Category: Ta`amei haMitzvos

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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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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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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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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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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...