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Showing posts from December, 2017

Thought for the Day: Prayer Epilog -- תפילת נדבה/Bringing a Prayer as a Donation Offering to HaShem

I want to have a relationship with my grandchildren.  (There are lots of people with whom I'd like to have a relationship, actually, but I feel I have a chance with my grandchildren.)  When they are very young, I develop that relationship by finding things they like and providing that.  Ice cream, tickles, rides on my shoulders; whatever it takes.  When they get a little older, I look for games and books they they like.  They are interested in the book or game, I am interested developing the relationship with them.  At some point, they also become interested in having a relationship with me, so they will look for things I like; artwork and divrei Torah, for example.  They know with 100% clarity that I love them and want a relationship with them (they have never, after all, experienced anything different from me).

At this point, you may ask (ok, probably not... but I wondered to myself) why we still need those games/books/artwork/divrei Torah?  The answer (likely obvious to you, bu…

Thought for the Day: Learning Leniencies and Stringencies from One Area of Halacha to Another Is Fraught with Danger

Here's a rule: Never, ever -- not even once -- try to understand anything in halacha by comparing actions.  Reasoning such as "Men count in a minyan, so therefore women should count in a minyan" is as ludicrous as "Salmon has scales, so cows should have scales."  The correct approach is to consider the reasons for the actions and then asking if those reasons apply to the other situation.  Why do fish have scales?  Try Wikipedia or for more fun try mocomi for kids.  Do those reasons apply to cows?  Nope.  Why do men count in a minyan?  Start with this TftD; let me know if you want more.  Does that apply to women?  Nope.

A recent TftD an interesting leniency concerning bakery bread; namely that even if I am stringent to only eat פת ישראל, I am allowed to each regular bakery bread if I have guest who are not stringent about bakery bread and the bakery bread is better than the פת ישראל.  (Note: Not all bakery bread is better than all פת ישראל; it just happened to b…

Thought for the Day: When Better Physical Quality Beats Better Spiritual Quality to Improve Spiritual Health

That title may end up being nearly as long as the whole post.  We'll see...
A summary of every Jewish holiday: They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!
 -- Alan King, American Jewish comedian As most stereotypes, woefully shallow, but indeed captures the essence of some truth.  They have tried to kill us, time and time again.  (There are deep reasons for that, but out of scope for now.)  We won and we will always ultimately triumph.  (Again, there are deep reasons for that, but out of scope for now.)  We always have a food associated with that victory.  Ok... let's talk about that.

What gives our life meaning?  It the ability to exercise our free will; to choose to do mitzvos or not; to refrain fom sinning, or not.  We are composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul, neither of which is can exercise free will.  The soul is entirely spiritual, and therefore outside of the bonds of time.  The soul therefore knows nothing of past and future; only the now what is always.…

Thought for the Day: Adjudication in Jewish Law -- Removing T'fillin Before Mussaf on Rosh Chodesh

Today's TftD is a bit long, so I'll mark the sections in case you want to skip.

Let's be absolutely clear as day: That 93 million miles distant ball of energy and light that we know as the sun powers all life on our planet.  There is no drama in that statement; it is simply the facts.  Yet, for all that, the sun receives absolutely no reward for coming up at the right time each and every day.  It is, after all, simply doing what it was designed and designated to do by the Creator.  Free will is irrelevant; even if it has free will, it never exercises that will to do anything other than what the Creator commanded.  It is the same with us.  If I do big things, such as donate lots of money to worthwhile charities or help those who cannot help themselves -- even if that help literally saves their life -- I get no reward for those actions if they are nothing more than inevitable consequences of my nature; the nature implanted into me by the Creator.

For what do …

Thought for the Day: Prayer V -- Expectations and Benefits

When it comes to mitzvos, we nearly always deflect the question of "so what do we get out of it?"  At a very basic (and, as it turns out, a very deep) level, the answer is simple: What kind of question is that!?  In the first place, HaShem brought you into and continually sustains your existence.  That in itself is enough to require us to do whatever He asks.  For us Jews, though, there is also the fact that He asked if we wanted the Torah and we enthusiastically affirmed that we wanted the Torah and would do our utter best to fulfill all of its mandates.  Finished.

But prayer seems different.  After all, it is framed as a series of requests.  If HaShem wants me to ask for stuff, isn't it reasonable to for me to get that stuff?  If I have no expectation of my prayers being answered, then the whole exercise turns into a quite sterile recitation of words.  Moreover, the halacha (see TftD on intent in prayer) tells me that my attitude during prayer is as a petitioner standi…

Thought for the Day: Prayer IV -- כוונה/Attitude/Intent

Finally... there you are standing before the Creator, ready for a serious conversation, text in hand.  What should be your כוונה/attitude/intent?  After all, we started this whole series noting how ludicrous it would be to approach your boss at work and speak out the same canned speech to him three times a day.  Yet, here we are with a fixed text we are required to recite thrice daily in the Divine Presence.  There has just got to be more than a simple recitation!

The Shulchan Aruch (O. Ch. 98), though, seemingly does decree a simple recitation: When one prays, he must direct his full concentration to the meaning of the words coming out of his mouth.

But here's the rub.  You are not standing in front of your boss, you are standing in front of the King of kings -- the Holy One, Blessed Be He -- who sees straight into you and delves into the thoughts and intentions behind each word expressed by your lips.  If you make a misstep with your boss, there are other ways to get the resourc…

Thought for the Day: Prayer III -- What?

Quick recap: HaShem has ordained that we should pray and the Torah tells us (by context and example) how to pray.  Now we need content and format.

Let's begin with format.  This is meant to be a serious conversation with the Creator.  Just to set the bar, consider what is required to even be allowed to present a case to the US Supreme Court.  I found the following description in Wikipedia:
Before oral arguments, the parties to a case file legal briefs outlining their arguments. An amicus curiae may also submit a brief in support of a particular outcome in the case if the Court grants it permission. Formal rules govern every aspect of these briefs; Chief JusticeWilliam Rehnquist described the rules thus: The rules direct what information must be included in a brief, describe the size of paper and type of print, and limit the number of pages. Even the colors of the covers of the briefs are specified: the petitioner's brief must have a blue cover and the respondent's must have…

Thought for the Day: Prayer II -- How?

Now that we know that the obligation to pray is nothing more (nor less!) than a divine decree, we are going to also need instructions from heaven on how to implement that decree.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to have instruction from heaven how to implement heavenly decrees.  One only needs to look at the shambles that one modern ism has made of the very important Torah principle of תיקון עולם/improving and fixing the world.  They have taken words out of context and used them to support their own nefarious schemes.  (To the point that Google Translate actually translates -- not transliterates -- תיקון עולם as Tikkun Olam.  Amelia Bedelia would be proud; we are not amused.

The Torah teaches us how to pray in two complementary fashions.  One is the way in which the concept is presented as an obligation, the other is by giving us examples of how to practically implement those instructions.

The obligation is introduced in the second paragraph of "sh'ma" -- וּלְ…