Sunday, February 25, 2007

How Cute....

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Parshas Terumah II

וְעָשׂוּ אֲרוֹן, עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים: אַמָּתַיִם וָחֵצִי אָרְכּוֹ, וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי רָחְבּוֹ, וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי, קמָתוֹ.

“And they shall make an ark of acacia-wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.” (Sefer Shemos, 25:10)

The Baal haTurim comments that when you look at the dimensions of the Aron/Ark, none of them are whole numbers; they all have ½ attached to the end of them. With the Aron symbolizing the Torah (as it was used to store the Torah), the Baal haTurim says that we see from the dimensions that anyone that is interested in learning must have humility. Just as the number ½ isn’t a whole number, one who learns must realize that they, themselves, are not whole and that they should be constantly striving towards the goal of being complete.

The Gemara in Megillah (26a) discusses the different territories that each of the 12 tribes inherited. The Gemara says that among the land that was inherited by Binyamin was the area where the Mizbeach/altar stood. However, there was a small strip of land on which a small part of the Mizbeach stood that was actually in the land of Yehuda – so it wasn’t ALL in Binyamin’s territory. Apparently, Binyamin, through Ruach haKodesh, saw that this was to be the case (that he wasn’t going to have 100% of the Mizbeach), and that caused him pain; everyday of his life. This pain was caused by a healthy yearning for shlaimos/wholeness; Binyamin always strived for more spirituality. To make up for this pain, the Gemara notes that Hashem subsequently placed in his territory the “Ushpizchei L’Shchina”, which Rashi says is the Aron.

It makes perfect sense why Hashem gave Binyamin the Aron in light of what we said before. Again, the Baal haTurim teaches us that one should realize that they aren’t yet complete and that they should constantly be striving for more spirituality and this was exactly what was happening with the daily pain of Binyamin by the fact that he didn’t have 100% of the Mizbeach. Again, since Binyamin imbued this attribute of yearning, he received the inheritance of that (the Aron) which symbolizes yearning.

The Vilna Gaon, in a different understanding of the words “Ushpizchan L’Shechina”, leads us to another lesson from this Gemara in Megillah. He says that the term doesn’t refer to the Aron, as Rashi posits, but that Ushpizchan is from the same Lashon as Ushpizin/guests. So what is the reference to guests that the Gaon is referring to? This refers to all of the alternate places where the Mizbeach was held. While the Mizbeach was usually situated in Yerushalayim, there were other times throughout history where the Mizbeach was a “guest” in other parts of Israel (ie, Nov, Givon, Shiloh). Hashem’s gift to Binyamin for his yearning for all of the Mizbeach was the gift of all of the lands where the Mizbeach would be a “guest”, as hinted to in the words “Ushpizchan L’Shechina.”

The lesson to glean from this is that Yiddishkeit isn’t who were just when we’re playing on our “home court.” There are situations in life that may come about that may be less than ideal for our Yiddishkeit. Work, school, etc, all pose challenges for our Yiddishkeit. Anyone can be Jewish when they’re in Shul on Shabbos morning. The greater challenge is to be a Yid when you’re playing an away game – whether that be at work, school, or whatever - when our Yiddishkeit may seem like a "guest."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Parshas Terumah / Adar

וְעָשׂוּ אֲרוֹן, עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים: אַמָּתַיִם וָחֵצִי אָרְכּוֹ, וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי רָחְבּוֹ, וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי, קמָתוֹ.

"And they shall make an ark of acacia-wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof." (Sefer Shemos, 25:10)

We know that the aron/ark was made of a combination of gold and wood. However, when the Torah refers to the ark, it simply calls it the “Aron atzei shitim/acacia wood ark”. Not calling it the “gold and acacia wood ark” implies that there is some special importance to the wood, more so than that of the gold.

When discussing the concept of joy as it relates to Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha/increasing joy in the month of Adar, R’ Shimshon Pinkus notes that the basis of most simcha is the concept of “Hischadshus/renewal.” We, as humans, like things that are new. If one was to ask me for a D’var Torah and I responded to him, “B’reishis bara Elokim…”, the person probably would be flabbergasted that I gave him such a simple vort. What did that person want? He probably wanted something new; a piece of Torah that he had never heard before. This, explains R’ Pinkus, is why little children enjoy seeing a fire truck so much; it’s something they don’t get to see everyday.

One need not look any further than the story of Purim to realize that this concept of Hischadshus/renewal is tied in to this holiday. The Jews during this time weren’t exactly the best-behaved. R’ Pinkus says that the decree of death upon the Jews by Haman was imposed by G-d in response to the Jews getting pleasure from the feast thrown by Achashveirosh. Being that they got joy from a party that was thrown by such an evil person, Hashem decreed that the Jews no longer had any merit to live. However, since they changed their ways, the decree was annulled. R’ Pinkus explains that this “new” nation of Israel was a completely new and separate entity than was the nation that had sinned so grievously. This is why the verse says “Kaimu v’Kiblu”, in a similar way to that which the Jews said “Naaseh v’Nishma” at Har Sinai – this “new” Jewish people had to reaccept the Torah.

A bracha that many people give a new bride and groom is that everyday of their marriage should be as happy as their wedding day. Marriages are most passionate at the beginning. Learning is most fervent at the beginning of a z’man. However, it’s only natural that over time things, relationships, etc, lose their passion. In order to achieve that which was once there, we must search for a way to bring about Hischadshus/a renewal. When we achieve this renewal, we achieve the joy that is spoken of when we refer to “Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha.”

With this, we can understand why the ark was referred to as simply the “acacia wood ark”, as opposed to including gold in its title. If I strip a tree of its bark or of its fruit, as long as its roots are in the ground, the tree will rejuvenate; the tree will renew; the tree will undergo a process of Hischadshus. Thus, while gold may be valuable and beautiful, it is only the wood that symbolizes Hischadshus – that which we should be searching for in Adar.

Monday, February 19, 2007

No Sparkling Wiggles at this Party!

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Few Whisky Related Things

1. I have become somewhat friendly with the Nigerian security officer that scans my badge each morning, granting me access to the facilities here at work; we shmooz for a minute or so each day. I asked this morning how he was dealing with the cold weather, to which he told me that he wished he had some “hot wine.” I didn’t really understand what he was talking about, but he repeated his yearning for some more of the “hot wine that [I] gave [him]. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that he was talking about the Speyburn 10 that I got him for the holidays, and that the “hot wine” he was referring to was this scotch whisky. Interestingly, in halacha, liquor is referred to as “Yayin Saraf/burning wine.” Baruch she’Kivanto.


2. Someone had told me that their friend related to them that when they went to a local liquor store to buy a Glenlivet 15 – French Oak, they were told by the Indian owner that they shouldn’t buy it as per his discussions with a rabbi who told him that it wasn’t kosher. Presumably, the Rabbi was under the assumption that the “French Oak” casks that the Glenlivet is finished in previously held French wine. However, upon looking at the label one realizes that the French Limousin casks used to finish the whisky are “new”, meaning they have previously never held any liquid, thus alleviating any issue with non-Kosher wine. L’chaim!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Parshas Mishpatim 5767

For last year's Dvar, see here: Parshas Mishpatim, 5766.

לא תִהְיֶה מְשַׁכֵּלָה וַעֲקָרָה, בְּאַרְצֶךָ; אֶת-מִסְפַּר יָמֶיךָ, אֲמַלֵּא.

“No woman will suffer miscarriage or remain childless in your land. I will cause the number of your days to be full.” (Sefer Shemos, 23:26)

The simple understanding of the last part of this Pasuk is that G-d will lengthen our lives. However, the Yismach Moshe has a beautiful insight into this Pasuk as well, by way of understanding the last Mishna in all of Shas. This Mishna in Uktzin says: “Says Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi: in the future, G-d will give every single Tzadik 310 olamos/worlds, as the verse (Mishlei, 8) says: I will give to those that I love [yeish], and I will fill up their storehouses.” The Rabbis learn out that the Tzaddikim will receive 310 specifically, as this is the numerical value of the Hebrew word “Yeish.”

The Yismach Moshe asks a seemingly obvious question on this Mishna. Certainly, some Tzadikim are better than others. Moshe Rabbeinu is worthy of a greater reward than are the Tzadikim of our time. Why is it then that all of the Tzaddikim receive the same reward of the 310 olamos? Answers the Yismach Moshe: while a simple understanding of the verse is that the reward is the 310 olamos, really, that isn’t the reward. Rather, all of the Tzaddikim receive the 310 olamos, which serves only as receptacle for their individual zechuyos/merits (Torah, Maisim Tovim, Chesed, etc.), which will all differ in quality and quality of these/merits. Therefore, the greater Tzadik will, in fact, get a greater reward, as their receptacle (the 310 olamos) will contain a greater amount of reward, which is the quantity and quality of their individual merits. He concludes by saying the receptacle of one who uses every day to its fullest will be filled.

With this, he says we can understand the p’shat in our verse, that Hashem “will cause the number of your days to be full.” While we all wish to live to 120, that isn’t the reward. Rather, each day is only a receptacle for us to use as we see fit. The reward given is the s’char/merit we receive for fully maximizing each individual day. With this framework of maximizing each day to its fullest we can understand many other concepts in Chazal.

The Talmud Yerushalmi that says literally, “Anyone that doesn’t see the rebuilding of the Beis haMikdash in his days, it is like he, himself destroyed it.” Pashut p’shat is that one who dies having not seen the rebuilding of the BM is like he/she destroyed it. But, also, explains the Yismach Moshe, the Beis haMikdash should be built “B’Yamav”; not IN our days, but WITH our days. When we as individuals do everything that we can do to maximize each day, we are effectively building the BM. But, if we fail to do this, it is like we destroyed it ourselves.

Finally, we can understand the simple problem many people see in life – the fact that many wicked people outlive their righteous counterparts – Tzadik v’Ra Lo; Rasha v’Tov Lo”. How could it be that an evil person can live to be 100, yet we see so tragically young, righteous people die well before that? Simply put: while the wicked person may be breathing for 100 years, he doesn’t really LIVE for that long. Living is we maximize each day to the fullest – something the wicked doesn’t do. So, while at first glance it may seem as though certain wicked people outlive the righteous, really this isn’t true. Again, the Rasha, while breathing for 100 years, may only truly live for 5 years. When one is capable each receptacle of a day to the brim, that’s truly living.

Valentines Day

I won't be celebrating Valentines Day tomorrow. Perhaps it's for the following reason; perhaps it's because I'm cheap.

The calendar has days built into it where we recognize those around us. Mothers Day. Fathers Day. Valentines Day. Heck, there's even National Secretary's Day. While I'm certainly not opposed to recognizing those who mean a lot to us, I think setting aside one day is a B'dieved situation. I think that when we put so much emphasis on one day, it is likely that we under-appreciate these individuals on the other 364 days a year. If we treated our parents like we should during the whole year, we would probably feel less compelled to buy them a nice present. But, heck, when you neglect those who are important to you, buying a nice present is almost mandatory to make up for the lack of attention in the past year.

I would like to think that a religion that values Shalom Bayis and Kibbud Av v'Eim so highly wouldn't need to single out Mothers/Fathers Day or Valentines Day. Interestingly, the secular world, which values these holidays so highly, is the same secular world in which there is an ever-growing divorce rate and a world which is no stranger to familial strife.

Tell your spouse that you love him/her tomorrow. Just do it the day after, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reminder: Duke is Amalek

In light of today's Maryland/Duke basketball game, I would remiss if I didn't urge to remember that I hate Duke because they are today's Amalek (see link).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Parshas Yisro II

There is a concept in Judaism called the "Shaas haKosher." Translated as "an opportune time", it refers to the time that it is optimal for an individual to move on an opportunity in his/her life. In this week's Parsha, Parshas Yisro, there are a couple of examples that help explain this concept.

In the beginning of the Parsha we learn about Yisro's conversion. Rashi tells us that he heard about both the splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek. Inferred from Rashi is that if he would've only heard about the splitting of the sea alone, it wouldn't have been enough. Why specifically did he feel that only after both of these events did he find it to be the "Shaas haKosher" to go ahead and convert? Rav Moshe Wolfson asks the question, saying that he should've been "wowed" enough after the splitting of the sea to convert right then. He answers that had Yisro sent in his conversion application after Krias Yam Suf, it would've been denied. And why would it have been denied? They would've said no because of the Gemara in Yevamos which states that in the times of Moshiach, Dovid, and Shlomo, converts will not/were not accepted. The reason being: things in the time of moshiach, Dovid, and Shlomo were extremely good for the Jews. Therefore, we must suspect that the reason that people want to convert is to be a part of the success and not out of pure intentions. Therefore, Yisro would've been denied as a convert, because who wouldn't have wanted to be part of a group of people who are worthy enough for G-d to split a sea for? Thus, he waited until after the war with Amalek; but why specifically after the war with Amalek? Because, as we all know, Amalek cools off the steaming bath, thus allowing all of the rest of our enemies to be able to jump in to attack us. Only after Yisro saw through the war of Amalek that the Jews could be attacked did he go ahead and want to convert; he proved his intentions were pure. Had Yisro not contemplated his decision and rushed into converstion, he would've been denied. And had he waited and longer, there's a good chance his passion for Yiddishkeit could've worn off. Case in point #1.

We see the second example in the Parsha when the Jews reach Har Sinai and Moshe ascends to get preliminary instructions from Hashem. The Jews arrive, and he immediately goes up. The Ohr haChaim haKadosh comments that Moshe should have waited to have been instructed by Hashem to ascend...it seems a bit chutzpadik that he would go up without being told so. The Ohr haChaim answers that really, Moshe had already received instructions to ascend, albeit it at a much earlier time. He says that at the incident with the Sneh/burning bush, G-d told Moshe that he and the Jews, eventually, were going to serve Hashem on this mountain. So, we fast forward to our parsha when Moshe and the Jews arrive. They come, and having already been instructed to ascend, Moshe goes up. No playing around; he had all of the prerequisites to ascend, the proper place, and prior permission. Case in point #2 of someone acted at the optimal time. Had Moshe waited, he would've left Hashem waiting.

Of course, it's easy to say that we need to act at the proper time...but actually being able to figure out when the proper time is...that's the hard part. It should be in our prayers that we should be able to recognize when the proper time to act on certain opportunities in life are, and we should follow through and act on them.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Parshas Yisro

אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

" I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Sefer Shemos, 20:2)

There is an interesting discussion in the Gemara Shabbos (120a) about the first word of the 10 commandments, “Anochi.” The Gemara there discusses different possibilities for the proper way to render the Roshei Tavos (Alept Nun Chuf Yud) of Anochi. The first opinion states that it should be rendered, “Amira Neimah Kisvis Yehavis/A Beautiful Saying was Written and Given (the Torah)”. The final opinion, however is that the Roshei Tavos should be read in reverse, rendering them, “Yehavei, Ksivi, Neemarim Anochi/(it was) Given, Written, Trusted words.”

The Meshech Chochmah says that to understand this argument, one must understand a dispute in a Gemara in Gittin (60a). The gemara there, in the context of another dispute, brings different opinions about how the Torah was transmitted to Moshe. While we certainly believe that Moshe received the Torah at Har Sinai, we also believe that the transmission continued during the 40 years in the desert; exactly when the Torah was written down is the subject of the dispute. One opinion states that as Hashem gave a Parsha to Moshe, he immediately wrote it down and then told it to the people – and so it went with the entire Torah. According to this opinion, he had a stack of individual parshiyos which he then sewed together into a sefer Torah. The other opinion, however says that Moshe didn’t write anything down until after all 40 years.

The Meshech Chochmah fits these two disputes together, saying that how you hold in the first dispute (how to render the Roshei Tavos) is dependent upon how you hold on the second dispute. The opinion that says that Moshe wrote down the Torah as he went along fits in with the opinion of “Amirah Neimah Kisvis Yehavis, explaining that a “nice saying”/a parsha was given to Moshe which he then wrote, and it was given over to the Jewish people. But, the opinion which states that the Torah was written only at the end of 40 years fits in well with the opinion that we read Roshei Tavos “Anochi” backwards (Yehavei Ksiva Neemanim Amarei), saying that Yehavei, G-d gave the whole Torah first, Ksiva, it was then written, and lest we think that some of the Torah was forgotten in the 40 years until it was written it says Neemanim Amarei, they are trusted words.

Tosfos, however, asks a question on the opinion that Moshe didn’t write the Torah until the end of the 40 year desert-stint. He says that if you look in the Torah and Rashi, a “Sefer baBris” is referred to, with Rashi saying that it was a Torah consisting of the Torah from Bereishis until that point in time. So, we see, says Tosfos, that it must be that it was written down as each Parsha was taught. See Tosfos (Gittin, 60a) as to why it is stated that it wasn’t written down at the end of 40 years, and what the essence of the dispute really is.

Anyway, according to Tosfos, all sides agree that in the desert, G-d will tell Moshe a portion which he would then write, and only then transmit the message to the people. I think that this method of “little by little” is a valuable lesson not only in one’s approach to Torah/Mitzvos, but to life in general. When one wants to take more mitzvos upon him/herself, this approach is the best way for each mitzvah to stick with them forever. Similarly, it may be frustrating to some to wait X number of years until they can work their way up the food chain at work. Trying to bypass the natural course of nature, in this case, won’t lead to anything good. If a person takes whatever task they are working on day by day, they’ll see great rewards as time goes on.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bush = Satan?

Wow, people must really hate you if they think you're 25X worst than SATAN!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Parshas Beshalach II

וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה בְּמִצְרַיִם, וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם, אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיַּאֲמִינוּ, בַּיהוָה, וּבְמֹשֶׁה, עַבְדּוֹ.

"And Israel saw the great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD, and in His servant Moses."

As discussed before, the verse tells us that the Jews were overcome with Emunah towards Hashem and his servant Moshe. But, think about it: the freaking sea was splitting - how could they NOT have believed in G-d? When we think of Emunah/faith, we think of believing in something that we can't see (ie Hashem); not believing in something that is smack in front of your face. So why tell us that they believed in Hashem?

Rashi, on the following verse, tells us that this is a Torah reference to Techias haMasim/resurrection of the dead. While that comment seemingly has no relevance to our ques ton above, the Meor v'shemesh pieces the two together. He says that the Emunah the Jews had at Krias Yam Suf was an Emunah of Techias haMasim; something which can't be seen. While it answers our question, the connection between Krias Yam Suf and Techias haMasim is one that must be explored further.

R' Yaakov Emden in his Siddur, Beis Yaakov, points out there are 6 references in the second bracha of Shemonah Esrai to Techias haMasim. He explains why each one is there and goes on to quote a Gemara in Nedarim which classifies 4 types of people as being "dead": a poor person, a Metzora, a blind person, and a person without children. 4/6 references in Shemonah Esrai refer to Hashem bringing these people back to life; the 5th is one who is sleeping, as we believe that a person's soul is taken from him/her each night (the Aishel Avraham replaces this with a Rasha/wicked person in his count); and the 6th is for the literal resurrection of the dead (Lishaynay Afar). Looking at these different types of people that are classified as dead, the general theme is that these are people whose Koach as a person isn't fully being realized. A blind person has eyes, but can't see; a poor person has a life, but is unable to support himself; a person without children may have a great life for himself, but isn't passing that on to the next generation. No doubt, a person who finds himself in any of these circumstances (except maybe sleep) could be overcome with depression. Nevertheless, we believe in Techias haMasim, not only for the literal dead, but also for those who are considered dead, as well.

The Jews, at this part of the Parsha, find themselves with a sea in front of them, and an approaching army from behind. We tend to overlook this, as just a few pesukim later we find the Jews walking through the sea on dry land. Nevertheless, there must've been a few tense moments where the Jews literally thought this was the end - who could've blamed them for such thoughts? THAT is that connection between Krias Yam Suf and Techias haMasim - that the Jews now had Emunah that G-d take take the most downtrodden of people and lift them up.

The Mishna in Sotah says that Techias haMasim is going to come about through Eliyahu haNavi. Why specifically Eliyahu haNavi? R' Yosef Engel says that it will be specifically through him because he is the first person who brings someone back from the dead (his student Elisha). Because he is the Shoresh of Techias haMasim, the final Techias haMasim will come through him. R' Baruch Simon concludes with a final, beautiful point. Frequently, when the Gemara can't come to a conclusion, it will state the famous word "Teiku", teling us that we don't know what the answer is. We have all been taught that Teiku is Roshei Taivos "Tishbi (referring to Eliyahu haNavi) Yitareitz Kushos u'Bayos/Tishbi will answer our questions." Why is Eliyahu going to be the one who answers these questions? Teiku, in the Gemara, arises when we are stuck, we don't know which way to turn. The same Eliyahu, who is going to be Mechayeh haMasim (which, remember, isn't only literal; it also means bringing us up when we are down), is the same person who is going to resolve our questions.

Often in life we may feel down, depressed, or stuck. We're not the learners we once were in Yeshiva. We've lost friends with people that mean a lot to us. We're caught up in the day to day rigors of life and may neglect other responsibilities. Life throws us many a'opportunity to make ourselves depressed. It is for this that we have 6 mentions of Techias haMasim in the 2nd bracha of Shemonah Esrai; not only should Hashem bring a Techias haMasim mamish, but he should also be Mechayeh Masim to each of us on an individual level.