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Posts Tagged ‘Talmud’

Mashiach Now!

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Only an infant expects his desires to be gratified immediately. He wants his bottle now! He wants his rattle now! If he doesn’t get it, he screams, he hollers, he cries. Sometimes, when a child gets to be an adult, he still wants everything handed to him on a silver platter now, without having to do any work. For instance, some big babies demand Peace Now! To get their way, they are willing to do the most self-destructive things, like surrendering their homeland to the enemy and give them guns which end up killing Jews.

There are also people who want Mashiach Now! While the wish for Mashiach’s coming is a very praiseworthy thing, these people don’t realize that Mashiach’s coming is a process that evolves over time. These people want everything to be finished at the start. They say that when Mashiach comes and does all the work of rebuilding the Land of Israel, and gathers all of the exiled Jews to Israel, and fights the wars of Hashem, and rebuilds the Beit HaMikdash, then they will come on aliyah. First, everything has to be perfect. First, the Mashiach has to do all the work. If not, come hell or high water, they’re staying right where they are in Brooklyn, Boston, and Beverly Hills.

The Talmud speaks of “Tzaddikim who do not believe” (Sotah 48B). Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook explained that there were people at the time of the Second Temple who complained about the situation in their days, when a small portion of the Jews returned from exile, yet didn’t achieve the greatness of the past and the exalted level of the First Temple because the majority, including the community leaders, preferred to remain in Babylon with their businesses and wealth (Kuzari, Ch.2). In their eyes, the Second Temple was an affront. They would weep and express reservation and scorn, declaring, “This is the Temple? How pathetic.” The Prophets rebuked them for their attitude, asking, “Who has despised the day of small things?” The Talmud answers: “The small-minded among them who didn’t have faith in the Almighty” (Sotah 48B). You are disbelievers, the Prophets told them. The Lord is returning His children to Israel, it is He Himself who has re-established the Holy Temple, and yet you complain?

In our time too, Rabbi Kook taught, there are “tzaddikim” who criticize the Almighty for the way that He is returning the Jewish People to Zion. In their eyes, it isn’t glatt kosher enough for them. There are those who even say that what is happening now is the work of the Satan. Somehow they forget that everything that happens is from the Holy One Blessed Be He. Is it the Satan who has gathered millions of Jews from all over the world to Israel? Is it the Satan who has made the Land of Israel blossom and bloom after having lain fallow for two thousand years? Is it the Satan who has restored Jewish sovereignty over vast stretches of The Holy Land, and brought about miraculous victories in war, rebuilt Jerusalem, and made Israel the Torah center of the entire Jewish world? And still these people complain. They want everything perfect now! They want everything complete without having to lend a hand in the work and get their shoes dirty.

It is true that babies dirty their diapers, and teenagers do all kinds of stupid things that they shouldn’t do, and yes, even adults make mistakes. But is this a reason to throw the baby into the trash can, or kick the teenager out of the house, or burn an adult at the stake? Yes, there are problems in Israel; yes, not everything is perfect with the government; yes, the Supreme Court still has a goyisha cop; yes, not everyone is religious. But what about all the incredible good things? There’s more Torah being learned in Israel than everywhere else in the world. And in just a handful of decades, Israel has become one of the leading nations in just about every field you can name, from agriculture to computer technology. Just because we haven’t yet reached our ultimate Torah ideal, is this a reason to throw out the baby and kick the teenager out of the house?

What Is God Teaching Me With The Laws Of Kosher?

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Zev Kraut of Pittsburgh, a ninth grade student at the Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, has been named a Winner of the 2012 OU Kosher Essay Contest for grades 7-12.

What Is God Teaching Me With The Laws Of Kosher?

Since the moment God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, keeping kosher has been an essential part of the Jewish home. Accordingly, the home is an essential part of a Torah lifestyle. What goes on in the home directly affects what goes on in the rest of one’s life. The question is, why kosher? Surely, how one’s parents act, or what one sees on television, are infinitely more effective as an influence on one’s life than keeping kosher. So what is it about kosher that makes a spiritual connection with God? What is God trying to teach me with the laws of kosher?

The Ramban teaches that many of the animals that are not deemed kosher are predators. The reason the Ramban gives for one not being able to eat certain animals is so that one will not absorb the qualities of those animals. For example, a pig rolls around in the mud, which is a filthy characteristic. The Torah gives many commandments telling Jews what should not come out of their mouths. For instance: insults, mockery, slander, and curses. Additionally, keeping kosher is God’s way of telling Jews that there are also certain things that one should not absorb into them as well. Furthermore one should avoid evil influences, evil speech, and certain animals that do not meet the criteria of the character traits of a Torah observant Jew. God gave the Jewish people the Torah, and singled them out as a pure nation. Accordingly, the Jews must eat certain animals that are pure.

From where do we know that certain animals are pure and certain animals are not pure? In the Torah portion known as Noach, when Noach was commanded to put certain animals on his ark, God commanded Noach to put “pure” animals, otherwise known as kosher animals on the ark. God also commanded Noach to put “animals that are not pure” on the ark. The Talmud (Pesachim 3a) points out an oddity in the wording of this story. The Torah used an extra eight letters to voice that the animals were not pure, when instead the Torah could have written “contaminated.” According to the Talmud, the lesson the Torah is teaching, is that one must always speak with pure speech. God designed the Torah to show the Jews how to be holy and pure. The Torah is a book filled with lessons on proper conduct and how to maintain a higher spiritual level than any of the other nations of the world. As the Torah says, “…and to make you high above all nations that He has made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that you may be a holy people unto the Lord your God, as He has spoken.” (Devarim 26:19) There is no doubt that kosher fits into that category. When one has a pure mouth what comes out of one’s mouth reflects that. Essentially, every time one eats a bag of potato chips with an OU on it, it is a direct reminder from God to watch your mouth.

God created everything on earth with a purpose. When God created the earth He designated humans as the rulers over the land. Tehillim 115:16, states, “The heavens are the heavens of God, and the land was given to the sons of man.” For most animals we do not know their purpose on earth. Even the great King David once criticized God for creating spiders which David deemed had no purpose. In the end, the spider saved his life while he was running from King Shaul. Anyway, God designated certain animals to be given as sacrifices in the Holy Temple. For instance, cows, sheep and rams. Which means their purpose is, for whatever reason, to be slaughtered.

No need to worry for the animal though, the kosher way to slaughter an animal is the most humane. Anyone who studies the complex laws of kashrus, on how to slaughter an animal will soon realize much of it is done in order to ensure that the animal feels no pain. For instance, in order for the slaughter to be deemed kosher, the knife used for the slaughter must be smooth, free of any nicks. There is no need to be vegetarian. God created meat for us to eat. On Shabbos by eating OU Glatt Kosher meat, we are fulfilling the words of the prophet of Yeshaya who said (Yeshaya 58:13),”…call Shabbos a delight.” According to some halachic authorities, Jews have an obligation to eat meat on Shabbos and Yom Tov. According to Rabi Yehudah Ben Beseirah, in Tractate Pesachim 109a, during a time period in which the Holy Temple is standing, one is required to eat meat in order to fulfill the commandment to rejoice in a festival.

Midrash and Talmud

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Man is seldom satisfied with his life. Even when he has done great things, amassed vast amounts of wealth and achieved great fame, he still yearns for more and his soul is not fulfilled. “No man dies with even half of his ambition fulfil­led,” say Chazal.

Thus was it with the conqueror, Alex­ander the Great. Here was a man who top­pled empires, before whose armies people trembled, who set his stamp on lands as far away as India. Still he was not satisfied. He yearned to do something that no man had ever done. He yearned to fly high above the heavens.

Alexander And His Flight

Despite all the mighty deeds that he had done, Alexander was still not satisfied.

“Unless I do a thing that was not ac­complished by all the kings who have preceded me, men will never remember me for real greatness.

“They will only say that once there was a king named Alexander who went and made war and conquered many na­tions and gathered a vast amount of booty and set his heel on the heads of people.

“This is all good, but there must still be something that I do that has never been done by any other man from the days that G-d made the world till the present.”

The Eagle

And so, Alexander ordered that his men capture the most gigantic eagles they could find. Once they had gathered several enormous birds, he chose the greatest among them.

“Starve the bird for two days,” he ordered his men.

At the end of the time, Alexander took a large piece of meat and stuck it on his spear. He then climbed on the back of the hungry eagle and he raised his spear high in front of the eagle’s beak.

The starving bird immediately tried to reach the meat and flew into the air. Higher and higher he climbed as he vainly tried to reach the meat, which hung tantalizingly just before him.

The Earth So Small

Higher yet, the eagle climbed, until Alexander was surrounded by swirling clouds. Looking down to the earth far below, he saw that the towns, forests and rivers appeared as dots and ribbons. He looked to where his great army was camped and he could see nothing but little dots. Alexander’s heart thereupon grew light and his head swelled:

“Who is like me and who can compare unto me? I sit here alone looking at the lit­tle ants below me.”

Another Thought

Suddenly, however, a second thought entered the Greek emperor’s mind.

“If my great army, with all its hordes of men, appear to me to be so small, what do I appear like to my army below? Probably, I have disappeared from view and am like nothing in their eyes!”

The thought was a bitter one and destroyed the great happiness that he had felt just a moment before.

Turning the spear with the meat downward he looked at the earth as his eagle turned to descend. The land rushed forward to meet him and he could now see the people becoming larger and larger in his eyes.

“I, too, am becoming larger in their eyes,” he thought.

When he had descended from the back of the eagle he gave orders that a statue of himself be made and in his hand a round ball –symbolizing the earth – be placed. “This shall be so the people will remember me,” he said.

Can The Dead Wake

One of the great differences between the rabbis and the Tzedukim was over the question of whether the dead will someday be resurrected. Our rabbis, of course, maintained that this was a cardinal prin­ciple of the Torah, that the A-Mighty would some day awaken the dead, while the Tzedukim denied this great article of faith.

One day, one of the leaders of the Tzedukim approached Gevihah, the son of Pesisah:

“Shall the dead really rise? How is it possible? If people who once had the breath of life in their nostrils eventually die and become still and cold, how shall those who are dead ever hope to live?”

Gevihah then asked the man:

Iran VP Says Talmud to Blame for Drugs Trade

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The teachings of the Talmud are the driving force behind the international drugs trade – so said Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi on Wednesday, according to AFP.

Rahimi’s remarks came at an international anti-drug conference in Tehran, attended by many foreign diplomats, and AFP says it was “a rare diatribe by an Iranian official targeting the Jewish faith, rather than the state of Israel.”

“The spread of narcotics in the world emanates from the teachings of the Talmud… whose objective is the destruction of the world,” Rahimi said.

“The Talmud teaches that it is lawful to acquire wealth through legal and illegal means… which gives (the Jews) the right to destroy humanity,” he said.

And then he added: “If one seeks what lies behind all forms of corruption, there is the repugnant face of Zionists. This is the same case for the narcotics trade … whose primary operator is the Zionist regime.”

There you go, the Zionists are spreading their Talmudic drugs around the world and nobody’s doing anything.

What’s he going to say when the Sium of the Daf Yomi comes around soon? It’ll be like Woodstock for Zionists.

What are all the Haredim going to do when they realize the Iranians been calling them Zionists?

Israel’s foreign minister criticized the United Nations and European Union for sending representatives to the Iranian conference.

By the way, Rahimi claims to hold a Ph.D. from Oxford University. But Oxford University doesn’t seem to recall any of it. Maybe he’s holding someone else’s Ph.D.

HaMafteach: A User-Friendly Index Of The Talmud: An Interview With Author Daniel Retter

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

An index of the Talmud with more than 6,000 topical and 27,000 subtopical entries is a major undertaking and its publication a seminal event in Jewish scholarship. Attorney Daniel Retter, who painstakingly compiled the index, titled HaMafteach (“the key”) and published by Feldheim, says his work, which has the endorsement of many prominent rabbanim, fills what had been a longstanding void by making the location of the different topics discussed in the Talmud easily accessible.

Retter, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press who gives a Daf Yomi shiur every morning at the Young Israel of Riverdale, recently spoke with us about his book.

The Jewish Press: When and where were you born and raised?

Retter: I was born in 1945 in London in a bomb shelter. At that time bombs were still falling. I came to America when I was five years old. I attended Chasan Sofer yeshiva on the Lower East Side of New York and then continued to Rav Binyomin Paler’s yeshiva and remained there until after I got married and finished law school.

Describe what HaMaf-teach is about and what it is designed to do.

The book is an index of the entire Shas. There are main entries and sub entries arranged in alphabetical order. The book was designed to be user friendly so that one can find the Gemara he is looking for quickly and efficiently. I realized we would have to make the index in English and Hebrew editions. We are also working on a mafteach of tractates and masechtos. This would incorporate all of the sugyos and memros of that particular masechta or tractate. I think it is a useful work. My personal feeling is that every personal library that has a Shas should have an index for it.

Why did you feel a book of this kind was needed?

The book was created to fill several gaps. One example is the difficulty of finding a sugya [topic] or a memra [saying]. The source of all learning is the Gemara. After one has learned the Gemara on a particular topic one can move on to the Rishonim and Achronim. However, there is no methodical way to find that original Gemara.

Talmidim generally have to ask their rebbeim where the Gemara is. But sometimes a talmid might not want to bother his rebbe with a simple location question, and a rebbe is not always available to answer a question at a moment’s notice. And even a rebbe occasionally has to search for a particular Gemara.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, admires HaMafteach as author Daniel Retter looks on.

The book will also be very helpful to those who, whether frum from birth or baalei teshuvah, never received a formal yeshiva education. They love learning – and with the explosion in popularity of the Daf Yomi, many of them are now learning regularly. Some of these people communicated to me their frustration in not being able to recall the correct locations of Gemaras they had previously learned.

Basically, the reason for the index is there was none until now. Necessity is the mother of all invention.

There has never been a mafteach on Shas?

To the best of my knowledge, there has not. There have been encyclopedias of Shas, but an index is much different. An encyclopedia has many volumes. Our generation expects quick results and a one-volume index is the solution. An index is not a teacher – it’s a locater. There are no editorial comments. We made it as simple as possible to find the location of the Gemara you are looking for. Simply, it is a tool to find the mikoros instead of wasting time looking for them. In fact Rav Mordechai Willig mentioned in his haskama that looking for mikoros is not included in yige’as haTorah, and it is bitul Torah.

Did you have the encouragement of rabbanim?

I had been working on this project for some time and very few people knew about it. I am fortunate to have a smart wife who advised me not to work on the book until I received the approval of rabbanim. She reasoned that if I were to wait until the book was completed to look for haskamos, perhaps someone would find something wrong with it. By that time I had good samples to show and I took them to gedolim. They not only encouraged me but they said the faster the better. It is for this reason that my haskamos are about five years old. And when I brought them finished copies they were very pleased.

Do you feel that there is a still a need for a paper book like this, given all of the technology available today?

Yes, for several reasons. Search engines are literal word searches; they cannot search for a sugya or even the meaning of a word. This sefer is like a talmid chacham because it contains different words the Gemara uses to refer to topics. For example, the Gemara refers to a pidyon haben as “shua ben.” A search engine would not retrieve that Gemara since it is not the same literal word. Generally people expect relevant results, and that is not always available on a word search engine. Once one finds one relevant Gemara he can locate other relevant sources via the mesoras hashas; however, you need to locate that first relevant Gemara. Additionally, search engines cannot be used on Shabbos and most yeshivas do not allow for the use of computers in the beis medrash.

Jewish Candles: The Power Of Discernment

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.

God’s first magnificent gesture was to create light. For Jews, light is glory, insight, wisdom, warmth. It is safety and it is hope.

We acknowledge and mirror God’s great gesture with ritual significance during four important religious observances. The Mishnah in Pesachim teaches that “on the night of the fourteenth of Nissan we search for chametz by the light of a candle.” Chametz signifies not merely the physical process of leavening leading to seor, but also the leavening of our inner beings and our deeds. We therefore carefully search and look for any failings and shortcomings in all areas of our lives where we may have brought in leaven.

The halachic requirement that we use a ner for this task, a candle with a single wick rather than a multi-wick avukah, a torch, ensures that the light is intimate enough to allow us to reach into the depths of our minds and hearts and see failures and shortcomings lost in the more intense and overwhelming avukah.

The lighting of Sabbath candles formally ushers in the Sabbath in the home. A minimum of two candles are lit, symbolizing the two forms of the fourth commandment to honor Shabbat: zachor, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” in Shemot, and shamor, “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” in Devarim.

The candles are to be lit on the table where the Shabbat meal is eaten, and should burn throughout the meal and well into nightfall. Ultimately, the reason for lighting Sabbath candles is to bring “light” into the home; to create an atmosphere, a cohesive family unit. The Talmud defines the need for Sabbath candles as shalom bayit. The holiness of the Sabbath day is meant to create a peaceful, tranquil, and happy Jewish home. Housewives, given the privilege of lighting the Sabbath candles, offer a moving and emotional prayer prior to hadlakat ha’nerot in which they ask God to instill shechinatecha beinenu, “His peaceful and bountiful providence among us.”

However, to be a genuine and creative Jew requires more of us than a searching soul or even a peaceful home. Judaism calls for openness and honest identification. It calls for a pride in one’s Jewishness, even to the point of pirsumei nisa. Judaism is more than the sum total of its institutions, organizations, shuls, or yeshivas. Judaism is first and foremost a community of proud, individual Jews willing to be known and counted as Jews. Thus the halachic requirement to light Chanukah candles so that we may “glorify Your name for Your miracles, salvation, and wondrous acts” not merely in historical and passive terms, but bayamim hahem bazman hazeh –“Who wrought miracles for our forefathers in former days, at this season.”

“At this season,” bazman hazeh, must relate to a living Jew, to a Jew willing to observe and look at candles directly and closely, and try to comprehend their relevant meaning. The law is that if one kindled the Chanukah menorah above twenty amah he accomplished nothing. Why? Because his act is not obvious. But what is not obvious? The very same candles are lit, on time, according to all halachic stipulation. What then is the psul? Perhaps the disqualification is based on the unwillingness to relate the mitzvah to a living Jew – to a gavra. Judaism cannot be camouflaged or hidden. Mitzvot cannot be placed beyond the reach of a living person, beyond human sight.

The Jew unwilling to declare his allegiance to halacha, his obedience to Shabbat, his concern for kashrut, his commitment to intensive Jewish education, his faith in God and trust in His nation – such a Jew has done nothing. His Judaism is impractical, institutional, lacks pride, and misses the essence of pirsumei nisa. Such a Jew relates to ideas at best, but never to a living people. He lacks something fundamentally “Jewish.”

The Rambam, in elaborating on the uniqueness of lighting Chanukah candles, writes: “One must be extremely careful in fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, for it is a particularly special and adored mitzvah.” The Magid Mishnah, in citing the Talmudic source for Rambam’s emphatic statement, quotes the Talmud in Shabbat: “Rav Huna said that one who persists in lighting Chanukah candles is assured of children who will become talmidei chachamim.” In verifying the actual source in the Talmud, we find Rav Huna’s statement as reading: “One who is careful with the candle,” which Rashi interprets as being careful about the mitzvah of lighting both Shabbat and Chanukah candles, which results in the light of Torah.

Jewish candles, then, teach us a great deal about what it means to be an authentic Jew. First, it requires a wholesome Jewish home – ner Shabbat. Judaism cannot thrive but in an atmosphere of tranquility, with the family-oriented shalom bayit that is created and maintained uniquely through the Shabbat.

Rav Akiva Eiger

Friday, November 25th, 2011

The Modesty Of Our Gaonim

Modesty and humility are traits that were usually found in our Gaonim. When the Chasam Sofer was courting the daughter of the Gaon, Rav Akiva Eiger, the chief rabbi of Posen (born Nov. 8, 1761 – died Oct. 12, 1837), he wrote to the Gaon in­quiring about the qualities of his daughter.

Rav Eiger replied lauding the piety and religiosity of his daughter. He con­cluded his letter in the following manner: “My daughter is a ‘Tzadeikes,’ a saintly person, and she is truly G-d-fearing. But I am a little concerned about the passage of the Talmud (Pesachim 49a) wherein Chazal state that every person should try to take unto himself the daughter of a ‘talmid chacham,’ a learned person. Unfortunately I have not as yet reached the category of a ‘talmid chacham.’ Therefore, I am doubtful of the qualifica­tions of this shidduch…”

Back came the reply from the Chasam Sofer. “I am happy to read about the good qualities of your daughter; your word is more valuable to me than the testimony of a hundred witnesses. While you may be worrying about the first portion of that Gemara and the admonition of Chazal, I am worrying about the latter portion of that Gemara wherein Chazal also state, ‘A person should sell all of his possessions, if need be, in order that he should be able to marry off his daughter to a talmid chacham.’ I too am worrying whether I may be called a talmid chacham.”

 

Rejects Fancy Titles

Although Rav Eiger was one of the greatest Gaonim in his generation, the rosh yeshiva and Av Beth Din in his city of Posen, he never signed his name with the title of “Rav” or “Rabbi.” He merely wrote his name, Akiva.

Once, one of the prominent Gaonim of his generation had an occasion to write him a letter inquiring about a psak din. He prefaced the letter with many adjec­tives such as Gaon, Crown of Israel, Light of the Exile, Rav of all the Jews in the Diaspora, etc.

Rav Akiva looked at the let­ter and began to weep.

“Master, why do you weep? Is there bad news in this letter?” his students asked him.

“No,” he replied. “I weep because such a great man as this Gaon could make a terrible mistake by calling me such fancy and erudite names. Little does he know how undeserving I am of these titles.”

 

Seeks No Higher Post

When Rabi Shmuel, the Av Beth Din of Vilna died, the leaders of the community sent a delegation to Posen to offer the job to Rav Akiva. He accepted them with great honor and enjoyed discussing Torah with them.

But when he heard the purpose of their visit, he began to tremble. “You have made a terrible mistake,” he said. “I am not worthy to be a leader in your great city, the city which is famous as the stronghold of the Vilna Gaon. I am not even worthy to be the shamash of the shul in your city.”

He refused the honor and remained in Posen until his last years.

 

Honors His Colleague

Once, Rav Eiger, and the Gaon Rabi Yaacov, chief rabbi of Lisa, journeyed to War­saw to attend a conclave of rabbanim. All the Jews of Warsaw, its leaders and scholars, waited at the entrance of the city to wel­come these two great luminaries of Israel.

When their coach arrived in the city, it was surrounded by a multitude of people who cleared a path through the streets for it to proceed.  All the great leaders of the city walked in front of the coach as a sign of respect and reverence to these two great Gaonim.

Rav Akiva, seeing all this pomp and honor, thought to himself, “Surely the people are honoring my colleague, the great rav of Lisa, who is accompanying me in this coach. It is therefore only pro­per that I, too, pay him homage.”

He thereupon descended from the coach and walked in front of it to show his respect to his colleague.

 

Would Not Cheat The Government

Rav Akiva never wanted to accept the position of chief rabbi. He disdained the honor that came with the office. When he heard that the local bathhouse needed an attendant, he applied for the position. But of course the people of the city would never think of degrading their rav, and they finally prevailed upon him to assume the office of chief rabbi for the interest of all Jewry.

When he did accept the job he de­voted all of his efforts to aiding his fellow Jews. Though not a strong man in build, he never knew when to stop when it came to his fellow man’s welfare.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/kidz/tales-of-the-gaonim/rav-akiva-eiger/2011/11/25/

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