Sunday, April 30, 2006

Acharei-Kedoshim 1

A couple of notes on my last post:

1) The Arizal actually popularized Hilula d'Rashbi (the yahrtzeit of R' Shimon bar Yochai), which falls out on Lag BaOmer, but is not an inherent part of the chag (the latter being defined as the day that the students of R' Akiva stopped dying, or some variant thereof). Although, based on my limited experience with kabbalistic matters, there probably is some connection that is brought down between the two.

2) I asked a rav about the usage of an ordinal number rather than a cardinal number for sefirah, and he said that it was not an issue.

New matters:

1) Why does a yoledes have to bring a korban chatas? Rashb"i on Niddah 31b says it's as a kapara for the oath that she made during the travails of her labor never again to have marital relations, to which Rav Yoseif brings up several challenges that are not dealt with by the gemara there (i.e., she was m'zidah, her sh'vuah can be hutar through going to a rav and thus does not need a korban, the korban prescribed for her is not the usual korban for a sh'vuah). Tzarich iyyun.

2) Why is the shiur for hotza'ah of milk on Shabbos only a sip (g'mi'ah) and not a revi'is (like by other liquids) or some derivative thereof (like undiluted wine, for which the shiur is enough to be diluted into a revi'is). The gemara emphasizes that the purpose of the milk is for drinking (or, interestingly (?), another portion of the sugya refers to it as eating), not for any other purpose, such as medicinal.

3) If we allow that mayim acharonim is still in effect nowadays, according to the psak of the Shulchan Aruch, how does barely sprinkling the fingers accomplish this? There are two reasons given for mayim acharonim to my understanding: Melach s'domis (leaving aside issues of metzius), which would ostensibly require a thorough washing b/c of sakanah, and a drash from this week's parsha (for the requisite tie-in) which learns out mayim rishonim and mayim acharonim from the dual lashon of v'hiskadishtem vih'yisem kedoshim (20:7). The latter reason would appear to juxtapose the two, and thereby equate the two into chiyuvim that require a revi'is (maybe this is the basis of the Gra, who holds that even mayim acharonim require a bracha), while for the former reason, one would have to say that only the fingertips would have come in contact with the melach s'domis, which I originally thought didn't sound so compelling, but seems to make sense.

Update, 7/3: This past Shabbos, I was asked that, if the reason for mayim acharonim is merely because of sakana, what's the reason for removing or covering the used water during bentching (presumably because of ru'ach ra'ah). This would seem to indicate that there's some aspect of vih'yisem kedoshim in the chiyuv, also, which then reintroduces the question of why we (meaning the various shuls in which I've eaten seudah shlishis) only wash the finger tips. Unless there's something tamei in general with used washwater/bathwater (and that being the case, a swimming pool that is not a valid mikveh)?

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Sunday, April 16, 2006


1) The Shulchan Aruch says that the preferred lashon for sefirah is BaOmer (the TaZ concurs) while the Shlah and the Arizal (as well as the Mishnah Brurah) prefer LaOmer. Hence, it is interesting that, although the Arizal was the one who popularized the observances of Lag BaOmer, he did not call it by that name.

2) Is one yotzei if he counts "Today is the 2nd day of the omer", instead of "Today is two days to the omer"?

3) How do the laws of hastara for a sotah differ from the laws of yichud, if at all? My question is based on the gemara in the beginning (2-3?) which mentioned an opinion that the lashon of kinui is used by the sotah because it causes animosity between the women and other men, in that they might not know that her husband was makneh her, and therefore will be put off by the fact that she will not be mistateres with them, anymore, which implies that prior to her kinui, such hastarah was mutar.

4) The haftara of the 2nd day of Pesach, which I leined, ends precisely at an apex, as beginning with the very next passuk, the kingdom of Yehudah begins to plummet, through the downfall of Yoshiyahu, the persecutions under Yehoyakim, the timidity of Tzidkiyahu, the churban, the assassination of Gedaliah, and the subsequent abandonment of the land against Yirmiyahu's warnings. I later quipped to the gabbai that I was contemplating concluding on an Eichah riff. It might have been a good idea, if for no other reason that than of a "mah nishtanah" to arouse the sleepy congregants into wondering what the context of this nevuah was.

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Monday, April 10, 2006


Is there any basis whatsoever for a seder plate having spots for both "maror" and "chazeres"? (Even leaving aside that the Mishnah Brurah paskens that chazeres is the best type of maror to use).


It was shown to me that this instruction appears in the commentary on the haggadah by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe. He gives two reasons for using both types: firstly, a lack of absolute certainty that chazeres is what we think it is, so that it makes sense to hedge our bets, and additionally due to kabbalistic reasons connecting horseradish to the straight-up maror and lettuce to koreich.

Subsequently, another source was shown to me that attributes the presence of both horseradish and chazeres on the seder plate to the Arizal. Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson (the Rebbe Rashab) explains that the Arizal's arrangements of items on the seder plate highlights their connection to the eser sefiros:

z'roa - chesed - kindness, epitomized by Hashem's z'roa netuya in taking us out of Egypt.
beitzah - gevurah - strength - egg is cooked until it becomes hard.
maror - tif'eres - empathy - maror is a method through which we empathize with the Jews who suffered in Egypt.
These three constitute one subset of sefiros and are grouped into one triangle.

charoses - netzach - endurance - mortar symbolizes permanence
karpas - hod - humility - grows close to the ground
chazeres - y'sod - foundation? - chazeres joins together with matza in koreich
These three constitute a second subset of sefiros and a second triangle.

Malchus - dignity - is represented by the seder plate itself, and the three matzos placed below symbolize the three sefiros elyonos, chochma, bina, and da'as.

This, at least, answers my question regarding the source of the practice. Note to self: "When in doubt, attribute it to the Arizal" works surprisingly often.

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Go'eil HaDam

If a geir (i.e., someone who has no k'rovim) is killed b'shogeig, does the murderer have to go into galus?

Does a person have only one go'eil ha-dam, or can he have more than one? How close must a person be to be considered a go'eil ha-dam? One of the shiv'a k'rovim?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thoughts on Labels

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently decided to polish my profile on Frumster. Unlike the online dating site that I previously used (with no real complaints), Frumster does not have a cap on the length of the self-description paragraphs, although it limits the explanation of why one chose a given label to only 20 words. Therefore, I decided to use my unlimited personal description space to explain my thought process on choosing a label, in addition to the standard self-description stuff (which is not included here).

Being that this site has no cap to the length of these description paragraphs, I can elaborate a bit more. I contemplated choosing the "Shomer Mitzvos" category as a protest against labels, but decided that other options may better express my religious ideology to others than that one - and ultimately, that's the point of the question, rather than an objective statement of a fact for its own sake. "Yeshivish" is a nice word, as any ideology within Judaism that claims authenticity must be intimately bonded to the yeshiva, which is the source of the Torah used to apply said ideology to different situations of life. To some extent, the term has been co-opted, but this is beyond the scope of this blurb. "Modern" is a more puzzling word, as another requirement of an authentic ideology within Judaism is a clear pathway that illustrates the evolution of this ideology from Sinai to the present day, based on a set of rules mandated by halacha. If a person takes pride in being Modern ____, rather than just regular ____, are they repudiating their legacy? On the other hand, Yeshivish-black hat sounds like it overemphasizes chitzoni'us, which is no better. After acknowledging that Modern Orthodox (machmir) offers no appeal to me, as being machmir is a very minor facet of a Jew's life relative to simply following the accepted, mei-ikar ha-din, halacha, the only other option is Shomer Mitzvos - and in truth, have I reached the madreiga where I am an active watchman over mitzvos (shades of R' Shim'on ben Nesan'el)?

Hence, I reluctantly enclose myself in the box of Yeshivish Modern, from whence I make vague mime-like gestures in an attempt to remotely describe myself to others.

Friday, April 07, 2006


The story of the Giv'onim in Yehoshua ch. 9 has a certain bizarre aspect to it. The people are suspicious about the origins of the Giv'onim, and are hesitant to make any treaty with them, but Yehoshua and the nesi'ei ha-edah, the leaders of the generation, are the ones who make the mistake. Maybe the lesson to be learned is that the leaders should trust the instincts of their followers, and think twice before exerting their power to go over the heads of the populace.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Yehoshua, chapter 8

A couple of observations on Yehoshua ch. 8:

1) The drastic change between the first attack on Ha-ai and the second. We are told that the population of Ha-Ai was 12,000, male and female, which means roughly 2,000-3,000 adult males of military age (as per the 1/5 ratio often invoked by y'tzias Mitzrayim). In the first battle, the scouts advised using this number to fight. In the second, 30,000 soldiers constituted the ambush alone - both by force of numbers and by use of a strategy, this battle should have been a decisive victory for the Jews even through natural means - why did HaShem command that it be done this way?

2) Although instructions for the battle with Yericho included a ban on all of its property, no such instructions were given for the battle with Ha-ai. To the contrary, even after the execution of Achan, the opposite command was given, i.e., that all of the spoils be plundered. It seems that the Jews had lost an opportunity of some sort when Achan took from the spoils of Yericho, as I don't believe we ever find a similar ban at a later time in Tanach (with the exception of the war of Esther).
(Rashi says on the words "and like this and like this I have done" in the confession of Achan in the previous chapter that Achan was confessing additionally to taking from the spoils of previous battles during the time of Moshe in which a ban was placed on all plundering (I don't recall when this was the case) - one can, perhaps, say that the z'chus of Moshe over that of Yehoshua caused that the Jews were not punished until now - but despite the fact that the sin was the same both here and there, it is interesting that it was only now that the Jews lost this extra command).

3) If Ha-ai was so small (see the scouts' report at the beginning of chapter 7), why did it merit the name Ha-ai, with the definite article in front? In two places, there is a k'ri/k'siv that takes out a terminal reish, which may mean that "ai" is a truncation of "ir" (does a precedent exist?) - but perhaps this is not the case, but rather "ai" and "ir" are just a case where the proper and common nouns look similar? Could "ai" mean something else? Unless it was a city that had once been great, but had seen better days? Such could possibly be said about Yericho, also, as per the rule (mentioned by Rashi in P' Sh'lach) that strong cities don't need such solid walls - if so, perhaps HaShem chose these two cities to start the invasion of K'na'an to make it more derech ha-teva? (Unless Yericho is known from elsewhere to be a powerful city - in which case I don't know how to explain the choice of these two cities as the beginning of the invasion).


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Eimek Achor

In today's perek of the Nach Yomi for Avraham program, Yehoshua ch. 7, the place where Achan is judged and executed for taking from the spoils of Yericho is called Eimek Achor, and he himself is referred to as Ocheir Yisroel (in the genealogies of Divrei HaYamim). The term Eimek Achor is also used by Hoshei'a (ch. 2), who says that it will turn into Petach Tikva, an entrance of hope, and Yeshaya (ch. 65), who says that it will turn into an area of cattle pasturing. The description ocheir is also used by Yiftach, to refer to his daughter, Ach'av and Eliyahu to refer to each other, and Yonasan, to refer to his father, due to his decree during a certain battle against the P'lishtim that the people were required to fast until the P'lishtim were utterly beaten.

I had always thought that "ocheir" meant one who makes stumble, but today's research indicated that it means to make cloudy, turbid, or stirred up - like "mayim achurim" used in the mishnah (?) in reference to what may or may not be used for netilas yadayim.

What does this mean? I don't know.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

6 Nissan

Today is 6 Nissan - the anniversary of the offering of the Nasi of shevet Gad, Elyasaf ben De'u'eil, during the dedication of the Mishkan. Perhaps we can say that today is a day in which God grants us a special ability to perceive His essence?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mila and cherpah

In Yehoshua ch. 5, Yehoshua performs a mass circumcision on the people. Subsequently, HaShem says to Yehoshua, "Today I have rolled off the 'cherpah' of Egypt from you". I don't have time to delve into this, but it's interesting that the same term 'cherpah', meaning insult or shame, is used by the b'nei Yaakov when they explain to Chamor and Shechem why they cannot give Dinah to Shechem while he is uncircumcised. Rashi there quotes a Midrash which elaborates, with the brothers explaining that it is their habit to insult each other by calling each other 'areilim. Looking at some of the mefarshim on Yehoshua - Radak, Metzudas David, and Malbim all say that the cherpah that was removed is the orlah itself, although none of them explain why this is so, other than to quote the passuk in Bereishis. Rashi and Ralbag go in a different direction altogether, with the former saying that the cherpah is the projection of the Egyptian astrologers that the Jews will meet up with blood in the desert (which only now was revealed to be dam mila, as opposed to the blood of death) and the latter saying that cherpah is the perverted Egyptian ideology in general, which the subsequent offering of the korban pesach serves to remove (he cross-references here his commentary on P' Bo), and more specifically the Egyptian predeliction for lewdness, which is weakened by circumcision; the Ralbag also quotes Rashi's opinion afterwards, but prefers his own.


Sunday, April 02, 2006


The following thought crossed my mind as I was editing my profile on Frumster:

Among Rishonim, the Rosh holds that tzitzis is required for any daytime garment, even at night, while the Rambam holds that tzitzis is required for any garment worn during the daytime (v'simanach: the German holds it's a din in the garment). Isn't it interesting that the minhag among ashkenazim is to only wear a beged d' kanfos or a tallis during the day?