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Showing posts from March, 2017

Thought for the Day: Appreciating Each Day and Every Moment of Life

We all hate to feel unappreciated.  I heard a shiur on shalom bayis in which the magid shiur gave a very simple suggestion to improve one's attitude in general about life.  Simply change how one inflects the question "why is this happening to me".  Instead of asking: "Why is this happening to me?" (with appropriate whining), ask: "Why is this happening to me?" (with appropriate introspection).  In other words, the situations in which we find ourselves should be considered as the reading on a thermometer, not the setting on a thermostat.  Whatever measure of control we have is certainly not over those around us, but only on our response.

HaShem created us.  We have existence because He grants it; each and every moment is a new gift of existence.  More than that, He wants us to have eternal existence.  He wants us to have an existence that is without end nor interruption and always at the pinnacle of goodness that is possible.  Since He is the ultimate …

Thought for the Day: Bracha on Each of Four Cups at Seder Because Each is a Separate Mitzvah

My older grandchildren in Chicago are just getting to the age of learning to say brachos.  Their enthusiasm is inspiring.  Of course, being, six-ish, she can be a bit (a bit, you say?) over exuberant.  The other night, she washed for bread, took a new kind of roll, made a beautiful bracha, took one little nibble (I mean, barely scratched the surface), made a face, and gave it to her brother (who is somewhat less discerning in the bread department).  Some time later, I saw her carefully bentching.  I told her she hadn't eaten enough to bentch, so she asked me what she should say instead. I told her that she didn't have to say anything, and you said, "But I ate!  I must have to make some bracha!"  Such enthusiasm!

Many of us lose our enthusiasm at the seder table... "That much matzah!?!"  "That much maror!?!"  "That whole glass of wine?!?"  (Boys, of course, typically don't say that from the age of about 14 till they finally get tired …

Thought for the Day: Joining with the Congregation When You Aren't Davening with the Congregation

We don't have this as much any more, but in halacha there is a difference between a בית כנסת/shul and a בית מדרש/beis medrash.  That is, there are rooms/buildings designated for praying and other rooms designated for learning.  Nowadays, of course, we mostly have multipurpose rooms; we pray and learn (and have kiddush's) in the selfsame room.  A good friend of mine has noted to me that when people say "many say", they mean that they say; when they say "everyone says", they mean that their wife agrees with them.  I am therefore saying, of course, is that based on my vast experience of having visited a half a dozen or shuls (/beis medrash!) in Chicago over the last 20 years or so.  My conclusion that most places in the world are like the half dozen or so I have visited.  I am quite confident that my conclusion is no less accurate that many internet news feeds.

I bring this up because I want to discuss an interesting halacha regarding walking into a shul (not

Thought for the Day: Musaf After Sundown/Levels of בדיעבד

My first week as a freshly minted rabbi was quite fulfilling.  I celebrated the achievement with family and friends; I even gave rabbinic counsel to someone on erev Shabbos to help with a issue they were facing that Shabbos.  Late Shabbos afternoon, though, an young man I know from shul approached with an interesting question: He wanted to know if he could still daven musaf.  What's the big deal?  It was already after sundown.  I thought for a few minutes and finally had to tell him that I had never seen anything about that question and I couldn't give him an answer.

I really, really wanted to tell him is was ok, because there is no תשלומין/make up for musaf.  But I just had no data.  Mincha, for example, should be finished before sundown.  Not "should" as in, "you should call your mother more often"; but "should" as in "you should pay your mortgage/rent on time every month".  None the less, in case of pressing need, you daven Mincha up …

Thought for the Day: Loving Every Jew by Knowing Yourself

There are lots of different kinds of nachas.  For example, one is the unbridled nachas from the unbridled joy and love expressed by your three year old granddaughter when she sees you enter the door and drops whatever she is doing to run full speed and calling at full volume, "ZEIDY!"  I cannot deny, I never tire of that greeting.

There is, however, a much deeper and satisfying nachas.  That comes when you see how they have incorporated the information and lessons from their environment and generating their own thoughts.  While they are young and have no preconceived opinions, the remarks they generate are perforce intellectually immature, but -- equally perforce -- more direct and precise.  They have no bias to sway them to one answer or another.  So I found the following vignette gave me a  whole new level of nachas:
Me: Bye, everyone.
Granddaughter, who is 6: Where are you going, Zeidy?
Me: mincha, then chavrusa, then ma'ariv
Grandson, age 5: Wow; you are busy.
Granddaught…

Thought for the Day: Giving Tzedaka on Purim and Asking Your Rav

I was at R' Fuerst's sunday morning shiur just barely a week after receiving s'micha from the rav. Just as the shiur concluded, someone I didn't know approached me and said, "You look like some who knows what he is talking about.  I finished eating just an hour ago.  Can I still bentch?"  Of course I waved my hand in "oh... pshaw" at his thinking I looked like I knew what I was talking about, and I wondered if s'micha really shows like a glow in my face or something.  I clarified with him that it really was just 60 minutes since he finished eating, told him that he has up to 72 minutes.  He thanked me.  I walked out feeling very rabbinic... and then stopped in my tracks and broke out in a cold sweat.

Rabbi Fuerst was still there (the rabbi is often beleaguered by rabbanim and lay people asking for either clarification, other questions, or just to show off how smart they are).  I had, therefore, just paskened a sh'eila right there in front of…

Thought for the Day: When "But Maybe You Don't Need כוונה/Intent" Is a Problem

Nope, I am not a fan of doing anything in a manner that is only appropriate בדיעבד, at least not לכתחילה.  So, you might figure, if you are like me (ok, ok... no one is like me; but if you were), you might think, "Heck!  I just need to learn about לכתחילה, because I am never going to do anything only בדיעבד.  Well, then, you'd be very wrong.  (Which is a lot like me, and mostly the story of my life.)  As R' Fuerst is wont to say, "Live and learn."

One reason you should know about בדיעבד is because in a pinch (שעת הדחק is the technical term), a בדיעבד can become לכתחילה.  For example, your day surgery takes a wee bit longer than expected and now -- already near the end of the first 1/3 of the day -- they finally take out all those tubes and you still need to daven... you need to know which parts of p'sukei d'zimra you can skip.  Or you go with your wife for a non-stress test and the doctor says, "Well, how does today -- as in right now -- sound for a…

Thought for the Day: Living With Intent All Day Every Day -- Starting with the Morning שמע

I had a philosophical discussion with a non-Jewish colleague last week during our Fight for Air Climb.  (You know I can't go more than a few minutes with engaging in some sort of philosophical speculation.  Climbing 4 x 45 floors of stairs together yields lots of "few minutes" that lend themselves to new discussions.)  It started innocently enough; she asked me if I rode my bicycle on Shabbos.  Of course that lead to a discussion of the nature of Shabbos observance and from there to the nature of being a Torah observant Jew.  I mean; how could it not?

So I noted that Shabbos is our testify that reality is a creation with an very interested Creator.  We do that by refraining from the 39 categories of labor that were utilized to create our reality.  "For example", I said, "suppose I peas and carrots, but only want to the carrots.  I can take the carrots from the peas..."  "I see", she said, "that's just eating."  "Right"…

Thought for the Day: Standing for ברכו and What Will the Children Think

In my youth, we used to enjoy Art Linkletter interviews with children.  "Kids Say the Darndest Things" was a regular segment on his TV and radio program and also the title of a series of books.  Good, clean fun.  Ah... for those idyllic days when TV was just bitul zman.  As it turns out, kids also ask the darndest questions and model our darndest behaviours.

This stroll down memory lane was motivated by a question by one of the younger vasikin crowd.  (We have a crowd that ranges in age from about five to 70s.  The kids don't run around or even talk during davening because their older brothers, fathers, and zeidys don't talk during nor run out during davening.  We daven; they daven.  Funny how that works.)  One of them asked his zeidy, "I thought we were supposed to stand for ברכו; why do I see some people sitting right after they answer?"  Perfectly reasonable question and deserves a perfectly reasonable answer.

Let's break it down: there are three par…

Thought for the Day: Getting Drunk on Purim -- Why and How

My granddaughter wrote a very cute story this morning.  It began: "Log, log ago".  She was asking for me to help her and I almost blurted out that she meant "long"; but in a rare fit of common sense I held my tongue and read on.  ...the queen had "bin killed bye enamis."  ..."Prinsses Avigayil was so skarde she wasit so priti"  Then she got encouraged by "uncle יוסף" to go and help other people.  Very creative; and I told her so.  In fact, I told her so with some enthusiasm; 100% genuine!  She responded in kind.  Then I went to work and she left for school; both in great moods to start our days.

Chazal tell us, and it is so legislated in Shulchan Aruch, Aruch Chaim 695:2, חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי/a person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he doesn't know between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.  (I know the translation is stilted; so is the Hebrew, that's  my point.)  The Rema…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…

Thought for the Day: The Importance of Not Just מסורה, But Continuous Transmission from Generation to Generation

I was once sitting in the Monday night shiur that R' Fuerst, shlita, used to give to ba'al ha'batim on Mishna Brura.  Well... nominally on Mishna Brura; in point of fact, R' Fuerst used the Mishna Brura to organize the discussion, but the rav was more than happy to field our questions.  The questions almost always started from something said, but -- of course -- not infrequently took on a life of their own.  As much as I learned halacha in that shiur, I also learned how to approach and learn halacha from a written source.  Even more, I learned how to interpret nuances of the expressions used in order to arrive at an accurate application of the halacha in practical situations.

We were once learning something about hilchos Shabbos and I expressed surprise that the rabbi said something different than I had seen in R' Eider's sefer.  Rabbi Fuerst's reaction was classic, "I told him not to say that; that's not what R' Moshe meant!"  It was an (…