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Showing posts from July, 2017

Thought for the Day: Why Aveilus on Tisha b'Av? Fixing Our Relationship with HaShem by Fixing Our Relationship with Fellow Jews

I did not ride my bike to work today.  It is erev Tisha b'Av, 5777; though it is certainly permissible during the nine days to shower enough to not offend my coworkers, I felt that on erev Tisha b'Av itself there was no reason to bring myself to a situation of relying on a leniency that was easy to avoid.  I did, though, ride many of the nine days and certainly several days during the three weeks.  Since the whole period is one of increased danger, I listened to fewer shiurim than usual in order to pay more attention to the traffic.  Having that extra time (even with heightened vigilance, my mind had a chance to wander here and there), I was struck by two questions on the way we conduct ourselves during the three weeks, nine days, and week during which Tisha b'Av falls.

The Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch is the section on laws of daily living.  The organization is basically chronological by most frequent.  You will therefore first find laws of waking, getting dresse…

Thought for the Day: Hell, Reincarnation, and Ghosts are All Torah Concepts

My granddaughter wanted to know if there was really any such thing as ghosts.  I told her that of course there are ghosts!  Dovid HaMelech mentions them in Psalms (88:11): "Will You do wonders for the dead, do ghosts give You praise? Sela!"  You will probably see רפאים  quite inaccurately translated as "spirits" or "shades" or "the departed" or "the dead"; but I'm all about calling רפאים רפאים -- ghosts is ghosts.

I also ran across a reference to ghosts recently in Mishlei (21:16):
A person who wanders from the path of reason will repose in the community of ghosts. The G"ra explains this with a gemara (Pesachim 28a, in response to one Amora being refuted with his own arguments): R' Yosef said it's like the common expression, "the craftsman is burned by the mustard in his bowl";  Abaye said, "the carpenter is bound his stocks"; Rava said, "the fletcher is killed by his own arrows."   (I che…

Thought for the Day: Helping the Sinner Repent/Bringing Back the Beis HaMikdash

Rashi explains the difference between a חכם and a נבון.  (Google, by the way, translates both as intelligent, but adds wise for חכם and sagacious/discerning נבון.)  Rashi says that חכם is like a wealthy שולחני/money changer; bring him money and he can change it for you, and he is also content to wait for business.  A נבון on the other hand, is like a שולחני תגר/money dealer; if no one is bringing him business, he's out drumming it up.  The difference was really brought home to me yesterday while walking with my six year old grandson.  He stopped short and asked (really out of the blue): "Wait!  Our cousins cousins are... us?!?"  I was a bit startled, but managed to confirm his conclusion.  We were walking to look at some new houses being build (big machines and big holes in the ground are irresistible to boys of all ages), but apparently he had been thinking about his cousins who are planning to come for a visit and just had that insight.  That's a נבון; his mind nev…

Thought for the Day: Crackers, Cake, and Bentching

Remember the Uncrustables discussion?  R' Fuerst told me then that he was planning to do a series of shiurim on the topic of פת הבאה בכיסנין; ie, crackers/cake/pizza/what have you.  That series is now, Baruch HaShem, in full swing.  It's complicated stuff; the rav told me he has spent 50 - 60 hours preparing.  Last week (July 16, 2017), the shiur was on how much crackers/cake/sweet rolls you can eat -- and in what context -- before one would be required to wash and bentch.  I found two things particularly surprising/interesting (though not shocking) to me, which I present herewith.  However, due to the complexity of the topic, I feel compelled to make explicit the usual disclaimer:
The information contained in this posting in particular (as well as this blog in general) is for general information purposes only. Whilst I endeavour to keep the information up-to-date and correct, I make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accur…

Thought for the Day: How. When, Why of אמן/Awmein

As well document in Home Alone, even a very important mission can be ruined by failing to get all the participants at the right place at the right time.  Saying אמן with the correct intention, as mentioned, is important.  Still, if the אמן is misplaced or mispronounced, the entire mission can turn disastrous.

There are three defective sorts of אמן about which the Shulchan Aruch (124:8) warns: חטופה/hurried or snatched, קטופה/plucked, and יתומה/orphaned.  חטופה/hurried means either swallowing the first syllable (and just saying: 'mein) or saying the אמן before the bracha has been finished.  קטופה/plucked means dropping a hole letter or pronouncing the whole word as one syllable.  יתומה/orphaned means to just say אמן, but not as an answer or response to anything.  (That can happen if you walk into shul and hear everyone else answering אמן, so you figure, "heck!  I'll answer also!"  It can also happen if you have been in shul the whole time but your mind has been wander…

Thought for the Day: HaShem Protects Fools... and Therefore What?

After carefully learning through the Igros Moshe on smoking (Choshen Mishpat, 77) and publishing my findings, my chavrusa suggested that I check out of few of my conclusions and assumptions with R' Fuerst.  I was very happy to show him that I was right, so of course I agreed.  Baruch HaShem, I was even happier to find that I was wrong on a few points and to have R' Fuerst correct me.

I am about to brag, here... I hope you'll forgive me.  I approached R' Fuerst before mincha on erev Shabbos (I daven at that minyan largely because the rav davens that and it has afforded me many opportunities to speak to the rav directly for a few minutes at a time; which is all one gets on the phone anyway).  I told him I had a couple of questions on R' Moshe's t'shuva regarding smoking and general questions about the style of Igros Moshe.  Just then the chazan started "ashrei" and the rav held up his hand and said, "Time to daven..."  "Darn!", I…

Thought for the Day: What Do You (are Supposed to) Mean by אמן/Awmein?

Yes, I meant to spell it that way.  The Mishna Brura says very clearly (which is to say, the statement is literally there, as the entire text of the Mishna Brura is a model of clarity in both thought and expression) that the vocalization of אמן is with a קמץ גדול (the little "T" vowel, pronounced "aw" as in "awl") under the א and צירי (the two dots, pronounced "ey" as in "whey").  Who cares, you say?  I mean... it's just אמן, right?  Not such a big deal, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong, there are rules and regulations for אמן -- times when you must say it, times you are not permitted to say it, times when you must not delay in saying it; and is all comes with reward and punishment (as brought in the Biur Halacha).  Good... now that I have you attention...

אמן has two basic meanings, and it is important to know which to intend when responding.  One meaning is a simple acknowledgement of the facts: "I affirm my belief that such-and-…

Thought for the Day: How Big a Fool Does HaShem Protect/What is Called Acceptable Risk?

Living is dangerous.  In fact, we have centuries of incontrovertible proof that death is always preceded by life.  When I was teaching about radiation safety to nurses in a hospital who worked with radiation therapy, I wanted to give them a feel for how dangerous radiation is.  It turns out that the risk of death from the maximum legal yearly dose of radiation is approximately the same as just living for a day and a half at age 60.

Traveling is risky; which is why we have a special prayer when embarking on travel.  I recently asked R' Fuerst if I should say תפילת הדרך when I leave for work in the morning on my bike.  "Is it dangerous?", he asked.  Well... I'm in traffic and I'm on a bike.  R' Fuerst replied in his usual cut to the chase manner, "If it's so dangerous, then you are not allowed to ride your bicycle in traffic.  If it's normal risk, then there is no reason to recite תפילת הדרך."  I decided it wasn't that dangerous... at leas…

Thought for the Day: Why, Yes... The Creator *Does* Care How a Jew Makes Coffee on Shabbos

It began innocently enough... We were having Shabbos lunch with a very nice family whom we recently met.  Their son, a young rabbinic scholar (who by nature are pretty rigid... all part of the process) gave a very nice d'var Torah regarding a curious Rashi.  When Moshe struck the rock to which he was supposed to speak, a great miracle still occurred -- water for millions of people -- and yet Moshe was severely reprimanded and punished.  Rashi explains what was so terrible: Had Moshe spoken, the nation would have taken a lesson for themselves.  If a rock, which doesn't get rewarded for listening to HaShem nor punished for disobeying HaShem, obeys a spoken command; then all the more so we, who are rewarded for our obedience to HaShem and punished for transgressing His Will, should certainly obey the Torah!

The young rabbinic scholar said, "This Rashi makes sense on first glance, but upon taking a second look, it doesn't make any sense at all!  The rock, after all, doesn…

Thought for the Day: Stealing Is Not a Joke... Even When It Is Intended For One

I grew up fat and was always embarrassed that all my clothes were "husky" sizes.  (Nice euphemism, right?)  I finally managed to lose weight (after years and years of failure) in my early 20s.  The first time I bought a suit after that, the salesman complained that the suit wasn't fitting right because my rear end was too small.  I could have kissed him (but I didn't).  I did not grow up frum (to say the least), and it has been a struggle to learn halacha.  Someone recently complained after a shiur I gave to women that I demonstrated too much knowledge of halacha.  I could have kissed her (but I didn't).

Admittedly, though, I am a physicist at heart.  That means that I am much more interested in the underlying principles than any particular actual situation.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that not only do the esoteric cases of the gemara not bother me... I, in fact, relish their ingenuity.  Halacha had been a struggle for me both because of it's o…

Thought for the Day: Check Your Mezuzos Twice in Seven Years (A PSA)

My father, עליו השלום, once let me change the spark plugs on our car.  He warned me, "Be sure to take off only one at a time!"  I was a bit confused, as I had no thought to take them off (all eight... this was the 70s) by the handful.  As I started to remove the first one, though, I realized what he meant.  For those of you who are still mystified: Before electronic ignition, power was sent to the spark plugs via a distributor cap/rotor system.  The rotor, of course, delivers the power to the attached wires sequentially.  However, the cylinders of the car do not fire sequentially.  That means that the order of the spark plugs connected to the distributor cap is crucial to the running of the car.  In fact, the results of mixing up the order is at best a poorly running engine and at worst real damage to the engine.  So of course I replaced them one at a time, being careful with the order.  Also of course, though, I told my father, "Don't worry Dad.  I took them all of…