Category: Machashavah

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Tzitzis: Advance and Retreat, part II

I discussed the role of tzitzis and the various roles we have for clothing in a number of earlier posts in this topic. The following is a different take on the idea from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK. He is closest in topic to my “Tzitzis: Advance and Retreat“. I wrote about two aspects to the mitzvah...

6

Angels and Idols

What exactly was the sin involved in the making of the Eigel haZahav, the Golden Calf? Rashi (Ex 32:1 “asher yeilekhu“, “asher he’elanu“) says it was actual idolatry. The Kuzari (1:97) says it was a representation to be used as a conduit between man and G-d. A Moses replacement. Not so much a violation against the second and third of...

5

… The rest is commentary

(More material added on May 30th.) There is a famous story in the gemara (Shabbos 31a) about three prospective converts who each came to Shammai saying that they want to convert but only if he meets some absurd condition. In all three cases, Shammai turns them away, they go to Hillel, who accepts them, they convert and they drop their...

0

A Broad Life

A recurring concept in Rav Hutner’s writings on Shavu’os (Pachad Yitzchaq, no.s 5, 13, 40) is the idea that talmud Torah isn’t limited to sitting in front of a book. Why do we only make birkhas haTorah once a day? Tosafos explain (Berakhos 11b) “she’eino miya’eish mida’ato, shekol sha’ah chayav lilmod — because it is never lost from his thought,...

1

Ethics and Morality

Everyone else in the frum blogosphere is dealing with the questions Richard Dawkins raises in his book “The God Delusion”, and whether morality is possible without religion. So why shouldn’t I? I want to introduce a few distinctions that in my humble opinion are necessary for having a clear conversation of the subject. Morality vs. Ethics Morality is defined in...

7

Hashem and Morality

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 it because it is righteous?” The Jewish spin would be to ask: Is an act good because HQBH chose to make it a mitzvah, or did Hashem command us to do it...

2

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...

8

The Butler’s Dilemma

A moral dilemma taken from the Dilbert Blog by newspaper cartoonist, Scott Adams: Let’s say you’re the butler to a billionaire who lives alone. The billionaire dies in his sleep. You know he owns a large piece of jewelry that no one else has seen, and you have access to it. If you steal the piece of jewelry, sell it,...

0

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...

1

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.)...

9

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...

0

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...

0

The Mishkan and its Utensils

The Gemara (Berakhos 55a) says that when Hashem told Moshe to appoint Betzalel to lead the building of the Mishkan, He first told Moshe to describe the building of the Mishkan itself, and then told him to describe each of the keilim (utensils) to be placed and used within it. However, when Moshe actually called Betzalel, he told Betzalel to...

2

The Invisibility of Providence — How?

The fact is that Hashem hides His Presence from us. The question of why is an interesting one. Here I would like to look at part of the question of “How?” (I have no current plans for a part II, but I would be surprised if it never happens.) For example, Rav Dessler asserts the well-known formula like the amount...

3

The Devastating Power of Leitznus

President Ford a”h‘s passing brought something into sharp focus for me. Here is how the OU remembers Mr. Gerald R. Ford: The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish Umbrella organization mourns the death of former President Gerald R. Ford. Mr. Ford, our country’s 38th president, took office amid tremendous internal divisions domestically and complex,...

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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...

1

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...

3

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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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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Models of Creation

Updated by user suggestion. Element added: tzimtzum. We can’t really understand how the Ribbono shel olam does anything, and so in contemplating the concept of creation we have to fall back on simplifications, models that capture some aspects of the process that we can understand. Traditionally a number of such models have been used; and in fact, the same authority...

5

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...

5

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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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 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...