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Showing posts from February, 2017

Thought for the Day: The Merit and Responsibility of Being the Emissary for Communal Prayer

♫ Lashon hoRah -- lamed hey -- go to gehinnom the easy way ♫
If you haven't heard that catchy little ditty, then I guess you don't have any children in day schools.  Nowadays we are inundated with warnings and exhortations -- even on social media --  on the evil of lashon hara.  We all know -- though we don't always practice -- that  believing Lashon hoRah is forbidden even if heard from an otherwise reliable source.  (But, you'll, decry... I know he said Lashon hoRah, but this person is so trustworthy!  The Chafeitz Chaim gives a very sharp answer to that excuse: How can you possibly have any faith in someone who flagrantly ignores one of the most severe prohibitions in the Torah!?)

Yes; I am setting you up, but I am not finished yet.

Another thing: Once a שליח ציבור is appointed, you need really good reason to replace him.  You find someone with a better voice?  Nope.  You found someone just as good, but cheaper?  Nope.  His voice is faltering and he wants his son to…

Thought for the Day: סמיכה and Ph.D. -- Compared and Contrasted

There is a well known (and worn) discussion about which is more painful: passing a kidney stone or giving birth.  The question was unresolved for as long as I can remember, because it was generally men who had passed kidney stones and none of them (even the most liberal) had ever given birth.  Then I met a female/lady/woman/human of child-bearing ability (good grief, this atmosphere of political correctness has gotten a wee bit out of hand; don't you think?) physician who has both given birth and passed a kidney stone.  She affirms that giving birth is more painful.  There you have it.

I don't really know why such questions are interesting, but people do have some sort of morbid interest in comparing the stress/pain/grief of different struggles.  If you are not one of those people, you may want to stop reading now.

Yeah... that's what I thought; we all have a bit of morbid interest.  So... here goes.

I will try to distinguish between "hard/challenging for me" and…

Thought for the Day: Revenge Means Refusing to Perform a Kindness Because of Past Behavior

Please sit down before you read this.  No, really; I am still reeling from this realization that I heard in a shiur from R' Simcha Feuerman, shlita.

The Torah forbids both נקמה/taking revenge and נטירה/holding a grudge.  These are among the mostly clearly and unequivocally stated prohibitions in the Torah, Vayikra 19:18:
לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָDon't take revenge, don't hold a grudge; you shall love your friend as yourself. Pretty darn clear, no?  No searching for hidden meanings, no tricky context.  Just straight up, "don't do that".  Chazal do define the terms for us, of course, with examples.  Reuvein comes to borrow a hammer from his friend, Shimon, who refuses.  No good reason; just refuses.  The next week Shimon comes to borrow Reuvein's screwdriver.  If Reuvein refuses because Shimon didn't lend his hammer, then Reuvein has transgressed the prohibition of taking revenge.  If Reuvein demures, but a…

Thought for the Day: Be Very Careful When You Write (or Print) Divrei Torah

This is a topic that I found to have a surprisingly practical application.  First some background.

Because we Jews are sensitive to the holiness in the world, we have laws that forbid us from debasing objects/places of holiness and also from using base places for holy purposes.  That's the 10,000 foot overview.  Here are some examples.

One is not allowed to store money in his תפילין bag.  The bag itself is used regularly for storing holy objects (תפילין), so it would be debasing to use it to hold ordinary objects (money, for example).  In fact, it would even be problematic (read: don't do this) to store one's טלית in his תפילין, since the טלית is only a mitzvah object, while the תפילין is a holy object.  There is, in fact, no problem at all in keeping money in one's טלית bag.  Putting one's תפילין in his טלית bag is ok once in awhile, but repeated use can upgrade the status of the bag to "holder of both mitzvah and holy objects", which requires some care …

Thought for the Day: Women's Obligation Regarding ברכת התורה

A statement that should not be shocking nor controversial is: men and women are different.  There; I said it, and I stand by its eternal truth.  How are they different and how does that change their role, function, and challenges in this world?  For that you need to consult the Owner's manual; aka, our Holy Torah -- as faithfully and honestly transmitted to us generation after generation from the original reception at Mount Sinai down to today by our sages.

One more thing that (surprisingly/sadly/really?! people have to be reminded of this; are you kidding me?) must be noted:  It is an undeniable truth that men are taller than women.  It is also an undeniable truth that some women are taller than some men.  To put that into context of above: Ducks are better swimmers than squirrels.  I have no doubt that I could find a squirrel somewhere that is a better swimmer than some duck.  That does not mean in any way shape or form that I should encourage that squirrel in his olympic swimmi…

Thought for the Day: Your House is a משל to Your Marriage, Your Marriage is a משל to Your Olam HaBah

Unsolicited advertisement: In case you have not noticed, there is a "wealth" (wholly inappropriate word) of inappropriate material available "free" (only cost is your time, in this world and the next).  Guard Your Eyes is an amazing website with a wealth (completely appropriate word) of resources.

I don't like the term "fulfilling one's mission in this world".  It sounds like our poor souls were sent into this world and given tasks to fulfill in order to prove ourselves worthy to reside with our Creator in His abode.  That's not Judaism; that's greek mythology: The Labors of Hercules.  The Torah/Jewish concept is that HaShem created us to live in eternal bliss and enjoyment.  We have additionally been given the opportunity to take some measure of ownership of our destiny and thereby elevate ourselves to actual partners in the Creation.

I recently heard two ideas that seem to me to be absolutely fundamental to achieving that exalted and lau…

Thought for the Day: My Relationship With Reality and the Good and Evil that Exist Within It

I am both surprised and not surprised when others take offence to some things I have said.  Not everything, of course, I sometimes have the emotional maturity of a 10 year old brat.  I am talking about when I am speaking (or writing) as a mature, thinking human being/scientist who has studied subject and drawn conclusions based on the data.  I am surprised because, heck... how can anyone take offense to data and reasoned conclusions based on that data.  I am not surprised because I am sure that I have not expressed it that way.  I am therefore setting out a sort of mission statement for my life that I believe explains things.

Point #1: When I am asked, "But what about your feelings?  How can you put the Torah before your own feelings (and the feelings of others)?!"  I hear that the same was as if were asked, "How can you put Newton's Laws of Motion before your own feelings (and the feelings of others)?!"  The question just doesn't make sense to me.  I endea…

Thought for the Day: Oh Yes... *DO* Sweat the Little Stuff!

I am easily distracted and therefore do much better with a chavrusa or very small shiur than with a large lecture.  I also do well while exercising or commuting, where I am a captive audience and also can replay as needed.  Still, there is something lost when not attending live and in person the lecture of a talmid chacham.  All the more so when the talmid chacham is one's רבי מובהק/main source of Torah learning.  In addition to the "facts of the case" (which one can get from published sources, of course), there is also how to weigh the facts and what seemingly extraneous information may actually have bearing on the case at hand.  Still, even that can be gleaned from a breadth of sources.  There is one dimension and can only be learned from live attendance: attitude.  Seeing/hearing the excitement (or not), dismissiveness (or not) of how the talmid chacham addresses the mix of questions is itself worth attendance and attention.

R' Fuerst is currently covering hilchos…

Thought for the Day: Taking Public Responsibility is a Game Changer

When I first got engaged (yes, I've only been engaged once, smarty), a good friend of my expressed shock and dismay.  "Are you crazy?  You barely know her!  I've been living with my girlfriend for more than two years now and I am still not sure!"  I was a little shaken, but not enough to change my plans, Baruch HaShem.  This year, בעזרת השם, I will celebrate my 40th wedding anniversary (from the first time, smarty).  My friend?  Well, he did finally get married; only to be divorced six months later.

To analyze the importance of "making it legal", so to speak, let us analyze an apparent contradiction in the script of the Wizard of Oz.  When asked to provide a brain by the scarecrow, the wizard answers:
Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become g…

Thought for the Day: תפילין וציצית/Nature vs. Nurture

The role of nature versus nature has been a topic of interest mainly to the academic community until the end of last century, when more and more assumptions of what's hardwired were being challenged.  This century, of course, the whole issue is a political football and the discussion has been cleansed of all rational content.  I will only note that the same group who claims that even gender is entirely nurture (a genotypic boy can, according to them, choose to be a girl), also claims that sexual orientation is entirely nature (hey!  I was born this way!).  Baruch HaShem, we have the Torah -- eternal and objective -- and are therefore not subject to the whims of passing fancy.

All mitzvos need to be done with intention, but that is only (oh how that expression sets my teeth on edge) לכתחילה.  However, if the mitzvah were performed with no (well, one does needs to conscious) specific intention, one has still fulfilled his obligation, בדיעבד; not recommending, just noting.  There are…

Thought for the Day: עשה לך רב/Make Yourself a Rav

A young man once asked R' Moshe if he should remove his yarmulke when going to a movie theater to minimize the חילול השם.  R' Moshe, in a characteristic simple response that addressed the real question and gave a direction for life, answered: Of course you need to wear your yarmulke at all times.  If  you want to avoid a חילול השם, then don't go to the movie theater.

For a few years, I taught computers at Telshe Yeshiva High School.  The bochurim wanted to call my "Rabbi Allen".  I adamantly refused; since I was not a rabbi, it would be a degradation of the title.  The only solution (and only a stopgap one, at that), was to allow them to call me "Dr. Allen".  You should know, though, that being addressed as "Dr." was very difficult for me.  In graduate school we had made fun of the medical doctors who were so impressed by their own title, that they even call each other "Dr."  When I received Ph. D., I saw that the diploma included th…

Thought for the Day: Simple Letters, Oodles of Problem; Complex Letters, Interesting Problems

When talking about making letters in a sefer torah, t'fillin, and mezuzah -- affectionately known as STA"M (סת"ם‎) -- we are going to be using the "font" known as כְּתָב אַשּׁוּרִי.  The letters in that font by and large look the same as "regular" Hebrew letters; the main exception being the ח (ches), which is כְּתָב אַשּׁוּרִי is constructed from two ז's connected from above by a חטוטרת (literally, "hump"; looks like a little hat/tent, similar to this: ^).  More about that later.  In the meantime, let's see what kind of trouble we can muster.

Simple letter: ך
What could possibly go wrong with a ך?  That's what I thought, till I saw the long Biur Halacha in Mishnas Sofrim.  The problem is precisely its simplicity.  Make that roof too long and you have a big ר.  Make the roof too small and you have a long ו.  True, you can tell from context -- that is, the size of the other letters -- that they those letters are not really candida…

Thought for the Day: Ashrei Three Times a Day and You are Good to Go

TANSTAAFL  What?  You aren't/weren't a science fiction geek?  Moreover, you are too lazy to click that link?  Fine... I'll tell you: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.  Them are good words by which to live.  It is similar to, but not quite the same as: Anything that sounds too good to be true, is.  The latter implies that someone is trying to con you, whereas TANSTAAFL is simply an attitude adjustment to set expectations.  If it has great rewards, then it will take work.

Chazal (Brachos 4b) tell us that anyone who says תהילה לדוד -- aka, Ashrei (תהילים קמ''ה) -- three times a day is guaranteed to be an Olam HaBah guy or gal (I really, really hate being politically correct, but it's the climate now-a-days... sigh).  Rashi comments: כנגד שלוש תפילות/corresponding to the three prayer services.  The gemara wants to know what's so special about Ashrei (I know, I know... Ashrei is from the preamble of two verses from other chapters of Psalms, but that…