Aspaqlaria Blog

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Q&A: Whither Sarcasm?

The following is the inaugural article (October 2014 issue) in a new column in Yashar: the Newsletter of The Mussar Institute. (Unlike Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, I wrote most of my piece before being told of the space limit. I lament not knowing what else R’ Feldman would have said had he known they would carry something longer. On the other...

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And with what? With a Shofar – II

אמר רבי יהודה משום רבי עקיבא … אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: … ואמרו לפני בראש השנה מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות. מלכיות: כדי שתמליכוני עליכם. זכרונות: כדי שיעלה זכרוניכם לפני לטובה. ובמה? בשופר. Rabbi Yehudah said an idea from Rabbi Aqiva …: The Holy One, blessed be He said, “… say before Me on Rosh haShanah, Malkhios, Zikhoronosand Shoferos. “Malkhios: so that...

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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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Kallah XII: Finding Joy in Everyday Transitions

An intensive exploration into living life more skillfully What if you could … find joy in everyday transitions? get beyond judging the good and bad of transitions? bring order to the chaos of change? direct your growth with greater intention? live all of life with an enthusiastic heart? You can learn all this and more by joining a warm, supportive...

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One Person

As far as we can tell, Bar Qamtza comes off as something of a jerk. He is personally offended, so he actually joins with the enemy to take down his own people. A bit of a problem with anger and vengefulness. So it’s quite likely that the host actually had sound reason from previous interactions not to want him around,...

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Walking the Path

As long as we continue teaching our kids halakhah (הלכה) without investing the same effort to give them a derekh, a path, we are literally teaching them how to walk (איך ללכת) but not helping them figure out where to go.

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Achdus

My dear brothers and sisters, One thing that struck me is how heavily Hashem pointed out to us the concept of achdus, of unity, in how this tragedy unfolded. First, note the communities each of the boys come from: Eyal YifrachHy”d spoke his Hebrew with a Yemenite accent, Gil-ad ShaarHy”d was a Sepharadi whose family was from Morocco, Naftali FraenkelHy”d...

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Torah Lishmah and Nefesh haChaim

Nefesh haChaim is a collection of Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s writings organized posthumously by his son and successor, R’ Yitzchak. We can see this in the self-description in the title page of the early editions of the Nefesh haChaim which opens, “Yir’as Hashem — for Life! Notebooks of holy writings of the true genius who was famous for his Torah and...

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The Mussar Dispute

Rav Yisrael Salanter wrote to Volozhin, the flagship yeshiva of the yeshiva movement. He offered the Netziv his services as a mashgiach ruchani. The Netziv said that he was welcome to come, but if Rav Yisrael came, the Netziv would have to leave. Rav Yisrael Salanter was a brilliant talmudist and overqualified for the job, but the Netziv felt he...

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Baal Nefesh Yachmir

Continuing on the prior post… A recurring topic on Avodah is the Mishnah Berurah’s use of the concept of ba’al nefesh yachmir, that while the halakhah itself allows for some leniency, “one who masters their nefesh should be stringent”. (By the way, the idiom only appears 24 times in the MB, although the general notion of going beyond the letter...

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And the Path of the Moon at Night

Somewhat off topic for this blog, but I hope it will help those following daf yomi who are getting to the topic of astronomy and cross-examining witnesses to determine Rosh Chodesh (Rosh haShanah, mostly around 23b-24a). Really, the statements about the appearance of the moon can be deduced from two things you already know. 1- The moon rises one less...

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The Magrefah and Yir’as Hashem

The gemara (Eirukhin 10b-11a) describes the magreifah, one of the musical instruments in the Beis haMiqdash, which in Biblical Hebrew is either the minnim or the ugav. Shemuel describes it as a box about 1 ammah square with a board extending from one side (for keys? to work bellows?), and 10 tubes coming out the top. Each pipe had 10...

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A Kingdom of Priests

We are here between ourselves, so we may frankly make the confession that we did not invent the art of printing; we did not discover America, in spite of Kayserling; we did not inaugurate the French Revolution, in spite of some one else; we were not the first to utilize the power of steam or electricity, in spite of any...

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Ana Hashem

(This post comes with background music. If you listen to a capella singing during the omer, press play below now. “Ana Hashem”, sung by Nachum Stark, from “A Sefirah Kumzitz”.) There is a story about an early Gerer chassid who went to the “Chiddushei haRim” (Rav Yitzchaq Meir Alter, the first Gerer Rebbe, 1799-1866) with a heavy problem. His business...

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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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Why give?

If we look in the Torah at verses that describe our obligations to give or loan to others, it is common for them to conclude with “I am your G-d”. For example: וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל, וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט; לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם; אֲנִי ה אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם. Do not totally glean your vineyard, and the fallen [fruit] from your vineyard do not...

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Esther’s Modesty – Adar’s Joy (Anavah and Anvanus)

Yoshiahu’s Downfall The only qinah, elegy, that we recite on Tish’ah beAv that dates back to the days of Tanakh (other than the Book of Eichah itself) is Yirmiyahu’s qinah for King Yoshiahu. Yoshiahu was raised by one of the more idolatrous of our kings, Menasheh. Menasheh managed to so suppress Torah that Yoshiahu was taken by the scroll he...

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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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Amoraim and Amoraim

I am not a fan of the revadim (layers) method of gemara study. In short, this is a way of analyzing the gemara by teasing out the various layers of halachic discourse through the centuries we simply call “chazal”. My opposition isn’t so much that I think there is anything heretical or evil about it, just that this isn’t the way the...

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A Messenger of…

I became convinced two disputes are related. I am not 100% sure of the nature of the relationship, but as it’s related to parashas Ki Sisa, I want to post what I have so far while it’s still this week’s parashah. Machloqes #1: Do kohanim serve as sheluchei didan (our messengers), representing us in our service of the Creator? Or are they sheluchei diShmaya (messengers of [the...

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What is Frumkeit?

The word “frum” has become a near-synonym for Orthodox. How this came to be is noteworthy. “Frum” descends from the German “fromm“, meaning pious or devout. In pre-war Yiddish, usage appears to have varied widely. On the one hand, those who named their daughters “Fruma” clearly thought being frum as complementary. On the other, there was an idiom, or as...

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The Value of Money

There is an often-cited dispute between Rabbi Yishma’el and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. ת”ר ואספת דגנך (דברים יא:יד) מה ת”ל לפי שנא’ (יהושע א:ח) לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך יכול דברים ככתבן ת”ל ואספת דגנך הנהג בהן מנהג דרך ארץ דברי ר’. ישמעאל ר”ש בן יוחי אומר אפשר אדם חורש בשעת חרישה וזורע בשעת זריעה וקוצר בשעת קצירה ודש...

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Tools and Goals

Is observance the ends, the purpose, of our lives, or is it the means and the goal lies beyond it? And if they are the means, do we need to consciously frame the purpose of our lives, or should we just concern ourselves with following the halakhah, and rest assured that the goal will take care of itself?”


How would this play out communally?

One possible outcome is … that black letter halakhah — that which can be measured, laid out in clear obligated or prohibited terms — takes center seat without any attempt to become the kind of person more capable of fulfilling the full breadth of its commandments. There would be mixed reports of business ethics, scandals… yet others abusing their power over their students in other ways.

Another possible outcome is an idealistic community, but one whose ideals are not Torah derived. In such a community ideals would be taken from some segment of the surrounding culture, and halakhah would be reduced to a means of “blessing” goals that we assimilated from the outside…

A third possibility is particular to a community that teaches the need to engage the world around it…. Without a firm eye and a constant striving toward an ideal, the energy it takes to maintain this delicate balance too easily collapses into a life of compromise…..

Do these portraits sound familiar?