Category: Ta`amei haMitzvos

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39 Melakhos

(Expanded from a couple of months ago.) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ, שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַה’; כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת. Six days work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a Sabbatical Sabbath for Hashem; whomever does work on it shall die. – Shemos 35:2 The building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is told...

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Halakhah and Phenomenology – Symbolic Logic

This will only be of interest to people who care about Symbolic Logic and about the rules of birur, of resolution of doubt in halachic questions. But I found something I wrote back in 1994, and didn’t want to lose it, so I’m blogging it here. Hopefully I will have time to put up something of more general interest in...

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A Quantum of Time

There are two halachic indivisible units of time. When it comes to interruption, or for defining a single statement (e.g. when correcting oneself in davening) the unit is tokh kedei dibbur — within the time it takes to say [“Shalom eilekha Rebbe uMori“], a greeting of 4 words consisting of 10 syllables. For calendrical calculations, the unit is the cheileq,...

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Glory and Egalitarianism

I want to share, with permission, the following exchange I had with Ellen Rosen, a member of The Mussar Institute. On Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 09:15:00AM -0800, Erosen1@aol.com wrote: I have a question that perhaps Rabbi Berger might consider. And so, [Dr.] Alan [Morinis] forwarded me your email. This is: Why does Jewish tradition glorify men? Let me start...

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Halakhah and Phenomenology – Addendum: Placebos

One more thought about my “Halakhah and Phenomenology” series…. A basic assumption behind the series is that what justifies looking at the world as experienced and as it could be directly experienced is the idea that this is what shapes a person and makes the deep down changes in character, in how the person relates to Hashem, other people and...

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Halakhah and Phenomenology – The Unknown and Bitul

The Yerushami (Challah 3:5) discusses the case of when bread which didn’t have challah taken (or flour which didn’t have terumah taken from it), fell into a quantity of already separated bread. The gemara says the cases are different whether one takes challah from already separated and permissable dough instead of taking challah from another dough to permit its use,...

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Tevel is Called Holy

The Mishnah in Maaser Sheini 5:4 discusses the obligation to be finished with all maaser by the Pesach after the third and sixth years of the shemittah cycle. The mishnah describes messages sent to remind people to remove the maaser from their crops, so that can give it out or destroy it before the deadline. The Yerushalmi (31b) opens the...

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Clouds of Glory

I There is a famous dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Aqiva about what it is we commemorate with the mitzvah of sukkah.  The Torah reads (Vayiqra 23:42-43): בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּֽשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵֽשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת: לְמַעַן֮ יֵֽדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֨בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהֽוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם׃ You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every...

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Terumah and Maaser

It is interesting to contrast the Chinukh’s description of terumah, the first gift taken from one’s produce, given to a kohein, with his description of ma’aser rishon, the tenth given to the levi’im. Terumah, mitzvah #507: … משרשי המצוה, לפי שהדגן והתירוש והיצהר הן עיקר מחיתן של בריות, והעולם כולו להקדוש ברוך הוא הוא, על כן ראוי לאדם לזכור את...

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Yom Yerushalayim

“זְכֹ֤ר ה’֨ ׀ לִבְנֵ֬י אֱד֗וֹם אֵת֮ י֤וֹם יְֽרוּשָׁ֫לִָ֥ם …— Hashem, remind the children of Edom of the Day of Jerusalem…” – Tehillim 137:7 It seems odd to me, but this is the oldest source for the idiom which the Chief Rabbinate of Israel took as the name of the holiday. But what is Yom Yerushalayim? The name of the city...

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The Structure of Maggid

I recently reworked and expanded an older piece on the structure of the Seder as a whole, and why it comes in fifteen steps grouped by the cups of wine into four. This section is also a rewrite, reflecting parallel changes to Maggid in particular. Within our framework, Maggid is the substance of the second cup of the seder. It...

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Things to Thank the Maccabees For

Over the years that I’ve been blogging, I noticed a number of ways in which Jewish and Hellenic thought differ. Not just difference of philosophy — differences even more fundamental than philosophy. Ideas that conflicting schools of thought that belong to the same culture rarely argue. The things people raised in each culture take for granted. I thought in honor...

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A Sukkah in the Sun

R. Hanina b. Papa, and according to others, R. Simlai, lectured: In the future to come, HaQadosh barukh Hu (HQBH) will take the seifer Torah and rest it on His “Chest” and say, “Whomever was occupied in it, let them come and take their reward!” Immediately, all the nations will gather and come in a mixed chaos… But HQBH said...

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Divine Command Theory

Divine Command Theory (DCT) is a model of ethics in which “good” is defined by “that which Hashem wants. To quote my presentation of the Euthyphro Dilemma from an earlier blog entry: In his essay “Euthyphro”, Plato has Socrates ask a young student named Euthyphro, “Is what is righteous righteous because the gods love it, or do the gods love...

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תשעה באב

אמא! אמא! Memories of a more recent churban… Last year, Nariman House was a way-station in Mumbai for lost Israelis searching India for spirituality, and a place where a Jew in a strange place on business could feel at home. A center for reconnecting with one’s heritage for people who were so far from Jewish centers. Last year, the building...

TiDE and Slabodka

(The previous post was off topic, but on the blog. This post is on topic, but posted elsewhere.) Rabbi Rich Wolpoe posted to the Nishma blog an exchange we had by email. Here are some snippets of things I say in the post and consequent dialog (so far): Look how similar TIDE [Torah im Derech Eretz] and Slabodka are in...

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Halakhah and Phenomenology – Chazaqah

At this point we’re so far mid-stream, that unlike the previous post, I’m not going to summarize the basic thesis or even pretend to try to translate terms already used. Instead, I will just point out the conclusions so far with respect to birur from just the last two posts (parts 2 and 3). Then we’ll discuss the concept of...

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Of Qorbanos and Flowers

I’m curious to know how many of us who believe we’re supposed to want a restoration of the sacrifices actually anticipate it. I must confess that I’m too 21st cent for that, and generally during Mussaf or Qorbanos (or parts of the liturgy that discuss sacrifices) my thought is asking G-d to help me learn how to want them, to...

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Halakhah and Phenomenology – The Unperceived

Back on April 6th, I posted my previous entry to this series. The notion I’m exploring here is that: (1) Halakhah is about changing the one who performs it (as the Chinukh puts it “האדם נפעל לפי פעולתו”) and therefore (2) One can understand various aspects of halakhah by thinking of it in terms of the world as it is...

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Halakhah and Phenomenology – The Actually Perceived

In the previous post, I presented the idea that The Chinukh repeatedly explains various mitzvos by explaining “ha’adam nif’al lefi pe’ulaso — a person is affected according to his action.” Contemporary hashkafos differ over what halachic life is supposed to cause, whether the ideal is better described as “wholeness”, perfecting the image of G-d, or “attachment” to G-d…. But notice...

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Halakhah and Phenomenology – The Very Small, Tastes and Birkhas haChamah

The Chinukh repeatedly explains various mitzvos by explaining “ha’adam nif’al lefi pe’ulaso — a person is affected according to his action.” Contemporary hashkafos differ over what halachic life is supposed to cause, whether the ideal is better described as “wholeness”, perfecting the image of G-d, or “attachment” to G-d. (See the posts in the “Forks” category.) But notice that both...

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Kehunah and Unity

Back on Chanukah I wrote: Chomos migdalei, the walls of my citadel [mentioned in the poem “Ma’oz Tzur“], were not the mighty walls around the Temple Mount or the walls of a fortress. They were a see-through mechitzah, the realization that the Jew, as one of the Mamleches Kohanim, has a higher calling. One possible reaction to assimilation is to...

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Small Jugs

In the beginning, or a few days later, Hashem created the sun and the moon. In Bereishis (1:16) the Torah says: “And G-d made the two large luminaries – the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night – and the stars.” A famous gemara (Chullin 60b), quoted by Rashi, points out an inconsistency...

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Chanukah: Never Give Up

Chanukah tells us to never give up, no matter how formidable the challenge. When the Hasmonian family realized that they had no choice other than to confront the Greeks and attempt the impossible, they linked up with a force beyond themselves and achieved the impossible. They reached for what beyond their grasp and were thus privileged to initiate events that...

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Mitzvos of Sukkos

(Copied from Sukkos 5766. -micha) There are many mitzvos that are specific to Succos. Aside from the mitzvos we can observe today, Succah, Hakafos, and the Four Species, there are also a number that can only be kept in the Beis HaMikdosh, including the 70 Musaph cows, and Nisuch Hamayim followed by Simchas Beis HaShoevah. The Yom Tov has several...