Sunday, December 31, 2006

Santa and I

My anonymous sister and I with Santa.

Ahhh...we've come so far.

New Years - Chukas haGoyim?

New Years, as we know, recognizes the 1st day of January, which is also the first day of the new year according to the Gregorian calendar. Rav Moshe in his Igros Moshe (EH, 2:13) says that if a secular holiday is based on gentile religious beliefs and is scheduled specifically on that day, it is prohibited to observe that holiday in any form, as it is an example of Maris Ayin. This is true regardless of whether or not a holiday currently has religious connotations (ie, Halloween). While I have seen articles discussing Thanksgiving and Halacha, I haven't seen any regarding New Years. The question is, did New Years have foundations rooted in religion?

The Gregorian calendar was instituted in 1582 (and signed off on by Pope Gregory, hence the name) and one reason this was done was because the lunar calendar, which was used to compute the date of Easter was moving away from a previously decided upon date. The switch over the Gregorian calendar was not a swift one, with England not officially making the switch until the 18th century. Nevertheless, it is clear that the calendar was founded with Christianity in mind. The question is: does celebrating the New Year of a calendar that has roots in Christianity against Halacha, even though it does not seem as though New Years itself was rooted in Christianity.

Rav Moshe felt (ibid.) felt that it is permissible according to Halacha to schedule a Seuda (Bar Mitzvah, Pidyod haBen, etc) on New Years and it doesn't violate Maris Ayin, although he does not discuss whether celebrating New Years for its own sake is permissible. "However, Terumat Hadeshen 195, writing nearly five hundred years ago classifies New Years as a religious holiday and this is quoted by Rama Yoreh Deah 148:12. Terumat Hadeshen discusses whether one maygive a New Year's Day gift and refers to January First as "the eighth dayof Christmas." He clearly understands the holiday as religious in natureand covered by the prohibition of assisting a Gentile in his worship." (copied from an e-mail sent by Rabbi Michael Broyde)

If you're at all interested in these kinds of things, the Wiki article on the Gregorian calendar is amazing. Fun fact: while we all think there is a leap year in February every 4 years, in reality it is every 4 years except in a year that is divisible by 100 but not 400. Put that in your blunt and smoke it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Parshas Vayigash / Asara B'Teves

The Beis Yosef quotes a fascinating comment from the Abudraham, who says that Asara B'Teves is different from all other fast days (except Yom Kippur), in that if it fell out on Shabbos we would not push it off; rather, we would fast on Shabbos. This comment is not all that well known, being that as the Gregorian calendar fits with the Jewish calendar, Asara B'Teves never falls out on Shabbos. This being the case, not many commentators dig deeper into why this fast pushes off Shabbos. However, the Chasam Sofer does discuss this, and has an interesting interpretation into why this is.

The Chasam Sofer says that on tzaros of the past, like a yahrtzeit, one does not fast on Shabbos. However, one who is compelled to fast a Taanis Chalom would, in fact, fast on Shabbos, since we believe that through the fast the person could alleviate future tzaros. We see, then, that a Taanis Chalom is not in the category of "tzaros in the past", like a yahrtzeit, but rather in a category of present day tzaros. Seemingly, then, this is why we don't push off Shabbos for a fast like Tisha B'av which commemorates tzaros of the past, and it should make sense then that even Asara B'Teves would be pushed off, as we are remember the beginning of the destruction of the temple (past tzaros). However, the Chasam Sofer explains how the 10th of Teves is fundamentally different from the other fasts.

He explains that in the year that the Beis haMikdash was destroyed (on Tisha B'av), the decree of the destruction had already been decreed on the Asara B'Teves beforehand. He continues to say that whether or not we will observe mourning on Tisha B'av on a given year is decreed on the Asara B'Teves. It would, therefore, be imperative to fast even on Shabbos, as the decision for the upcoming Tisha B'av is being made in Shamayim each and every 10th of Teves.

In order to better our chances for a Tisha B'av of joy in the coming year, it would make sense to learn something from this parsha, which often falls within a week of Asarah B'Teves. Without a doubt, the theme of this week's parsha is Achdus, or coming together. We need to look no further than the meeting between Yosef and Binyamin to find the first instance. The pasuk that says that they were cried on each other's shoulders, and Rashi there says that Yosef wept "for the two Temples which were destined to be in Binyomin's territory and, in the end, will be destroyed"; and Binyonin wept for "For the Tabernacle of Shiloh which was destined to be in Yoseif's territory and in the end will be destroyed." Usually, when people come together and cry, they are crying for how much they, themself, missed the other person - usually these thoughts are selfish. We see here, though, that each of the brothers is crying for the other persons loss.

As a final note - There is an esoteric Gemara in the Talmud Yerushalmi which is explained in the following manner: If a person went to cut a piece of meat with a knife and cut his hand, would it even enter the person's mind that he should exact revenge on the other hand and cut it in retaliation? The Jewish people are the same. While we each have our own individual bodies, we need to realize that we are all part of the same Neshama; all a part of a much larger show.

Gerald Ford Dead

Perhaps this is off color, but I think I'm in such a giddy mood from the announcement that all federal offices will be closed Tuesday as a day of mourning for former President Gerald Ford that I just had to. Here's an old skit from SNL done about 10 years ago...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Frum Expectancies

One thing that always bothered me in the right-wing community is the fact that there are certain expectancies that come along with different milestones in life. Daughter getting married? You better be ready to fork up the $$ for a Chassan Shas. Getting married yourself? You better be ready to buy your fiance his Talis and his gold watch. Going to visit your son/daughter during their year in Israel? You better be willing to take all of his/her friends out for a meal.

I have no problem if a father-in-law wants to give his son-to-be a shas; or if a Kallah wants to buy her Chassan a Talis or watch; or if parents want to take people out to eat in Israel - that's all fine and great with me. The problem becomes that these things turn into expectancies to the point where people can view these things just as much a part of their rights as the First Amendment. These are not entitlements - they are privileges. Often in-laws/Kallahs/parents feel pressure to get these things from the expectant other party and may spend money that they may not want to spend, or money that just isn't there - all so that they can live up to that which is expected of them in their right-wing communities. To that I say: BOOOO!

End rant.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Chanukah #6

The Medrash Tanchuma states that one cannot use the oil left over from the 8th night of Chanukah for mundane purpose. The Medrash follows with an apparent aside, mentioning that those Jews who only follow what the Torah states, but not what the Rabbis state are not acting properly. Why do these things follow each other in the Medrash?

There is an apparent contradiction in the Shulchan Aruch between that which R' Yosef Karo states in Orach Chaim on this matter, and that which he states in Yoreh Deah. He states in Orach Chaim that in a case where one accidentally spilled leftover oil from the 8th night into a regular jar of oil that has less than 60x the amount of Chanukah oil, one is not allowed to add the appropriate amount in order to make it nullified. While we know that one is not allowed to be mivatel an issur lechatchila (see articles on Scotch), it's possible to think that that would only be in a situation where one wants to purposely put milk in his chulent, but in a case where they became mixed inadvertently (albeit to a level less than shishim), it wouldn't. This Shulchan Aruch is teaching us that the rule of ein mivatlin issur lechatchila also applies when one wants to add the appropriate amount to a mixture that was inadvertently mixed (again, albeit to a level less than shishim.

However, the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah says that regarding issurei d'rabannan (which certainly Chanukah oil falls under), if the mixture becomes inadvertently mixed even to a level less than that of shishim, one can go ahead and add the extra amount of oil, and this does not violate the rule of "ein mivtalin issur lichatchila." What gives?

The Shach there says that because this Chanukah oil is "huktza l'mitzvasa/"set aside for a mitzvah", we are more stringent, and do not allow one to add the extra amount in order for bittul to take effect. It follows from that that in a regular case of an issur d'rabbanan where the mixture is mistakenly mixed to a level less than shishim, one can, in fact, add the amount necessary for bittul to take effect. But what's pshat in the fact that something that is "huktza l'mitzvasa" is more stringent than in a regular case of an issurei d'rabannan?

Rav Shlomo Kluger gives an explanation. He says that since there are brachos involved with mitzvos, they are on a higher level. After all, the same lashon of "vitzivanu" is used for a d'oraisa mitzvah (ie, Lulav, Sukkah, Tzitzis) and d'rabbanan mitzvos (Megillah, Chanukah, etc.) alike. He further explains that we can see that the fact that d'oraisas and d'rabbanans are tied together with brachos are important from the dispute Rambam/Baalei haTosfos regarding whether a Bracha l"Vatala is an issur d'oraisa or d'rabbanan. The side that holds (I forget who holds which way) that brachos, which are inherently d'rabbanan, can still violate an issur d'oraisa says that one who does so is over on "Lo Sasur", which teaches us not to deviate from the teachings of our Rabbis. One explanation of this prohibition is that since G-d has the power to put people into power to be the ones making these important decisions, he is effectively giving his stamp of approval on that which the Rabbanan say. So to go ahead and not follow what the Rabbis say is tantamount to not following what G-d says. This is the reason that Chanukah oil is more stringent than a regular case and the reason that the Medrash follows the bit about the leftover oil with the piece about listening to what the Rabbanan say.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Basic Moral Principles

I was learning Imrei Baruch (the sefer in which I base most of my weekly DT's on) with a friend recently, and he made some interesting comments. As is probably evident in the "takeaways" from the DT's, the lessons trying to be conveyed aren't all that deep. In fact, their a bit amateurish, and he pointed out that these lessons, in fact, could be taught to pre-schoolers. I was bothered by the comment at the time, and gave him an answer, but upon giving it more thought I sent him the following e-mail, and thought it may be worth its own post:


I was giving some thought to your comments that you made over Shabbos while we were learning. You had basically said that the stuff that we were learning could have been taught to pre-schoolers, and you therefore weren't getting much out of it. While, indeed, they were lessons that could be taught to pre-schoolers, that doesn't make it unimportant.

People get married at the age of 20 and up. Why can't preschoolers get married? There's nothing stopping them from doing it, but of course we think it's ridiculous because how can a preschooler fully appreciate marriage? It takes a certain maturity that only young adults (and older) possess to make the most of maturity. It's the same thing here: sure, you can teach little kids this basic moral principles, but it's only when one develops more complex relationships and life experiences that he/she can really put them in practice. That being said, I don't think you're in a minority that finds these principles too "pre-schoolish" to get anything out of. And that's a problem.

In order to be good Jews, in my opinion we must first be good people. These principles are fundamental moral lessons necessary to qualify as a "good person." It doesn't give a hoot how much you learn, daven, etc, but if one isn't a good person, none of the other stuff matters. There's gotta be a hierarchy in the way that one builds themself as a person and as a Jew, and I think this is the foundation. Sure, it's not as appealing as an intense gemara, but that's like building a skyscraper from the 50th floor - it will crash.

I think there's a foundation that needs to be built in learning, specifically, and this is the problem I have with many mainstream yeshivos. Sure, they'll rock gemara; but do they know the stories in the Torah? Some do, if they were lucky enough to be taught these stories in their early years and taught by their parents that they are valuable in and of themselves - not only in relation to the gemara that the yeshiva is learning. But I know way too many Baalei Teshuva that didn't get this foundation as a child, and they become frum and throw themselves in mainstream yeshivas, bypassing the whole foundation of chumash and other (in my opinion) prerequisites.

I think there's a tendency to climb the mountain as quickly as possible, without stopping along the way to make sure that they took the right path.


Chanukah #5

We say in Maoz Tzur:

בני בינה ימי שמונה קבעו שיר ורננים
"Men of insight - eight days established for song and jubilation."

One must ask why only "Bnei Vinah" (men of insight) were able to establish Chanukah as a holiday lasting 8 days. Any Joe Schmoe could've seen that the candles lasted for 8 nights, and this is why the holiday lasts 8 days - what's so special about a Ben Vinah?

To understand why this is, we must understand the difference between a "chacham" (wise person) and a Mavin (like vinah; insightful person). A chacham is a person that is wise by virtue of the fact that he/she knows a lot of information, albeit a limited, finite amount. However, a Mavin is someone that takes the information he/she has and applies it elsewhere in life. With this in mind, we can understand why only the Mavinim were the ones to institute the holiday for 8 days.

The Ramban tells us that G-d shows us public miracles (ie, splitting the sea, candles lasting longer, etc.) in order so that we should come to see G-d even in things that aren't so mindblowing. Once we understand through public miracles that G-d controls the world, we can come to see that even things that work in the course of nature are also miracles in and of themselves.

The Beis Yosef asks his famous question of why we celebrate Chanukah for 8 days if the oil only lasted for 7 extra days past the amount it was supposed to stay lit for. If we are holding on the level where we realize that even things that work in the course of nature are miracles, then even the fact that oil burnt on the first night is a miracle. Sure, that's the way things work, but it doesn't have to be. This is precisely why only a "Ben Vinah" was able to establish the 8 days of Chanukah, because they are able to apply that which they see from the public miracle of the extra 7 days and see that the first day, too, was a miracle.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chanukah #4

An interesting question arises when a boy's Bar Mitzvah falls out on Shabbos Chanukah. The halacha is (OC 676:3) that someone who hasn't lit candles and knows that they will not be able to light candles can make a "Birchas haRoeh", whereby one makes the blessings of "Sheasa Nisim" and "Shehechiyanu" (only on 1st night) upon seeing Chanukah candles.

On Erev Shabbos we are forced to light candles for the impending Shabbos before the actual start of Shabbos; at this time, the soon-to-be Bar Mitzvah boy is still halachically 12 years old, and not fully obligated in the mitzvah. Even if it is the custom in one's house that minors light, the obligation is certainly on a lower level of one who is a full fledged Bar Chiyuva (13 for boys). Perhaps we would require him to say the Birchas haRoeh upon coming home, since at the time he lit, he was still 12 years old. Or, perhaps we say that since the lighting that was done before Shabbos covers that night, when the boy turns 13 years old, he does not recite Birchas haRoeh.

Interestingly, the Shearim Mitzuyanim B'Halacha quotes Shailos v'Tshuvos Pnei Mavin who says that he does not recite the brachos, as Birchas haRoeh is only said at a time in which it is possible to light candles, and since it is Shabbos right now, one cannot light. The Pri Megadim argues and says that he would make Birchas haRoeh, seemling rejecting the Pnei Mavin's theory.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Score a Touchdown! Make a Kiddush Hashem!

An Orthodox Jew named Abe Sutton is one of the finalists in the National Football League's "Pitch Us Your Idea ForThe Best NFL Super Bowl Commercial Ever...Seriously" contest. So I encourage everyone to vote. Next stop: Super Bowl. Takes 5 seconds of your time, literally. Forward to everyone you know! Lets make this a great Kiddush Hashem!

Vote early and often. Let's show the world how much we care about our brethren!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Chanukah #3

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקב, בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו--בְּאֶרֶץ, כְּנָעַן.
“Yaakov settled in the land of his father's residence, in the land of Canaan.” (Sefer Bereishis, 37:1)

It is well known that Avraham and Sarah were very active in converting people to Judaism. There are also sources for the idea that Yitzchak and Yaakov, too, were in this business. The pasuk quoted to prove that Yitzchak converted people is that above. Chazal tell us that we shouldn’t read the Hebrew word for “settled” as “Migurei”, rather, we should read it “Migigurei”, meaning “converts.” This teaches us that the place which Yaakov settled was in the place where those that Yitzchak helped convert lived.

The Maor Vashemesh asks on this: why did Yaakov have to live in the place davka where his father’s converts lived – didn’t he have enough to take care of with his own converts? He brings down from the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer that all of the converts that Avraham converted eventually reverted back to their old ways; none of them stayed frum. Therefore, Yaakov, not wanting the same thing to happen to his father Yitzchak’s converts, went to live with them so that they would have a Rebbe post-Yitzchak.

The Pasuk in Mishlei (15:24) says the following:

ארַח חַיִּים, לְמַעְלָה לְמַשְׂכִּיל- לְמַעַן סוּר, מִשְּׁאוֹל מָטָּה
"The path of life is above for the intelligent person, in order that he turn away from the grave below."
The Gra says that it’s obvious that one moves away from the grave because it tells us that the intelligent person goes up, meaning that it’s obvious that one who is moving up isn’t moving down. He basically answers that we may have thought that it was possible to remain on a spiritual plateau, but this is coming to teach us that there are only two directions in Yiddishkeit, up and down. If you want to avoid going down, you must remain in an upward trend. There is no stagnation.

Yaakov realized that our Yiddishkeit requires constant upkeep – it isn’t something that we can just place on a plateau for an extended amount of time. This idea is seen in a story brought down from R’ Ovadyah Yosef about the Ba’al HaTanya. One day the BHT was watching his grandson (the Tzemach Tzedek) and classmates play at recess. There was some sort of giant hill where they were playing, and they were having a contest to see who could get the highest on the hill without falling down. One by one the children would go up, get up halfway, and then fall down. Finally, the Tzemach Tzedek went and proceeded to get all the way to the top. The BHT asked his grandson how he was able to get so high, to which the TT basically said that all of the other kids, upon reaching halfway, would look down, see how far off of the ground they were, get scared and fall. His plan was to just keep on trekking up and not to look down, to avoid getting scared. The point is the same – it’s easy to say to ourselves “Look how far we’ve come”, be content, and stagnate there. But as we saw with the vort of the pasuk in Mishlei, there is no such thing as being stagnate in Yiddishkeit; we must constantly be doing more – going up, to avoid going down.

This is the whole idea with Chaukah of adding one candle each night (being Mosif v’Holeich). The famous argument Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai is whether we should start from one candle and go up each night or start with 8 and subtract each night. With the above in mind, it’s easy to see why we hold like Beis Hillel – our goal in life is to constantly be Mosif v’Holeich.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Candles on Motzei Shabbos - Chanukah #2

While the generally accepted halacha on Erev Shabbos is that we light Chanukah candles before Shabbos candles, the halacha is less clear regarding Motzei Shabbos, when we have to both say Havdalah and light candles.

The Terumas haDeshen holds that Chanukah candles should be lit before Havdalah is recited. He reasons that since Havdalah is practically the end of Shabbos, let's light Chanukah candles first, since that will be pushing off the end of Shabbos, something the Gemara in Brachos strongly recommends whenever possible. The Abudraham disagrees and says that Havdalah should precede Chanukah candles, presumably because of Tadir v'Sheaino Tadir, Tadir Kodem. The Taz says that this was, indeed, the minhag of the Maharal miPrague, who he held as the Gadol haDor.

But what do the Abudraham and the Taz do with the talmudic concept of pushing off the end of Shabbos? The Taz says nicely that we gain nothing by doing Chanukah candles first in order to try to push off the end of Shabbos, as the act of lighting candles is a melacha, which is in and of itself ending Shabbos for us. Nevertheless, the Gra and the Shulchan Aruch codify the first opinion, that candles should be lit first. As for me, I'll be saying Havdalah first.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Very Gassy This Evening

Greg and Soccerdad have posts regarding where to find the cheapest gas in Baltimore. I, too, am like them and am constantly on the quest to find the cheapest gas in town. It seems to be a common topic of discussion, and people (including myself) often brag about having found cheaper gas than their buddy. It got me to thinking: how much am I really saving? Perhaps it's just a principle thing, but after doing the math, this whole gas hock may be overrated.

I commute 95 miles round trip, 5 days a week (forget about the rest of the driving I do) and therefore use a lot of gas, so my calculations will be an extreme example of savings. Also, let's forget about the very real consideration of having to drive further to get cheaper gas. People will often drive miles to get cheaper gas, when they may be saving mere pennies. Anyway, let's do the math. Let's say I know a real gem of a gas station that is consistently is 5 cents cheaper. I fill up on average about 7 times a month, about 15 gallons each time. (15 x .05 x 7). That would come to a monthly savings of $5.25. Do any of you smoke? Buy one less pack a month and there's your $5.25. It's a yearly savings (for someone that drives a ridiculous amount) of $63.

There's no question that every penny counts, but it's interesting that gas prices are such a big hock for that amount of money, when people throw around money for other frivolous things. If I bought 1 or 2 less bottles of scotch a year, there's my $63. Anyway, just food for thought.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


No explanation needed. My kinda humor.

Shabbos Chanukah - Parshas Vayeishev #1

ועוד נדרש בו וישב ביקש יעקב לישב בשלוה, קפץ עליו רוגזו של יוסף. צדיקים מבקשים לישב בשלוה אומר הקב"ה לא דיין "לצדיקים מה שמתוקן להם לעולם הבא, אלא שמבקשים לישב בשלוה בעולם הזה

“Another Midrashic exposition: "[Yaakov] settled." Yaakov was seeking to live in tranquility, when the troubles of Yoseif were thrust upon him. [Whenever] the righteous seek to live in tranquility, G-d says, "Is it not sufficient for the righteous [to have] what has been prepared for them in the World-to-Come that they should also want to live in tranquility in this world?”
Rashi to Sefer Bereishis, 37:2

Presumably, when Yaakov asks to live his live in tranquility, he isn’t asking to play football until the end of days; rather, he is probably asking that he should live a life without tzuris and in peace. Why such the harsh reaction by Hashem?

If we look at the problems between Yosef and his brothers, it all seems to have stemmed from the fact that Yaakov gave Yosef (Joseph) the “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” The brothers became jealous and eventually plotted to kill him. Where did Yaakov get off treating Yosef better than any of his other sons, singling him out to be the one to receive the dreamcoat? The Tiferes Yonasan explains what Yaakov’s intentions were: Yaakov, while he married Leah first, really wanted to marry Rachel first. If he had his wish and this was the way history would’ve played out, then Yosef would’ve been his first born son, as Yosef was Rachel’s first born. So, if we’re following the rule of “basar machshava” (that we follow what one thinks), Yosef was his first born, and he then had every right to treat him better than the other brothers. But if you follow the rule of “basar maisah” (that we follow what one actually does – ie, he REALLY married Leah first, so in reality, Yosef WASN’T his first born).

Back to our original question of what Yaakov was really asking for when he said that he wanted to live the rest of his life in tranquility. Where did he get the idea of living his life in tranquility? Says the Tiferes Yonasan, he didn’t just stam get the idea to live in tranquility; rather, he was just asking for the bracha that he received from his father (Yitzchak) to come to fruition. Yitzchak’s bracha to Yaakov was that he should receive “the dew of heaven, and of the fatness [riches] of the land, and abundance of grain and wine.” Essentially, the blessing was that he should live a good life; this was what Yaakov was asking from Hashem when he spoke of living in tranquility.

But let’s think about it like this. Yitzchak’s bracha wasn’t really meant for Yaakov – it was meant for Eisav. So in order for Yaakov to have received the bracha from Yitzchak, that would’ve meant that we follow the principle “basar maisah”, as this was what ACTUALLY happened – Yaakov got the bracha. But then if you say that we follow the principle of “basar maiseh”, then LEMAISAH Yosef wasn’t his son, and he therefore had no right to treat him better than any of the other brothers. And if you want to say that Yaakov did good by treating Yaakov better, then we must follow the principle of “basar machshava”, as we saw with the whole vort about Yaakov really wanting to marry Rachel first. But if we follow the principle of “basar machshava”, then the bracha given by Yitzchak wasn’t really given to Yaakov, it would’ve been given to Yitzchak; and then we can say that Yitzchak had no precedent for asking for a life of tranquility. Therefore, he gets the reaction from Hashem that he does.

We see from the fact that Yaakov was punished with all of the tzuris of Yosef and his brothers that he didn’t do right by treating Yosef better than the rest; therefore, we see that we follow the concept of “basar maiseh”. The practical lesson is that while machshavos (thoughts/intentions) are a good start, we have to do maisehs, we have to act on those intentions. How many times have your friends said, “I meant to call you last night.” Does that count as actually calling you? Perhaps it’s better than nothing that you thought to call me, but no phone call is no phone call. It’s easy to have the proper intentions and the proper motivations, but putting them into action is a different story. To end off this monstrosity of a d’var Torah, I think there is a clear connection to Chanukah.

There is the unique halacha brought down by the Rambam saying that if one can’t afford Chanukah candles, he must go around begging for money, and even go as far as selling the shirt off of his back. Everyone asks why this is the case. The answer of the Avnei Nezer fits in perfectly with what we are saying. A poor person, when unable to afford things for mitzvos (ie. Lulav, esrog, etc.) could say to himself, “I have the proper machshava. I want to do this mitzvah, but I’m too poor, so what can I do.” The lesson here is that at the end of the day, it’s our actions that count, not merely our machshavos. May the light of the Chanukah menorah inspire us to act on our pure intentions.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Southern Comfort and Kashrus

I was recently at a L'Chaim recently and the bottle of Southern Comfort at the refreshments table caught my eye. I didn't know much about the drink before (and still don't know too much now), but after looking into it a little bit, here's what I can report regarding its Kashrus status.

Southern Comfort is a liqueur. Liqueurs, by defintion are flavored with things such as fruits, herbs, spices, seeds, etc. Liqueurs in general are problematic kashrus-speaking, as the companys are often secretive about their recipies. This is in stark contast to scotch whisky, in which the same ingredients used are the same across brands; it's just the natural elements that differ. Many people think of Southern Comfort (aka SoCo) as a bourbon based liqueur, and while it is true that there is bourbon in it, it is more of a "fruit, spice and whiskey flavored liqueur" with a neutral base." Therefore, while it is meant to taste like whiskey to a certain extent, the base certainly isn't whiskey.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the Star-K lists SoCo as "not recommended", but the London Beis Din (who came through in the clutch for us on Bailey's Irish Cream), says it is fine, as long as the bottle clearly states "Bottled in Ireland." I'm guessing that they did their research on the Ireland plant, verified their ingredients, and felt that it was OK Kashrus-wise. This information, however, cannot be generalized to all SoCo, as it is possible that ingredients are different in other bottling locations, and we must assume as such.

End of story: SoCo's a no-go (hey, that rhymes) unless it explicitly states on the bottle "Bottled in Ireland."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Parshas Vayishlach

“Yaakov arrived safely at the city of Shechem, which is in the Land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram. He encamped before the city.”

וַיָּבא יַעֲקב שָׁלֵם עִיר שְׁכֶם אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בְּבֹאוֹ מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם וַיִּחַן אֶת פְּנֵי הָעִיר

There is a lot of reid in the meforshim about what exactly it means that he was encamped “es p’nay ha’ir”. A good number of commentaries point out that the word “Vayichan”, is lashon “Chein”/favor. Some say that in order to find favor with the locals, he set up a butcher shop with cheap prices; other say that he rid the town of theft, harlotry, etc. The Shem miShmuel similarly learns out “Vayichan” from lashon “Chein”/favor, but says a bit differently.

The Shem miShmuel wants to say that the favor we are speaking about isn’t that which Yaakov is trying to gain from the locals; rather, it is the favor that Yaakov has for the land of Israel upon his return. A good majority of Yaakov’s life was spent in Eretz Yisrael. Living in such a holy place, being completely surrounded with Kedusha and being “Yosheiv Ohalim” (referring to learning), this type of lifestyle became normal for him. It was only when he went to live with Lavan and in his subsequent return that Israel gained favor in his eyes - he realized what he was missing.

So often in life we don’t realize exactly how good we have it. We say the brachos in the morning like “Zokeif Kifufim” by rote, not realizing what a huge deal it is that we are able to stand up straight and go about our daily tasks. We have friends, spouses, chavrusas, apartments, family, etc. It’s our responsibility to realize how fortunate we are with everything, lest G-d need to teach us a lesson and make us realize what we have by taking it away. That’s why when man was created he was created differently from the rest of the animals. All of the other animals were created male and female separately, while with humans man was created first, and only subsequently was a woman created from man, so that man should know what it is like to live without a partner in order to truly appreciate when one does have a partner.

This theme can also be seen in the upcoming holiday of Chanukah. The requirement of Chanukah is “Ner Ish u’baiso” – one candle. That being said, I have yet to meet a Jew, no matter how religious or irreligious, that only lights one candle. Obviously, we are “Mosif v’Holeich” and add one candle on each subsequent night. Why is this mitzvah different than any other in that it has become the norm that we go above and beyond the call of duty with an extra level of “Mehadrin”? With the Shem miShmuel in mind, we can answer by saying that we lived for years with the Beis haMikdash and the Menorah, and it because the norm for us. Once Hashem destroyed the Beis haMikdash and took the Menorah from us, that was our wake up call to appreciate that which we do on a regular basis (ie, the avodah and Menorah). Now that we miss the Menorah, we have that extra fire in us to do not just the minimum requirement of one candle, but do mehadrin min ha’mehadrin.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Texas High School Football

While I heard about this a while ago, I just this morning felt the urge to blog about it, after reading Rick Reilly's column in SI. To make a long story short, a high school football coach in Texas kicked a couple of players off of his team after they missed practice after donating blood. There was a public outcry over this incident, of which Rick Reilly took part in, eventually leading to the reinstatement of the players (they still lost their starting spots). Personally, I think we're overdoing it just a bit.

High school football, especially in Texas, is very competitive. Whether or not you agree with this fact is irrelevent. Kids that sign on to play Texas high school football know what they're getting themselves into. As evidenced in movies like Varsity Blues, football isn't merely a sport; it's a town tradition and the way of life. Again, you may not agree that this is healthy. Fine. But it is what it is and these kids choose to participate.

When agreeing to participate, the players are agreeing to follow the rules of the team. It isn't outlandish to assume that following the rules of the team would require attending all practices, meetings, and games, barring a good excuse. Breaking team rules incurs punishment. End of story. I don't see why the fact that they were giving blood matters at all. The fact of the matter is that they missed practice without telling their coach beforehand. Perhaps if they would've went to him the day before, he may have been more receptive. Maybe not - but at least the kids would've known their punishment in advance.

Giving blood is a worthy cause. That being said, the blood bank isn't going to run out if you wait until Sunday to give blood. To give blood mere hours before a mandatory practice is irresponsible and against rules that players agree to upon joining a team. Perhaps they shouldn't have been kicked off of the team - but players get kicked off of teams all the time for reasons that some would find unfair. Some coaches are harsh disciplinarians; get over it. The real shame of the whole case is that his authority was undermined by those who caused an overturning of his decision; all caused by a bunch of whiners.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Weather Outside is....

If you aren't already in the holiday spirit...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Divrei Torah Needed

I hope to have a daily D'var Torah running during the 8 days of Chanukah. If any of you have any interest in submitting one to be posted, I'd be open to that, assuming I like it. I have a couple in the works already, and probably could come up with 8, but if you've got a vort that you like, shoot me an e-mail at AlanLaz AT gmail DOT com. As you can tell from my weekly Divrei Torah, I like mussary stuff.

Also, if you have a vort on the weekly parsha that you want to type up and send it along, I'm open to that as well; again, assuming I like it.