My Life as a Pendulum

Usually, when we think of the pendulum as a metaphor, it’s of a process that goes too far in one direction, then too far in the other, until eventually it reaches equilibrium at the mean. I’m thinking of a different perspective.Think of the soul, not as some point within you, but as a line. The lowest region, the nefesh, is...



Back in 2001, when Napster was in the news, I attended a “lunch and learn” program at the OU office given by R’ Zev Reichman, then of REITS’ Kollel Elyon. I just learned of a beautiful insight on the topic by R’ Asher Weiss, that Rabbi Jonathan Ziring heard in 2013. So, here’s a survey of the topic… Not #1-...


What does Hashem ask of you?

We saw earlier in our discussion of yir’ah the following gemara (Berakhos 33b, Megillah 25a and Niddah 16b): ואמר רבי חנינא: הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים. שנאמר (דברים י:יב) “עַתָּה֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מָ֚ה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ שֹׁאֵ֖ל מֵֽעִמָּ֑ךְ כִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָה…?” Rabbi Chanina said: Everything is in the hands of [the One in] heaven except for yir’as Shamayim, as it says: “And...


בן חמישים לעצה

Among the list of landmarks Rabbi Yehuda ben Taima lists in psychological development (Avos 5:21) is “בן חמישים לעצה — a 50 year old is [ready] for planning / advice”. (This is 10 years after “בן ארבעים לבינה” — that 40 year olds are capable of comprehension.) Generally this is taken to mean that when someone turns 50, they should...


Gratitude and Thankfulness

It takes two skills to thank someone: hakaras hatov, recognizing the good, being able to see the good in your life, and hoda’ah, being willing to attribute its presence to someone / Someone else. (Same thought, but with more rigor and detail, here.)


Marriage and Gender

While I’m on the topic of gender roles, I might as well put in my two bits about Obergefell v. Hodges. As others noted, it’s the first time that holding on to classical Jewish Morality puts us in the counterculture. I R’ Aryeh Klapper writes (see moderntoraleadership: Chok, Mishpat and Obergefell) that I think puts a nice context on the...


Gender Roles

Rather than assuming the level of duties the Torah imposes on men is the baseline, and asking why women are exempt, I want to flip the question around and ask why men are obligated. What gender difference would make these obligations more meaningful to a man than a woman. I think we should just admit that synagogues (and, lehavdil, churches)...


Tefillah beHispa’alus: Building the Temple Within – part 1

This was a webinar given for The Mussar Institute on 3-Mar-2014. Class 1 of 2. (Part 2 is here.) The format is more introducing and practicing tools for kavanah than a class in the meaning of the words of the siddur. Audio only version is available here. (Admittedly this is a good deal of the blind leading the blind.)


Qoheles in a Nutshell

While tradition skips over the who said to whom before identifying the significant word or two to take as the text’s name, there are exceptions, notably Vayiqra (both the parashah and the book) and Qoheles. Focusing on Qoheles, there is good reason for that: דִּבְרֵי קֹהֶלֶת בֶּן דָּוִד מֶלֶךְ בִּירוּשָׁלָ‍ִם. The words of Qoheles son of David, king in Yersushalayim: (1:1)...


Naso: Society and the Priesthood

A thought struck me during the Torah reading this past Shabbos about a unifying theme throughout parashas Naso. Here are the topics in the parashah: The task assignments and census of the three clans of sheivet Levi. This section defines the sacred camp. The rest of the parashah discusses the porousness of the divider between the sacred camp and general...


Textualism and the Mishnah Berurah

I Dr Haym Solovetichik, in his famous paper “Rupture and Reconstruction“, describes a difference between the the Mishnah Berurah and the Arukh haShulchan as follows: This dual tradition of the intellectual and the mimetic, law as taught and law as practiced, which stretched back for centuries, begins to break down in the twilight years of the author of the Arukh ha-Shulhan, in...


The Question on the Quiz

During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my...


Halakhah and Virtue Ethics

In 1967 Phillippa Foote raised a thought experiment philosophers call the Runaway Trolly Problem. Here is how wikipedia describes it: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train...


HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l

When someone passes away, I try to find a life-lesson from their lives that I can incorporate into my own. This is rather easy with regard to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, as the rosh yeshiva left the Centrist / Modern Orthodox / Religious Zionist community with a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of our communal soul. Things that he saw we as...


Talmudic Sources for Avoiding Qitniyos

Here are two possibilities for the source of the minhag. The Yerushalmi makes the same statement that we have in the Bavli, that dough made from rice and water undergo a sirchon, not chameitz. Then it continues (Pesachim 2:4, vilna 17a): רבי יוחנן בן נורי אמר קרמית חייבת בחלה שהיא באה לידי מצה וחמץ ורבנין אמרי אינה באה לידי מצה וחמץ ויבדקנה על...


The Great Seal of the United State of America

Resolved, That Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America. – Journals of Continental Congress, July 4th, 1776 Rabbi Meir de Soloveitchik (as the rabbi of the Spanish Portugese Synagogue jokingly calls himself) recently mentioned this committee and the resulting seal when introducing...


Marbim beSimchah

Esther’s life was overall a very tragic one. The story ends, and we’re told about Mordechai’s rise to political power and the taxes and all. Meanwhile, she is still married to a non-Jewish drunkard who killed a previous wife on a whim. No happily ever after for her! And I think this is what Esther was thinking of when she said...


Two Temidim a Day

One Purim at the se’udah, when people were feeling a little levity, Rav Chaim Volozhiner asked his Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon, for a berakahah. The Vilna Gaon blessed him that he would merit to bring two temidim daily. Rav Chaim was thrown — we do not bring the tamid, the twice-daily offering, today as there is no beis hamiqdash!1 The...


A Lion of Fire

“And they cried out in a great voice to Hashem their G-d”1 – what was said?Rav, and others say Rav Yoshanan, said [that the Anshei Kenese haGdolah cried out]: Woe, woe, it is [the yeitzer hara for idolatry] who has destroyed the Beis haMiqdash, burnt the Heikhal, killed all the tzadiqim, driven Israel from their land, and is still dancing...


Why Chumash Has Subtly Different Duplications

The Arukh HaShulchan (OC 431:21) writes: …והנה לדינא: חמץ ושאור – הכל אחד, שהרי מצינו שני פסוקים המתחילים ב”שאור” ומסיימים ב”חמץ”, דכתיב: “[שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ] אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם [כִּי כָּל אֹכֵל חָמֵץ וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל מִיּוֹם הָרִאשֹׁן עַד יוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי.]” וכתיב: “שִׁבְעַת יָמִים שְׂאֹר לֹא יִמָּצֵא בְּבָתֵּיכֶם כִּי כָּל אֹכֵל מַחְמֶצֶת [וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעֲדַת...


Why the Altar?

It makes a lot of sense that the first mitzvos the Torah teaches after the Aseres haDiberos would be the interpersonal mitzvos of parashas Mishpatim. And many rabbis have given sermons on this point. The only problem is — they aren’t. There is this brief interlude between the description of the national revelation and Mishpatim (20:18-22): יח וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:...


An Altar of Earth

We just looked at the section on the mizbeiach as being more about the role of the religious rite in a life of Torah. We don’t offer qorbanos — or daven, or shake lulav and esrog or… —  to rertreat from the world and find solace with G-d, but as part of our engagement with the world, a life-long process of self-refinement. There are...


Two Kinds of Time and Shabbos

We say in the Friday night Amidah: אַתָּה קִדַּשְׂתָּ אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לִשְׁמֶךָ, תַּכְלִית מַעֲשֶׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ, וּבֵרַכְתּוֹ מִכָּל הַיָּמִים, וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ מִכָּל הַזְּמַנִּים, וְכֵן כָּתוּב בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ: וַיְכֻלּוּ… You sanctified the seventh day for Your Sake, the culmination of the making of heaven and earth, and You blessed it from all the days and You sanctified it from all the times. And...


Shaarei Yosher Meaning of Life Poster

If you would like this picture as a PDF to print for hanging in a school, shul or home, it is available here. We often complain that  we spend so much time on the halachic trees, we lose sight of the forest. I hope someone finds this reminder helpful.