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Showing posts from May, 2017

Thought for the Day: Accepting the Torah -- All of It

My grandson (5.8 years old; I have a spreadsheet... are you surprised?) has become enamored with the mitzvah of standing up for his parents and grandparents.  I came home from work the other day and he made a point of making sure I saw him stand up for me when I walked into the living room.  He further noted to me -- with a huge grin -- that he had heard me coming in the front door and so he ran to sit down specifically so he could stand up when I entered the room.  Very cute; a real nachas moment.

The next day I heard his mother asking him for the fourth/fifth/nth time to pick up his toys.  She finally said with a bit of exasperation, "You know, listening to your mother is a mitzvah; and you told me how much you love doing mitzvos."  His answered, "Mom... I love doing the mitzvos that I want to do."  (Another nachas moment... but for different reasons, of course.)

The famous medrash says that at the moment of truth, when Klal Yisrael was poised to accept the Torah…

Thought for the Day: Bracha Upon Seeing Site of Miraculous Event

The Dirshu halacha project, besides delivering a synopsis of the halacha of the day, also occasionally presents interesting thought questions.  The most recent of which was:
The Mishnah Berurah (218:§7) rules that no “She’asah li nes” is recited over the place near Yerushalayim where the angel smote Sancheriv’s encampment because the place does not remind us of the miracle. Even though it may be possible to pinpoint where the miracle happened, since the miracle did not take place with the actual land, the miracle is not recognizable from the location. However, the Shulchan Aruch (218:1) rules that one must recite the blessing when he sees the stone on which Moshe Rabbeinu sat during the war with Amalek. It would seem that this miracle is no more recognizable from its location than the destruction of Sancheiriv’s army.What is the difference between these two cases?   I can think of four differences:

First, in the case of Sancheiriv’s army, the land itself was not relevant to the miracl…

Thought for the Day: Honest Mistake in Giving/Receiving a Gift

I know, I know... you are super excited about your new understanding of how ownership is transferred.  Still, though, you are thinking that you mostly buy groceries and books without mishap and you don't feel close enough to death's door to worry just now about to protect a loved one from greedy heirs.  You express a wistful sigh... if only there was a more practical example... and one that didn't involve money... and between people who just want to do the right thing but also really want the transaction to be decided their way... if only... if only...

By George; you are in luck!  Shmuel was renovating his home study.  He bought new s'farim, updated some old ones (the wonder of laser printing!), and replaced his bookshelves.  It was beautiful.  Between the new and updated s'farim, he ended up with 10 s'farim that he no longer needed and didn't really fit in with the "feng shui" he was trying to achieve.  He put those s'farim in a box until he …

Thought for the Day: How, Precisely, Ownership is Transferred from One Party to Another

So you go the the fruit market to get an apple.  Just when does that apple officially become yours?  When you pick it up the fruit bin?  When you hand the money to the cashier?  When you take your apple back from the bagboy?  When you leave the store?

Who cares?  That's a perfectly reasonable question; so let's change the case.  You ordered a gizzy from an Gizzy's R Online, who dutifully charges your credit card and sends you a verification email that they have dropped your gizzy into the USPS postbox on the corner.  You wait a week, two weeks, a month... no gizzy.  You call and say it was never delivered; they offer their condolences, but say their responsibility ends once they drop it into the postbox.  (That actually happened to me.  I never got my gizzy nor did I ever order from them again.)

Of course I made the the case more complicated with sending via messenger and whatnot, but the principles are the same.  In fact, even in the original case, suppose the bagboy drop…

Thought for the Day: The Difficulty of Conversations with Adherents to Derivative of Torah Judaism

The word "apikorus", it is claimed, is from the Greek "Epicurean".  The word "Epicurean", in turn, means one who is an adherent to the world view originally promulgated by the Greek philosopher Epicurus.  According Wikipedia, his world view can be summarized as follows:
For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia—peace and freedom from fear—and aponia—the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and therefore should not be feared; the gods neither reward nor punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space. I like that summary.  It is a simple statement of the facts without passing judgement.  While many might shy away from being labeled as …

Thought for the Day: It It's Muktzeh During Twilight, Then It's Muktzeh All Shabbos

Yesterday I waxed poetic (or at least referred to a real poet), and by the way mentioned an interesting question in the Shulchan Shlomo.  It then occurred to me that perhaps not everyone is familiar with this halacha that if an object is muktzeh during twilight, then it will remain muktzeh for the entire day.  Today, with the help of HaShem, I shall expand on that; but not poetically.

Muktzeh does not mean (despite what many of our children/grandchildren) may think "stuff you are not allowed to touch".  Rather it refers to things which one is not allowed to move on Shabbos or Yom Tov.  Yes, I am purposely omitting oodles of details; such ass of when and under what circumstances one is allowed to move different categories of muktzeh.  I am doing that in order to focus in on the Shulchan Shlomo's very cool question with a minimum of introduction.

Again, glossing over many details, an object can be muktzeh because of itself or because of its situation.  For example, hammers…

Thought for the Day: Understanding Certainty from Uncertainty

I must admit to being sympathetic to Robert Frost's traveler who prefers the road less traveled.  Part of my bike ride to work is along part of the North Branch of the Chicago River.  The path I take is on the east side and is very well travelled, as it is lined with parks and even a swimming pool.  This morning I decided to take the "road less travelled by" (sic) on the west side of the river.  It was glorious.  No other bikes nore even pedestrians.  I bit narrow in places, closer to the river, and comfortably overhung with trees.  At one point, though, the paving came to an abrupt end, and I was facing dirt path.  I didn't worry too much, and was certainly not going to retrace my steps/rotations (harrumph)!  Quickly the overhung became overgrown.  Finally, the path was all but gone and I was wedged between a chain link fence and a forest of trees.  By the time I thought this might not be such a good idea (I'm slow to realize those things...), it was too late (r…

Thought for the Day: Good Sense Complements -- Not Replaces/Overrides -- Halacha

I have a tendency to forget small things and to be a bit lazy about being careful.  To adjust for that, I make myself little habits that have built in safeguards.  For example, I always lock my car door with my key; I never just lock the door with the inside button and close the door.  That way, it becomes physically impossible for me to lock myself out of my car.  When I say "always", I mean that when I first started this practice, if I forgot once in a while and locked the door with the button, I would then unlock the door (with the key in my hand) and then relock it... with the key in my hand.  You may think that is just silly.  I am good with that; I know I'd feel even sillier standing outside my locked car looking in at my keys in the ignition.

I learned this practice from the structure of halacha.  A violation of Shabbos is a capital offence, and to protect us Chazal instituted many fences.  For example, as we all know, one is not allowed to even leave food (that i…

Thought for the Day: Cutting Through Graphics on Shabbos

In case you don't know (I didn't, but that's never a proof of anything other than my cluelessness; which needs no further proof at all), there is now edible paper.  I don't mean, paper that if you eat it will not harm you (remember all that paper we chewed up in our youth?).  I mean truly edible -- with a hechsher and everything -- paper; not to mention edible inks and printers that won't mangle or get gummed up, to boot.  Why would you want edible paper?  Why, so you can put extraordinary pictures on cakes and whatnot!  And even better... if you serve them on Shabbos, we have a whole new level of concerns!  Cool!

We have all been duly brainwashed (I mean that in the best sense; our minds are clean enough to accept this idea) that one may not cut through letters on cakes; we are all careful to cut through any lettering on the cake or to put the fancy "Happy Birthday, Little Shmerel!" on a piece of paper that can be removed before cutting.  On the other ha…

Thought for the Day: Learning Halacha By Rules Vs. By Example

I suppose some people get everything they needed for life out of kindergarten; I feel sorry for those people.  I, for example, learned the very important lesson in prioritizing required work ahead of elective work from the infamous giraffe coloring that I experienced in first grade.  More than that, though:  R' Noach Weinberg, ztz"l, said that that obviously there is tremendous intellectual/emotional/spiritual growth in the first five years of one's life.  If that oh so cute five year old would experience the next five years with no more intellectual/emotional/spiritual growth, you have a 10 year old whose life has become a tragedy.  The same is true, said R' Weinberg, for a person's entire life.  There must be continuous intellectual/emotional/spiritual growth; once that stops, the life is decaying into a tragedy.

Here's a lesson I learned from a graduate math professor:  You have to "get down in the gutter" with the definitions to really understand…

Thought for the Day: Ensuring Equal Protection in the Jewish Court

One way to deflect dealing with an issue and feel like you have won the argument is to make an absolutely false statement that rings true, gets people nodding, and immediately halts any further discussion.  Here's an example: Automation take away jobs!  No, not really; it may shift emphasis on good skills for future jobs, and it certainly does create new jobs.  Moreover, since more can get done for less money and time, everyone benefits and whole new business opportunities are created.

Here's another favorite of mine: If men had babies, then !  Umm... whatever gender gets pregnant, carries the developing human, and then gives birth is the gender that I am going to call women.  The fact is that if having babies is important, then someone's going to have to take time off from job and career to do that.  If you believe in evolution (silly you), then you would have to note that billions of years of barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen cannot be reversed by a couple of hundred …

Thought for the Day: The Torah is the Cure for Extremism -- The Only Cure

Let's start with something simple and non-controversial:  How many sexes does science say there are?  Whoops... I forgot; I am not writing this two years ago.  Even that science guy seems to be confused.  So few years ago there were two, now there is a spectrum.  Science can tell you the genotype, the phenotype, the percentage of different hormones produced, the percentage introduced, etc.  The number and how to count them is really a matter for the legislature, not science.

How many sexes does the Torah say there are?  Certainly two, but maybe three; though in practice it can go to five.  How so?  There is male and female.  Then there is a טומטום (pronounced: tuhm-tuhm).  A טומטום is either male or female, but there are no outward manifestations.  Then there is a אנדרוגינוס/hermaphrodite.  A אנדרוגינוס has manifestations of both sexes; it is a matter of discussion among the sages if that sex is both male and female or third sex all his/her/its own.  (Using "it" is not m…

Thought for the Day: Simple Faith and Trust In HaShem Is Really Hard Work

I am always tickled when I see that T'hillim/Psalms or Mishlei/Proverbs -- sometimes even the Torah itself -- quote from the p'sukei d'zimra.  I am, of course, then tickled by the silliness of that; even though I know, of course, that p'sukei d'zimra are gleaned from T'hillim/Psalms and Mishlei/Proverbs -- sometimes even the Torah itself -- my spiritual tickle bone still gets its two cents in.  I also really get excited when I see a confluence (don't you just love that word?) in my learning, davening, and even (seemingly) off hand conversations.

So just get this confluence (in reverse order, a choice I will explain in due time):  I have a chavrusa after davening to learn one verse of Mishlei with the explanation/commentary of the Vilna Gaon, aka the Gr"a.  This morning we learned 19:21: רַבּוֹת מַחֲשָׁבוֹת בְּלֶב-אִישׁ; וַעֲצַת יְהוָה, הִיא תָקוּם/Many are the thoughts in the mind of a man, but counsel of HaShem is the one that will stand.  "Hey! …

Thought for the Day: How Much Chutzpah Is Too Much?

According to Merriam-Webster, chutzpah is an English word whose origin is from Yiddish, which gets it from Late Hebrew whose first known use was in 1867.  All I have to say about that is: What a chutzpah!  First known use in 1867... grumble grumble... Late Hebrew.... grumble grumble... Regardless, it gives my license to use "chutzpah" in my English writing.

Chutzpah is, of course, a real thing.  Being real, of  course it appears in halacha.  In certain situations, Chazal tell us: לא חציף איניש/a normal person would not have that much chutzpah.  In what situations and who cares how much chutzpah is normal?  Before I can tell you, I need to introduce another halachic concept: מִגּוֹ, pronounced "mee-goh".  (Or, if you are in my grandson's pre-1A class, "mee-goy"; he is tolerant of my pronunciation, and often tells me so, but without a drop of chutzpah.)

I don't know a good translation for מִגּוֹ, so let me just describe it.  Shimon comes to Yehuda&#…

Thought for the Day: Six Constant Mitzvos And Knowledge of G-d

There are different ways of seeing hidden meaning in hebrew words.  A very common way is gematria - looking at the numerical value of letters and words.  The gematrias are usually interesting and sometimes even reflect deep insights.  I don't look at gematrias as much more than mnemonics to help remember those insights.  Another way to manipulate hebrew words, perhaps less well know but also sanctioned by Chazal is "AT-BaSh": replace Aleph with Tuf (AT), Bais with Shin (BaSh), Gimmel with Reish, etc.  Consider the words "Mitzvah" (Mem Tzadi Vav Hey).  The AT-BaSh of Mem is Yud, of Tzadi is Hey.  That means that if you half way do AT-BaSh on miztvah you get HaShem's four letter name.  It is (at least) a very cool perspective that perfoming mitzvos is much more than a list of rules that we are supposed to follow because HaShem said so; rather the performance of Mizvos has the ability to connect us on a very deep level to HaShem Yisbarach Himself.

There are si…

Thought for the Day: The Chasm Between Orthodox/Torah Judaism and Its Derivatives

Disclaimer: I am utterly and without reservation opposed to the idea of thinking there are "branches" of Judaism.  Nonetheless, I am also keenly aware that the surrounding culture does think of Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist/FlavorOfTheWeek that way.  I was (again) made aware of that distressing fact when my boss asked me to explain the "Jewish" view regarding abortion.  I said I could give him the Orthodox view, which I did.  His response came in two parts; first to what I said, second to the implications for other branches.  To what I described his response was, "So every case has to be considered independently with all of its unique factors and a competent rabbinic authority consulted."  Yes and yes!  Precisely the message I wanted to convey.

Regarding the implications for other branches of Judaism, though, his response was most distressing.  "So the Jewish view is basically a spectrum from there."  Yikes!  No, I said; those other phil…