Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Parshas Beshalach

וַיּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-משֶׁה, מַה-תִּצְעַק אֵלָי; דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִסָּעוּ

"Ad-noy said to Moshe, "Why do you cry to Me? Speak to the B'nei Yisrael and let them move on." (Sefer Shemos, 14:15)

G-d questions as to why the Jewish people are praying. He tells them that now is not the time for prayer; now is the time for action. However, was it really so far-fetched that the Jews were praying to G-d in such a time of need? I mean, the sea was in front of them, and the Egyptians were approaching from behind. I think it would only be natural that the Jewish people would want to call out to their G-d for their help. But, G-d says no; now is not the time.

The Or haChaim haKadosh asks this fundamental question, and has a very beautiful answer. He says that yes, it’s true that Jews should call out to Hashem in time of need. That being said, Hashem is only able to help us out if we have merited to receive such help. Hashem, who we know is a true G-d, wants to avoid prosecution from the Satan. If Hashem were to just blindly help everyone that asked him for anything, the Satan would come and argue that a) the person isn’t deserving of such help and b)Hashem is not a true G-d. Therefore, through our actions, we must earn enough brownie points in order for our prayers to work. This is what G-d is telling Moshe when he says “Ma Tizak Alai?”; he is saying that the Jewish people, as they are now, have no merit to render Hashem’s help. He is therefore suggesting that the Jewish people go out and do actions that will give them enough merit for their prayers to be answered. Basically, if we want G-d to do his part, we have to do our part.

I find it interesting that the most irreligious, even atheist, come running to G-d when a loved one is sick. This is so even though they probably haven’t done the first thing to merit their prayers to be answered. Prayer is the building that must be supported by a foundation of zechuyos/merits. Without the foundation, our prayers that we want to reach the heavens, will more than likely come crashing to the ground.

Again, if we want G-d to do his part, we have to do ours. This, says the Kedushas Levi (in the name of the Besht) is p’shat with the verse that tells us that, “G-d is your shade. (Tehillim 121:5)” What does it mean that he is shade for us? Answers the KL; shade follows us wherever we go. We can’t expect our shade to go one way unless we are moving that way as well. If he want G-d to “move his hand” and help us out, we must move in the same direction.

The Kedushas Levi goes on to explain that which it says “Vayaaminu Bashem uv’Moshe Avdo/they believed in Hashem and Moses his Servent.” This verse which was said over at the splitting of the Red Sea; how could the Jews have NOT believed in Hashem and Moses? The KL goes on to explain that this wasn’t said after the splitting, this was said beforehand. This wasn’t their reaction to the splitting of the sea; rather, it was a prerequisite for the split. Emunah/faith and zechuyos aren’t something that we can promise to develop after G-d helps us out, but rather, they have to be in place beforehand, in order for our prayers to be heeded.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Artscroll Stone Chumash

I used to go through the parsha using the Artscroll Rashi - an aliyah a day. After I get married and things got busy I stopped, but I recently have become much more interested in the Parsha than ever, so I told myself I have to start running through the Parsha again. Anyway, I started going through it with the Artscroll Stone Chumash, and I don't think it can be stated enough what an excellent publication it is. While you won't know every single Rashi, you'll know all of the famous ones; all of the famous machlokeses Rashi/Ramban. You'll get words of wisdom from everyone from the Chofetz Chaim to the Ohr haChaim haKadosh. Some of their stuff (bios) are silly; but they were right on with this one.

Oh, and no, I didn't get paid to write this.

But, see Mississippi Fred's commentary on the Stone.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Van Gogh Vodka's Getting Hashgacha



Admittedly, I'm not that big of a vodka drinker, but I have tried a few of the Van Gogh Vodkas, and they are excellent. I've been drinking them for a while, after doing research and finding out that all of their flavorings are 100% natural. The Espresso flavored vodka really tastes like ice coffee.

Anyway, I purchased their Dutch Chocolate flavor recently, and it later dawned on me that I should check to see if any milk chocolate is used as flavoring, which would potentially make the drink milchig. I left a message on the president's voicemail, and he called and left a message on my voicemail telling me that not only are there no dairy products used as flavoring, but they are also in the process of getting hashgacha on all of their products from the Amsterdam Rabinnate. So, if you don't trust my research that all of the flavorings are 100% natural, then you'll be interested to know that they should be under hashgacha soon enough. It shouldn't be too long, as they said that the paperwork is almost complete...

I Hate Duke



They are Amalek. I hate them.

Love,

AlanLaz



The referees decided that it only took .6 seconds for a Clemson player to catch, shoot, and make a 3-pointer. Thus, they had 4.4 seconds to work with. They should've had 2.8 - not enough time for them to make the game winning shot that they did.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Looking to get WASTED?

No work tomorrow? Looking for a fun drinking game? Go watch the president's State of the Union address. Where does the drinking come in, you ask?

Looks like some funny guys put a game together where you'd have to take a shot everytime GWB says "nukular", two shots for every "evildoer" spewed, and one shot of scotch, aged 16 years for every "Mark Foley" reference.

Some of this stuff is incredibly funny. Check it out. I'd be surprised if anyone actually played this game and didn't have to get their stomach pumped.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Parshas Bo

וּבְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשׂוּ, כִּדְבַר מֹשֶׁה; וַיִּשְׁאֲלוּ, מִמִּצְרַיִם, כְּלֵי-כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב, וּשְׂמָלֹת.

“The B'nei Yisrael did as Moshe said, and they requested of the Egyptians silver articles and gold articles and clothing.” (Shemos, 12:35)

Rashi: “For he had told them in Egypt, "Each man shall borrow from his neighbor."

The Gra in his “Kol Eliyahu” wants to understand what exactly Rashi is telling us here. According to the Gra, it is pashut that this is what “..as Moshe said” means; it could only be referring to that which the Torah says earlier (Shemos, 11:2), “Each man shall borrow from his friend.”

The Gemara in Bava Kama (36b) states that in a case where an ox owned by a Jew injures an ox owned by an Egyptian, the Jewish owner doesn’t have to pay the Egyptian anything. This is learned out from the verse later in Shemos (21:35) which states, “If a man's ox injures his neighbor's ox and it dies…”. The Gemara comes to exclude Mitzrim from this rule, being as the pasuk specifically says “neighbor” – seemingly, we don’t consider Egyptians our “neighbors”. This however is a huge contradiction to Rashi’s note, who says that when the Jews took the gold and silver from the Egyptians, they were doing as Moshe said; to “borrow from his neighbor.” Furthermore, asks the Gra: why did they need to ask for these gold and silver items from the Egyptians? You’d think that after all the Jews had been through at the hands of the Mitzrim, they wouldn’t have asked for their possessions.

The Gra answers that the Jews were only able to act in such a manner because they were accustomed to acting this way with one another. The Tana D’Bei Eliyahu notes that when the Jews were in Egypt they sat together and make a covenant that they should constantly do Gemilas Chasadim/acts of kindness with one another. Since they were used to acting this way with one another, it was only natural that they acted this way with the Mitzim upon their exit. True, they didn’t have to ask to take anything, but it was so engrained in their nature, that that’s what they did. Furthermore, while they technically weren’t considered our “neighbors”, as we saw from the Gemara in Bava Kama, the way the Jews acted towards the Mitzrim in this manner made it appear as if they were.

The lesson to take out from this is that when you become accustomed to acting in a certain manner, either bad or good, this behavior becomes engrained in who you are and will lead to similar actions in other situations. Even though the Jews suffered so much under the Egyptians, because they were accustomed to acting kindly with one another beforehand, it was inevitable that this was the way they would act upon their exit. I hear a lot from people, “I don’t know how you (non-specific) find time for learning; for minyan, etc. The answer is obvious to those who engaged in these activities– if that’s just what you do, then you continue to do it. Sure, you’re going to have trouble getting up for minyan, davening, whatever, if that’s not a regular action for you. But if you work hard to make that, or any other action/trait, engrained in you, it has to be a constant thing.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Need a Good Doctor?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Parshas Vaera

The end of the first perek (6) of this Parsha goes through and details the lineage of Reuvein, Shimon, Levi, etc. However, only regarding the tribe of Levi does the Torah give the introductory words, “And these are the names of…” – why the special introduction only for Levi?

The Shelah haKadosh offers up an explanation, saying that Shevet Levi was not enslaved like the rest of the Jewish people in Egypt. That being said, they didn’t want it to seem as if they were better than the rest of the Jews, so Levi gave his descendents names that had meanings having to do with the Galus (ie, Gershon – “Garim heim b’eretz..”; Marari – “Vayimraru es Chayeihem”). This is why the Torah specifies, “These are the names”, telling us that the specific names to follow are names that have to do with the Galus, showing us that Shevet Levi wanted to be mishtateif in Galus Mitzrayim.

It would’ve been very easy for Shevet Levi to see the cruel daily lives of those enslaved in Egypt, and have been thankful for not being a part of it at all. But they chose to share in the pain of their brothers and go so far as to name their children names which will serve as a constant reminder as to the plight of the Jews in Egypt. On a more individual level, it’s very easy for us to look at people we know who are not as fortunate as us and say, “nebuch”, but the better thing to do is to act like Levi and actively be a part of their trouble; to “feel their pain”, if you may.

We see this attribute of Levi again in our Parsha, where R’ Yonasan Eipshitz, in his Tiferes Yonasan, says that the reason that Pharaoh didn’t enslave the tribe of Levi was because he saw that the one who was going to redeem them from Egypt (Moshe) was to come from Levi, and he thought that only those who were enslaved could redeem the Jews. While this is true, the Tiferes Yonasan says that when one has the above attribute, and truly feels the pain of another person, it is like they are in that situation themselves. Because of this, even though Levi wasn’t enslaved themselves, because they “felt the pain” of their bretheren, Moshe was able to redeem the Jews despite his lineage.

Pool Saga

Now that I think about it, I've never been on vacation with so many other frum Jews. So, after spending the morning at the pool, I have to say that it is quite interesting to note how people approach going to the pool on vacation. Let me just start out by saying that I am in no way judging that which anyone does; I am merely pointing out what I witnessed. Obviously, I was at the pool myself, so I'm not all righteous.

I imagine that a large percentage of the frum people staying here wouldn't be seen dead at a co-ed pool in their hometowns, and most frum people staying here probably wouldn't go to the co-ed pools here either, either. That being said, I did see plenty of other frum people at the pool, and the following are all things that I witnessed.

1. Very frum looking couple, appear to be in their fifties. Man has long beard, woman is dressed in sheitel, long skirt, long sleeve shirt. Upon settling down, woman remains in her tznius garb, but bearded man takes off his shirt and sits in the sun barechested with bathing suit on.

2. Woman comes out with her children wearing long skirt, longsleeve shirt, and snood on her hair. Upon settling down, woman takes off long sleeve shirt leaving her taking in the sun wearing a long skirt, bikini top, and snood.

3. Woman wearing skirt and short sleeve shirt comes out with her modern looking, tzitzis flying husband, and takes off short sleeve shirt and skirt, leaving her basking in the sun with a 2-piece bikini on.

4. 23 year old guy comes out with shorts and a tshirt on, removes shirt, leaving him with just a pair of shorts and a kippa on. He goes on to listen to Jewish music on his iPod and learn about the Parsha in the Imrei Baruch.

OK, the last one was me. Anyway, I just found in fascinating the different approaches to going to a co-ed pool that I encountered. I'm guessing this happens any place where frum people go for vacation - I just hadn't encountered it myself, until today.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I thought my flight was to Florida?

OK, so I'm in Miami Beach on vacation. I'm not here to brag about the amazing weather (I heard it was cold in Baltimore...) or to tell you about the ridiculous accomodations. Also, I'm not going to blog daily as I did when we were in Israel.

But, upon walking on the boardwalk this evening, I walked by about 100 people - of which I counted 6 that were not Chassidim. Apparently I flew into Mea Shearim, not Ft. Lauderdale. And apparently the offical language of the boardwalk is Yiddish, not English (or Spanish). Yikes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Maybe the Jew Was Right...

I may be late on this but...

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Jews and the Ravens

I really wanted to get this post up before the disastrous Colts/Ravens game, but I just didn't have time. Anyway, outsiders often view the Jewish people as a fairly cohesive unit. While I think we certainly have our divisions, I do feel as if there is a general feeling of Achdus among Jews, perhaps moreso among frum Jews. Jews are more than willing to open their houses and refrigerators to people of whom they have no previous association. I'm sure there are many theories as to why this is, but I think one reason this is so is because we have been through so many negative historical events together; all of them simply because we were Jewish. The pogroms; the Holocaust;, etc. When a group of people, regardless of how large or small, goes through a negative experience together, I think it's only natural that there is a forced bond that develops.

On a seemingly unrelated note, there was tremendous Achdus in Baltimore this past week leading up to the Colts/Ravens game. I was off Friday, and driving around town I couldn't help but see a sea of purple whereever I was. Businesses which normally require formal attire relaxed their standards to allow Ravens gear. Children too young to know what they are wearing; all decked out in purple. For one week, in one of America's most "dangerous" cities, there seemed to be a common thread - football. Similar to the above case of the Jews, I believe this is due to one specific negative historical event that Baltimoreans were affected by some 23 years ago - the departure of their football team. I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone about what happened, but this is something that true Baltimore natives are still bitter about. I think that bitterness which is still inside of football fans in Baltimore lead to the Achdus which was seen around town last week, specifically because we were playing the team which was once ours.

May both Jews and Baltimore sports fan share in only simchas.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Parshas / Sefer Shemos

While we all refer to this book of the Torah as Shemos or Exodus, it wasn't uncommon for other Gaonim, Rishonim, etc., to assign different names to each of the books. Interestingly, the Bahag calls Shemos "Sefer Sheini." While he gives a proper name to the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th books, he simply refers to Shemos as "The 2nd book."

The Netziv answers beautifully why this is. He explains that Sefer Sheini implies that it is a continuation of that which came before it, and the Behag, as we call it, named the 1st book of the Torah Bereishis. Essentially, the Behag is extending the idea of "creation" from the first book to include the 2nd book.

If you look at this book of the Torah, the overarching theme is Kabbalas haTorah/receiving the Torah. The Behag, by including it in with the 1st book is saying that part of the reason the world was created was for Kabbalas haTorah. It isn't another story in the Torah which we are merely to learn from; rather, we must understand that the this is part of the reason we are created; to accept the Torah.

Unfortunately, many peoples' attitudes toward Torah is one that for one reason or another, it often takes a seat on the backburner. If we understand that receiving and continuing the transmission of Torah (read: learning) is just as important as the creation of man, animals, etc., perhaps our attitudes towards Limud haTorah would be different.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

YU Seforim Sale

This year's YU Seforim sale will be taking place January 28th-February 19th. Prices at this sale are usually Israel-esque and sometimes even cheaper than that.

My contact who usually gets the goods for me is headed off to Israel to learn for 6 months, leaving me with nobody to get the stuff for me. Luckily, I found out that if I can get an order together of over $1,000, they will ship the stuff here.

They pretty much have everything possible, from Artscroll and Feldheim classics to hard-to-find Shailos v'Tshuvos. Check out the catalog, and if you're in the Baltimore/Washington area and are interested in getting anything, contact me at AlanLaz AT gmail DOT com and we'll see if we can get it shipped.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Muslim Women

I don't want you to think this blog is turning into a link-only site, but some of these are too funny not to share.

Ladies - this should relieve any worries you have about converting to Islam.

Spoiled Brat

If this were my daughter, I'd kill her.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Parshas Vayechi

יִשָּׂשכָר, חמר גָּרֶם--רבֵץ, בֵּין הַמִּשְׁפְּתָיִם.

“Issachar is a large-boned donkey, couching down between the sheep-folds.” (Sefer Bereishis, 49:14)

Rashi on that pasuk tells us that Yaakov chose to refer to him as a donkey, because just as a donkey is known for loading things on it’s back, Yissachar loaded the burden of (learning) Torah. In other words, Yissachar was to be the Torah scholar of the bunch.

The Zohar asks, though, why Yaakov specifically singled out the donkey for Yissachar to be likened to. Certainly there are other, more elegant animals that also carry a load for him to be likened to. For instance, horses can carry a load, and many other animals throughout history have been used to schlep; why a donkey? The Zohar answers that while it is true that there are other animals that can carry a load, only a donkey won’t resist when putting the load on its back. If you try to put a heavy load on a horse, it will likely kick you. Explains the Zohar: Yissachar undertook the burden of Torah like a donkey – without kicking and screaming. He understood that this was his place and accepted the task with open arms.

While we should all constantly be trying to better ourselves in life, at the end of the day, we have certain roles here that G-d wants us to fulfill. For some, that may mean being the CEO of a company in order to gain political pull; for other’s it may being more involved with the “tzarchei tzibbur.” We shouldn’t look at someone else’s position in life and be jealous. While it’s not always easy, it becomes more bearable when we realize that that which the other person has wasn’t in the plans for us. Furthermore, we should understand what our true purpose is and act like asses (I mean donkeys) and accept it with open arms.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Latest Chapter in the OIB Novel

Penny and Greg have both previously about their OIB experiences, and I was beginning to feel left out. Thankfully, I had my very own, personalized OIB experience which I feel compelled to share.

We received a couple presents for our wedding from a local merchant, and returned many of them and subsequently amassed a nice store credit. The store credit, for the most part, has just sat there for the previous 18 months of our marriage. Recently it dawned on us that we should use that store credit to by presents for our friends that get married. Anyway, I trek there last week and find something nice for a couple of our good friends that are getting married shortly. I take it to the overly-talkative lady at the front and she starts wrapping it up, and then asks the, apparently innocuous, queston, "Who's the gift for? " Seeing no reason to lie, I told her it was for a good friend's wedding present. To my astonishment, I was told that I could only use a certain percentage of my store credit on this present and would have to pay the rest in cash/credit. She explained that since I returned gifts that were intended for my use, I cannot use the credit for others' gifts.

Getting creative, I told her that I changed my mind and I suddenly decided that I wanted the present for myself, but she wasn't having that. I then, basically, freaked out and went on a rant about how it is my credit with which to do whatever I want and how I can't be told what I can use a credit for, etc. Finally, she relented.

Only in Baltimore.

Don't Do Drugs

In case you're ever reincarnated as a spider, don't do drugs or drink - you may just end up the crack spider's b****.