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Showing posts from January, 2017

Thought for the Day: Applying Halacha in Practice and How Bad is בדיעבד?

Now that my grandchildren are living with us, we sometimes have an out Shabbos to give them a break from us.  We stay and eat with friends who live in an apartment complex; minyan on second floor, lodging and day meals on third floor, erev Shabbos meal and morning kiddush on 15th floor.  I spend a lot of time traversing the stairs from third to 15th floor. (Yes, there is a Shabbos elevator, but you know me -- impatient and a fanatic; so I walk.)  Sometimes our friend's seven year old grandson comes to visit and we go to minyan together.  Once when I needed to run up to the 15th floor to get something, he thought it would be fun to come along.  Along about the 10th floor, he was rethinking just how fun this really was.  As we climbed past the 12th floor, though, I said, "You are going to love this."  We rounded the staircase and he saw -- much to his delight -- that we had completely skipped the 13th floor and were magically on the 14th floor.  Rest the of the trip and ba…

Thought for the Day: Why Kaddish is in Aramaic -- Deeply Philosophical and Absolutely Practical

In my youth, I attended exclusively houses of worship (so to speak) associated with the Reform and Conservative Jewish Religions.  Orthodox Judaism frightened me, so it never entered my mind to even enter a shul.  Nonetheless, I knew that we shared one prayer: their prayer for the dead that begins "yisgadal v'yiskadash".  Later I learned that only the old and Orthodox say "yisgadal v'yiskadash", while the modern/enlightened say "yitgadal v'yitkadash".

Since then, of course, I've learned that yis/yit is neither good measure of religiosity nor age.  I have further learned that the entire prayer -- except those first two words -- is in Aramaic.  (Oh, and also except for the last line, which is a direct quote from Iyov and is added to all requests because we always want our requests and actions to increase harmony in the universe.)  Of course, we all understand using Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, for our prayers.  After all, the Torah was given in …

Thought for the Day: Surprising Ways That HaShem's Name Appears in Halacha

I am already, of course, making an assumption when I say "surprising".  I really should say, "surprising to me"; but I won't, which shouldn't surprise anyone.  In any case, I was surprised and amused at the subtle way that concern for HaShem's name comes into hilchos ציצית and תפילין.  In order to follow the dictum of going up in k'dusha and not down, we shall begin with ציצית.

The biblically mandated requirement of ציצית is really just to tie one permanent knot in the threads that comprise the ציצית.  Not at all surprisingly, we make all sorts of knots and windings.  I mean, why not?  It's an easy and fun enhancement.  The gematria of ציצית is 600 (when spelled out fully, as I have here), then we have eight threads and five knots... adds up to one of our favorite numbers: 613.  But we are not done, oh no.  Five knots on top of eachother just looks messy, so we need to space them out, which we do with windings (which also improves our fulfillmen…

Thought for the Day: What's Wrong With Being Stringent?

I am learning the laws of writing t'filllin.  There are lots and lots (and lots and lots) of details, many of which are biblically mandated requirements.  The most important thing I have learned is that it is essential to buy from a trustworthy and knowledgeable scribe.  I also ran across a cute story about the G'ra (I know the word "cute" doesn't seem to go with "about the G'ra", but you'll see...).  As you know, the boxes contain four parshios from the Torah written on parchment; all four parshios are in one box on the arm and in four separate compartments on the head.  As you may not know, t'fillin must be absolutely square and the boxes must be made from a single piece of leather.  The Mishna Brura and Biur Halacha describes at length the issues and concerns with using glue between the compartments of the head box (to keep it square) and if  glue works to help two smaller pieces of leather be considered one large piece for the sake of t&…

Thought for the Day: Complaining is Good for the Soul

Have you ever wondered how it is possible that Yosef's brothers didn't recognize him when the they were came down to Egypt and were being grilled by him?  I mean, yeah... they hadn't seen him in more than 20 years and he was just a teenager and they had sold him as a slave and had no thought that he would have been promoted to viceroy and... ok, ok... maybe it's not a cause for wonder at all.  But let's suppose you did wonder; I now have experienced something similar.

As discussed, I recently attended a wonderful dinner celebrating the 30th anniversary of Congregation Ohev Shalom.  I hadn't seen many people there for more than 20 years, many were adults when I left.  I was actually looking for these people to reconnect.  One such individual walked up to me with a big smile; bigger as he realized that I didn't recognize him.  I finally did recognize him (it was that signature smile); we both laughed about the fact that that last time I had seen him he had be…

Thought for the Day: Congregation Ohev Shalom -- Providing a Home to Jews of All Backgrounds for 30 Years (So Far...)

I flew back from Florida a few weeks ago, and the flight went through Kansas City.  As we were taxing, the flight attendant announced: "The weather in Kansas City is very similar to here.  The sun is shining here and the sun is shining there."  Yes... that was the end of the similarity.  Chillingly funny.

Congregation Ohev Shalom was started 30 years ago in Dallas, Texas.  I know it was 30 years ago because they just had a gala celebration to commemorate this milestone; which I attended.  Why?  Congregation Ohev Shalom is the first Orthodox Jewish shul that I joined.  Now, in case you have never noticed, I tend to jump in with both feet.  For those of you who know me a little better, you know that I jumped in with more than my feet.

Since I was the second president (actually a co-president; long story), I was invited to speak at Shalosh S'udos.  Before I present the highlights (i.e., the main message that I wanted to deliver), I'd like to give you a small taste of ho…

Thought for the Day: Letters in תפילין -- Must be Formed In Order and Must be Formed by Writing

You may very well think that the hardest part of writing תפילין is the calligraphy.  For me, in fact, it certainly would be.  However, there is actually a fair amount of latitude in the actual formation of the letters.  (Relatively speaking, of course; let's not get crazy.)  Moreover, checking that the letters actually have the correct shape is within the normal bounds of decency is child's play.  (No, really; when there is a question if the letter is correct, we sometimes show it to a child who knows his alephbais but doesn't yet know how to learn for his opinion.)

In fact, though, two of the most important considerations for תפילין are completely undetectable on a finished pair: (1) letters must be written; (2) letters must be written in order.

Now, if you are thinking to yourself, "Ummm... sure.  Why would anyone do anything different?"  Then you are in very good company.  When I originally saw these halachos, I thought "must be written" meant as opp…

Thought for the Day: There is a King and There are kings and There are Kings

I once had a very distressing conversation with a lady who saw herself as in the Torah true camp, but more enlightened than the orthodox.  Her enlightenment came from having read English renditions of Kabbalistic writings.  Her thesis resolved around having very deeply and profoundly misunderstood the meaning of the Chazal: אין מלך בלא עם/there is no king without a nation.  Her conclusion was that god needed us; that is, she saw HaShem's מלכות as integral to His Beingness, therefore her conception of god needed a nation in order to have existence itself.  The eternality of he (her concept of god) was intrinsically bound with our own existence.

After some time of trying to disabuse her of the notion that HaShem's existence could have any dependency at all on another, the best I got was an admission from her that I was a worthy opponent.  I frankly didn't feel worthy at all; only a bit soiled from having let myself get drawn into that conversation at all.  I have since matur…

Thought for the Day: Chanuka -- The Festival of Prepare for Success Then Give Up (Control, That Is)

Chanukah is a pretty simple holiday, right?  Classic Jewish holiday:  "They tried to kill us, we fought back and won, let's eat."  We spent the first half with our Chicago grandchildren, second half with our Florida grandchildren.  So I built legos, solved logic problems, and played cutthroat dreidel.  I also ate latkes and donuts.  Very satisfying.

I also heard some great questions from my grandchildren.  Two favorite: Why does the bracha for lighting say that HaShem commanded us to light Chanukah candles, when it was Chazal who told us to do that?  Why do we light the shamash before the mitzah candles; doesn't that mean it will burn out first and we won't be protected from accidentally using the light from the mitzvah candles?  Great questions... and questions I could answer.

I had an additional treat, though.  R' Dovid Hofstedter, the architect of the Dirshu program, was also in Florida and davening in same shul where my kids (and therefore I) daven.  The …