May, 2009 Archives

22
May

Parsha Insight: What would I p…

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Spiritual Growth

Parsha Insight: What would I put in my family flag?

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Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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22
May

Learning Twitter

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Spiritual Growth

Learning Twitter

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22
May

The Piano, The Horse and The Pool – Part 2

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Music of Halacha

He is a gifted musician. She is a master horsewoman. They live in a very hot part of Florida.

The musician cannot play his piano nor can the rider ride her horse. The swimmer may not swim. The sages considered these activities dangerous. The musician would never try to fix his $25,000 piano himself. The horsewoman will never break a branch and the “human fish” will never build a raft. The sages will not bend. Each of these artists will have to find other expressions than their greatest passions to connect to God on the day of connection.

I quote from the future classic, Shabbat: Gateway to Transcendence, by Professor Yeshayahu Vernoff:

“Creation is the greatest of all actions. We were granted Bechira – Free Choice – in order to become creators and, thereby, emulate God, the Ultimate Creator. We are preoccupied with exercising our own creativity – our own maipulation of the forces and substances of the world toward actualizing our own purposes.

So deeply preoccupied are we with our own creating that humans easily lose sight of the living background Reality of God, the Creator. How can we resolve the apparent paradox that the Divine Will toward human creating results as a byproduct in the dangerous obscuring of Divine creating? How could God will that humans, made in God’s image to be His children, not be able to know Him? Is it possible, on the other hand, that human creating need not obscure the Divine activity occurring at every moment?

The resolution of this vexing paradox could only be a partial abstinence from human creating sufficient for humans to become sensitized once more to the Reality of Divine Creation. If periodically humans fully lay aside their own creative activity, Divine Creating could gradually move from the unconscious background to the foreground of awareness – could come into actual focus. Human beings could come to know the world as Creation, testifying to the reality of its Creator. This awareness would profoundly illumine human creating when it resumes.

What we are talking about, then, is not the abolition but a regular fast from human creating, a periodic cessation, which is exactly the meaning of the Hebrew word Shabbat.”

We are on a “Creative Action Fast” on Shabbat. This is the day when we do not emulate the Creator with our Melachah – our Thoughtful Creative Work – but by glimpsing the transcendence of the Creator, Who stood back, so to speak, from His active involvement with His Creation and sanctified His work and set it apart.

We, too, step back from our creative powers and connect to the transcendent; we set ourselves apart from the world of our creativity, and submerge ourselves in the world of the Creator.

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22
May

The Piano, The Horse and The Pool

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Music of Halacha

He is a gifted musician, a sweet soul, who is constantly searching for God in his life. He loves Shabbat and inspires many others to learn about this special day. He feels closest to God when he uses God’s gifts, his musical abilities, to connect to his Source. A magnificent grand piano stands in his living room waiting to vibrate with his music. His fingers itch to play; his soul thirsts to compose and sings songs of praise to the Creator. The only day he has time to sit at his piano is Shabbat. The sages of the Oral Law, with great regret, do not allow him to play his precious piano on Shabbat, no matter how admirable his intentions. “Sorry! Your piano is a finely tuned and valuable instrument and something may go wrong. A string may break. You may feel that it needs some adjustment or tuning. You will be so involved in your playing that you may forget that it is Shabbat and unconsciously violate the Shabbat, and repair your instrument.”

She is a master horsewoman. She won literally tens of ribbons, medals and prizes for her skills. She only feels free when she rides. Her spirit soars as she flies on the back of her horse. She fills with joy as her horse gallops through the fields and hills of Connecticut. She is free of the distractions of the world as she rides what she calls “her wings”. Her soaring spirit, joy, freedom allow her to connect with the infinite as she rides. She is so attuned to her horse that she can feel his energy and power flowing through her as she rides. These are the moments when she feels closest to God. This is how she would celebrate Shabbat, her day for closeness to God. The sages of the Oral Law regret her terrible loss, but they will not allow her to ride her beloved horse on Shabbat. She will have to find other ways to discover the joy, spirit and freedom that only surge through her as she does what she does best and loves most: when she can ride. “Sorry! You may ride past a tree; break off a branch to use as a whip. That would violate Shabbat.”

There are no trees where she lives. She would never hit her horse. She never has to. They ride as a unit, his power controlled and directed by her will. She is desperate, but the sages stand firm, she may not ride on Shabbat.

They live in a very hot part of Florida. They swim everyday. They are miserable on Shabbat when they cannot swim. Their son is more fish than human. He is happiest when he swims, but he cannot swim on Shabbat: He may forget that it is Shabbat and build a raft. He hates rafting. He only wants to swim. His mother would kill him for even considering building a raft in her gorgeous pool. He has never even thought of building a raft during the week. Why be concerned that he will on Shabbat?

The musician cannot play his piano. The rider is not allowed to ride her horse. The human fish may not swim. The sages considered these activities dangerous. The musician will never try to fix his $25,000 piano himself. The horsewoman will never break a branch and the human fish will never build a raft. The sages will not bend. Each of these artists will have to find something other than their greatest passions to connect to God on the day of connection.

The sages love and admire our creativity and passion. They celebrate the musician’s music, the rider’s riding and the boy’s swimming. The sages encourage creativity. They also understand that Shabbat demands a certain state of mind, one that is fragile and easily lost. The sages remind us that we can momentarily forget, even if only for a moment, that it is Shabbat. Our passions can distract us. Part of Shabbat is guarding its integrity.

The Sages are challenging us to take out the time and listen to the music of Halacha even when at first it seems so unexplainable. How can we protect Shabbat? How can we apply this concept to other areas of our relationship with God?

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22
May

What’s Your Purpose

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Music of Halacha

Purpose driven action was introduced in the previous Music of Halacha essay. We posited that the laws of Shabbat define Action of Intention for everything we do, not only on Shabbat, but for the entire week. One of the three most important ingredients is purpose. The Shabbat laws were derived from the work necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. Every step had to be done with its specific purpose in mind. How do we define purpose? Do the laws of Shabbat guide us in determining what is considered a positive purpose?

We needed wheat to bake bread. Wheat needs to be planted and harvested. We have to plough a field before we can plant. What was the purpose of the plowing? Was it to plow in order to plant in order to have wheat in order to have bread etc.? Or, was it sufficient to plough with the purpose of making a space in the ground to hold the seeds? How conscious did the plowman have to be of the ultimate purpose of the trench he was making in the ground?

We can apply this question to Mitzvot we observe during the week: What purpose must someone have in mind when praying? Is the purpose to observe God’s commandment to pray? Is it necessary to have in mind why we observe God’s commandments? How conscious must we be of the ultimate purpose?

We must begin by defining the parameters of Purpose in the context of the Shabbat laws. We will start by studying the approach of Tosafot in Tractate Shabbat 94a. The Tosafot are discussing whether performing the identical action to what was done for the Temple service but with a different purpose is a liable action. They determine that the only purpose that concerns us is if the purpose is the same as the purpose of the action in the Temple. For example: Carrying from private to public property is one of the 39 Categories of Prohibited Actions. If someone dies inside a house and the family wants to carry the body outside to a public thoroughfare to protect them from the serious impurity of a corpse; their purpose is not to have the corpse outside as much as it is to not have the corpse inside the house. It is the same action, carrying something from one domain to another, but with a different purpose; rather than to bring the corpse to a specific place the person simply wants to remove it from his home. The purpose is different.

The Tosafot take the idea of purpose in this context beyond Rashi and other commentaries and they stress that the purpose must be exactly the same as the purpose served in the Temple.

It is clear that the Tosafot do not consider the ultimate purpose as the defining factor. They are interested in the immediate purpose. The Tosafot believe that a person plowing his field to grow wheat to be used in the Temple service does not need to think how the wheat that grows will be used. He must only plow with the purpose to plant. The immediate purpose is our only concern.

In order for a prayer to be considered a purposeful prayer it is only necessary to consider the immediate purpose, which is to fulfill the obligation to pray. The immediate purpose necessary for the fulfillment of a mitzvah is simply to fulfill an obligation.

The Tosafot’s insistence that the purpose be the same as it was for the Temple raises other issues. Do the concepts of Thoughtful Action apply to actions that were not part of the construction of the Tabernacle or its service? Do the ideas of Thoughtful Action apply to the mundane as well?

To be continued…

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21
May

Father or God

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in What is the Reason?

I noticed that some siddurim have the text “Hashkiveinu, Hashem Elokeinu” – Lay us down to sleep, God, Our Lord” in the closing blessing of the evening Shema, while others change the text from “Hashem, Elokeinu” – “God, Our Lord” – to Avinu – Our father. A.T.

The Ari HaKodesh changed the text from “God, Our Lord”, to “Our Father” because he felt that it is inappropriate to lay down to sleep in the presence of God as Lord. It is only appropriate to lie down to sleep in the presence of God as our Father.

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21
May

Forks and Knives

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Music of Halacha

We have already explained that there are certain conditions that allow us to separate food on Shabbat. One of the conditions is that the separation takes place by hand and not by means of an instrument designed for that purpose. This does not literally mean that the selection may only be done by hand. There are times that a utensil can be used. It depends on how we use the utensil. A person may use his fork or spoon to eat from a plate even though he is selecting from a mixture on his plate. This is because the fork does not make the selection any easier. It is simply cleaner, and more polite, to eat with a fork than by hand. The fork does not enhance or expedite the selection.

However, if the utensil makes the selection any easier than by hand, the person would be Halachically considered to be Borer – Selecting – with a utensil: We may not pour soup from a pot while holding back the noodles with the lid. The combination of the pot and lid is considered as separating with a utensil, and is prohibited. We could use the rim of a pot to pour the soup – what is desired – away from the noodles – what is undesired – by tilting the pot so the soup slowly runs over the rim.

A Brief History Lesson:

In 1004 Maria Argyropoulina, Greek niece of Byzantine Emperor Basil II, showed up in Venice for her marriage to Giovanni, son of the Pietro Orseolo II, the Doge of Venice, with a case of golden forks—and then proceeded to use them at the wedding feast. They weren’t exactly a hit. The local clergy roundly condemned her for her decadence, with one going so far as to say, “God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.”

When Argyropoulina died of the plague two years later, Saint Peter Damian, with ill-concealed satisfaction, suggested that it was God’s punishment for her lavish ways. “Nor did she deign to touch her food with her fingers, but would command her eunuchs to cut it up into small pieces, which she would impale on a certain golden instrument with two prongs and thus carry to her mouth. . . . This woman’s vanity was hateful to Almighty God; and so, unmistakably, did He take his revenge. For He raised over her the sword of His divine justice, so that her whole body did putrefy and all her limbs began to wither.”

Doomed by God for using a fork. Life was harsh in the 11th century.

While the church was responding to the new invention of the fork with fear and disgust, Halacha saw a challenge: “What would be the Halachic issues that could arise from a fork?” The first response was: The laws of Borer.

I love looking back in history and studying Responsa as part of history. Inevitably, the masters of Halacha saw each new invention as an opportunity and challenge to understand its place in the vast world of Jewish Law. This perhaps is the most essential instrument in the symphony called The Music of Halacha. The “new” demanded engagement, not fear or hesitation. Halacha does not begin with; “When in doubt – do without”, but with let’s understand how we can best use the new invention.

We can study cutlery for more insight into Halacha and the world.

Knives: Sharp or Rounded

The new shape and function of the fork led to a remarkable change in the design of table knives, which led to a dining divide between Europe and American that continues today.

The rift started, by some accounts, with Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to France’s King Louis XIII, who was so disgusted by a frequent dinner guest’s habit of picking his teeth with his knife that l’Éminence Rouge, as Richelieu was known, had the tips of the offender’s knives ground down to prevent it happening. Always desperate to follow fashion, others in the court soon did the same. Whether the story is true or not, once forks began to gain popular acceptance there was no longer any need for a pointed tip at the end of a dinner knife to hold and spear the food. In 1669, King Louis XIV of France decreed all pointed knives on the street or the dinner table illegal. Not only were new knives to be made with rounded tips; all existing table knives were to be rounded off to reduce the potential for violence. The new style of knife rapidly spread to other European countries, including England.

Halacha, in a very unRichelieu manner, discusses sharp knives in the context of Birchat Hamazon. However, it is important for us to understand how easily a simple, or even silly, decision by one person can shape so much of our lives. I never expected to find a result of Richelieu’s influence on my table, except, of course, when the children were younger and The Three Musketeers could be found on at least one lap, but there it is in the table knives.

I remember a young woman who would not eat in our home on Pesach because we served chicken. Her family would not eat chicken on Pesach because on their last Shabbat in Europe the local rabbis prohibited the sale of chicken on Pesach in order to punish the butchers for price gouging. Interesting beginnings can create new laws. When that happens, the music ceases to play, and Halacha becomes a long list of laws that have lost their meaning.

We risk losing our seat at the concert when we do not pay attention to the development of a Halacha or custom. Halacha demands attention, not only to its laws, but to its development and messages in order for us to hear its music.

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21
May

Why do we use an Atara?

by admin in What is the Reason?

I was told that the reason we have an “Atara” – Crown – on our Tallit is derived from the Mishkan. Is that true? How is it derived? Why do some people wear a Tallit without a crown? D.B.

The panels of the Mishkan walls were marked so that each would always remain in the same place. The panels that bordered the Holy of Holies could never be placed in a different place because we have a principle that “We rise in holiness and never descend.” A pillar that walled the holiest place could not be moved to a place of lesser sanctity. The Shelah HaKodesh strongly felt that the same principle should apply to a Tallit. The part the covers the head must always cover the head, which is the “holiest” place of the person. The Atara, or Crown, is to mark the “top” of the Tallit so that the head will always be on top. The Ari HaKodesh disagreed and did not apply the principle to the Tallit. Therefore, Chabad Chassidim do not have the top of the Tallit marked, so as to follow the Ari.

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20
May

Asking a Tzaddik to Pray

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in What is the Reason?

What is the reason we ask Tzaddikim (Righteous People) to pray for us? R. K.

The Talmud (Bava Kamma 116a) teaches that one should go in search of a Torah Scholar for a blessing to be saved from suffering.

The Rema (Yoreh Dei’ah 335:10) when discussing the laws of visiting the sick and caring for one who is dying, recommends going to the “sage of the city” to request a blessing for the person who is ill. The Ateret Zekainim (Orach Chaim 110) says that this is based on the historical fact that the Children of Israel would consult with the Urim V’Tumim of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) before going to war. Rashi (Berachot 3b) explains that they consulted the Sanhedrin in order for the rabbis to pray for them. The Meromai Sadeh points out that they asked for the prayers of the Sanhedrin even after being instructed by the High Priest to go into battle.

My favorite source is Nachmanides description and explanation of the counting of Israel by Moses and Aaron: Each person would step in front of these two giants and introduce themselves in order that Moses and Aaron could recognize each individual and bless them.

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20
May

What is the reason that people sway when praying? S.G.

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in What is the Reason?

What is the reason that people sway when praying? S.G.

It is based on Psalm 35:10: “All my bones shall say; “God, who is like You?”

However, Rabbi Menachem Azariah da Fano (1548-1620) in Responsum 113:1, rules that the verse applies only to praises of God and not to prayer. The prototype of prayer is provided by Hannah, of whom it is said, “only her lips moved,” (Samuel I 1:13). Only Hannah’s lips moved, not her body. External movements of the body prevent adequate concentration in prayer. Although the Chayot (Living Creatures) in Ezekiel’s vision moved about, yet it is said: “when they stood, they let down their wings.” (Ezekiel 1:25) We, too, when we stand in prayer, should make no movements at all. Some people sway slightly at the beginning and end of each blessing on the basis of the verse (Isaiah 6:4) “And the posts of the door were moved at the voice of them that called.”

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