Monday, March 23, 2015

The End, For Now


It is with a great deal of regret that I announce that I do not expect to send out daily Torah Thought and daily Jewish Law emails in the foreseeable future.

I began sending out these emails in 1997, and I am grateful to those who have been with me since those days when this was a local email list confined to the Jewish community of Pawtucket/Providence, Rhode Island, as well as to those who joined more recently. I have enjoyed our on-line and off-line exchanges, and I have benefited from the pressure to come up with a new email each day. Some of these posts have come at sensitive times in my life, and have offered a chance to express what was on my mind. Some have just been whatever I opened up to that day. Some have been from source sheets for my classes. I take some pride in noting that there are more than 2,000 posts in each of my daily blogs, and the great, great majority are not duplicates.

However: at this stage in life I feel a strong need to impose strict priorities on how I use my time, in order to improve my chances of accomplishing some of the goals I have set for myself.

I am not going anywhere; I am still reachable by email, and I hope that the fact that I won't be in your Inbox each morning won't lead you to forget me. And who knows? Perhaps there will come a time when I will come back to this. I intend to leave these sites on-line; at the least, they may be useful for people who are researching a particular idea or law.

Thank you for reading, and please keep in touch,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Bond Between Gd, Moshe and Yehoshua


"'As Gd instructed His servant Moshe, so Moshe instructed Yehoshua and so Yehoshua did; he did not remove anything of what Gd had instructed Moshe. (Yehoshua 11:15)'

"It does not say 'of what Moshe had instructed him,' but 'of what Gd had instructed Moshe.' Even regarding that which he did not hear from Moshe, Yehoshua's mind matched that which had been told to Moshe at Sinai."

(Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah 1:1)

Have a great day,

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Reciprocal kindness


"One who eulogizes others – others will eulogize him. One who buries others – others will bury him. One who carries others – others will carry him. One who elevates his voice [in eulogy] – others will elevate their voices for him."

(Talmud, Moed Katan 28b)

Have a great day,

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Goals of Rambam and Rabbi Yehudah haLevi


"Maimonides and Halevi both engaged in religious and social criticism. Maimonides lashes out against the idolatrous tendencies of popular religion, whereas Halevi engaged in social criticism that is surprisingly candid in its treatment of instances of Jewish hypocrisy. Both, however, aim to strengthen religious commitment. In contrast, the theological-political project of Spinoza, like that of Hobbes before him, includes a critique of religion that aims to eradicate its institutional structure. Ultimately, Maimonides accepte the responsibility of Jewish communal leadership, while Spinoza left the Jewish community."

(Prof. Menachem Lorberbaum, Medieval Jewish Political Thought, Medieval Jewish Philosophy pg. 194)

Have a great day,

Monday, March 9, 2015

Insincere conversion to Judaism?


"One who converts in order to partake of a royal table, or to be among Solomon's servants, is not a valid convert, per Rabbi Nechemiah. For Rabbi Nechemiah said: Those who have converted for fear of wild animals or due to dreams, and those who converted in the days of Mordechai and Esther, are not valid converts…

"Rav said: The law follows the view that they are all valid converts [after the fact]."

(Talmud, Yevamot 24b)

Have a great day,

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Joy of Purim


On Purim:

"As physical life was threatened here and physical life saved, so, apart from the public recital of the story handed down to us perpetuating the event, Purim stresses the enjoyment of festivities, mutual gifts and consideration for our poorer brethren.

"Together with this we should joyfully remember how our life was given to us again, and in this feeling of joy we should each revive the spirit of our common brotherhood and give it greater scope by bringing cheer to our less fortunate ones."

(Rabbi Samshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, paragraph 247)

Have a great day,

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Queen Esther's Strategy


"The sages taught: Why did Esther invite Haman to her meal with Achashverosh?

"R' Eliezer: She planted a trap for him, as it is written (Psalms 69), 'May your table be a trap before them.'

"R' Yehoshua: While in her father's household, she learned that it is written, 'If your enemy hungers, give him bread.'

"R' Meir: So that Haman wouldn't consult his advisors and plot a rebellion against Achashverosh (as he would think everything was fine).

"R' Yehudah: So they shouldn't realize she was Jewish.

"R' Nechemiah: So the Jews wouldn't rely on having a sister of theirs in the palace, and stop praying to Gd for mercy.

"R' Yosi: So that Haman would be before her (in the presence of the king, and she could make him stumble).

"R' Shimon ben Minasya: Perhaps Gd would see the depths to which she had to stoop, and have mercy and perform a miracle.

"R' Yehoshua ben Karcha: I'll be friendly to him before the king, and the king will kill both of us.

"Rabban Gamliel: Achashverosh was whimsical (and might change his mind if it would take time to carry out his decree).

"Rabban Gamliel said: We still require the words of Moda'i, as it is taught: R' Eliezer haModai said: To cause jealousy of Haman from both the King and his other officers.

"Rabbah said: It is written (Proverbs 16), 'Arrogance comes before one is broken.'

"Abayye and Rava said: It is written (Jeremiah 51), 'In anger I will set their feasts (punishment will come at their feasts).'

"Rabbah bar Avuha encountered Eliyahu (the Prophet), and asked: Which explanation is the one which Esther saw, which motivated her to do this?

"He replied: Esther saw all of the rationales of these various sages."

(Talmud, Megilah 15b)

Have a great day,

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Drinking on Purim


Time for my annual message:

On Purim we celebrate the ultimate joy of a sudden national rescue, and our sages have taught that we should imbibe alcohol at the Purim Seudah as part of this celebration. Just as we abstain from various foods and from drink at certain times of the year to induce sadness, so we indulge in various foods and in drink at other times of the year, to induce joy. The gemara’s standard for imbibing is to drink until we cannot tell the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai” (Megilah 7b).

Authorities differ on how much to drink, but the following is clear: An adult who is medically, psychologically and emotionally able to drink, and who has a designated driver, should drink some amount of alcohol - preferably enough that he will feel lightheaded (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2). One should enjoy his Purim meal relatively early in the afternoon, drink a little, and then sleep off the effects of the alcohol.

Many people, and I include myself in this number, have embraced the practice of drinking minimally at the Purim Seudah and then fulfilling the state of intoxication by taking a nap after the meal. This approach is sanctioned by the Rama (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2), and supported by the Taz, who believes that the gemara's conclusion opposes drinking. One might consider doing the eating/drinking/nap before participating in a communal seudah.

I know the following is obvious, and I apologize for taking your time with it, but if my blog has any reach at all then I feel an obligation to state this obvious point. Please:

1) There is no reason to give alcohol to minors who are pre-bar mitzvah to drink on Purim. It is not necessary for their fulfillment of any mitzvah. The practice might be secularly legal as sacramental wine - consult an attorney - but it is a foolish and dangerous ritual and therefore prohibited as endangering our children as well as violating our obligation of chinuch for our children.

I do believe there is a difference between giving children under the age of obligation in mitzvot a taste of wine from the formal Shabbat Kiddush (not the one in shul; I mean the one at dinner/lunch!) and engaging them in Purim drinking. The former is a formal setting, and no one (I hope) is drinking to get a buzz. On Purim, though, because the general drinking is more loose and more geared toward celebration, I believe that the rule should be that children drink no alcohol at all.

2) If your own child is a minor, but older than bar mitzvah, and able to handle a small amount of wine, then it makes sense to help your child fulfill the mitzvah with a small amount, in a supervised setting, assuming this is legal in your jurisdiction.

3) I beleve adults should not drink on Purim in the presence of young children, beyond what would normally be consumed at a meal on Shabbat. Immature children cannot tell when we are in control and when we are not, cannot comprehend the dangers associated with alcohol, cannot accept the idea that adults can do what children are not permitted to do, and cannot understand the difference between Purim and the rest of the year.

The finest joy is a celebration which centers around a Mitzvah, and this is the essence of Purim – the four mitzvot (Megilah, Sending Gifts of Food, Giving to the Poor and having a Feast) which are about experiencing joy and spreading joy and thanking HaShem for saving us from destruction.

I apologize for wasting anyone’s time by stating the obvious, but as I said above, I feel the responsibility of stating this in any forum I have available.

And not to be a party-pooper at all, but those who want to know more about this theme should see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rav Chaim Margaliyot (printed with a standard Mishneh Berurah), in his final comment on Orach Chaim:

ויותר יש לזרז עצמו בד"ת במקום שיש שם איזה שמחה אף אם היא שמחה של מצוה ועיין בסוף סוכה בענין שמחת בית השואבה וכן מבואר לעיל סימן תקכ"ט אדם אוכל ושותה ושמח ברגל ולא ימשוך בבשר ויין ובשחוק וקלות ראש לפי שאין השחוק וקלות ראש שמחה אלא הוללות וסכלות ולא נצטוינו על הוללות וסכלות אלא על שמחה שיש בה עבודת היוצר עכ"ל והוא לשון רבינו הרמב"ם ז"ל והמפרשים ז"ל פירשו לשחוק אמרתי מהולל ר"ל שיהיה באיזה ענין שיהיה השחוק הוא הוללות עבט"ז לעיל
אך לשמחה מה זו עושה ר"ל שלענין שמחה אין להחליט שאינה יפה שבאמ' יש שמחה של מצוה ולכן יש ליתן לב לדעת מה זו עושה ר"ל מה טובה אם הוא שמחה של מצוה או לא אך הואיל ואפשר כי מתוך אכילה ושתיה והוללת יתמשך לשחוק וקלות ראש לכן יקח תבלין לבסם השמחה בד"ת וחדוות ה' יהיה מעוזו ויטב לבו בד"ת וז"ש וטוב לב משתה תמיד
It is even more necessary to energize one’s self with words of Torah in a place where there is joy, even if it is joy associated with a mitzvah. See the end of Succah regarding simchas beis hashoevah. And so is explained in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 529, “One should eat, drink and be happy on the holiday, but not draw himself after meat and wine and laughter and lightheadedness, for laughter and lightheadedness are not joy, but empty celebration and foolishness. We are not instructed in empty celebration and foolishness, but in joy which includes service of the Creator.” This is a citation from the Rambam.
The sages explained the verse (Kohelet 2:2), “I have called laughter ‘empty celebration’” to mean that in any form, laughter is empty celebration. See the Taz earlier. [I don’t know which comment from the Taz he means.]
But “What does joy accomplish (Kohelet 2:2)” means that regarding joy, one should not conclude that it is not good. In truth, there is joy associated with mitzvot! Therefore, one should set his heart to know what joy can accomplish, meaning, what is its nature – is it joy associated with a mitzvah, or not. But since it is possible that one will be drawn to laughter and lightheadedness as a result of eating, drinking and empty celebration, therefor, one should take spices to sweeten the joy with words of Torah, and his strength will be in the joy of Gd, and his heart will be good with words of Torah. This is the meaning of ‘One of good heart is always at a feast.’

May we have wonderful and safe Purim - ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר!

Chag Purim Sameiach,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Experiencing Gd


"If we speak of experiencing Gd, and if by this we understand the ecstatic encounter of a man quivering with passion and tenseness, then one cannot consider the ethical or noetical act as capable of engendering such an experience. For the ethical and the cognitive, the rendezvous with the Creator is a quiet sedate one. There is, in fact, no actual meeting. A real encounter is never achieved by the scientist or the ethicist. For them, there is only, if we may use a metaphor of Yehudah Halevi, an exchange of epistles; the contact is established in an impersonal way, through correspondence. The medium through which this type of contact is attained is the natural law and moral norm.

"Only the aesthetic experience, if linked with the idea of the exalted, may bring man directly into contact with Gd, living, personal, and intimate. Only through coming in contact with the beautiful and exalted may one apprehend Gd instead of comprehending Him, feel the embrace of the Creator, and the warm breath of infinity hovering over a finite creation. The reason for immediacy and impact implicit in the aesthetic experience is its sensuous character."

(Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Exaltation of Gd and Redeeming the Aesthetic, Worship of the Heart pg. 59)

Have a great day,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Uniqueness of Moshe's Miracles


"[Moshe's signs] were performed before all Israel, who followed him, as Devarim 34:12 says, 'Before the eyes of all Israel.' This did not exist for any prophet before him, and he accurately foretold that it would not happen for anyone else in the future."

(Rambam, Moreh haNevuchim 2:35)

Have a great day,