Category: Ta`amei haMitzvos

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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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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...

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Aseres Yemei Teshuvah Reader

There is a new version of my reader for Aseres Yemei Tehuvah, suitable for putting that wandering mind to work while in shul. Contents: Spiritual Planning………………………………1 9/11 and How to Effect Permanent Change…………..3 Teshuvah and Submission…………………………7 The Baal Teshuvah and the Tzadiq…………………9 A Good and Sweet New Year………………………11 Crowning Hashem My King………………………..13     Epilogue: Pragmatics……………………….16 Memories of His Dear Child Ephraim………………18...

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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...

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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)...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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The Time of Our Joy

Why is Sukkos called in our tefillos “zeman simchaseinu – the time of our joy“, or the Torah tell us at this holiday in particular “vehayisa akh sameich – you should only be happy” ? Why is simchah associated more with Sukkos than with Pesach or Shavu’os? If anything, I would have thought the reverse: we still have the peoplehood...

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A Mishpat for the G-d of Yaaqov

תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר, בַּכֵּסֶה לְיוֹם חַגֵּנוּ. כִּי חֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא, מִשְׁפָּט לֵאלֹקֵי יַעֲקֹב. Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the fullness for our holiday. For it is a choq [a trans-rational statute] for Yisrael, a mishpat [just law] of the G-d of Yaaqov. – Tehillim 81:4-5 The Malbim (ad loc) writes (tr. Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner): We do not...

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Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry. “Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres” — Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three...

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Why the Middle Matzah?

So, I was asked in the middle of the second seder: Why do we break the middle matzah for Yachatz? Is there some significance to it being the middle matzah? Here was my off-the-cuff answer, I wonder if it has any truth: This thought leverages ideas I developed in two earlier posts Bilvavi part I, and part II. Then, I was...

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Units of Measure

Pesach-time it’s common for people to start discussing how much matzah and wine one is obligated to eat, so why should I be any different? What are we trying to compute? The definition of eating in numerous contexts requires a minimum quantity of a kezayis (like [the volume of] an olive [including the pit]). This measure, like most halachic measures...

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For the Jews, There Was Light

לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשֹׂן וִיקָר. For the Jews, there was light, happiness, joy and preciousness. – Esther 8:16 קִיְּמוּ וקבל [וְקִבְּלוּ] הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְעַל זַרְעָם וְעַל כָּל הַנִּלְוִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת שְׁנֵי הַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה כִּכְתָבָם וְכִזְמַנָּם בְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה. The Jews established and accepted upon themselves, on their descendents, and on all those who join them,...

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Rabbi Meir’s Rhetoric

Rav Meir disagrees with the other sages on a number of topics involving logic. 1- When framing a tenai, a condition on a business dealing, an oath, a pledge or the like, the majority opinion and the halakhah is that for a condition to be binding, it must be stated in both the positive and the negative. In other words, the...

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The Miracle of Oil

Ask someone why we celebrate Chanukah, and of course the first answer out would be about the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. This allowed the reconsecration of the Beis haMiqdash to be done at its halachic best, without relying on leniencies like “tum’ah huterah betzibur — tum’ah is permitted in public”. When everyone is tamei, no one is...

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A Thought About Maoz Tzur

(Updated again for 2009, and again for 2013.) 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 Beis...

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From Qeren to Shofar

(Updated after Rosh haShanah 5774 with idea from the Tanchuma.) The Ramban, in his Derashah leRosh haShanah, writes that a shofar is a keli, a formal utensil in the halachic sense. For this reason, while most rishonim hold that a hole in a shofar invalidates the shofar only if the hole is such that it changes the produced sound, the...

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Kosher, Tahor, Qadosh

The pasuq (still in parashas Re’eih) discusses the various species of kosher and non-kosher mammals (Devarim 14:3-8), marine animals (v. 9-10), and flying creatures (v. 11-20). And the terminology is that this species is tamei, whereas that is tahor. Then, in the final pasuq (14:21): לֹא תֹאכְלוּ כָל נְבֵלָה, לַגֵּר אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ תִּתְּנֶנָּה וַאֲכָלָהּ, אוֹ מָכֹר לְנָכְרִי, כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה,...

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Value and Money

Yerushalmi Mes’ Qiddushin (or, as the Y-mi would itself call it: Meikhas Qiddushin, see here , the section subtitled “Linguistics”, for why I believe the difference in nomenclature is significant) includes three discussions that I believe reflect on the topic of how to relate value to price. In 2:5, vilna ed. 25a, the gemara discusses the possibility of marrying a...

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Infinite Worth

I have for a while kept a theory that not only do we aggadically consider human life to be of infinite value but that this notion has halachic import. For example, there is a dispute about what to do when an enemy or criminal gang tell a group of Jews to turn one of their number in to be killed,...

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Qinyan and Ba’alus

(Originally posted Mar 2007, now enlarged.) “Qinyan” is usually translated “acquisition”, and “ba’alus“, “ownership”. I would suggest that neither translation is precise. And this imprecision only leads to difficulties in understanding the law, rather than the clarity we get by analyzing the halakhah on its own terms. This is another instance of what we looked at in “The Country of Yir’ah“,...

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Tum’ah in a Private Domain

A central theme in this “Phenomenology” category of this blog is an extension of an idea from a responsum by R’ Aqiva Eiger. That extension isn’t really part of this observation, but since I’m revisiting the topic, I’m categorizing it here anyway. To save you looking up a prior post and me figuring out another way to explain RAE’s position:...

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The Fourth Son

We can consider the rasha, the evil child, to be a failed chakham (the wise one). He is engaged with the laws of Pesach, but unlike the first child, he rejects them. The third son, the tam, is usually defined simple in an unsophisticated or ignorant sense, as though his approach is inferior to the wise child’s. But when we find the word “tam”...