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Showing posts from July, 2018

Thought for the Day: The Bracha of המפיל Just Before Dawn

This past Shabbos was a big day for me. First, 16 Av is the anniversary of my גרות; this makes 28 years. I try to commemorate the occasion appropriately. This year it was by completing my review of the second volume of the Dirshu Mishna Brura; including and and every ביאור הלכה and each and every שער הציו. (I highly recommend checking those out; you'll even find the occasional medrash down there.) Frosting on the cake, though, was finding a ביאור הלכה that addressed a question I have had for some time. In fact, it was a sort of redemption, as I had been told the question was so uninteresting that it wasn't even worth contemplating.

In order for you to experience some semblance of the flush of redemption I felt, I'll first explain my question. To do that, I need to give you some background. The mitzvah of ציצית cannot be fulfilled when it is "too dark" outside. One definition of "too dark" is that you could not recognize an acquaintance more distant than…

Thought for the Day: Nothing Beats Actually Talking to the Person

One is never, ever allowed to speak לשון הרע (literally: evil speech, but Google translation also offers defamation, slander, gossip, and calumny). You may have heard that there are situations in which one may speak  לשון הרע. You may have even heard that as long as seven criteria are fulfilled: (1) you have all the facts, (2) there is a benefit, (3) there is no other way to achieve the benefit, (4) you saw it yourself, (5) you made every effort to speak the the person before speaking about him, (6) you do not exaggerate in the slightest, and (7) your motives are entirely pure. You may have even Googled it (as I did). You may have even seen the words "as long as these seven criteria are met, than לשון הרע is permitted." None the less, that is a false statement.

Here is the precise statement: derogatory statements and remarks about another Jew are almost always forbidden. That forbidden speech is know in halacha as לשון הרע. Under certain conditions, those statements and rema…

Thought for the Day: The Mitzva of ביקור חולים

"There he goes again... on his soapbox!" Yes, indeed, people do say (or at the very least, think) that about me. They are wrong, though. To prove they are wrong, I just googled the definition of "soapbox": a box or crate used as a makeshift stand by a public speaker. If I used a box or crate as a makeshift stand with all my harping on certain subjects, I'd fall right through! No, sir; no soapbox for me... I need a solid, sturdy, well-engineered platform to support me while I rant.

As I've already mentioned, classical Hebrew terms that we use in halacha do not translate well into English. Worse, people try to force fit complex topics into succinct concepts into simplistic and wrong English words/phrases. Much, much worse is that they draw halachic conclusions based on these simplistic and incorrect mistranslations.

Excuse me? What? Oh... you are wondering if I could give you an example? As it happens, I do have one. ביקור חולים absolutely does not mean &quo…

Thought for the Day: I Didn't Know *That* Was Called Stealing!

One of the עשרת הדברות (known in English -- because of a decidedly purposeful attempt by the non-Jewish translators or our Torah to corrupt its meaning -- as the Ten Commandments) is, לא תגנוב/Thou Shalt Not Steal.
It says nowhere in our Torah that one should eat a healthy diet, nor does it say anything about wearing clothes, nor breathing, nor... nor... nor... Of course not, you say, those things are obvious and don't need to be said to normal, rational human being; certainly not commanded! Right; and a normal, rational human being similarly is not in need of being reminded -- certainly not commanded -- not to steal. So what's going on? A lot.
First, the prohibition against stealing includes deriving a benefit from someone who steals (cf תרגום יונתן). Of course (again and again, we will need to add "of course") one is not allowed to do business with stolen goods, but even having unnecessary favorable social interactions with someone who steals is prohibited. But the…

Thought for the Day: Bread on the Table After a Meal

BO-O-ORING! Really? You can't think of anything more interesting to write about than bread on the table after a meal? Tell you what, thanks for the heads up in the title, I'll check back when you write about something that might possibly be interesting. Maybe.
"Oh, yeah?!", I exclaim to the heckler. "Well... well.. you ended a phrase in a preposition! You should have said, 'about which to write' -or- 'to document'; hmmpf!" I showed him, no?

And yet, check out this halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 190:2): Anyone who doesn't leave over bread on his table will never see a sign of blesssing, but do not bring a whole loaf of bread to place on the table; and if you do so, it looks like you are making an offering to false gods.

Yikes! On the one hand you have your mother saying "finish what's on your plate" and the halacha of בל תשחית that forbids destroying food for no reason, while on the other hand you have a warning to giv…

Thought for the Day: Understanding How the Avos Could Have Known All of the Rabbinic Decrees

The midrash says that our holy ancestors kept the entire Torah before it was given. How is that possible? How could they know about matzah when the exodus from Mitzrayim was far in the future? The basic answer is that the prohibition of eating chameitz at Pesach time is something built into the fabric of reality. The exodus gave us an historical event to which to tie that prohibition, but the prohibition itself existed since the six days of Creation.

But there's more: the midrash says that the Avos also kept all of the rabbinic decrees, such as muktzeh, eiruvim and even Chanuka candles. How are we do understand that? Rabbinic decrees are, after all, the product of human debate and thought, as clearly documented in the gemara. Now what?

There are two approaches to Jewish observance, that broadly can be categorized as "misnagid" or "yekish" on the one hand, and "chasidish" on the other. The easiest way to find where you fall is to consider your reaction…

Thought for the Day: שלום Does Not Mean "Peace", מת Does Not Mean "Dead", Et Cetera, Et Cetera, Et Cetera

They (the same "they" that call it "dope", I suppose) say that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I had a research adviser who adamantly disagreed; I am on the fence. I was once talking (ok... flirting; which, as you will see, is why I didn't date much in college) with a fellow student about one of the strangest aspects of modern physics: the so-called wave/particle duality. In some experiments electrons act like waves (think sound), in others they act like particles (think bowling balls). She was kind of bored and glazing over when she asked, "Maybe it's both?" The entire basis of the conversation, of course, was that something can't be both a bowling ball and a sound wave. I said, "Oh... maybe."; then backed away slowly. We probably both got what we wanted at that point.

In any case, the real issue is that we just don't have a word for what an electron is. In some experiments it acts the way a bowling ball would, in o…

Thought for the Day: Why Did the Avos Invent Prayer?

A speaker once gave a beautiful exposition for nearly an hour. Afterwards, among the congratulations for such a beautiful speech, one person approached and said, "I am a producer for NPR. Do you think you could boil that down to three minutes?" The speaker thought hard... on the one hand, he had many important things to say; on the other, exposure of NPR would let him reach a much bigger audience. After agonizing for a few moments, he said, "Yes; I could get my main message conveyed in three minutes." The NPR producer looked him straight in the eye and asked, "Then why didn't you?"

I spoke a few nights ago to the Aneinu group on the topic of prayer. I spoke for just over 57 minutes, as you can confirm for yourself, as a recording of the shiur is posted here among the other Aneinu Shiurim. (The entire recording is 59 minutes, 17 seconds; you have to love computer technology.) Could I have said what I did in only a few minutes? No; and there are two rea…

Thought for the Day: Transgress and Live -OR- Stand Firm and Die

Here's the joke: Moshe was called to pay a visit to the local (non-Jewish) mayor, and old friend who was now a powerful(ish) politician. When Moshe got there, the mayor was eating and asked Moshe if he would care to join him. "I must decline, Mr. Mayor, as the food is not kosher," said Moshe. After eating, the mayor poured himself some wine, again offering the same to Moshe. "I must decline again, Mr. Mayor, as the wine is not kosher," replied Moshe. "My goodness!", said the mayor, "So many rules! What if that is the only thing to eat and you are starving?!" "Ah," said Moshe, "if our like is at risk, then we are allowed -- even required -- to eat whatever will save our life." The mayor suddenly pulled a revolver from under the table and ordered Moshe, "Drink a glass of wine or I shall shoot you dead!" Moshe quickly quaffed a glass of wine. "Another!", roared the glaring mayor. Moshe complied with all h…

Thought for the Day: The Surprising Importance of T'fillin Straps

I have a chavrusa with whom I have been learning for the better part of a decade. We started with Makkos when he was in 7th grade. He is now in Beis Medrash and we have found a 30 minute slot on Sundays that fits into bot of our schedules, which we use to learn Mishna Brura בעיון/slowly and carefully. This last week, Sunday was a fast day, so his yeshiva schedule was more flexible and we learned after early mincha, instead of our regular time. I was even thankful that we could learn earlier, as fasting does not always go as easily these days as it used to. As we got close to the 30 minute mark, I asked if he could continue. (Meaning, did his schedule permit.) Ever the quick wit, he took the opportunity to exercise said wit, "I am 20, so we can go as long as you are able." That remark dispelled any notion I had of stopping early and I found the strength to press on until we were both at the end of our resources. (My mother was wont to mention my stubbornness; not my praise, o…