Aspaqlaria Blog

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From Your Homeland

Most young Yeshiva children come home sometime around Shavuos with the story of how Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations of the world, but only the Jews accepted it. The medrash, as told in the Yalqut Shim’oni, tells how first Hashem went to Edom and offered them the Torah. They asked, “What is written in it?” Hashem replied,...

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Why didn’t we catch up?

Last Pesach ended in Israel on Friday, and in the rest of the world on Shabbos. Which means that in Israel, Acharei Mos was read that week, while we in chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel; chu”l) read a holiday portion, saving Acharei Mos for the next week. In a leap year like this one, the two reading schedules stay out of...

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Free Will and Divine Providence

The notion that hashgachah peratis (personalized Divine Providence; HP) includes influence over every event dates back to the 18th century or so. The Lubavitcher Rebbe calls it a chidush (novellum) of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Chassidus) here. According to R Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Pirqei Emunah veHashgachah vol I, ma’amar 4) the innovation was the Vilna Gaon’s, although based on...

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Mesilas Yesharim and the Haggadah

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto opens Mesilas Yesharim with this questionable claim: הקדמה – אמר המחבר: החיבור הזה לא חברתיו ללמד לבני האדם את אשר לא ידעו, אלא להזכירם את הידוע להם כבר ומפורסם אצלם פירסום גדול. כי לא תמצא ברוב דברי, אלא דברים שרוב בני האדם יודעים אותם ולא מסתפקים בהם כלל, אלא שכפי רוב פרסומם וכנגד מה שאמתתם גלויה...

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Who knows four?

The Rambam famously breaks down teshuvah into four steps: charatah (regret), vidui (confession), azivas hacheit (abandoning the sin), and qabbalah al ha’asid (resolving to do better in the future). Now, as R’ Ephraim Becker puts it, Mussar is about three things: the real, the ideal, and the path to get there. If we applying this to the four steps in...

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Dandelion Whine

The gemara says that the preferred vegetable for maror is chasah — lettuce. The problem is that the lettuces sold today aren’t mar, bitter. One could try to find wild lettuce. The lettuce that was native to Israel is prickly lettuce, Lactuca serriola. Of the wild species of lettuce, the closest to Lactuca sativa, what humanity bred lettuce into. Of the various types of...

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Sweet Charoses

(Embellished with thoughts from my daughter Noa’s recent bas mitzvah speech. Yay, Noa!) If you think about it, charoses is quite strange. On the one hand, as we learn in preschool and the Rambam writes, “The charoses is a mitzvah from the Soferim, as a commemoration of the mortar that they worked in in Egypt.” (Laws of Chameitz and Matzah 7:11)....

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Shalom Rav

Two variants of Shalom Rav were found in the Cairo Geniza. Given the similarities between Cairo and Israeli nusachos, it is assumed to have been the Nusach Eretz Yisrael in the days of the tannaim and Israeli amora’im. Another indication is that Nusach Provence, the berakhah was always “Shalom Rav“. The Provencial community, which was a true center of Jewish...

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You too left Mitzrayim

The Mishnah (Pesachim 10:5, TB 115a-b), in a section quoted by the Hagadah, states: רבן גמליאל היה אומר, כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו. ואלו הן: פסח, מצה, ומרור…. בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים. שנאמר (שמות יג), “וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה ה֙׳ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:” לפיכך...

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Orthodoxy

Before I define the label “Orthodox”, I want to spell out what kind of entity is being labeled. The Enlightenment and the fall of the ghetto walls created a religious crisis for Ashkenazic Jewry. First for those in Western Europe, but the development does reach Eastern Europe over the course of the next several decades. Until then, for most people...

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Chalav Yisrael

Colloquially, discussions of the permissibility of drinking USFDA milk tend to start with citing the Igeros Moshe, as though the  norm  of drinking it originated with Rav Moshe’s (RMF) responsa on the subject. But this isn’t quite fair. Rather, most American Jews were already drinking what he called chalav hacompanies (company milk, USFDA approved) well before RMF arrived in the...

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Purim in the World of Affection

There are four mitzvos one must fulfill on Purim: reading the megillah, matanos le’evyonim (gifts to poor people), mishloach manos (“shalachmones”), and the Purim se’udah. The first, reading the megillah, relates directly to the story of the day – nothing can be more connected than a mitzvah to retell it! But what do the other three mitzvos have to do...

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Calves, Cherubs, and Half Sheqels

Why is it that in last week’s parashah (Ki Sisa) we read all about the sin of the eigel hazahav but this week’s parashah we read about the mitzvah of making two keruvim atop the aron? Why is one a grave sin, and yet the other is mandatory? Skippable, but enhances the question: A while back I posted about the linkage between the...

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What did the Elders see?

I It could be that this dispute between the rishonim speaks to a fundamental difference about what it is people are meant to accomplish in life. The Rambam’s navi is fully integrated on physical, intellectual and spiritual levels, and therefore can “see” the non-physical activity around him. The goal is wholeness. The Ramban’s navi is connected to G-d sufficiently to receive communications from...

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Is the Value of Human Life Infinite?

Does Yahadus view the value of a human life to be very large, or actually infinite? There are famously three prohibitions that one must avoid even at the cost of one’s life even outside the context of an active campaign against Yahadus or the Jewish People: gilui arayos (sexual immorality), avodah zara (idolatry) and shefichas damim (bloodshed). (Sanhedrin 64a) The natural first...

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Is G-d Infinite?

Seems like a silly question: G-d is the Absolute Infinite. No? Actually, it’s not clear Hashem is infinite, as that would be a positive attribute of G-d. Aristotle did not believe in the possibility of an actual infinity, a completed set of infinite size. To him, “parallel lines meet at infinity” and “parallel lines never meet” are the same thing. And...

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Chamushim

(This devar Torah is unchanged from 6 years ago. I am just re-posting it because I am a proud daddy and Opa.) Someone showed me the following idea in the Be’er Yoseif by Rav Yoseif Zvi Salant. וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱ-לֹהִ֧ים ׀ אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף וַֽחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃ – שמות יג:יח ואסחר ה’ ית עמא אורח מדברא לימא דסוף ומזרזין סליקו בני ישראל...

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A Tzadiq Will Flower Like a Date-Palm

I had this thought while saying Qabbalas Shabbos this week. (Actually, part of it during Qabbalas Shabbos 7 years ago, after which I wrote an earlier version of the post. A further development was a product of this week’s davening, yeilding this version.) It’s a “Chassidishe Vort” in style, intentionally stretching the meaning of a quote in order to create a...

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Frogs and Orchestras

“And Aharon stretched out his hand over the water of Egypt, and the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt…. And Pare’oh called to Moshe and to Aharon and said, ‘Plea to Hashem, that He take away the frogs from me and my people….’”[1] Rashi on our parashah[2] notes the use of the singular, “hatzfardei’ah”, “the frog” when...

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Boycott Facebook

Shurat haDin — Israel Law Center finally demonstrated what Jewish Facebook users have felt anecdotally, that Facebooks’s dread of catering to Islamophobia has them underenforcing their own rules of appopriate content when posted by an Arab or Muslim group. They are thereby enabling the incitement to kill our people, our friends and/or family in Israel. Protection they are extending in the reverse. Yes, response to reported posts...

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Kayli

שַׁמַּאי אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה תוֹרָתְךָ קֶבַע. אֱמוֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת: Shammai would say: Make your Torah a fixture [of your day]. Speak little and do much. And be accepting of all people with a pleasant facial expression. – Pirqei Avos 1:15 Rav Yisrael Salanter says that we do not own the right to...

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Living in Tranquility

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן: “Yaaqov was living in the land where his father visited, in the land of Kenaan” – G-d, Bereishis 37:1 רש״י: … ועוד נדרש בו, וישב יעקב, ביקש יעקב לישב בשלוה קפץ עליו רוגזו של יוסף, צדיקים מבקשים לישב בשלוה אמר הקב”ה לא דיין לצדיקים מה שמתוקן להם לעוה”ב אלא שמבקשים לישב בשלוה בעוה”ז....

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The True Hero of Chanukah

No, the title of this post doesn’t refer to HQBH, although clearly it could. (Or can it: Can we define “heroism” with respect to One for Whom there are no risks to take?) Nor Yehudah haMakabi, nor Matisyahu, nor Chana or any of her sons, nor Yehudis… The Beis Yoseif famously asks why we celebrate the first day of Chanukah....

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Mazal Tov!

The Jewish People have been invited to the wedding of Ariel Bigel to Sarah Tichyeh Litman! Binyanei haUmah, Jerusalem at 10:30 pm tomorrow (Thursday, November 26th, 2015) Yaakov Litman Hy”d, the kalah’s father, and Netanel Litman Hy”d, her brother, were taken from us by the a terrorist’s hand while on the way to the chasan’s aufruf. The words gracing the...

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Sefeiq Sefeiqa

Back in 2007, I posted 7 answers to the question of why we treat Torah law and rabbinic law differently. In particular, we are lenient when in doubt about a rabbinic law (safeiq derabbanan lahaqeil) but are stringent when it comes to Torah law (safeiq deOraisa lechumra). “[W]hy do we rule leniently for a rabbinic law? Isn’t every rabbinic law...