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Showing posts from June, 2017

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…

Thought for the Day: Violating Shabbos on a Torah Level is Really Hard

Converts to Judaism come up with all sorts of interesting (crazy, if you prefer) questions.  There are a two basic reasons, I think.  One, committing to live as an Orthodox Jew is a huge undertaking with a myriad of details.  While a nonreligious Jew who is returning to a Torah lifestyle can take his time, a convert doesn't have that option.  To convert to Judaism, one must accept to do everything; there is no slow, steady path available.  That, of course, leads to a lot of questioning.

The other reason, though, is that a convert is in a funny situation during the learning process.  On the one hand, he needs to live 100% (well... not quite; hold your questions for now) as a Jew.  On the other hand, though, since he is not a Jew, there are many things that just aren't possible.  He can't be counted are part of a minyan nor be called to the Torah, for example.  He keeps kosher, but anything he cooks is perforce not kosher; since food cooked by a non-Jew is forbidden to Jews.…

Thought for the Day: Risk of Excision and Consecration Value Go Hand in Hand

Whether or not you like the Dilbert comic strip, you'll probably appreciate at least this joke.  The pointy haired boss announces two new programs for the employees: (1) a dignity enhancement program for employees, and (2) mandatory drug testing initiative.  Alice notes, "The clue meter is reading zero."  (I've been in meetings like that, by the way...)

As I mentioned, I have passed that age where I need to worry that I have done something so awful that HaShem has simply given up on me.  That's good, right?  (I know it's grasping for straws to be excited to know that I have not sunk so low as to be considered irredeemable evil... but any port in a storm, as they say.)  On the other hand, my consecration value (Vayikra 27:3,7) just plummeted from 50 to 15 silver shekels; a 70% loss!  A woman, by the way also suffers a loss in value; but only 68%.  You may think that's not much difference, but Rashi says that is the source for the common saying: An older la…

Thought for the Day: Turning 60 Transcends Spiritual Excision

I have a very bright yellow windbreaker for biking.  A co-worker once said, "Wow!  No one is going to miss you in that jacket!"  I replied, "Actually... the point of this jacket is specifically so they will miss (i.e. not hit) me."  I wore that jacket home last night as I very, very carefully biked home.  Why so careful?  I really, really wanted to make it to my 60th birthday.  I got home, ate very carefully (didn't want to choke), then walked carefully to shul to daven with extra fervor (really, really wanting to make it to my 60th birthday), walked home and sat down to learn (can't have too many merits, you know).  Finally, finally nightfall of 12th Sivan, 5777 arrive; and with it, my 60th birthday!  Whew!  This morning, though, just as I entered my office building (feeling pretty darn good about having made it to 60), I was "greeted" by a t-shirt the color of my jacket that said, "My t-shirt is brighter than your future."  You really …

Thought for the Day: Correcting a Wrong Takes Common Sense

Overheard in nursery by new father that had just been brought a white baby that the nurses claimed was his: "No, no, and no!  My wife and I are Chinese, and everyone knows that two Wongs don't make a white!"  (Wow... that is so totally not PC!  Especially now that we know that there are no absolutes... race, gender, even species, I suppose are all just point on a spectrum.)  Three rights do, however, make a left.  Moreover, two Wrights do make an airplane.  We all know, though, that two wrongs definitely do not make a right.  (Sorry!  I just cannot quell that 10 year old boy in me.  I suppose I should also apologize that neither do I have any desire to quell him.)

Let's make no mistake about it: stealing is bad; very, very bad.  Our sages tell us that the fate of Sodom was not sealed until they started stealing from each other in a way that was not punishable (the value of each theft was too small to prosecute).  What about a wife stealing from her husband?  That see…