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Showing posts from May, 2018

Thought for the Day: Risking Your Life to Save Your Life

Bike the Drive was amazing. Beautiful weather and... actually, once you have beautiful weather for the event, there isn't much more to say. Did I mention that I also do this ride to help raise needed funds for Chai Lifeline? And that you can still make donations? I did? OK; just confirming. I actually ended up biking more than 54 miles. Why I did that is only semi interesting (even to me), and certainly not something with which I need to waste your time on this venue. Feel free to ask, though.
In any case, being as I was on the road for more than 3 1/2 hours, I had lots of time do listen to shiurim; some twice. One in particular peeked my interest: a shiur based on a topic discussed on Sanhedrin 78 about whether one is allowed to undergo a risky surgery. R' Chaim Ozer was presented the following question: a Jew with a condition that -- left untreated -- would surely claim his life withing a few months had been offered a surgery that -- if successful, would extend his life by s…

Thought for the Day: The Judgement of Jewish Courts

The gemara (Sanhedrin 71b) discusses the strange case of the בן סורר ומורה/rebellious son. The boy is put to death for gluttonous and drunken behaviors as a youth; but only if this occurs while he is between 13yr/0m and 13y/3m, his parents have similar sounding voices and are of similar physical stature, neither of his parents can be blind, deaf, mute, or have any physical deformities, and the must bring him to the court with warning, and they must both want him to be put to death. Given all that, it is easy to understand that this never actually happened and practically speaking just can't. Chazal tell us that the Torah gives us this mitzvah to give us the reward of learning for its own sake and also to derive philosophical lessons.

For example, Chazal tell us that the בן סורר ומורה is killed now -- while he is innocent -- before he grows older to commit more egregious sins -- which he surely will -- and becomes guilty of capital crimes. There is a lot to say on this, but I would…

Thought for the Day: Is it a Sin to Unwittingly Violate the Torah?

The word sin is distressingly overburdened with connotation in present day America. My use of the word is simply to mean "transgress the Will of the Creator." Nothing more nor less is implied.  To violate the Torah, on the other hand, is do something proscribed by the Torah or to fail to do something that is required by the Torah. We usually equate those two concepts (with good reason!), but for today's purpose we need to separate them. For today we'll say, for example, that driving a deathly ill Jew to the hospital on Shabbos is a violation of the Torah.  Of course, there is no greater mitzvah than to save a Jewish life and in that case it would be a grave sin not to drive on Shabbos.

One of the criteria by which we judge the sinfulness of a particular violation is why it was done. At the top of the hit parade, we have violations done knowingly; aka, במזיד. The worst sort of sin is to violate the Torah for no reason except to transgress the Will of the Creator; aka …

Thought for the Day: Convincing Someone to Sin -- The True Original Sin

One of the many, many, many, ... (have I made my point?) mistakes made by xtianity is the concept of "original sin". First and foremost, is the tragically mistaken and damaging idea that sin causes one to fall from grace. Honestly!? That religion purports to pray to their father who art in heaven (among other divine beings, of course) and they also purportedly also claim to pray to his only (sic/sick) son -- whom he (the father) stood by and allowed others to murder. Why? Because he loved those others sooo much. Uh huh.  I have children and grandchildren. All of them have transgressed my will from time to time. Sometimes its cute and expected. Sometimes its awful and painful. It has never, ever, not even once, not even entered the realm of possibility (have I made my point?) caused a diminution of my love for them nor to lose an iota of grace that I feel for them. So their deity is less loving and forgiving than me. Uh huh.

The second thing, though, is they can't even co…

Thought for the Day: When A Pocket Is Muktza, But the Garment Is Not

I was the envy of all the other bike commuters last week. Why? I had brought a windbreaker. What's the big deal? It was cold on the commute home. Why didn't the others have a windbreaker? It was warm for the morning commute and -- fer cryin' out loud -- it's May... how cold could it get? Why did I have a windbreaker? I live in Chicago, where weather apps are still more for laughs than practical use. Why didn't they -- who also live in Chicago and have for some time -- not have windbreakers? Never underestimate the power and allure of wishful thinking.

Speaking of unexpectedly needing a raincoat on Shabbos (smooth segue, no?): You have a work credit card in your possession that is needed by a non-Jewish coworker, Bob. Bob needs it for a business trip and he is leaving Saturday evening; he will only be in your neighborhood for a couple of hours Saturday morning. No problem, you decide; you'll just leave it in the right pocket of your raincoat that you'll leav…

Thought for the Day: מִדָה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָה Is Absolutely *NOT* Quid Pro Quo

One of the things I learned when I started learning was that there are three basic categories of questions that people ask in learning. There are regular/yeshivish types of questions; basically, the question that the statement was obviously meant to provoke. For example, the first mishna in Shabbos says there are two ways of leaving a domain which are are actually four.  Clearly, one is meant to ask what is the criteria by which the four are grouped into only two? Then there are פלפול/tiny detail/"Brisker chakira" kinds of questions. These can be questions on choice of particular words, grammar, or tense/person. On that same mishna, some of the cases of leaving are actually entering; that's more of a פלפול question. Finally, there are "bala batisha" questions... the kind of thing that are quite obviously off point. Again from this same mishna, the cases are about a homeowner giving/taking to/from a poor person on the street. Those can be interesting (Tosafos ri…

Thought for the Day: Belief In Creation is a Game Changer

Now that my children are grown and have their own families with their own abodes, this is how it works. When I go to my childrens' homes, I knock and then wait to be invited before walking in. Once inside, I pretty much stay to the living room, dining room, and first floor bathroom. I do not go upstairs. Nor do I take even a glass of water without first asking. When my children come to my house, they knock and then walk in. They pretty much have free roaming around the house -- with the exception of some obviously private areas -- and are comfortable getting themselves something to eat or drink without asking specific permission. My grandchildren don't knock, they just come in. They are unaware that there are private areas. They only ask if they can have this or that if they can't reach it.

Obviously, since the children grew up in our house, they learned from a very early age what they could take/touch and what they couldn't. They never questioned our authority to be a…

Thought for the Day: The Torah was Given to Humans, So Accuracy and Consistency Beats Precision

Accuracy and precision are related -- but different -- concepts. Accuracy is how well you can stay on target, precision is how well you can hit a certain point. To illustrate, in an physics lab we once needed a beam pipe (a vacuum pipe in which charged particles travel while being accelerated and then directed to targets -- physicist toy). We worked with a manufacturer who said they could give us the 100 m of pipe we needed in 100 sections, one meter each. We specified a tolerance of 0.1%, and they agreed. We took delivery and it didn't work. When we assembled our beam pipe, it was short by 10 cm! We complained, "We specified very tight accuracy; you messed up!" They replied, "No, you specified a tolerance of 0.1%, or one mm out of each meter section. We made each one precisely 999 mm; just one mm short."

There is a lot to learn from that story, but the lesson that interests me is that being more precise does not necessarily make you more accurate. Precision is…

Thought for the Day: From Secular Scientist to Orthodox Rabbi

Well... ahem... I am now an international speaker! I spoke over a teleconference for Aneinu. The topic was: From Secular Scientist to Orthodox Rabbi -or- There and Not Back Again. I thought it was cute to have a subtle (or not so subtle, depending on your background) Tolkien reference. I also thought everyone else would think it was cute as well.  As it turned out, I quickly sized up the situation and realized that no one noticed. In the interest of time, therefore, I elided all the cute stuff I had planned to say in the introduction.
But, hey... I can record it here, just to prove that I really have a very eclectic background. I had planned to lead with: If this were a Quentin Tarantino motif, the narrative would begin with with the motzei Shabbos, 9 Shvat, 5777 when I showed my wife the document I had prepared for R' Fuerst to sign, conferring my smicha as an Orthodox rabbi. My wife and I then walked over to the rav's house, so we could both be present when he signed it. Ho…

Thought for the Day: A Slice of Watermelon (Yum!) Or A Whole Apricot (Eh)

R' Fuerst, shlita, has so far this year given almost 20 shiurim on hilchos brachos. And, he told me today, still going strong. If you are wondering how much there is to say already, then I suggest you start listening. They are all available at (You can also get to the same place via; so use that, if it is easier for you to remember.) Here's a detail that wasn't (and likely won't be) covered.

One of the issues that causes confusion is the order of brachos. Just before the shiur a few weeks ago, a chaver of mine made a bracha on a something and I asked why he chose that over the other thing. He replied that he likes that one better. I said, "חביב/what one likes best always goes after שָׁלֵם/whole." (Using the verb "said" is being generous to myself; "blurted out" is probably more accurate.) "Even when one is האדמה and one is העץ?", pressed my chaver. At which point I should have said, "Oh... good poin…

Thought for the Day: Don't Worry, Have Faith; Don't Panic, Have Fun

I seems my coffee cup that praises the virtues of both coffee and bourbon has an even stronger Torah source than I had thought. Then I saw an amazing quote in the Pela Yo'eitz in his chapter on worry:
העבר אין, העתיד עדיין, דאגה מניין? קום שתה יין Which translates (more or less) as: The past is no more, the future is not yet, why worry? Let's drink some wine. I have heard the first part before, but was very gratified to see his addition that wine-ing does help with worry.
The Pele Yo'eitz explains very simply. Whatever has happened, has happened. What about the future? That's one of two cases: (1) you can affect the outcome; (2) you can't. If its (1), then do it! You don't have time to worry in that case, because you have work to do. If you can't affect the outcome, so then worrying won't help either. Rhetorical question: When, then, does the situation demand or even allow worry? Obvious answer: It never does.
The depth and simplicity of this idea can b…

Thought for the Day: Redemption Begins with Respect

Moshie recently started davening with us at the vasikin minyan. I'm not great at guessing ages, but I'd guess he's eight or ten. The kind of kid it is hard not to like. Davening is obviously important to him -- he's is there with the rest of us before 6:00AM, even on Shabbos. He loves being there and -- being a kid -- is not embarrassed to come up and tell you he loves you. We are always happy when someone joins the minyan. After all, ברב עם הדרת מלך/the glory of the King is enhanced with a multitude.  We are all there because davening is important to us and doing things in the best possible way is important to us. We wouldn't be getting up "in the threes" during the summer to daven unless that were true. Moshie's in that mold, as well. He is a beautiful addition to our minyan.

One more thing about Moshie. I said I am not good at guessing ages. It's even harder in Moshie's case. The 8/10 number I guessed is his mental/emotional age. I'm gu…