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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

We need to strengthen Abu Mazen

We have been these words incessantly over the past few days, if I hear it again I think I am going to throw up.

The man has shown he is a spineless and toothless who can't deliver anything. After what happened in Gaza how can anyone have any faith that Abu Mazen can deliver on any promise. What is the point of talking to someone who has no power and cannot deliver.

Unfortunately, the left cannot bear to admit a mistake and will continue with this insane policy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

How much parnasa is from heaven?

The Mishna in Rosh Hashana (16a) states that there are 4 times the world is judged. On Pesach on תבואה, Shavuos on fruits, Rosh Hashana man is judged, and on Succos for water.

The Ran asks that the din of a person on Rosh Hashana would seem to include all the others (tevua, water, and fruits) so what is the din on Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos on these things? Weren't these already decided on Rosh Hashana? The Ran answers that the din on Rosh Hashana is for the individual while the din on Pesach etc. is for the
tzibbur as a whole (maybe each country). In other words, on Rosh Hashana each person is judged individually what is going to be their fate, on Pesach the country as a whole is judged on their תבואה.

The Turei Even is bothered by a number of questions on the Ran.
1. He points out that the gemara says that if your wheat is damaged by something, before Pesach it is last years din, after Pesach it is this years din. It seems from the gemara that this (the din of tevua on Pesach) is relating to an individual person not the tzibbur.
2. If on Rosh Hashana every person has a din on how much tevua he will get then what is left for the next Pesach, from Pesach until Rosh Hashana was decided on each individual how much they will get (and therefore it was decided how much the tzibbur as a whole will get).

To answer these questions the Turei Even says that the gezera on Rosh Hashana for individuals is not a fixed amount but rather a percentage. Reuven will get x percent of his country's wheat. How much that will be will only be decided on Pesach when the din on wheat for that country is done.

Abaye makes a seemingly difficult statement here (16a). He says that if you see that your winter תבואה is succeeding it means that last Pesach the din was favorable. Therefore, he says you should quickly plant so that you can get another crop in before Pesach and benefit from the favorable din on the previous Pesach. The obvious question is wasn't your allocation fixed on Rosh Hashana? It sounds like Abaye is saying that you can somehow get more then was allocated to you on Rosh Hashana.

According to the Turei Even we can say that while the percentage is set the distribution is not. Abaye is saying to get more before Pesach so that in real terms you will end up with more.

Here is a simple example with numbers. On the Pesach before RH it is nigzar that your country will get 1,000,000 bushels of wheat. On RH it is nigzar that you will get 1% of that. The next Pesach it is nigzar that your country will get only 500,000 bushels of wheat. If you get 50% of your allotment before Pesach and 50% after Pesach you will end up with 0.5% of 1,000,000 which is 5000 and and 0.5% of 500,000 which is 2,500 for a total of 7500. What Abaye is suggesting is that you try to get 70% of your allotment before Pesach and only 30% after. If you do that you end up with 0.7% of 1,000,000 which is 7000 and 0.3% of 500,000 which is 1500 for a grand total of 8500. In other words even though you got the same 1% percent of your country's total in real terms you ended up with an extra 1000 bushels.

Many times, the word תבואה represents not just grain, but parnasa as a whole. If that is the case here then it turns out that a person's income is not fixed in absolute terms on RH. Rather, it is set as a percentage of the total income of the country. Therefore a person could increase their income by doing what Abaye suggested, shifting the distribution around. This could mean that there is justification for a person working harder to get a bonus in the winter, his hishtadlus really does increase his net income and this is not in contradiction to the fact that a person's income is fixed on RH because what is fixed is the percentage not the actual amount.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A common misconception about the Parah Aduma

I am posting this again because every year I hear people make the same mistake.

We all know that the Parah Aduma is a chok and it is מטהר הטמאים ומטמא הטהורים. Most people think that this refers to the person who sprinkles the ashes, that the sprinkler becomes טמא. This would seem to be based on the simple reading of the pasuk (21) that says ומזה מי הנדה יכבס בגדיו. However, this is simply not true. Rashi there quotes the gemara that the מזה is actually טהור and the pasuk is coming to teach us that the person who carries it becomes טמא.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why the internet ban is doomed to failure

Today's Hamodia (6/13), had an interesting article regarding the problems that Charedi Jews are having with the US Embassy in Israel.

Until now, the embassy has had public hours where anyone could come and get passports, register births, etc. Last week, they started a new system. You now need an appointment to do anything. No one will be served without an appointment. There is just 1 catch. The appointment system is online only, if you don't have internet access there is no way for you to make an appointment. Hamodia, asked the US Embassy if they were planning on allowing for people to set up appointments by phone. The answer they received (appropriately enough by e-mail), was no, there is no plan to allow appointment set up by phone. The one and only way to setup an appointment with the US Embassy in Israel is online using the internet. This is a big problem for the Charedi public in Israel where the internet is banned.

This is not an isolated incident. More and more services are moving online and online only. In some cases you may be able to pay to get phone service but even that is going to go away. As the internet becomes even more ubiquitous it is going to be very difficult to get along in day to day life without it. This is why the internet ban is doomed to failure.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How many strings of תכלת should there be for ציצית?

In this past week's parsha we have the mitzva of ציצית. The string(s) of תכלת are a central part of the mitzva that have been missing for between 1000 - 1500 years. In recent times there are those that claim that they have rediscovered תכלת. An interesting question comes up, how many strings of תכלת should there be.

There seems to be 3 different opinions in the Rishonim:
1. Rambam (הל' ציצית פרק א' הל' ו) writes that 1 out of the 8 strings should be תכלת
2. The Raavad there disagrees and says that 2 of 8 strings should be תכלת
3. Rashi and Tosafos in מונחות ל"ח hold that half of the strings (4) should be תכלת

There seems to be a fundamental dispute. Rashi and Tosafos seem to hold that תכלת and white are equal and together they make up ציצית. The Rambam however, seems to hold that תכלת is used to wrap around the white, there is a fundamental distinction between the 2, white are the strings and תכלת is the wrapper.Therefore, only 1 string is תכלת.

How do we pasken? Here we run into the same issue that I mentioned by Shemitta, we have no mesora of psak. We have a machlokes harishonim but no הכרעה. The Shulchan Aruch, Rama, Magen Avraham, etc. do not discuss the issue because it was not הלכה למעשה. Therefore, we now have to pasken with a 700 year gap.

What makes it worse is that the shitos seem to be exclusionary. If you do like the Rambam (1 string תכלת) then for sure you are not יוצא the din of תכלת according to Rashi and Tosafos as according to them you need 4 strings of תכלת. On the other hand, if you do like Rashi and Tosafos, according to the Rambam you may not be יוצא the din of white strings, because it would seem according to the Rambam you need 7 white strings.

It would be interesting to hear from those who wear תכלת how many strings they have תכלת and why.


It seems that more rishonim and acharonim then I thought dealt with the issue and most pasken like Rashi and Tosafos.

Almost all the חכמי אשכנז (Maharam MiRutenberg, Mordechai, Rid, Semak, etc.) pasken like Rashi and Tosafos as well as both the Rosh and the Tur.

The majority of acharonim (who discuss the issue) also seem to pasken like Rashi and Tosafos.

Taz - או"ח סימן ט' סעיף ב'
בזמן שהיה תכלת מצוותו שיקח שני חוטין וכו': דכתיב גדילים תעשה לך אין גדיל פחות
משנים - גדילים ארבע והיינו שני מינים וסברא שיהיו שני המינים שווים שני חוטים מהאי
מינא ושנים מהאי מינא

Gra - או"ח סימן י"א סעיף י"ב is משמע that he paskens like Tosafos (although some argue that he holds like the Rambam)

Mishna Berura - סימן ט' ס"ק ז paskens like Rashi and Tosafos (half techeles half white):

בזמן הזה - פי' דבזמן שהיה תכלת שהיה צריך להטיל ד' חוטין שני חוטי לבן ושני חוטי

The Aruch Hashulchan mentions the machlokes Rashi and the Rambam and is not מכריעה

Shulchan Aruch Harav - הל' ציצית סימן ט' סעיף ד'

י"א שאין ציצית של צמר ופשתים פוטרין בבגדים של שאר מינים אלא א"כ יהיו הציצית צמר
ופשתים יחדיו דהיינו ב' חוטין תכלת וב' חוטין פשתים...

The bottom line is that the majority of the Rishonim amd Acharonim hold like Rashi and Tosafos that there should be 4 strings of Techeles.

Based on this I am very surprised that most people who wear techeles wear only 2 blue strings.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Are you allowed to talk on the phone in the bathroom?

R' OY (in Shas's newspaper) stated that a person should not talk on the phone in the bathroom unless it is very urgent (loss of money or sickness). He said that the reason is only for tznius. He quotes the ספר חרדים: "אין משיחין בבית הכסא מפני סכנת שדים המצויים שם, וצריך צניעות ושתיקה להינצל מהם". He points out that the nowadays in our bathrooms since we have running water and they are clean there is no סכנת שדים and it is only a din in tznius.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Palestinians are being killed by the dozens, where is the world outrage?

The answer is simple, they are being killed by other Arabs with no way to blame Israel so no one cares.

The Lebanese Army is attacking a Palestinian refugee camp with tanks and artillery. The New York Times reports:

The official death toll from the two-week conflict reached 110 including 44 soldiers. But the death toll of militants and civilians inside the camp is widely expected to grow much higher as bodies are sifted from the rubble.

Where is the UN condemnation? Where is the British government lecturing about disproportionate use of force? Where is the US State Department spokesman calling for restraint? Where is Saeb Erekat and his claims of a massacre?

Just think back to the world reaction when Israel entered Jenin 3 years ago. There is no better proof of the anti-semitism and double standard of the world then what is going on now in Lebanon and the world's non-reaction.

The message of the חטא המרגלים

This is something I posted 2 years ago which I think is worth reposting.

The story of the מרגלים is a troubling story. You have the leaders of the Jewish people, tzadikim, suddenly do a terrible sin, why?

One approach is as follows. The leaders made the following calculation. Things were good in the midbar. They had a spiritual life with no effort. Manna came down from heaven every morning. If they had a question they asked Moshe who asked Hashem. In short, spirituality was handed to them on a silver platter. On the other hand they realized that in Israel life would change radically. They would not live a life of nissim, manna would not fall from heaven. They would have to work hard to retain their spiritually. If they had a question in Torah they would have to figure out the answer.

Based on the above, the meraglim decided life was better in the midbar and therefore did what they did.

What was their sin? They didn't want to work hard at their spirituality. They wanted everything handed to them on a silver platter.

This message is especially relevant nowadays in the executive summary/fast food society of ours. No one has time to work hard on something, everyone wants everything to come easy. No one wants to sit and sweat over pshat in a gemara, they want it spoon fed to them. This is one of the reasons why there is such a proliferation of (kitzur)handbook sefarim, people are not willing to put in the effort to learn the sources. this is why the Artscroll gemaras have become so popular, they make learning gemara easy.

I would like to go a bit further with this. Learning torah is different then learning any other discipline. Other subjects, what is paramount is that you obtain the knowledge, how you get there is irrelevant. The bottom line is what do you know. In torah this is not true. In torah, how you get there is more important then what you know. The act of learning torah is the mitzva. If someone could magically impress on your brain all of torah, that would be nice, but you would get no mitzva for that. The Mitzva is to learn it yourself. Hashem wants us to be עמלים (work hard) in Torah. Nowadays, we have lost this. People would rather take it easy with an Artcsroll gemara then break their head to understand the sugya.

After 120 years a person will not be asked what they know, but, did you fulfill your potential. There may be a guy who knew all of Shas because he was a genius, but his potential was that he could have been another Vilna Gaon. In this world he was very respected guy he knew Shas, however his potential was so much greater. On the other hand there may be an average guy who fulfilled his potential but never even really knew shas. In this world he was basically ignored, he worked hard at learning but was not that successful. But, he fulfilled his potential. Who do you think will get the bigger reward in the next world.? This is what the gemara means when it says עולם הפוך. In torah learning effort not results is what ultimately counts.

Some people will misinterpret this to mean that I am saying a person can sit and learn all day and know nothing. Absolutely not. What I am saying is that a person is judged by his potential, every person needs to maxmize it. It is amazing to see what an average person can do if they really push themselves (more about this in upcoming posts), but the average person will not become the Godol Hador and in shamayim no one will ask him why he wasn't the godol hador.

One of the good things about my commute to work is that it gives me time to think. Many times, in the morning I learn a piece of gemara with my chavrusa and something bothers us. On the way to work for an hour I think about it, I think about the question, possible answers, etc. and many times after an hour or 2 I will either have an answer or at least a better understanding of why it is really a question. The only way to come up with a chiddush is to sit and think. Unfortunately most people never really think in learning. They run right away to look in some sefer for an answer.

The proliferation of sefarim is both a blessing and a curse. For many, it makes life too easy, they never have to think about what is a question and what is an answer, Artscroll (or some other sefer) spoon feeds it to them.

Don't get me wrong, Artscroll and other aids have their place. They have allowed many people who couldn't learn gemara without it learn. The problem is that they allow many other people who could learn gemara if they worked hard at it be lazy and not push themselves.

Every person has to evaluate their situation and balance where they are to understand how they should go about learning.