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Showing posts from 2018

Thought for the Day: אמן, יהא שמיה רבא Should Be Said Out Loud and With Intense כוונה/Intention

I saw this story some time ago, and just "happened" to run across it again this morning. While I usually shun סגולות, this story struck me; obviously because it involves Rav Hutner, but also because the Mishna Brura stresses the importance of saying אמן, יהא שמיה רבא out loud and with intense כוונה/intention.

There are סגולות and there are סגולות. When a סגולה is also a הלכה, I'm all in.

I would like to add another small story that I also find inspiring:
Rav Shach was walking with a talmid one Shabbos on the border of Bnei Brak. Rav Shach asked the talmid if he knew why people were driving across the street (just outside of Bnei Brak). "Because they are not religious?", asked the talmid, taken aback by the question. "No," answered Rav Shach, "it is because our shmiras shabbos is lacking."

No matter where we are holding; we can always make just a little more effort...

Text (lightly edited) from Revach l&#…

Thought for the Day: the Torah Is Meant to Be Lived -- Therefore It Must Be Learned and Taught

A question was posed to me concerning a difficulty in reconciling Rashi in two places.  In Shmos 20:8, Rashi notes that שמור and זכור regarding Shabbos in the עשרת הדיברות/Ten Commandments were actually said as one. However, on Vayikra 1:10 (the first open space between parshios in sefer Vayikra), Rashi comments that the breaks in the written text indicate where Moshe Rabbeinu was given a break/breather to contemplate and process the lesson he had just learned from HaShem. How can there be breaks when everything was said on once?
I first would like to note that the question is stronger than just asking about two conflicting medrashim. We know from מסורה/authentic tradition that medrashim do not need to all work together. Each medrash has a homiletical  message to deliver; the messages form one unified whole, but not necessarily the delivery vehicles. Rashi's job, though, is to weave statements from Chazal into a unified whole to understand a basic reading of the text. The questio…

Thought for the Day: When a מחלוקת הפוסקים Becomes a Bona Fide Doubt in Halacha

In my youth I wondered why people said, "You can't always be right."  I reasoned that if a person only said something when he had facts, and otherwise would either keep his mouth shut or say simply, "I don't know"; then he would always be right.  What's the problem?  I still more or less (more on the less in a moment) believe that, which is why I am terrible at small talk. The "less" is that sometimes one is required to act with less that perfect information. (You would think that would be obvious, right? Sigh... I am a slow unlearner once I have an idea in my head.) Even more "less" is that sometimes one is called upon to render an opinion. While all of these TftDs represent, at some level, my opinion, this one is more than usual.

I was reasonably strong in my assertion that the proper bracha on Pringles® is (and always has been) בורא פרי האדמה. I also noted that there are those who disagree. I was asked by a good friend, "So w…

Thought for the Day: Physical Change to the Point of Unrecognizability Makes a Food Lose It's Unique Bracha

Spoiler alert: The correct bracha on Pringles® is (and always has been) בורא פרי האדמה/Who creates the fruit of the land; not the more generic שהכל נהיה בדברו/by Whose word everything comes into being.  Yes, I know there are those who argue.  Some out of ignorance/misunderstanding; whose opinions I therefore disregard with extreme prejudice. (Ignorance has no place in halacha.) Others out of a difference in how to weigh the various factors; with whose opinion I respectfully disagree.

We've already discussed how a food can lose it's unique bracha through cooking and/or repurposing it from a food to a beverage. This is another way: by grinding or pulverizing it into an unrecognizable mass. The Shulchan Aruch uses the example of making a paste out of dates (202:7).  The Shulchan Aruch says they do not lose their identity; בורא פרי העץ before eating and על העץ afterward. The Rema agrees that should be the case, but is nervous for those who say the food looses its unique identity b…

Thought for the Day: Difference Between Seeing the Hand of HaShem and the Finger of Hashem

When we read anthropomorphisms of HaShem in the Torah, we often add, "Of course, HaShem doesn't have a hand or a finger or a face... the Torah just uses those terms to help use appreciate some dimension of how HaShem is interacting with the world." What does that mean?

R' Dessler (in his commentary on the Haggadah) notes that the Egyptian magicians saw the plagues as a manifestation of the finger of Elokim/G-d. We, on the other hand, saw the hand of HaShem. They referred to the interaction as mediated by a finger; whose finger? Elokim/G-d.  We referred to the interaction as mediated by the hand; whose hand? HaShem. It's very easy to just skim over those details while racing through "10 miracles in Egypt, so 50 at the sea... which is really 200, or really 250". That's for seder night when we need to keep the children interested and engaged. In truth, though, something quite wonderous has just been revealed to us.

The title Elokim/G-d always refers to…

Thought for the Day: Purim Finishes What Yom Kippur Starts

I was once asked (the asker meant the question entirely rhetorically): Why do I need to fear HaShem? I should just love Him. The asker's claim, based on his own reason and reputable sources, was that fear of HaShem is a "lower level" than love. His thought was to just skip the lower level (which he felt was beneath him) and go straight for love. Being a teenager, he was completely impervious to the argument that older and wiser people than himself had contemplated this issue for centuries and had come to the conclusion that fear is a prerequisite for love. Being that ignorance is easier to overcome than arrogance, I appreciated the argument, but did not have the tools to articulate why.

First a bit of a puzzle from Chazal:  What is the greatness יום הכיפורים/Yom HaKippurim (Yom Kippur on the Hallmark calendar)?  It is a יום כ-פורים -- a day like Purim!  At first (and second and third...) glance, there could not be any two holidays more different in nature and intent than…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Complete Repentance is an Earned Gift

We had our two year old grandson over for the Shabbos morning s'uda yesterday. As fourth of five and with a new baby brother, he doesn't get much individual attention; so we thought it would be nice for him, his parents, his siblings, and us. We were correct; it was a win, win, win, win situation.  I walked him home. He likes to stop at every garage door, knock, then I have to answer "no one's home", then we move on. Between stops he runs -- zero to sixty in a flash -- much faster than I walk. However, he also falls regularly, so I can still keep up. It reminded me that the mom was constantly ironing knee patches on my jeans growing up. Of course, I haven't had a scraped knee in years.

Except last week. I was on the treadmill and lost my footing, being carried off that back. That's not how I scraped my knee. I collected myself, stood on the rails straddling the moving treadmill. "It's not moving that fast," I reasoned.  (OK, perhaps "re…

Thought for the Day: Havdalah Declaration Before First Supplication After Shabbos

I do not learn gemara via the daf yomi schedule. The reason is simple, I cannot learn an entire daf of gemara in one day. I am currently learning Bava Metzia and worked out my learning rate: a bit less than a daf per week. I have resigned myself to that fact. There certainly is an energy to a daily learning program.  How about mishna yomi?  Sigh... I am also just a bit slow for that, as well.  One last chance: halacha yomi! Do be fair, I am also not able to keep up with that program, either. However, I am able to keep up with daily emails that summarize the daily halacha; whew!  (I recommend that avail yourself of the program: Daf Halacha | Daf HaYomi B'Halacha Resources.  You can sign up for the daily emails here.)

They also send out a question of the month.  Interesting questions one can use to check and deepen his understanding. Here is the question from the Teves-Shevat bulletin:
TheMishna Berurah (294:§2) writes thatthereason Havdalah is recited intheblessingofKnowledge (‘Chone…

Thought for the Day: Juices and Soups/Fruits and Vegetables -- What's the Bracha?

A quick Google search reveals that a smoothie is:
A smoothie is a thick beverage made from blended raw fruit or vegetables with other ingredients such as water, ice, or sweeteners. Hmm... raw fruit or vegetables (I would actually include "and/or", but I'm not Google), thick and blended (that is, puréed), raw (that is, not cooked), beverage (so meant to be imbibed, not eaten).  What's the bracha?  I could tell you right now, but where's the fun in that?

There are two gemaras in Brachos that have a bearing on this question. One says that the bracha on all fruit juices (save two) is שהכל. (The two exceptions are: grape juice/wine, which is בורא פרי הגפן ; olive juice/oil, which is בורא פרי העץ.) The other gemara says that the bracha on vegetable soup is בורא פרי האדמה. What is the deciding factor? Obviously one talks about fruit and one about vegetables, but that only is not enough of a difference to account for the change in halacha. Let's see what differences w…

Thought for the Day: Washing After a Meal/Kabbalistic Nuances in Rabbinic Decrees

Have you ever seriously wondered if Kansas is really flatter than a pancake?  Perhaps you have thought disdainfully that it's just a thing to say; like, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity."  Well, wonder no more... Kansas is much flatter than a pancake!  How do they determine that?  Well, first you need a baseline.  The baseline of both Kansas and a pancake is flat.  Then you measure difference of every point on the pancake (and Kansas) from its own baseline and determine an average (RMS, actually) deviation from baseline and add 1.0.  Hence, perfectly flat would be 1.0 (which is why we added the 1.0, so that flat would 1.0 and not 0.0; as that just seems wrong.)  When the dust (flour and dirt, respectively) settles, the flatness of a pancake is 0.957, while Kansas is 0.9997.

One more thing: It is precisely those deviations from flatness that are the interesting features of Kansas.  The "deviations from flatness" include, after all, buildings, trees, …

Thought for the Day: Shabbos Is for Connecting to HaShem

One of the most difficult classes I had in graduate school was quantum mechanics. One of the most difficult problems we solved was to construct the complete description of the hydrogen atom. It used all the math we had learned until that time and added more.  It took us three weeks; every class period for three weeks was dedicated to nothing but determining that solution.  (You can check here, if you like, to get a flavor of the complexity.)  About two weeks in, I stopped the professor and asked, "Wait... what are we doing?"  All I saw was three chalkboards filled with equations.  When I looked in my notes, all I saw was page after page of equations. He looked at me a bit quizzically and said, "We're solving the hydrogen atom." I was so mired in the details that I needed a reminder of the big picture.

I spent a very nice week working from Boca Raton last week.  (Long story about why and how that worked out; but it did.) The rabbi there likes to present a halach…

Thought for the Day: So If There are More Than 10 Commandments, Why Did We Get the 10 Commandments?

It was a small Shabbos morning s'udo parashas Yisro.  (I know that sounds distressingly like "it was a dark and stormy night"... but what can I do?) I, of course, was pontificating about how it's called the עשרת הדיברות which translates to "The Ten Utterances" and not "The Ten Commandments". Moreover, the next parasha starts with the conjunctive וְאֵ֨לֶּה֙ הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּשִׂ֖ים לִפְנֵיהֶֽם/and these -- in continuation of what was just begun (see Rashi) -- are the statutes you shall place before them (the Jewish people).  So you see clearly that everything was said at Har Sinai. Furthermore, our sages had to actually forbid public, formal, recitations of the -- ahem -- so-called Ten Commandments because the Christians used that as proof that really those are the important commandments. (They also conveniently ignore the phrase "Who took you out of Mitzrayim", clearly indicating that these laws -- whatever they may be -- were …

Thought for the Day: There is Nothing Fun About Sin

"I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun," goes the 70s pop hit. Let's talk.

Consider the former world renowned sports doctor who was recently sentenced to (up to) 175 years in prison.  His crime? Molesting -- over a span of more than two decades -- girls as young as eight years old. As hackneyed as the phrase may be, it breathes the only words that begin to convey our shock, dismay, and horror: There are no words to express our shock, dismay, and horror. Here's another hackneyed but distressingly appropriate phrase: death is too good for him. There is really only one punishment that might possibly fit the crime and thereby fulfill the demands of justice: for him to live and relive the shame and anguish he feels facing his victims turned accusers recounting his actions for the whole world; to feel and feel again the disgust the world feels for him; to deepen his own self-loathing for having used his abilities and …

Thought for the Day: Jewish Marriage is a Spiritual Re-Unification

I saw a quite distressing article entitled: "My husband’s Orthodox Jewish family pressured us to call off our wedding."; just to drive home the point, a subtitle was added: "I thought parental disapproval of marriage was a problem of the past. I was wrong."

Why are we so, so ...  well... orthodox and unbending in our refusal to allow the slightest change or breach in this ancient taboo?

Here's what's it's not.  It's not about similar culture, thus easing the integration of two people's lives -- including all their family and extended family.  It may not be easy for a Jew from Flushing, NY to integrate his life with a Jew from Irvine, CA; not a Jew from Sweden with a Jew from Egypt.  Surprise!  Marriage is not designed for nor meant to be easy.

It's also not about having a shared experience about customs.  A S'fardi (of Spanish/African/Turkish descent) Jew from Israel and a Chassidic (of eastern European descent) Jew from have customs as …

Thought for the Day: We Have Unlimited Potential for Greatness... and Therefore Great Potential for the Opposite

When I was going on job interviews while seeking my current job, I always told the recruiter to explain to the interviewers that I am an Orthodox Jew and we have an ancient custom that members of the opposite sex refrain from social physical contact -- even shaking hands.  They were mostly respectful, though at one site everyone refused to shake my hand; some sort of show of unity, I suppose.  Why are we such fanatics?

There has been much in the news recently about a physician who abused the trust of his position and abused scores of young women and girls.  He is being made to endure facing every victim who chooses to enter her story into the court record before his sentencing.  He complained in a written request to the court that the ordeal of listening to the their testimony is too difficult.  The court -- in, to my mind, a rare show of real justice -- threw out and even mocked his request.  He will endure every minute of every testimony that his victims choose to deliver.  In fact,…

Thought for the Day: Giving and Accepting Mussar/Corrections

I had a quite wonderful high school chemistry teacher.  So much so, in fact, that I was temporarily drawn to the dark side of noxious compounds, retorts, and bunsen burners before following the light to physics and eventually to Torah.  But I digress.

One of the things that makes high school chemistry so much fun, of course, is cool chemical reactions -- especially ones that involve whooshes of fire.  Lithium metal will burn in air, but not in acetone.  The instructor had a mixture of shaved lithium in acetone which he used to coat a piece of filter paper.  The acetone kept the lithium from reacting with the air, but would also evaporate, exposing the lithium shavings to air (shavings for more surface area; the better to react with you, my dear), and we would be treated to a small whoosh of flame.  As the acetone was evaporating, he went back to the board to explain what were about to see.  A female student with long, straight hair wandered up to the demo table and leaned over the lit…

Thought for the Day: Mining Holiness One Spark at a Time -- Our Sole Job In This World

I like good coffee; very good coffee.  I am willing to spend time getting a good cup of coffee.  As  part of that quest, I have purchased a hand coffee mill.  Not a grinder, a mill.  An electric home coffee grinder would be better named "coffee pulverizer"; it is simply a blade that whacks the tasty coffee beans into a heterogeneous pile of powdered and chunked coffee beans.  A coffee mill, on the other hand, uniformly grinds the beans between two stones.  I bought a hand mill because: (a) I am cheap; and (b) it's ever so satisfying to drink a cup of coffee made from coffee milled with your own two hands.  I also discovered two wonderful life lessons.  First, when the grinding gets harder, that's when your doing the most good.  When it gets too easy to turn the handle, either something is preventing the beans from entering  between the grinding stones, or the hopper is empty.  Second, turning the crank faster does not get the job done faster.  The beans must enter be…

Thought for the Day: Our Job Is השתדלות/Endeavor with All One’s Resources, Not Results

Forrest Gump is a sweet movie from the last century about a relatively clueless -- though quite loveable -- fellow who triggers several history changing/making events of the 20th century.  He also amasses a considerable fortune due to fortuitous stock purchases and business investments.  A model for success, no?

No.  In every event, every stock transaction, and every business investment... our relatively clueless -- though quite loveable -- protagonist is completely passive and simply the beneficiary of good/dumb luck/karma/being at the right place at the right time.  It is not that he is a bad role model, nor a role model for something bad.  He is just not a role model.  Like an ice cube in a glass.  When the glass is empty, the cube rests on the bottom.  When the glass is filled with water, the ice cube bobs to the top. The ice cube is neither good nor bad; it just is.

I recently saw an incredible back story about events leading up to the (long overdue and very much appreciated) rel…

Thought for the Day: When to Make a Bracha on Dessert

There is a lively discussion in the gemara and then later poskim about what kinds of jewelry may be worn in a public domain on Shabbos.  Among the topics is what is consider "worn" vs. "carried" and whether or not a person is likely to take it off to show her friends.  Very cool stuff; you ought to check it out.  One of the jewelry items that a woman may not wear (303:7) is a קטלא... which literally means a "killer"; it's kind of wide choker decorated in gold.  The point of this particular piece of jewelry was to create (or at least enhance) and then accentuate multiple chins.  Fat was beautiful because fat meant rich.

In modern day, of course, thin is beautiful.  Why?  Because we are all fabulously rich (we all have more than enough to eat) and so thin  bespeaks "self control".  Ah well... enough social commentary.  The point here is that we very often have dessert with our meals nowadays; and when we don't, it's because we are exer…