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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘the Torah’

Melachot And Intent

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

The juxtaposition in the Torah of the laws of Shabbat and the Mishkan, the Sanctuary, not only serves to identify the 39 melachot prohibited on Shabbat but also determines the conditions that must exist before one can be held liable for performing a melachah. One of these conditions is intent.

Like the Mishkan, melachah requires “carefully planned work” – melechet machashevet. There are various states of mind that may lack the intent necessary to perform a melachah. In some cases, such a state of mind results in one being biblically exempt from the consequences of one’s act although the act remains rabbinically prohibited. In other cases, the lack of requisite intent means the act is permissible on Shabbat in the first place.

A person who is aware of the act he is performing but forgot that today is Shabbat or that the act is prohibited on Shabbat is called a shogeg. In the Temple era, the shogeg had to bring a sin offering, a chatat, to atone for the act. A person who intended to perform a permitted act, such as retrieving a knife out of a shrub, and in so doing unwittingly performed a different act which is a melachah, such as cutting the shrub when lifting out the knife, is called a mitasek. The mitasek, unlike the shogeg, had no intention of performing the melachah and is therefore entirely exempt.

An act that is permissible in itself on Shabbat but which may – possibly but not inevitably – cause an unintended melachah to occur is called a davar she’ein mitkaven. For example, dragging a garden chair across the lawn, an act permissible in itself on Shabbat, may cause grooves to form in the earth that, if performed intentionally, would constitute the melachah of plowing. Or simply walking on the grass, which is permissible on Shabbat, may result in the uprooting or tearing of grass, which, if performed intentionally, would constitute the melachah of reaping.

Whether or not a davar she’ein mitkaven is permitted constitutes a Tannaic dispute between Rabbi Shimon, who permits it in the first place, and Rabbi Yehuda, who prohibits it. The halacha adopts the more lenient view of Rabbi Shimon. A person cannot, however, claim davar she’ein mitkaven where the melachah was an inevitable result of the permitted act.

For example, if the chair is so heavy that it must form a groove in the earth, or if one washes one’s hands (in itself a permitted act) over one’s own lawn, causing its inevitable watering (constituting the melachah of planting), one cannot claim he did not intend the melachah. This is because the result is so inevitable as to impute to one the intent to perform the melachah in the first place. Such an inevitable result is called psik reishe.

Note, however, that if the inevitable melachah arising from the permitted act is of no use to its performer, such as where one washes one’s hands over a stranger’s lawn, the act is permitted in the first place and is called a psik reishe d’lo neecha lei. Such an act, though biblically permitted, would, according to most opinions, be rabbinically prohibited, unless certain extenuating circumstances exist. Such circumstances are the threat of severe financial loss or when the performance of a mitzvah is involved.

Based on the above principals, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein permits one to open the door of a thermostat-controlled lit oven on Shabbat, even though the resulting intake of air may cause the thermostat to kick in and turn up the flame. Rav Feinstein’s reasoning is that one’s intent is merely to open the oven door. This will not inevitably result in the thermostat kicking in, and it is, therefore not in the category of psik reishe but rather a davar she’ein mitkaven. As such, it is permitted in the first place.

The Rare Torah Oracle

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Rebecca, hitherto infertile, became pregnant. Suffering acute pain, she went to inquire of the Lord – “vateilech lidrosh et Hashem” (Bereishit 25:22). The explanation she received was that she was carrying twins who were contending in her womb. They were destined to do so long into the future:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger – “v’rav ya’avod tzair” (Bereishit 25:23).

Eventually the twins are born – first Esau, then (his hand grasping his brother’s heel) Jacob. Mindful of the prophecy she has received, Rebecca favors the younger son, Jacob. Years later, she persuades him to dress in Esau’s clothes and take the blessing Isaac intended to give his elder son. One verse of that blessing was “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you” (Bereishit 26:29). The prediction has been fulfilled. Isaac’s blessing can surely mean nothing less than what was disclosed to Rebecca before either child was born, namely that, “the older will serve the younger.” The story has apparently reached closure – or so, at this stage, it seems.

But biblical narrative is not what it seems. Two events follow that subvert all that we had been led to expect. The first happens when Esau arrives and discovers that Jacob has cheated him out of his blessing. Moved by his anguish, Isaac gives him a benediction, one of whose clauses is: “You will live by your sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck” (Bereishit 27:40).

This is not what we had anticipated. The older will not serve the younger in perpetuity.

The second scene, many years later, occurs when the brothers meet after a long estrangement. Jacob is terrified of the encounter. He had fled from home years earlier because Esau had vowed to kill him. Only after a long series of preparations and a lonely wrestling match at night is he able to face Esau with some composure. He bows down to him seven times. Seven times he calls him “my lord.” Five times he refers to himself as “your servant.” The roles have been reversed. Esau does not become the servant of Jacob; instead, Jacob speaks of himself as the servant of Esau. But this cannot be. The words heard by Rebecca when “she went to inquire of the Lord” suggested precisely the opposite, that “the older will serve the younger.” We are faced with cognitive dissonance.

More precisely, we have here an example of one of the most remarkable of all of Torah’s narrative devices: the power of the future to transform our understanding of the past. This is the essence of midrash. New situations retrospectively disclose new meanings in the text (see the essay “The Midrashic Imagination” by Michael Fishbane). The present is never fully determined by the present. Sometimes it is only later that we understand the now.

This is the significance of the great revelation of G-d to Moses in Shemot 33:33, where G-d says that only His back may be seen – meaning, His presence can be seen only when we look back at the past; it can never be known or predicted in advance. The indeterminacy of meaning at any given moment is what gives the biblical text its openness to ongoing interpretation.

We now see that this was not an idea invented by the Sages. It already exists in the Torah itself. The words Rebecca heard – as will now become clear – seemed to mean one thing at the time. It later transpires that they meant something else.

The words, “v’rav ya’avod tzair,” seem simple: “the older will serve the younger.” Returning to them in the light of subsequent events, though, we discover that they are anything but clear. They contain multiple ambiguities.

The first (noted by Radak and Rabbi Yosef ibn Kaspi) is that the word “et,” signaling the object of the verb, is missing. Normally – but not always – in biblical Hebrew the subject precedes, and the object follows, the verb. In Job 14:19, for example, the words “avanim shachaku mayim” mean “water wears away stones,” not “stones wear away water.” Thus the phrase might mean “the older shall serve the younger.” But it might also mean “the younger shall serve the older.” To be sure, the latter would be poetic Hebrew rather than conventional prose style, but that is what this utterance is: a poem.

God Works in Mysterious and Especially Tiny Ways (Video)

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Whether you believe in global warming or climate change, you’ve probably run into descriptions of the green house effect. It is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation returns to the surface, it results in the elevation of the average surface temperature.

As the Earth grows warmer, things start changing around the globe, including, for instance, hurricanes that are a thousand miles wide. And, whether you believe the rising temperatures are caused by man or are just part of the natural cycle of things – they’re rising. The ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising – watch out Dutch folks, the ocean is returning.

Now, Methane, which takes up from 4 to 9 percent of Earth’s atmosphere, is a major culprit in the creation of the green house phenomenon. Methane is created by many different natural processes, including, how embarrassing, by cows. Cows emit a massive amount of methane through belching, with a lesser amount through flatulence. Each cow emits between 26 and 53 gallons of methane each day.

According to the USDA, there are between 1.3 and 1.5 billion cows, beef and dairy combined, in the world.

And since the United States consumes beef at the rate of 52 billion pounds a year (in 2012 – it used to be as high as 57 billion in 2007), that means we have a whole lot of cows. More cows—more Methane—more warming planet—bigger hurricanes.

So God sent us His tiny little messenger of hope in the shape of a tiny tick, the lone star tick, named for the white spot on its back. Researchers say that when this tic bites you, its saliva can trigger a reaction to meat that is so agonizing, you’ll turn vegetarian.

“People will eat beef and then anywhere from three to six hours later start having a reaction; anything from hives to full-blown anaphylactic shock,” Dr. Scott Commins, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville told ABC News.

Yes, once the lone star tic bites you, you could die, God forbid, from eating meat.

Scientists are still having a hard time proving a causal relationship between the tick bites and the meat allergies, but they all agree that “blood levels of antibodies for alpha-gal, a sugar found in beef, lamb and pork, rise after a single bite from the lone star tick.”

Cases of the bizarre allergy are cropping up in areas ripe with lone star ticks, according to research presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

“Most food allergies occur very quickly,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “It’s also a bit unusual to see adults develop a food allergy.”

But the tick bite theory could help explain the sudden onset of some meat allergies, Fineman said, adding: “Avoidance is the best way to handle any food allergy.”

Now you get it? In order to save the planet from another flood, God sends a tic to infect us so we become horribly allergic to meat, the cow population drops, green house effect diminishes, plus we now have millions of acres of land to grow vegetables and be healthy.

And, of course, we continue to eat tons of chicken. Because chicken is not meat according to the Torah, you could even have a chicken cheeseburger back around 1000 BCE, until the sages nixed it.

Have a healthy day!

Over Here, my Rain Is Happy!

Monday, November 12th, 2012

“I’m singing in the rain, I’m singing in the rain, what a wonderful feeling, I’m happy again!”

Before Shabbat, the Heavens opened with a symphony of thunder and lightning, and the great blessing of rain washed over the Land of Israel in answer to our prayers. Like I do every year with the very first rain, I hurried outside and danced in joy, laughing happily as the raindrops splashed on my face.

“Raindrops keep falling on my head… da da da da da da da da da da da… nothings worrying me!”

Back in the house, I opened the door to the terrace so I could hear the splattering of rain on the aluminum roof. What a wonderful sound! “What a glorious feeling! I’m happy again!” The clatter of raindrops sounded like the clinging of coins in a beggar’s cup. “Rain, rain, don’t go away – stay with us another day!”

When lightening lit up the sky and thunder shook the heavens, I recited their special blessings with exuberant joy. What a privilege to be in the Holy Land when it rains! It’s like every drop is a kiss from Hashem, assuring us that He loves us.

Yesterday, driving to Tel Aviv, it was pouring. I sang all the way! What a blessing to be stuck in a long traffic jam in Israel because of the rain! For nearly 2000 years, we’ve prayed to come home to Israel, and now that Hashem, in His infinite kindness, has allowed us to rebuild our Land, what a joy that we have long traffic jams! It’s a sign that the country is booming!  Would Moshe Rabanu have complained to sit in a traffic jam in Israel? Would Rashi have grumbled? No way!

I can’t help comparing our great joy in Israel over the rain to the recent devastating rains in New York. There it was a disaster. You want to know why? Look at this, from the Torah giant, the “Ohr Somayach,” Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen from Dvinsk, from his famous commentary on the Torah, the “Meshech Chochmah,”

“If a Jew thinks that Berlin (New York) is Jerusalem, then a raging storm-wind will uproot him by his trunk – a hurricane will arise and spread its roaring waves, and it will swallow and destroy, and flood forth without pity” (Meshech Chochmah, Pg. 171).

In the same light, the Torah giant, Rabbi Yaacov Emden, writes in the Introduction to his famous siddur, “The Beit Yaacov,”

“When it seems to us, in our present peaceful existence outside of the Land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, this is to me the deepest, most obvious, most outstanding, and direct cause of all of the awesome, frightening, monstrous, unimaginable destructions that we have experienced in the Diaspora.”

In the meantime, I’m yours truly, just singing and dancing in the rain.

Title: One Shot

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Author: M. Wiseman
Publisher: Israel Bookshop Publications

One Shot, authored by M. Wiseman, is an emotional drama that focuses on issues faced by some teens nowadays.

In Suburbia, U.S.A., lived three extraordinary young men, Baruch, Nadav and Rafi. Nadav and Rafi have been friends forever, and Baruch joins the crew in his later teens. Pain is the bond that brings the threesome together. Baruch and Nadav have emotional pain and Rafi suffers from a physical pain; he discovered that he had advanced-stage cancer. The cancer was serious – too serious for the doctors, so they eventually stopped treating him.

Nadav’s older brother, Ari, who was very gifted, decided that his parents were too paradoxical for him; they told Ari to follow the Torah, but didn’t fully do so themselves. In a fit of rage he left home. Nadav pondered his brother’s words and found himself full of questions. From then on Nadav became the bad boy to his teachers and had a hard time learning Torah. That was why he became attached to the charismatic Rafi, who had the ability to help him in times of crisis.

Baruch had a different challenge. His parents wanted him to learn in a kollel in Lakewood after learning in Israel and getting married, but Baruch couldn’t do that. The worst part was, he wished he could. Baruch also attached himself to Rafi, seeking inspiration.

Baruch, Nadav, Rafi – they were all afflicted with different types of pain. Did they all overcome it?

One Shot is a very inspiring book with serious themes including death and fulfilling one’s potential. The prologue and epilogue, stressing that the Torah was given to everyone, were extremely meaningful and true. M. Wiseman’s writing style, playing the part of author and narrator, is also very good. Sometimes she even has a conversation with the reader. One Shot is definitely an emotional and worthwhile read, and I would recommend it for all teenagers.

The Voice of a Child

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Children should be seen and not heard. It was a maxim that I heard many times throughout my childhood and which caused me a fair amount of frustration. When, I often wondered, would I cross that invisible line and move out of the periphery to which I was assigned, into the arena of adulthood and be given the chance to express an opinion that people would listen to? Life ran its course, I became an adult, was granted the right to express my opinion and found out that very few people listen to me. Interestingly, in contrast to the past, popular psychology today has touted the need to build a child’s self-confidence so successfully that children are both seen and heard quite clearly. Despite this, I wonder how many communities would make a decision based on the perception of a child. Judaism does.

Last Shabbos the clear, strong voice of the baal korei (reader) rang through the attentive synagogue as the weekly section of the Torah was read out loud. Suddenly it came to a standstill. There was a moment of utter silence and then the sudden swish of numerous prayer shawls, the thud of footsteps and the mutter of deep voices. Peeping through the lattice that separates the women’s section from the men’s, I watched the crowd of men thicken around the table on which the open Torah scroll lay.

Apparently, there was a problem with the Torah scroll. A kosher Torah scroll is treated with great respect. For example, it is not permitted to leave it unattended; a person is required to stand in its honor and may not turn his back to it. A non-kosher Torah scroll is not awarded the same level of respect. If even one letter of a Torah scroll is problematic, the entire scroll is invalidated until the problem is fixed. Most authorities maintain that a non-kosher scroll cannot be used to read the weekly portion. Since the reading must take place from a written text, reading from a non-kosher scroll is akin to reciting by heart making the reading invalid and the blessings recited over it said in vain and the Torah reading must be repeated.

Taking the above into account, every Torah scroll that is written is scrutinized for accuracy. Today, computers help out. A megiah (checker) scans the scroll into a computer running a program that checks the letters and their sequence. The computer then points out possible problems: sometimes a letter hasn’t been written correctly. Some Hebrew letters are very similar: yud, vav and nun sofit are all shaped similarly to a number one, but vary in length. Other letters are written by combining one or more two letters: for example, an aleph, which looks something like an X, is actually made up of three letters: a slanted vav, and two yuds, one above the vav and one below. Sometimes a letter is actually missing and the computer picks this up too. The scroll is then checked by the megiah himself. It seems very unlikely that any problem with the letters could creep in after all that, but, sometimes the computer and the megiah do miss problems and sometimes the problems develop later. The ink used to write a Torah scroll is usually a mixture of tannic acid, which is derived from gallnuts formed on the leaves of oak trees by wasps, copper sulphate to give it a strong black color, and gum arabic to make the glue slightly elastic so that the ink doesn’t crack when the scroll is rolled. Sometimes the letters can become smudged or cracked—after all, the scroll is being used regularly.

In this case, my son informed me, one of the congregants, a Torah scholar of standing, had spotted a letter vav that he claimed was too long—so long that it could be mistaken for a nun. That being the case, the reading was suspended while the men debated whether the letter really did pose a problem or not. In a synagogue in which number of Torah scholars rivals the number of stars in the sky on a moonless night, there was no lack of differing opinions. I watched fascinated as varying opinions of men who spent their days and night toiling in the sea of Torah were whispered urgently. Finally, the decision was made: since the mistake was debatable, a child would be asked to identify the questionable letter.

Get Angry at Rashi – Not at Me!

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Once again, I ask you – isn’t it interesting that the very first words that God says to Avraham, the father of the Jewish People, is to go to the Land of Israel?

What are we suppose to learn from that? Can there be any question at all? One plus one is two. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out a simple equation like that.

We don’t just read the Torah like it’s “Harry Potter” or the “DaVinci Codes,” God forbid. We read it to learn from it. We read about our holy Forefathers to learn from them and to follow their example. In telling Avraham, the father of the Jewish People, to live in Eretz Yisrael, God is teaching us as well that He wants us to live in Israel too.

Let’s face it. If God wanted, Avraham could have been born in theLandofIsraelto begin with. That would have saved Avraham the hassle of such a long shlepp with camels and donkeys and the rest of his entourage. For Someone who created the heaven and the earth, giving birth to Avraham inIsraelis peanuts. But God chose to have Avraham start off in the Diaspora precisely to teach all of the Jewish People in the future that wherever they lived, God wants them to pack up their belongings, just like Avraham, and relocate to Eretz Yisrael. As the great Torah commentary Ramban teaches, “The deeds of the fathers are signs for their children.”

What was Avraham’s reaction to God’s command? Without even calling Nefesh B’Nefesh, he departed immediately, as God had spoken to him. (Bereshit, 12:4. See the commentaries of Lekach Tov and Ibn Caspi). Even though the Land of Israel was filled with immorality, idol worshippers, and heathens that he would have to conquer, he didn’t say, “I’m not going because I don’t want to go into the army.“ Or, “I’m not going to Israel because there are Russian prostitutes there.” Or, “I’m not going because the politicians in the Knesset are corrupt.” Or, “I’m not going because the Moshiach hasn’t come.” He set off without listing 50 excuses and did what G-d commanded.  Period.

In reward for Avraham’s obedience and faith, God gave him, and his children after him, the eternal inheritance of the Land of Israel, as it says, “And I will give you, and to your seed after you, the Land where you sojourn, all the Land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be their G-d” (Bereshit, 17:8).

The great Torah commentator, Rashi, explains this verse as follows: “There, I will be their God, but a Jew who lives outside of the Land is like someone who has no God” (Rashi, loc cited).

Don’t get angry at me. Get angry at Rashi. Do you think he should apologize for insulting Jews in the Diaspora! How could he say such a thing?! What chutzpah!

Actually, he isn’t to blame. The Talmud says the very same thing (Ketubot 111A), and this is the law brought down by the Rambam: “IN ALL GENERATIONS, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of the inhabitants are heathens, and not live outside of the Land even in a city where the majority of the inhabitants are Jews” (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:12).

Hmmph! What chutzpah! The Rambam, Rashi, and Fishman! The Jewish Press should ban all of them!

But Avraham heard God’s command and immediately obeyed. That’s  what makes him the father of the Jewish People – his complete Emunah (faith), as the Torah testifies: “And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Bereshit, 15:6).

The opposite of this is where people have crises of Emunah, like in the case of the Generation of the Wilderness who refused to obey God’s command to make aliyah, as the Torah record: “And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the Land which I gave you,’ and you rebelled against the Lord your God, and you did not have Emunah in Him, and did not listen to His voice” (Devarim, 9:23).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook explained that there are two types of Emunah – the complete Emunah of Avraham Avinu, and the partial Emunah of the Spies in the wilderness, and their followers, of whom it is said, “And in this matter, you did not have Emunah in the Lord your G-d” (Devarim, 1:32).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/get-angry-at-rashi-not-at-me/2012/10/29/

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