Aspaqlaria Blog

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Meshekh Chokhmah – Vayishlach – A Time to Do, A Time to Build

  Meshekh Chokhmah on Bereishis 33:18 expands on a medrash that makes much of Yaaqov’s camping “in front of Charan”, that he set up techum Shabbos (measured the limits of how far he may travel on Shabbos) outside Charan. This is the first mention in the text of the Torah of a person observing Shabbos (albeit a pretty oblique reference)....

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Meshech Chokhmah – VaYeitzei – “… Hashem is present in this place, and I – I did not know!”

There are two ways to approach G-d through His Action. One can admire the G-d of miracles, or the G-d of nature. The medrash describes Avraham as having discovered G-d through contemplating nature. Science only began when the Greeks looked past their gods at the notion of a Creator, which gave them the expectation that the world has a single...

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Meshech Chokhmah – Toledos – Esav and Humanity’s So-Far-Missed Opportunity

After a long introduction, we looked at Meshekh Chokhmah on the navi’s explanation to Rivqah about why her pregnancy was so odd. She wasn’t merely surprised by having twins — one attracted to idolatry, and the other capable of founding the Jewish People. But why was she prenant with both? Why not like in the previous generation, where Hagar birthed...

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Meshekh Chokhmah – Chayei Sarah – Teleology

A 15 minute shiur on Facebook Live looking at three comments by the Meshekh Chokhmah on the story of the servant finding a wife for Yitzchaq. Rav Meir Simcha haKohein appears to find a central theme in the story is that events are not only caused by what came before, but also driven toward a purpose. (And that in events...

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Meshekh Chokhmah VaYeira 18:10 – Yir’as haRomemus and Yir’as haCheit

Mesilas Yesharimm on the relationship between yir’as haromemus and yir’as hacheit (awe of [Hashem’s] Grandeur and fear of sinning), and the difference between yir’as hacheit and yir’as ha’onesh (fear of sin vs fear of punishment.) With that background, we look at the Meshakh Chokhmah. Avraham and Iyov are both called yerei Elokim. But why do Avraham’s compliments stop there, while...

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Meshekh Chokhmah Lekh Likha 15:13 – Free Will and National Destiny

If Hashem told Avraham that the Egyptians would oppress us, why were they then punished for doing His Will? Commanding the Egyptians vs speaking of future realities Speaking of the group vs speaking of the individual The law of large Numbers, Free Will, Providence, and Bayesian Statistics Audio:   Video: The Meshakh Chokhmah is on Sefaria, here. If you liked...

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Meshekh Chokhmah Noach 6:9 – Behavior and Character

A 15 minute shiur on Facebook Live on the Meshekh Chokhmah’s discussion of the first pasuq of parashas Noach (Bereishis 6:9) “נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו — Noach was a righteous man, he was perfect in his generations.” The challenges of living among the pre-Flood generation compared to living in the post-Flood one. The value of actions and of...

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Meshekh Chokhmah – Bereishis 1:26 – Free Will

A 15 minute shiur on Facebook Live on the Meshekh Chokhmah’s discussion of Bereishis 1:26 “וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ — And G-d said, ‘Let us make man in our Image.” Audio:   Video: Source sheet on Sefaria is here. If you liked this shiur and would like to subscribe to a podcast of the audios on this blog,  the...

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Choosing Role Models

Next time you hear a speaker or a rabbi speak about “the goyim” in some disparaging stereotype, ask them about this gemara. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asks about an apparent contradiction in seifer Yechezqeil. The first pasuq (5:7): לָכֵ֞ן כֹּֽה־אָמַ֣ר ׀ אֲ-דֹנָ֣י ה֗’ יַ֤עַן הֲמָנְכֶם֙ מִן־הַגּוֹיִם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר סְבִיבֽוֹתֵיכֶ֔ם בְּחֻקּוֹתַי֙ לֹ֣א הֲלַכְתֶּ֔ם וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֖י לֹ֣א עֲשִׂיתֶ֑ם וּֽכְמִשְׁפְּטֵ֧י הַגּוֹיִ֛ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם לֹ֥א עֲשִׂיתֶֽם׃...

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For He Remembered Us When We Were Low

Tehillim 136, which Chazal call Hallel haGadol, has a long list of things Hashem did for us with the refrain “כי לעולם חסדו — for His Lovingkindness is eternal.” The first three call us to thank Hashem: הוֹד֣וּ לַה֣’ כִּי־ט֑וֹב כִּ֖י לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃ ה֭וֹדוּ לֵֽאלֹקֵ֣י הָאֱלֹקִ֑ים כִּ֖י לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃ ה֭וֹדוּ לַאֲדֹנֵ֣י הָאֲדֹנִ֑ים כִּ֖י לְעֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃ Thank Hashem for He is...

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The Blue Does Not Hold Up the White

התכלת אינה מעכבת את הלבן והלבן אינו מעכב את התכלת תפילה של יד אינה מעכבת של ראש ושל ראש אינה מעכבת של יד הסולת והשמן אינן מעכבין את היין ולא היין מעכבן המתנות של מזבח החיצון אינן מעכבות זו את זו. [The absence of] the tekheiles [strings of a tzitzis] does not hold up [the validity of] the white [string],...

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Dip the Apple in the Honey

Here are three thoughts related to the siman, the mnemonic practice, of eating an apple dipped in honey. (Aside from the ear-worm you or your kid learned in preschool that starts with the words in the post’s subject line.) 1- The original Bostoner Rebbe commented on the expression “Shanah tovah umsuqah – a good and sweet new year”, which is...

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Mind and Body, Qabbalah and the Sorites Paradox

I The name of the Sorites Paradox comes from the Greek word for heap, “soros”, a key word in the typical formulation. If someone had one million grains of sand, they would have a heap of sand. If we took away just one grain of sand, it would still be a heap. And similarly, the second grain. But what if...

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Yerushalayim

I’m about to repeat two points by R’ Meir Simchah haKohein miDvinsk zt”l: 1- Yerushalayim is named for being the convergance of two principles: refined middos and perfected intellectual comprehension. 2- There is an old question, “Chazal say that Sheim and Eiver ran a yeshiva that Avraham, Yitzchaq and Yaaqov attended. But that far before the giving of the Torah,...

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Simanei Milsa

I was asked the following question, and the author thought enough people want to know the answer that it pays to share it here: Q: “Siman“, as on Rosh Hashanah night, is translated as “omen”, but I’ve always thought that an omen is something one sees or finds out about. leading one to anticipate a positive or negative future event....

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Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue

צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־ה אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ Justice justice you shall pursue, so that you will live and inherit the land that Hashem your G-d gives to you. – Devarim 16:20 Chazal are understandably bothered by the doubling of “tzedeq tzedeq — justice justice”. What does the repetition add? Targum Unqelus translates the opening phrase in...

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What isn’t Omnipotence?

Orion asked on Mi Yodeya: Hashem’s infinite power I’ve heard many times that Hashem is infinitely powerful. But how do we know this? Perhaps he’s just very powerful or even all powerful (possessing all power there is, which is possibly finite). Is there a source for the ‘infinite’? I liked how my answer came out, so here it is: The...

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Mourning the Three Weeks

The point of mourning during Bein haMetzarim (“between the tragedies”, a/k/a the “Three Weeks”) is not to be miserable in-and-of itself. How many politicians and other famous people recently said “I’m sorry” only to continue their announcement in a way that implies that they mean “I’m sorry I was caught?” Now picture the criminal who is caught and actually repents...

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Bil’am the Frummy

The Medrash Tankhuma (Balaq 1) says: … וְאִם תֹּאמַר מִפְּנֵי מָה הִשְׁרָה הַקָּבָּ”ה שְׁכִינָתוֹ עַל גּוֹי רָשָׁע? כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה פִתְחוֹן פֶּה לָאֻמּוֹת לוֹמַר, אִלּו הָיוּ לָנוּ נְבִיאִים, חָזַרְנוּ לְמוּטָב, הֶעֱמִיד לָהֶם נְבִיאִים וְהֵם פָּרְצוּ גֶדֶר הָעוֹלָם,… And if you ask: Why did the Holy One blessed be He, let his Shechinah rest upon so wicked a non-Jew? So that...

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Day 22 – Lev Tov

The Mussar Institute is doing an omer series based on the 48 skills necessary to acquire Torah, listed in Avos 6:6. I was given the task of writing two entries — day 5, eimah (fear) and this one for day 22 — Leiv Tov (A Good Heart). Here’s the email:   Counting the Omer with Rabbi Susie Moskowitz Day 22...

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Waiting before Prayer

כמה ישהה בין תפלה לתפלה? רב הונא ורב חסדא. חד אמר: כדי שתתחונן דעתו עליו. וחד אמר: כדי שתתחולל דעתו עליו. [Minimally,] how long must one wait between [one] prayer to [another] prayer? Rav Huna and Rav Chisda [both spoke on the subject, but we lost the record of who said which]. One said: long enough that one would be...

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Day 5 – Eimah

The Mussar Institute is doing an omer series based on the 48 skills necessary to acquire Torah, listed in Avos 6:6. I was given the task of writing today’s — day 5, eimah (fear). My guess is because no one else wanted to touch a middah so far from the warm fuzzies. (See here for my submission for day 22...

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Irrational Rishonim

I was kind of surprised by the reception this answer on Mi Yodeia got; the questioner didn’t even think I answered his query. Here’s the exchange: Eli asked: Are there any Rishonim who believe that God´s existence cannot be proven rationally? Here is my reply, which I was happy with, even if no one there was: It depends what you...

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Gratitude – Natural and Learned

“If he shall offer it as a todah, a thanksgiving offering…” (Vayikra 7:1). The gemara reads, “Rabbi Yehudah said that Rav said: There are four who have to thank [Hashem] — those who go down to sea, those who traverse the desert, one who was sick and was cured, and one who was trapped in jail and was freed.” (Berachos...

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A Lesson of Shushan Purim

Rabbi Meir Simchah haKohein from Dvinsk (1842-1926, Lithuania), in his Meshekh Chokhmah (on Shemos 12:16, s.v. “uveyom”), writes that Jews do not celebrate even the vanquishing of our enemies. As the verse in Mishlei (22:17) says, “בִּנְפֹל אויביך (אוֹיִבְךָ), אַל-תִּשְׂמָח — when your enemy falls, do not rejoice”. And this is why the verse he is explaining does not say...