Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hilchos Muktzeh Mussar

I'm not frequently able to glean much mussar from halachic works, but something I learned on Shavuos has managed to keep me thinking for the last week or so. While the Halacha itself isn't that profound, the real-life application, in my opinion, definitely is. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 308:4), discussing Muktzeh, rules that even a "Kli She'Melachto L'Hetter" cannot be used, except when there is a need. Explained: even those things that are inherently permissible to be handled on Shabbos cannot be used unless one absolutely needs that thing. I can imagine a situation where one questions someone else as to whether the object that he/she is handling is permissible on Shabbos, to which the person could reply, "But what about it makes it forbidden?" However, the question the person should be asking him/herself is, "What about it makes it permissible?" Thus, we see that regarding Muktzeh on Shabbos, one must be able to find a good reason to use that thing, as opposed to not being able to find any reason not to.

I believe that there is a key piece of Mussar to be learned from this Halacha. Often times, when we're questioning whether or not something we did/will do is acceptable, we all too often look for any negative consequences of that action. If there are none, we are more than likely to judge that act as acceptable. However, just because that act may not have negative consequences, it may not have positive ones either. We don't just do things to do them; our actions are a means to and end. That end, in my opinion, should be for positive consequences. While the difference may be slight, if our litmus test for behavior is whether or not something has positive consequences as opposed to whether or not it has negative ones, we may have much less to regret in the future.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Parshas Naso 5767

I have re-posted last year’s Dvar Torah with an extra, similar, thought new for this year.

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Naso, we learn about a couple of the most fascinating topics in the Torah; Sotah and Nazir. Essentially, a Sotah is a women that is accused of being a wayward wife and she goes through a process at the Beis haMikdash where she drinks a mixture of water and earth from the floor of the Mishkan. If she is innocent, the waters do not effect her, but if she is guilty of cheating on her husband, the waters make her stomach swell to the point of death.

A Nazir is someone who takes an oath to abstain from drinking wine or any grape products, as well as refraining from shaving or taking a haircut. The common explanation for Nazirus is that it is recommended for someone that is having trouble attaining the "middle path" in life. This person, for example, could be someone that is completely caught up in the material aspects of life, with no sense of spirituality. A period of nazirus would forbid him to drink wine or take a haircut - things that the person was probably too caught up with beforehand. By previously being on one end of the continuum, but now moving to the complete opposite end of the continuum, the Torah hopes that this person will, from then on, lead a life in the "middle path".

Interestingly, these two concepts are juxtaposed in the Torah. Quoting the famous Rashi:
"למה נסמכה פרשת נזיר לפרשת סוטה, לומר לך שכל הרואה סוטה בקלקולה יזיר עצמו מן היין "
Asks and answers Rashi, "Why are the ideas of nazir and sotah juxtaposed? To say that anyone that sees a sotah at the time of her decadence should go ahead and become a Nazir and abstain from wine."

Think about it: you see one of your fellow Jews going through the terrible punishment of playing Russian roulette with the Sotah waters - why then does this person need to go ahead and become a Nazir? You would think that this person, who sees this women at the time of her demise, would be the last person that would need to go ahead and become a Nazir! The fright of seeing the Sotah process should be enough to prevent this person from doing anything wrong (ie, drinking too much wine, obsessing over material things, etc.). Seeing this profound "religious" event should make a mark on this person. Or, think about it another way: you and your buddy are criminals - you sell drugs, kill the occasional person, etc. During one of your slayings, your buddy gets caught but you're let off the hook. Your buddy gets the electric chair and you watch him die. Wouldn't this experience be enough to prevent you from murdering further?

R' Yecheskel Weinfeld, son of the Lev Avraham asks this question, and offers the following answer (with my adaptation). We often, in different situations, get rushes of spirituality, much like a person watching a Sotah does. We've all had these intense moments where we feel so strongly about our Judaism. But what does the Torah recommend we do when we get one of these rushes? Does it recommend we let that feeling rest and sit idle? No, the Torah tells us to put it into motion immediately. Sure, the person seeing the Sotah gets a wave of spirituality, something that tells him that doing sins is wrong, but it isn't that feeling alone that is good enough - it's putting that feeling into action and becoming a Nazir. It's only when we take those feelings of fear and/or elation about our Yiddishkeit and put them into action that we truly maximize our potential.
We see this idea also regarding the timely holiday of Shavuos. The Kedushas Levi wonders why one of the names of Shavuos is “Chag haAtzeres.” Atzeres comes from the same root as the word “stop”; so what are we stopping from doing on Shavuos? R’ Levi Yitzchak answers that the Jews at Har Sinai stopped from touching the mountain. But, who cares if they refrained from touching the mountain? He answers that the Jewish people were extremely inspired knowing that they were mere days away from receiving the Torah. They wanted to put this inspiration into action, but not having the Torah left them with no tangible Mitzvos to perform. Thus, the first action that they took with this new-found inspiration was refraining from touching the holy Har Sinai. Thus, the same lesson we see above, that a person needs to act immediately on their inspiration, was fulfilled by the Jews at Har Sinai by Kabbalas haTorah.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tikkun Leil Shavuot

For those of you who are looking for some interesting reading come Shavuos night, YU has put out another one of their "Shavuot-to-go" packets. The topics haven't interested me in years past, but the material this year is a bit more promising. Topics discussed include: intellectual property, conditions, terms, and licenses, piggybacking on a Wi-Fi connection, and a teen program entitled "Facebook and Friendship."


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Parshas Bamidbar 5767

For last year's Dvar, CLICK HERE.

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאהֶל מוֹעֵד: בְּאֶחָד לַחדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית, לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם--לֵאמר.

"And Ad-noy spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first [day] of the second month, in the second year of their exodus from the land of Egypt, saying:" (Bamidbar, 1:1)

Chazal in the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 1) ask why the Torah was specifically given in the desert, to which they answer that with this we learn that in the presence of three things was the Torah given: fire (Shemos 19), water (Shoftim 5), and desert. The Nesivos Shalom wonders what the common thread is between these three things.

Regarding this, the Nesivos Shalom comments that even though we now associate these three things with holiness and the giving of the Torah, all of these things have the possibility to be associated with Tumah/impurity, as well. Fire, although present at the giving of the Torah, can also refer to the burning Yetzer Hara that flames like a fire which tries to entice us to do negative things. Or, if channeled properly, this same fire can be the fire that fuels our Yetzer Tov to act properly. Water symbolizes yearning (he doesn't explain how, although I'd posit that water is something that people are constantly yearning for); obviously, one can yearn for either proper or improper things. Finally, the Midbar/desert is an ownerless land that symbolizes this idea of being "ownerless." One that channels their energy in an improper manner in this regard is likely to run around wild, almost in an animalistic way (think of a high schooler whose parents go out of town). However, when using this attribute of being "ownerless" in a proper way, one will view not himself as the focus but will shift the focus to holier pursuits.

Thus, we see that the Torah was given with things that have the power to be used both in a proper and improper way. Obviously, this is our challenge; to try to act properly with this fire, water, and desert. I think every person has different personality traits by which one may define themselves. Perhaps, one may think that as they are trying to better themselves, some of these traits may be incongruent with a proper lifestyle. However, I think the message of these three things is that we have the ability to take those things that may be inherently negative and use them for positive. These traits are much of what makes us all different from each other and one shouldn't think that they need to (necessarily) change themselves - just find a way to use them for positive.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Classic BT Move

I met a guy recently and upon speaking with him for a few minutes, I realized that I knew somebody that was in his year of graduate schooling. The conversation went something like this:

Him: I'm just finishing my 1st year at such and such a grad school.
Me: Oh, I know a frum girl in your class; she grew up with me in Frederick.
Him: Well....kind of...
Me: What do you mean, "Well, kind of"?
Him: Well, she doesn't cover her hair.

Lets forget the fact, for a second, that this guy grew up in a town where a tiny fraction of women cover their hair. To me, to consider someone "kind of frum" because she doesn't cover her hair is simply ridiculous. If one were to make a list of requisite things one must do in order to fall under the umbrella of "Orthodoxy" in America today, I'd have Kashrus, Shabbos, and Taharas haMishpacha. Having sex with men excludes men from being heterosexual, but not covering of hair doesn't exclude women from being Orthodox.

That said, the whole idea of where people fall on the Jewish spectrum isn't the issue. The bigger problem, I believe, is for Baalei Teshuva to totally turn their backs on their (GASP!) Reform or Conservative upbringing. For me, growing up in a house that would at most be considered Conservative has only made me more sympathetic to the religious struggles of the non-Orthodox who are on their own, personal, path of relgiious growth. It would make sense that someone who is a Ba'al Teshuva and understands how hard it is to "make it" would want to laud someone for their path to Orthodoxy; and not to want to throw someone out of being called "Orthodoxy" for something which doesn't define someone as being Orthodox in today's society to begin with. Unfortunately, many Baalei Teshuva turn off part of their memory when they become frum.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Parshas Behar / Bechukosai

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-משֶׁה, בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמר. דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, כִּי תָבאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נתֵן לָכֶם--וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ, שַׁבָּת לַיהוָה.

"Ad-noy spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying; Speak to Bnei Yisroel and say to them, when you come to the land which I give to you the land shall be at rest---a Shabbos for Ad-noy." (Sefer Vayikra, 25:1-2)

Rashi (c.v. Shabbos Lashem) tells us that this rest of the land (Shmittah) has to be "L'Sheim Hashem"; namely, that even though the land benefits and becomes strengthened from resting one out of seven years, one should only do the Mitzvah because it is a command from Hashem and not because of this benefit to the land. However, the Ibn Ezra here tells us that the "Shabbos Lashem" should be "K'yom HaShabbos/like the day of Shabbos." He goes on to explain that it should be like Shabbos in that it should be set aside for learning Torah (see Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbos, 16); just as Shabbos is set aside for learning, so too, Shmittah should be a year set aside for learning.

The Chida wonders why Shmittah is in the 7th year; ostensibly the year of resting the land could be on any year of a 7 year cycle. He quotes the Gemara (Shabbos 35b) that tells us that people would work every Nissan and Tishrei so that the rest of their year would be set aside from learning Torah. Thus, after 6 years there would be a total of 12 months which they had been working; thus, the 7th year would make up for those 12 months which had been lost from the previous 6.

However, the Divrei Yoel says that there were only a small, fortunate, few that would actually only work 2 months out of the year. In reality, the majority of people were forced to work all year round to make enough money for survival. Nevertheless, when the 7th year would come, everyone would go and spend the year learning. Thus, the only time that all of Klal Yisrael was learning was in the Shmittah year. He explains that it was only through the added Koach of those who hadn't had time to learn the previous 6 years but are now doing so that those who learned 10 months out of the year could properly make up for their 2 months a year that were lost. Seemingly, without the added merits of those who worked full time, the two months a year in which the full-timers were working would not properly be rectified.

The message from all of this, I believe, is that it's never too late for Torah. Many people are too busy, for whatever reason, to learn much during the week. This, as we saw from the Ibn Ezra, is the purpose of Shabbos. But, there are those that for whatever reason may not learn for years on end. We see, though, from Shmittah that it doesn't matter if you haven't learned for the past 6 years; it's not too late to set aside time for Torah.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Beer Man!

Anyone that frequents Oriole games (and sits in the lower section) should appreciate this. This guy is THE MAN - he even had a spread about him in ESPN Magazine last year.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Parshas Emor 5767

For last year's Dvar, CLICK HERE.

וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת, מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה: שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת, תְּמִימת תִּהְיֶינָה

"And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete." (Sefer Vayikra 23:15)

The Nesivos Shalom wonders why, when referring to Sefiras haOmer, the verse says that we should count "seven complete Shabbasos". The verse, rather, should say that we are counting 7 complete weeks, not Shabbasos. The Nesivos Shalom says while we are counting 7 weeks, at the very least, the Shabbasos should be "Temimos". He goes on to explain what he means by bringing a thought from Mesilas Yesharim.

The Mesilas Yesharim discusses the difference between Tahara/Purity and Kedusha/holiness. He explains that purity is simply the state that exists when there is a lack of impurity. This, however, doesn't make something Kadosh/holy. Rather, Kedusha is the higher level, more of an active state, that can be attained only after reaching the lower level of purity first. To connect this to Sefirah: we know that the Sefirah period which connects Pesach and Shavuos is to be used to prepare ourselves for Matan Torah/receiving the Torah. This is a two step process: first, ridding ourselves of the impurity in order to reach a state of purity, and second, actively attaining a certain level of Kedusha.

With this in mind, he gives an answer to our original question as to why the verse tells us to count 7 Shabbasos, and not 7 weeks. The weekdays of Sefirah, he recommends, should be used to attain the first step in the process, purity. However, there's only so much of the process that we can attain on a weekday. However, on Shabbos we are able to use the extra Kochos of the day to help us reach the final level of Kedusha. This is why the verse tells us we should count 7 Shabbasos, because it is only through these Shabbasos that we can attain the highest level of that which we hope to attain in our quest for proper preparation for Matan Torah.