Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In memory of Mort Levy, z"l


In memory of Mort Levy, a good friend who passed away last night:

"Shammai taught: Make your Torah study regular, speak little but do much, and greet every person pleasantly."

(Pirkei Avot 1:15)

Have a good day,

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The severity of rabbinic law


"Rabbi Zerika said, citing Rabbi Elazar: One who takes the mitzvah of hand-washing [before eating bread] lightly will be uprooted from the world."

(Talmud, Sotah 4b)

Rashi explains, citing the Talmud elsewhere: "For one who violates the words of the sages is liable for death, as it is written (Ecclesiastes 10), 'One who breaks through a fence will be bitten by a snake.'"

This ought to provide pause on both sides - by those who would violate rabbinic law, obviously, but also by those who would create it. Creating laws which others will take lightly presents a serious stumbling block to the public.

Have a great day,

Monday, April 28, 2008

Love, and Imitating Gd


"To no other being but man did Gd give the eyes to discern Him and to recognize Him. But the purpose of this recognition should be to imitate Him in action, for Gd created you in His image.

"And just as the one aspect of Gd which you can behold everywhere and always is His activity, and this activity is nothing but love - the birth of creation is love, the existence of every creature is love, the maintenance of the world is love, its ordering and advancement is love, love for the whole, for every individual, for you - so let the goal of your striving after Gd be love, love in deed and action with every power that is in you, in every moment of your existence, in order that you may become a blessing in your own circle, in whatever way and whatever place you can."

(R' Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, paragraph 481)

Have a great day,

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Crowd psychology


1. In capital cases, the Sanhedrin heard all of the evidence, asked any questions, and then met to deliberate.
2. Capital cases could not be decided on the same day the evidence was heard; the court was required to deliberate at least into the next day.

"If the entire court believes the defendant is guilty, the defendant is freed.

"Why? Because we have learned that we hold judgment until the next day in order to permit the judges to find merit for the defendant, and these judges will no longer be able to see merit for him."

(Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 17a)

Have a great day,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Opening the door at the Seder


Towards the end of the Seder, we open the door. Many people have a tradition of singing the song "Eliyahu haNavi," "Elijah the Prophet," about Eliyahu. The penultimate sentence in the 3rd chapter in Malachi declares that Eliyahu will come to herald the arrival of Mashiach.

The origin of the door-opening practice is two-fold:
1. To show our confidence that Gd will protect us on this evening, just He protected us in Egypt long ago (Shmot 12:42).
2. To invoke our faith that Gd will send Mashiach to lead us back home and rebuild the Temple.

(Mishneh Berurah 480:10)

Have a great day,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Our "URchatz" Washing


At the Seder on Passover evening, before Karpas, we wash our hands - but there are two different washing practices:
A) Some families have water brought out, and the hands of the head of the Seder are washed.
B) In other families, everyone's hands are washed.
Why are there two different customs?

Rabbi Yaakov Wehl suggests that there are two sources for the hand-washing practice.
A) One reason is to vary from general practice (in which we wash only for bread, not for fruits and vegetables), inspiring questions from our children. We successfully highlight that variation even if just one person washes.

B) The other reason to wash is to recall Temple times, when even produce was eaten in purity, requiring hand-washing. According to this source, everyone should wash.

Have a great day,

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Enemies and Enemies, Lavan and Esav

Good moed,

In the Haggadah we read at the Passover Seder, we talked about the desire of Lavan to destroy the Jewish people, as he pursued Yaakov. It is odd that we singled out Lavan, and never even mentioned Yaakov's brother, Esav, who also tried to kill him!

The Maharal of Prague explained that we mention Lavan on Pesach night because his brand of hatred represents the unique enmity faced by Jews through the generations. Esav tried to kill Yaakov because Yaakov received the blessings, but Lavan hated without cause - Yaakov had only helped him grow in wealth, and now Lavan wanted to kill him. Thus we mention Lavan's hatred at the Seder, reminding ourselves of the hatred we have faced, and the fact that Gd has saved us time and time again, even from such irrationally implacable enemies.

Have a great day,

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Multitude of Jews


The Haggadah reports that we descended to Egypt במתי מעט, as a small nation, but that HaShem has now made us many, like the stars of the heavens. But are we really so numerous?

The Chida explained that we view the Jewish nation not as a single generation, but rather as a composite of its entirety, across the generations. We have been promised that we will last eternally, and so we count our future descendants as well.

Have a great day,

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pre-Pesach Essay by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks


For years, I've been sending this essay to people before Pesach; here it is again. Note that Rabbi Sacks has now published a Haggadah, available here.

The Universal Story
by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth.

Observe [these decrees] carefully, for this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations who will hear about all these decrees and say 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'
Deuteronomy 4:6

In his 1849 novel White-Jacket, Herman Melville made clear how much the American dream owed to the story of Israel: We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people - the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours.

The story of Pesach is intensely particularistic. It tells of how one people, long ago, experienced oppression and were led to liberty through a long and arduous journey across the desert. Yet no story has had greater impact on the political development of the West. Moses knew that the events of his time had a significance that went far beyond those days and that people; that they would eventually become a source of inspiration to other nations. So, remarkably, it came to be. When black Americans sang, 'Let my people go', when South American liberation theologians in the 1960s based their work on the book of Exodus, when Nelson Mandela entitled his autobiography The Long Walk to Freedom, each was adopting Israel's story and making it their own. More than Plato's Republic or Aristotle's Politics, more than Rousseau's The Social Contract or Marx's Das Kapital, the Pesach story has been the West's most influential source-book of liberty. 'Since the Exodus,' said Heinrich Heine, 'Freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent.'

Its first major impact was on the politics of England in the seventeenth century and came about as the result of three factors. The first was the Reformation, with its emphasis on the Bible, as opposed to the Church, as a source of authority. The second was the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century by Gutenberg in Germany and Caxton in Britain (printing had in fact been invented in China several centuries earlier, but had not spread). For the first time, books were available in large numbers and at a price ordinary people could afford, and an overwhelming proportion of the first books produced were Bibles. A million of them were in circulation in Britain by 1640. The third factor was the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, which had been resisted, even forbidden by law, until then. Tyndale's pioneering translation was published in 1530 and was followed by many others until the King James Bible, one of the great influences on English language and literature, appeared in 1611.

The result was that for the first time, people other than priests came into direct contact with the Hebrew Bible, and its effect was immense. It taught that each individual had dignity as God's image and was entitled to freedom from tyranny, and to equality before the law. It told of how prophets criticized kings and that unjust rulers could he overthrown. The story of the Exodus itself taught the fundamental difference between might and right, power and justice, rule and authority. It introduced an ethical dimension into the politics of power.

The Hebrew Bible exercised a decisive influence on political thinkers in the seventeenth century. John Milton wrote that 'there are no songs comparable to the songs of Zion; no orations equal to those of the prophets; and no politics like those which the Scriptures teach' and called the Bible 'that book within whose sacred context all wisdom is enfolded'. The great political theorists of the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, cite it constantly in their works. There are 657 biblical references in Leviathan alone. The person, though, who did most to turn it into political reality was Oliver Cromwell, leader of the parliamentary party in England's civil war. The English, he never tired of saying, were the 'new Israel', and in his first parliamentary speech of the protectorship, he described the Exodus as 'the only parallel of God's dealing with us that I know'.

In a square in the centre of Philadelphia, in front of Independence Hall where America's Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drafted, stands one of the great symbols of the nation, the Liberty Bell, visited by more than a million tourists each year. Around the top of the bell are words taken from the twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus: 'Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.' The presence of this biblical quotation is no coincidence. It exemplifies the close relationship between the Hebrew Bible and America's founders. More even than in the case of England under Cromwell, America was the great attempt to construct a society on biblical lines, following in the footsteps of Moses.

Already in 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers, seeing themselves as a 'continuation and extension of the Jewish church', pledged themselves in a covenant to create a body politic, inspired by the example of biblical Israel, and frame 'just and equal laws'. In 1776, in Philadelphia itself, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson met to design a seal for the new United States. Franklin proposed that it should hear a picture of Moses lifting his staff to divide the Red Sea, together with the motto, 'Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.' Jefferson preferred a less aggressive design: the Israelites in the wilderness being 'led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night'. In 1799, delivering a thanksgiving sermon in Massachusetts, Abiel Abbot expressed an idea that by then was widely held: 'It has often been remarked that the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel, than any other nation upon the globe. Hence "Our American Israel" is a term frequently used; and common consent allows it apt and proper.' England was Egypt, America the promised land, and the United States the fulfilment of the old-new journey to liberty.

No one expressed more fulsomely the debt owed to the story of Israel than Americas second president, John Adams, who in 1809 wrote to a friend:
I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.

The supreme expression of the American faith was the Declaration of Independence (1776), largely drafted by Jefferson. In one of the most famous of all political affirmations, it stated: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' The striking thing about this sentence is that 'these truths' are anything but self-evident. Most societies at most times have held as self-evidently true that men are created unequal. Some are born to rule, others to be ruled. Every ancient myth, dogma and creed with the exception of the Hebrew Bible was a justification for inequality and hierarchy, a canonization of the status quo. Plato held that society was stratified into three classes, guardians (philosopher-kings), auxiliaries (soldiers) and the rest; and that whether or not these distinctions were given by birth, people should be taught that they were. Aristotle believed that some people were born to he slaves. Gradations of class were written into the structure of reality. The strong, powerful, wealthy and high-born were meant (whether by nature or God) to exercise supremacy over others. Jefferson's 'truths' were self-evident only to a culture steeped in the Hebrew Bible, from its opening declaration that the human individual is 'the image of God', to its enactment in history in the Exodus and the covenant at Mount Sinai.

We owe to Robert Bellah the idea that America has a 'civil religion' - a set of beliefs and a shared narrative, a faith, that underlie its public and political life. One of the great differences between the United States and Europe is that political, especially presidential, discourse continues to be religious to this day. Every inaugural address, with the sole exception of Washington's second (hardly a speech at all; it contains a mere two paragraphs), contains a reference to God. There is, at it were, a public theology that has been part of America's political culture throughout.

What is fascinating is that this civil religion differs in significant respects from America's congregational life, which is overwhelmingly Christian. American presidents do not tend to speak in explicitly Christian terms. They talk instead of divine providence and the sovereignty of God. They refer to covenant and the moral bonds by which societies are sustained. The liberty of which they speak is biblical rather than libertarian: a matter less of rights than responsibilities, not the freedom to do what one likes, but the freedom to do what is correct and thus contribute to the common good. They invoke an essentially Mosaic narrative of America as the promised land to which successive generations of immigrants have come to find freedom from oppression and build, in John Winthrop's famous phrase, 'a city upon a hill'.

This uniquely American rhetoric deserves more attention than it has received. It is not merely a facon de parler, an empty convention, but the way in which successive generations of citizens have understood and rededicated themselves to the terms of their shared project. Regardless of whether individual presidents have been personally religious (Eisenhower once reportedly said, 'Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith - and I don't care what it is'), they have had to adopt this language in order to keep faith with the past. Its connection with Pesach is direct. The great American political addresses are the most sustained attempt in the modern world to place the themes of exodus, redemption and the presence of God in history at the centre of public life.

The vision was first set out by John Winthrop aboard the Arabella in 1630 as it sailed for New England. Speaking in conscious imitation of Moses at the end of his life, he invited his fellow settlers to 'enter into a covenant' with God and to 'follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.' If they failed to live up to the covenant 'the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us', but if they were true to its terms, 'The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways.' They would then find 'that the God of Israel is among us'.

American presidents did not use such explicitly biblical language. A hundred and fifty years had passed, and unlike the pilgrim fathers they were not speaking to a sect but to what had become a great and independent nation. Yet their sentiments were the same. In the first inaugural in 1789, George Washington declared, 'It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe,' and warned that 'the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.' In his second inaugural (1805), Thomas Jefferson alluded to the exodus: 'I shall need, too, the favour of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.'

It might be thought that this kind of language would have been confined to those early years of independence, when the sense was still strong that something great, even miraculous, was at work in America. Yet in 1961, John F. Kennedy was still using the same biblical cadences:
I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our al bonds forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago. The world her than is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to what one abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God... With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Succeeding the assassinated Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson gave a particularly striking account of 'the American covenant':
They came here - the exile and the stranger, brave but frightened - to find a place where a man could be his own man. They made a covenant with this land. Conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day to inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds us still. If we keep its terms, we shall flourish... Under this covenant of justice, liberty and union we have become a nation - prosperous, great and mighty. And we have kept our freedom. But we have no promise from God that our greatness will endure. We have been allowed by Him to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength of our spirit.

In 2001, the vision still drove George W. Bush. Pledging himself to work for a nation of justice and opportunity, he added:
I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image... Americans arc generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves... We are not this [nation's] story's author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another.

No other country in the West uses this intensely religious vocabulary. It is particularly striking in view of the fact that the American constitution, in the form of the First Amendment, formally separates religion and state.
It was the great French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, who in the 1830s, in the course of his classic Democracy in America, explained the paradox. There was a separation between religion and state, but not between religion and society. 'Religion in America,' he wrote, 'takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions.' What he meant was that, though it had no power, it had enormous influence. It sustained families. It bound communities together. It prompted people to join voluntary organizations for the promotion of the common good. It was the basis of a shared morality which, precisely because it was upheld by faith, did not have constantly to be enforced by law. 'In France,' he noted, 'I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. In America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.'

In a strange way civil religion has the same relationship to the United States as Pesach does to the Jewish people. It is, first and foremost, not a philosophy but a story. It tells of how a persecuted group escaped from the old world and made a hazardous journey to an unknown land, there to construct a new society, in Abraham Lincoln's famous words, 'conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.' Like the Pesach story, it must be told repeatedly, as it is in every inaugural address. It defines the nation, not merely in terms of its past but also as a moral-spiritual commitment to the future. It is no accident that the founders of America turned to the Hebrew Bible, nor that successive presidents have done likewise, because there is no other text in Western literature that draws these themes - history, providence, covenant, responsibility, 'the exile and the stranger', the need to fight for freedom in every generation - together in a vision that is at once political and spiritual. Israel, ancient and modern, and the United States are the two supreme examples of societies constructed in conscious pursuit of an idea.

There have been four revolutions in the West in modern times: the British and American, and the French and Russian. In Britain and America the source of inspiration was the Hebrew Bible. In France and Russia it was the great alternative to the Bible, namely philosophy. The theorist of the French revolution was Jean-Jacques Rousseau; of the Russian, Karl Marx. The contrast between them is vivid. Britain and America succeeded in creating a free society, not without civil war, but at least without tyranny and terror. The French and Russian revolutions began with a dream of utopia and ended with a nightmare of bloodshed and the suppression of human rights. The great philosophes, Helvetius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Simon and Marx, created not freedom but its betrayal, what J. L. Talmon called 'totalitarian democracy'.

Why did Britain and America succeed where France and Russia failed? The explanation is surely complex but much - perhaps all - turns on how a society answers the question: who is the ultimate sovereign, God or man? The British and Americans gave the first answer, the French and Russian revolutionaries the second. For the British and American architects of liberty, God was the supreme power. All authority was therefore subject to the transcendental demands of the moral law. For the French and Russian ideologists, ultimate value lay in the state or the collective. The failure of the French and Russian revolutions is the most compelling testimony to the fact that when human beings arrogate supreme power to themselves, politics loses its sole secure defence of freedom. Democracy, in and of itself, is not enough. As Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill warned, it merely replaces the tyranny of a minority with the tyranny of the majority. From ancient Athens to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, no political system that vested absolute power in its rulers, however elected, has resisted corruption. Societies that exile God lead to the eclipse of man. That is why the Exodus narrative remains the canonical text of liberty. It is only when a society acknowledges God that man is protected from his fellow man. As Lord Acton put it in his description of biblical politics:
The inspired men who rose in unfailing succession to prophesy against the usurper and the tyrant, constantly proclaimed that the laws, which were divine, were paramount over sinful rulers, and appealed from the established authorities, from the kings, the priests, and the princes of the people, to the healing forces that slept in the uncorrupted consciences of the masses. Thus the example of the Hebrew nation laid down the parallel lines on which all freedom has been won - the doctrine of national tradition and the doctrine of the higher law; the principle that a constitution grows from a root, by process of development, and not of essential change; and the principle that all political authorities must be tested and reformed according to a code which was not made by man.

The Exodus is the inexhaustible source of inspiration to all those who long for freedom. It taught that right was sovereign over might; that freedom and justice must belong to all, not some; that, under God, all human beings are equal; and that over all earthly powers is the supreme power, the King of Kings, who hears the cry of the oppressed and who intervenes in history to liberate slaves. It took many centuries for this vision to become the shared property of the liberal democracies of the West; and there is no guarantee that it will remain so. Freedom is a moral achievement, and without a constant effort of education it atrophies and must be fought for again. Nowhere more than on Pesach, though, do we see how the story of one people can become the inspiration of many; how, loyal to its faith across the centuries, the Jewish people became the guardians of a vision through which, ultimately, 'all the peoples of the earth will be blessed'.

Have a happy and kosher Pesach,

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Haggadah, Yaakov and Aliyah


The Haggadah points out that Yaakov descended to Egypt to 'sojourn there' rather than to live there permanently.

The Maharal of Prague observed that the Haggadah is trying to say that had Yaakov and his family actually intended to abandon life in Israel and settle permanently in Egypt, they would not have been redeemed from slavery. They merited to be brought out of Egypt specifically because they, all along, had understood they would return to Israel and had intended to return to Israel.

Have a great day,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Meaning of Matzah


Matzah plays an odd role at our Seder.

On the one hand, it represents affliction, poverty and slavery, and so it has no sweetening ingredients - it's just flour and water.

On the other hand, we carried the matzah on our shoulders as we left Egypt, and it didn't rise because our redemption was so quick. In this sense, matzah is about redemption.

In fact, Ramban wrote that matzah is meant to play both roles, symbolic of both slavery and redemption. On the other hand, Maharal wrote that matzah is primarily an instrument of redemption. True, matzah incorporates the symbols of poverty, but only in order to highlight and accentuate the strength of HaShem's redemption.

Therefore, Ramban translates the Torah's term for Matzah, לחם עוני, as "bread of affliction," but Maharal renders it as "bread of poverty," because a pauper is free and unencumbered by property - just like the Jews, on their way out of Egypt.

(Ramban to Parshat Reeh, Maharal's Haggadah shel Pesach)

Have a great day,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Moshe's employer


In the Haggadah we say that HaShem saved us from Egypt Himself, ולא על ידי שליח, without an emissary.

This triggers an obvious question: Wasn't Moshe HaShem's emissary?

The Avudraham explained: HaShem actually performed the miracles, so Moshe was not HaShem's emissary. Moshe's role was as emissary of the Jews to Paroh.

Perhaps this helps explain why Moshe was so concerned that the Jews believe him - because they were really the ones sending Moshe. They had called out to HaShem for help, and this was the help, sent at their request. Therefore he needed their confidence; had they not trusted Moshe, the redemption could not have happened.

Have a great day,

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Order of Maggid


Why does the Haggadah start from "Our ancestors were idolaters" in recounting the story of leaving Egypt?

The Talmud explains that מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח, we start with our original degradation and conclude with praise, and one aspect of that degradation was our original spiritual state.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik added that this also demonstrates how we achieve גאולה, redemption. It's a process of תשובה, of repentance, in which we acknowledge our errors (וידוי), change our ways and declare that we will never revert. Thus we begin with the acknowledgement that we were once idolaters, and then declare that we have now come close to Gd, and that this will be our future.

Have a great day,

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Next year in Yerushalayim


At the start of the Seder, in the "הא לחמא עניא Ha Lachma Anya," we invite in all who are hungry. We conclude the paragraph with the wish that next year we should celebrate in Yerushalayim. Is there a connection between the beginning and the end?

Rav Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, son of the Chatam Sofer and author of Ktav Sofer, explained that we are taught (see the end of Isaiah 1) that our redemption will come through justice and tzedakah. So we conclude Ha Lachma Anya by asking that in the merit of opening our homes to people in need, we be rewarded with the ultimate redemption.

(Ktav Sofer)

Have a great day,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Excellence in Torah Study


"There was a debate between Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel and the Sages: Is it better to be a Sinai [an expert in broad areas of Torah] or a Grinder of Mountains [a master of fine distinctions and deep understanding]? One said Sinai is better, the other said Grinder of Mountains is better.

"Rav Yosef was a Sinai, and Rabbah was a Grinder of Mountains. They sent the question to the sages of Israel - 'Who has precedence [in teaching in the study hall]?'

"The Israeli sages responded that Sinai does; it is said, 'Everyone needs the person with the grain.'

"Despite this, Rav Yosef did not accept this honor."

(Talmud, Horiyyot 14a)

Have a great day,

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Suspecting the innocent


"One who is suspicious of an innocent person will suffer physically as a punishment."

(Talmud, Shabbat 97a)

Have a great day,

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jewish Eating


"One of the most recurrent activities, and at times overwhelming activities, of any observant Jew is eating. The Torah places extreme emphasis upon all aspects of eating. The food itself and the manner in which it is eaten is microscopically scrutinized by the Torah and Chazal. In Kabbalistic and Chassidic schools of thought, achilah b'kedushah (consecrated consumption) plays an extremely important role in one's service of HaShem."

(R' Binyomin Forst, Laws of Kashrus, Overview)

Have a great day,

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cleanliness for Prayer


A sign of the respect needed for prayer:

"Do not pray without clean hands and without [physical] purity, for your prayer will otherwise not be heard."

(Orchot Chaim of the Rosh (Rabbeinu Asher), #71)

Have a great day,

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Divine control and Free will


An interesting approach to the problem of believing in both Divine self-determination and Human free will:

"Effort is greatly required for any positive accomplishment, whether in mundane matters or in spiritual matters. Although everything is in the hands of Heaven, I have already declared that sometimes the Divine wisdom decrees that a certain event will occur based upon a person's effort and care."

(R' Eliezer Papo, Pele Yoetz, Hishtadlut)

Have a great day,

Saturday, April 5, 2008



"The students of Shammai said to him [regarding a particular stringency]: Our Master! You have lengthened things so much for us!

"Shammai replied: Better that I lengthen things for you here, so that your days will be lengthened in the next world!"

(Talmud, Niddah 16b)

Have a great day,

Thursday, April 3, 2008



On using one's power of speech for mundanities:

"Rava said: One who speaks mundane speech violated a positive commandment, as it is written, 'ודברת בם You shall speak about them [words of Torah]' - about them, and not about other things."

(Talmud, Yoma 19b)

Have a great day,

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Daily Torah Thought - 4/3


A strong view of Divine control:

"One must know that the events which occur to people are of two types: One are goal events, and the other are means events.

"'Goal events' are events which are decreed upon a person, because they are appropriate for him for one of the reasons discussed elsewhere in this book.

"'Means events' are events which occur to a person so that, via these steps, another event will occur which is appropriate for him..."

(R' Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Derech HaShem, 2:3)

Have a great day,

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How to live in Exile


Gd's instructions to the Jewish people, regarding exile, show the primacy of Israel over any other place for a Jew to live:

"Even though I am exiling you from the land to live outside of the land, be marked in mitzvot so that when you return to the land they will not be new to you."

(Midrash, Sifri to Devarim, 43)

Have a great day,