Category: Machashavah

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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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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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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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Phenomenalism – Baruch sheKivanti!

The central thesis of this “Phenomenalism” category of this blog was built on two parts. The first is Rabbi Aqiva Eiger’s (RAE) explanation (shu”t, mahadura qama #136) that the ways in which uncertainty in halakhah is resolved come in two different kinds. And from that perspective we looked at testimony, migo, chazaqah demei’iqara, rov, chazaqah disvara, etc… The second part...

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Post-Modern Orthodoxy

Modern Orthodoxy is based on an integration of Orthodoxy with life in the modern world. However, with R’ JB Soloveitchik’s passing, the movement was left without a luminary who analyzes and discusses matters of worldview. Consequently, Modern Orthodoxy’s thought is that of the mid 20th century, when Neo-Kantian and Existential answers addressed the kinds of religious questions people on the...

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Rejoicing of the Water-Drawing House

כָּל מִי שֶׁלֹּא רָאָה שִׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה – לֹא רָאָה שִׂמְחָה מִיָּמָיו! Whomever didn’t see Simchas Beis haShoeivah did not see simchah in all his days! –Mishnah Sukkah 5:1 The talmud on this mishnah then continues describing at length the singing, dancing and juggling that lasted through the night as the water was brought from the Beis haShoeivah — the...

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Anavah and Anvanus

The story of Qamtza and Bar Qamtza is very well known. It is introduced by Rabbi Yochanan, who asks, “’What is the meaning of the verse in Mishlei which reads, ‘Fortunate is the one who is always fearful, but the one who is hard of heart will fall to evil?’ (28:14) It was because of Qamtza and Bar Qamtza that...

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The Interpersonal Aspect of Parah Adumah

The most fundamental difference between the kind of reasoning one finds in the Bavli with that one finds in the Yerushalmi is “vertical” vs. “horizontal”. The Bavli will drill down to get the full depth of an opinion, whereas the Yerushalmi will refuse to speculate about the implications of a position and will instead compare statements from various discussions to...

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Sanctuary of the King, the Royal City

Rav Shelomo al-Qabetz actually addresses much of Lekha Dodi to Jerusalem: “מִקְדַּשׁ מֶלֶךְ עִיר מְלוּכָה — Sanctuary of the King, the Royal City.” “הִתְנַעֲרִי מֵעָפָר קוּמִי \ לִבְשִׁי בִּגְדֵי תִפְאַרְתֵּךְ עַמִּי — Arise, get up from the dust / dress yourself in your glorious clothes, my nation.” “כְּבוד ה’ עָלַיִךְ נִגְלָּהּ — Hashem’s Glory is revealed upon you.” “וְנִבְנְתָה עִיר...

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This Month Shall Be For you

In his first comment, Rashi opens his study of Chumash by repeating a medrash that asks why the Torah start with creation rather than with the first commandment to the Jewish People: הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃ This month [this stage of the moon (the L-rd “pointing it out” to Moses)] [Nissan] shall be to...

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Who knows 4?

Someone named Ray asked on Mi Yodea (in part), “What is the special fundamental significance of the number four that God’s primary Name has four letters”? I liked how my answer came out, so I’m sharing it here. Bear with me, I am going to build things up the way the Seder song “Echad Mi Yodeia / Who knows one?”...

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A Thought About Maoz Tzur

(Updated again for 2009, 2013 and now in 2016.) One line in Ma’oz Tzur I particularly love. The 5th verse of Ma’oz Tzur describes the Chanukah story. One phrase in this verse is “ufortzu chomos migdalai“, which would be literally translated “and burst open the walls of my citadel”. Mentally, I used to picture breaking down the walls of the...

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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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....