He told if it was a snack, then it's m'zonos; if a meal the ha'motzi.  Which what I have always done since then.  I recently found out how/why that works.

The Shulchan Aruch, 168:17 discusses פשטיד''א, which is describes as a baked dough with meat or fish or cheese.  In other words: pizza.  Note: while the dough doesn't not need to be baked together with the meat/fish/cheese, it is required that they dough was baked with the intention of making this concoction.  That is, even thou…

Thought for the Day: What You Have In Mind vs What People Have In Mind

Just to let you know, I really want to talk about an interesting connection between honoring death bed wishes and returning a crockpot to the heat on Shabbos.  I can't help it if even things like this are politicized ad absurdum nowadays.

Each and every moment of life is precious.  The first second, any of the middle seconds, and even the very last second.  Which are the "important" moments in your life?  Only HaShem knows.  I don't mean that as an expression -- gawrsh... heaven only knows! -- I mean that as the reality.  In halacha, therefore, hastening someone's death by even a second is murder; plain and simple.  Suicide, in fact, is also murder; as you don't own your life.  The flip side is that extending a life by even a second is an act of heroism.  One of the ways Chazal expressed this concept in halacha is that the handling of gifts given by someone on their deathbed.

A person on his deathbed can become distraught about what will be with his friends a…

Thought for the Day: Halacha and Mussar/Plan and Motivation

Two stories today!  (For some of you, that mean more to skip, for others it means more of interest.  I try to be a full service blogger.)  While a graduate student at University of Utah (which at the time was the furthest east I had ever resided), my research advisor spent some time visiting University of Chicago.  Upon his return, he told me that the professor he was visiting gave him very detailed instructions on how to get from his temporary residence to the university.  Those instructions came with an exhortation not to deviate in the smallest detail, as the neighborhood could go from "take normal precaution" to "reckless endangerment of life" in one block.

After graduate school, I worked for a year as the physicist in a radiation therapy facility.  Part of my duties was to make sure the patients were getting their prescribed dose by double checking the sums entered by the radiation techs each week.  Let me preface this by noting that I do not list reading, …

Thought for the Day: Preparing to Lament and Mourn on Tisha b'Av

I got call a few weeks ago from the Riverside Sheriff's department (near Palm Springs, CA).  She asked if I knew Greg Bowden.  "Yes," I replied more than a bit puzzled since I hadn't seen him nor heard from him in decades, "he's my uncle."  Then she gently informed me of his recent demise.  Why we had not communicated in so long is irrelevant (and, at this point especially, water under the bridge).  We had been close at one time, though.  He was my mother's only sibling; the last of that generation.  I didn't cry, but I did feel a loss... or at least the echo of a loss and a sadness that I couldn't feel more.

I hate to be a downer, but the next "holiday" is Tisha b'Av.  Tisha b'Av is hard.  I don't just mean the fasting, sitting on the floor, not wearing shoes, etc.  It's hard because I don't really feel mournful about what we've lost.  After all, I've grown up in a world without a Beis HaMikdash.  It is…

Thought for the Day: Using Her Family Heirloom to Get Married

This could -- and does -- happen.  The beloved and dearly missed bubbie left her wedding ring to be used by the first of her granddaughters to get married.  Shprintze is the lucky young lady.  Shprintze, having been very close to her bubbie, wants do do more than just wear her beloved and dearly missed bubbie's ring.  Shprintze wants to actually be married with that ring.  So sweet.  So wrong.

Let's review.  A Jewish marriage is actually effected by the chossen giving his kallah something tangible item by which the kallah will experience a benefit worth (to her) one p'ruta.  Sorry to be so pedantic about the wording, but to understand the issue we'll need all those words.  First, the p'ruta is ancient monetary unit that basically means the smallest coin of value.  You can argue about it, but it's roughly a few cents.  (I do not recommend trying to get away with the minimum possible; she would likely show you what it means to be be minimum possible wife.)  The p…

Thought for the Day: Prayer -- Concentrate on What You are Saying, Not on What You are Doing

My grandchildren love to help... especially (ok... almost exclusively) when they think it's fun.  My very sweet and charming seven year old granddaughter saw that I had not covered the BBQ, so she decided to replace the lid and then cover it for me.  Great... except I almost fainted when she told me... I have a kettle type BBQ (I eschew gas grills and even charcoal lighter fluid; yes, I am a BBQ snob) that is made of porcelain covered cast iron.  Cooks great... gets very hot... stays very hot for a long time.  I had left it open and uncovered to cool.  I almost fainted when I thought about the disaster that could have happened; namely, third degree burns on my little sweetheart.  Fortunately (Baruch HaShem 1000 and more times), it had cooled enough that she didn't get hurt.  (I had thought I guarded it long enough, but given the potential of such dire consequences, I still panicked.)  Once I was sure she we safe (and gently but firmly chastised), I checked the vinyl cover.  Th…

Thought for the Day: The Simplicity and Depth of M'silas Yesharim -- Both True, Both Deceptions

I get a mazal tov.  I just completed the first perek of Bava Metzia.  It is a about 20 daf (double sided pages).  I am not at all embarrassed to tell you that it has taken my almost a year and a half.  I learned it twice through, because Chazal tell us that learning without reviewing is like sowing without reaping; so what's the point?  When I first started (in Adar II year before last), I was feeling a bit down on myself; they learn this in 5th grade, for goodness sakes... so why was I having so much trouble.  I expressed that sentiment to talmid chacham who reassured me:  They learn the second perek in 5th grade.  Everyone has difficulty with the first perek!  (Whew...)

There is no question that the first perek of Bava Metzia reveals deep and fundamental ideas.  It is not for beginners.  I don't mean just because of the topics covered, but also the way they are covered.  The methodology of the analysis is itself complex.  Were I to make an analogy to physics (as I am, of cou…

Thought for the Day: How a Proselyte Handles Shabbos (Non)Observance

As I mentioned, the budding (that's the wrong word, but you get what I mean) proselyte is expected to keep all of the mitzvos that he can.  One that he can't (and was sort of comic relief on top of everything else that had been thrown at me) is the mitzvah of t'vilas keilim/immersion of vessels that were acquired from a non-Jew.  Clearly, since he is still a non-Jew, he can't do that mitzvah.  ברית מילה  (or its equivalent in the case the proselyte is already circumcised, הטפת דם/a drop of blood from guess where) for the male proselyte cannot be performed simply because the word "ברית" means covenant/contract/alliance and that can't be done without the agreement of both parties.  That, in fact, is why Avraham Avinu waited till he was 99 to perform his circumcision.

Then there is the issue of Shabbos... again, as mentioned, a non-Jew is not allowed to keep Shabbos, which presents a real problem for the proselyte who needs to learn how to keep Shabbos.  The…