Category: Ta`amei haMitzvos

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Shelach 5754

(Another version of this thought was included in Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Shelach, in the “Bemachashavah Techilah” column, pp 1-2. -micha)   Inherent Tension Judaism sees man as a synthesis of two opposite concepts. On the one hand, man is a physical animal, on the other, he carries “the spark of the Divine.” As the Torah describes it: Then G-d...

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Lechem Oni

Packing peanuts. That filler material stuck in the box to prevent breakage. You would think it has nothing to do with Pesach, right? A few years ago, a friend showed me a halachic guide that discussed a kind of packing peanut that was wheat- or corn-starch based. The guide recommended getting rid of them for Pesach. Our first observation is...

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Pesach 5761: The Four Sons Confront Tragedy

The Haggadah tells us that the Torah addresses the question of telling the Passover story to our children by referring to four different kinds of children. One is wise, one is evil, one is uncomplicated, and the last doesn’t know to ask questions. Each son asks a question, even if the last does so in his silence. We can see...

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Purpose of Qorbanos

When reviewing what I wrote on this subject for the Mesukim on Vayiqra, I noticed some more points. First to summarize:Rambam (naively reading the Moreh Nevuchim): Hashem gave us qorbanos, a normal idolatrous practice, to wean us from avodah zarah.Ramban: How is this possible? Noach offered a qorban and there were no idolators or peer pressure. Rather qorbanos are to...

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Life and Consciousness

The differences between the treatment of the Terry Shiavo in American law and halakhah do not rest in scientific knowledge, but in definitions. To be precise two particular definitions: First, determining the line between beneficence and artificially prolonging life. Second, defining which medical states qualify as “human life”. In this entry, I’m just looking at the second one.R’ JB Soloveitchik...

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Causality in Halakhah

A major factor in the Terri Schiavo case is that a feeding tube was defined to be heroic medical intervention, rather than a parallel to the charity we would give anyone who can’t obtain food themselves.In halakhah, what’s the line? I would like to suggest that it is defined based on another halachic distinction.How can someone free a slave? The...

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Purpose of Qorbanos, part II

“This is what is meant by the verse (Tehillim 89:7), “For who in the heavens can equal God, can compare with God among the divine beings?” Said the A-lmighty, “If I wanted a sacrifice, wouldn’t I simply ask Michael, who is right here next to Me, to offer to Me a sacrifice? From whom do I want a sacrifice? From...

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Reasons for Mitzvos

There are three things we might be talking about when we ask about reasons for a mitzvah: (if it’s Torahitic:) the source in the pasuq directly or through derashah; the halachic mechanism by which a given conclusion was reached; the philosophical principle behind the mitzvah. I’m speaking of the third. But the gemara’s usual question is the first: How do...

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Yom haAtzma’ut

A few years back, when Yom haAtzma’ut was also celebrated on Thursday 3 Iyyar, my father asked me what I thought about not saying Tachanun or saying Hallel. The choice of 5 Iyyar as the point at which we gained atzma’ut, independence, is itself not perfectly compelling. It was not the date we were given independence, or the date the...

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Ki Arumim Heim

“And the snake was [more] arum than all the animals of the field…” (Bereishis 3:1)In this pasuq, “arum” is variously translated. JPS has “subtle”. Others have “sly”, “cunning”, and the like. In Iyov (5:12), Elifaz describes Hashem as One Who “annuls the thoughts of arumim”. In these contexts, it would appear that being an “arum” is no compliment. But in...

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Tzitzis, Advance and Retreat

There are two descriptions of the mitzvah of tzitzis. First, from parashas Shelach (and Qeri’as Shema): … [T]hey should make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments (bigdeihem) throughout their generations, and that they put on the tzitzis of each corner a thread of blue wool (techeiles). And it shall for you tzitzis, and you will see it...

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A Second Covenant

“To enter into a beris, a covenant, with Hashem your G-d, and in His oath, which Hashem makes with You today.” (Devarim 29:11) The Ramban comments that the beris mentioned here is a new one made in Arvos Mo’av, in addition to the one made at Har Sinai. (The Rav has some Torah on this as well.)I would like to...

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The Simplicity of the Shofar

(Hat tip to my daughter Shifra, who made this point the centerpiece of her speech at her bas mitzvah celebration.)Halachically, a shofar must be a simple instrument. If it has a crack or anything that might shape the note, it is invalid. A cow’s horn, which is layered and therefore not a shofar but a shefarferet, is not usable for...

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Coronating G-d, part II — Pragmatics

I was recently discussing the ideas in my essay “Coronating G-d“. In it I utilized the Vilna Gaon’s distinction between a melekh (king) and a mosheil. A melekh rules with the support of his people, a mosheil rules by strength. I suggested that the reason why accepting Hashem as Melekh is such a central part of Rosh haShanah is that...

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The Nature of Reality

It’s interesting to note that in Jewish terminology, existence is phrased in terms of the thing-as-experienced, not the thing-in-itself, as it would be objectively known if it were possible. For example, the Rambam opens the Yad by telling you that there is a First Matzui, and He is mamtzi everthing that is nimtza. The word “nimtza”, which is used to...

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The Unobservable, the Unobserved, and the Observed

Given the thought of my previous post we need to subdivide reality into three categories: that which no person could have observed, that which someone could have observed, but didn’t, and that which someone did actually observe. There is a more elaborate example at this appendix to a seifer I might complete someday. The following covers a much smaller range...

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Changing Name

There are two places in halakhah where the criterion for whether something is significantly changed is whether there was a shinui sheim, a change in name. The first is in the laws of Shabbos, something is nolad (“born”, i.e. unusable because it did not exist when Shabbos began) if it underwent a change that changes what we call it. For...

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Chayei Sarah – Kibbush and Chizuq

1. Buying Ma’aras haMachpeilah It is interesting to note that Judaism’s holiest sites were not conquered but bought. Parashas Chayei Sarah opens with Avraham purchasing the Ma’aras haMakhpeilah and the fields around it. Later, Yaakov buys the city of Shechem from Canaanite princes, the sons of Chamor (Bereishis 33:19). Similarly, Shemuel II concludes with David haMelekh purchasing the Temple Mount...

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Shiluach haQen

This entry is a continuation of the previous one. I – Shilu’ach haQein האומר על קן צפור יגיעו רחמיך ועל טוב יזכר שמך מודים מודים משתקין אותו: One who prays, “Upon the birds nest your mercy extends[, so too may you have mercy upon us]” … we silence him. – Mishnah Berakhos 5:3 (33b) פליגי בה תרי אמוראי במערבא רבי...

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Why do we light the new candle first?

My son (4th grade) had a class Chanukah party, for which he was aked to prepare a devar Torah. A short vertl, a question and answer to fit in less than a minute. My son wanted to know why we light the Chanukah menorah starting from the left candle and working your way to the right. Usually mitzvos start on...

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Pesach: Freedom from Preconceived Limitations

I appreciated this video from YU‘s Center for the Jewish Future. Something to think about: What does this notion of cheirus (freedom) say about the appropriate thoughts to have while cleaning the kitchen this Sunday? What does it say about matzah, about something which is a symbol of both poverty and oppression yet also of the possibility of a sudden...

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This Year in Jerusalem

The first Satmerer Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, writes the following thought in Vayo’el Moshe. When Yaakov first meets Rachel, he is at a well with some shepherds, waiting for enough to come by to move the stone that protects the well. As she approaches, he asks the shepherds if all is well with his cousin Lavan, and they answer, “All...

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A Seder Thought

From this month’s Yashar (The Mussar Institute‘s newsletter), “How Mussar Affected My Life — Student Profile” by By Dorit Golan Cullen. (I wrote the majority of this entry in an email to The Mussar Institute’s list. It therefore was designed for people with less Jewish education but more commitment to a Mussar personal orientation than this blog’s usual target audience.)...

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Like the Laws of Pesach

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם? וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן. The wise son of the Hagaddah asks, “What are the laws of testimony, the metarational laws, and the more intuitive laws which Hashem our G-d has commanded you?” The wise son already knows much about the...

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Universalism

(Updated 12-Oct-2007: Added kaf zechus.) In today’s world, with the Orthodox community as tiny as it is, dealing with high costs of education and our own needs, our chessed tends to be focused on the helping others within our own communities. Another factor promoting our insularity is our need to self-define in order to survive. We are more likely to...