Aspaqlaria Blog

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Welcoming Guests is Greater

Shabbos 127a: אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: גדולה הכנסת אורחים יותר מהקבלת פני השכינה, דכתיב “וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲ-דֹנָ֗י אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ, אַל־נָ֥א תַעֲבֹ֖ר מֵעַ֥ל עַבְדֶּֽךָ׃” Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav, “Welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence. “[{Avraham} lifted his eyes, and he saw — behold, three men were standing above him; he saw, he...

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The CEO

The primary metaphor of the High Holidays is the King, sitting in judgment. Hashem rules, the world will run according to His Will regardless. On Rosh haShanah we coronate Hashem as King, so that He need not impose that Will as Dictator. However, I thought of another metaphor that holds some appeal to someone living in a 21st century democracy....

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Mas’ei — the Journey as a Name of G-d

Parashas Mas’ei opens with a description of Benei Yisra’el’s trip through the desert, and lists the forty-two stops made along the way. An oft-quoted Zohar identifies the stops in the desert with each of the letters in Hashem’s forty-two letter name. What’s the particular significance of the journeys and stops in Sinai that give them such cosmic significance? Taking a...

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Materialism Addiction

I was asked the following question, and I was happy with how the reply came out. I just received permission to post the exchange, minus identifying information. Question: I learn in yeshiva kollel in Yerushalayim,  and I was bothered by something that I don’t find anyone speaks about or I can ask to help. Every Rosh haShana we want to...

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G-d of the Gaps

The pagans worshipped deities to drive out the fear of the unknown. Blaming lightning on Thor does give the person hopes to control lightning by appeasing its god. But logically prior to that, blaming it on Thor takes it out of the realm of the unknown. And so the pagan associates the gods with things they don’t understand and can’t get...

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Internalizing Torah

A beraita (an early text later incorporated into the Talmud) in Avot (6:6) opens, “Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: …” And then the beraita truly lists virtues. Some are obviously linked to acquiring Torah, like the first...

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The Defining Mitzvos of Judaism

Relevant to why megillas Rus is read on Shavuos… Yevamos 47a explains what we must teach a prospective convert: ומודיעין אותו מקצת מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות, ומודיעין אותו עון לקט שכחה ופאה ומעשר עני. ומודיעין אותו ענשן של מצות, … וכשם שמודיעין אותו ענשן של מצות, כך מודיעין אותו מתן שכרן… לא רוב טובה ולא רוב פורענות. ואין מרבין...

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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...