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(no subject) [Mar. 23rd, 2007|10:35 am]
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Skokie Kollel Halachas of Pesach [Mar. 23rd, 2007|09:10 am]
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Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski on Materialism [Sep. 27th, 2006|11:45 pm]
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Materialism

It is often said that today's generation is the most materialistic
and hedonistic in the history of humankind.

It is not necessary to go back to ancient history to validate this assertion. I can recall what life was like when I was a child. Before the advent of antibiotics in the 1940's, the average life expectancy in the United States was forty. Although there were people who lived to a ripe, old age, the average was brought down by a high rate of infant mortality and by childhood diseases. On my way to school, I would pass houses that bore a Health Department sign: "Quarantined, Mumps, (or Chicken Pox, or
Scarlet Fever, or Whooping Cough or Measles)." By the way, I had them all.
Growing up in the 1930's was not that much fun. There was little
immunization in those days.

When the weather was sweltering, we sweat. Fans did not do much good, and air-conditioning did not exist. Air-conditioning first appeared in the 1940's, and it was available only in theaters. On a very hot day,you went to a movie (if you could afford it) and sat through two shows. No one had an air-conditioned car, and there were no power brakes, power
steering or automatic transmission, either. Our neighbor started his car by cranking it!

Every major city in the United States had a tuberculosis sanitarium, and these were full. People died of tuberculosis in their prime. Many families were left fatherless and motherless by pneumonia, and many parents buried their children. There were no fax machines, jet planes, microwaves, portable phones, cell phones, videos, internet, or fast-foods. There were no tranquilizers.

Much work involved physical exertion. Electronic controls were unheard of. People worked hard, dawn to dusk, six days a week (or even seven). Laborers of the 1930's would consider today's workplaces as spas.

Looking back at these conditions that prevailed just a few decades ago, we can appreciate being the beneficiaries of the medical, scientific and technological miracles that have occurred in our lifetime. By the same token, life back then could not be very materialistic. The amount of distress and suffering experienced by people did not allow for a materialistic outlook on life. Given today's comforts and conveniences, many people have come to see the goal of life as being attainment of maximum pleasure.

The frum community, of course, has shared the modern pleasantness of life. In addition, it has had its own conveniences.

In my childhood days, being a shomer Shabbos called for great mesiras nefesh. There were very few jobs that could accommodate a shomer Shabbos. I knew many families that lived in deprivation because the husband/father could not find a Shabbos-free job.

Preparation of meals was a chore. You took the chicken to the shochet, then eviscerated it, soaked and salted it. This was a 90 minute ordeal. There was nothing that was ready-for-the-pot. There were no frozen foods. There was no kosher Chinese food, nor Italian, Korean, or Mid-Eastern. There was no kosher sushi. There were only two varieties of kosher wine: sweet concord and sugar-free. There were few kosher dairy products. On Pesach we had meat, borscht, potatoes and more potatoes. The only Pesachdig candy was marmalade. No seltzer, no soda.

Today's Pesach products include everything except bread. Kosher pizza, non-gebrokt ice-cream cones, a variety of canned vegetables and fruits, abundant ice-cream, chocolate, candies, and yes, Pesachdig marshmallows! 124 varieties and brands of wine were on the shelves this past Pesach.

Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the goods of the world. However, what has happened in the modern world is that pleasure his been equated with happiness and has become the goal in life. Anyone who feels that he/she has not gotten their fair share of pleasure feels cheated, and some people, especially youngsters, turn to drugs to find "happiness." We should not lose sight of the fact that the goal of
life is spiritual rather than physical.

The Baal Shem Tov was asked, inasmuch as Shabbos and Yom Tov should be days of spiritual rather than physical delight, why do we have so many delicious foods? Would it not be more appropriate to eat simple foods and dedicate the entire day to spiritual pursuits? The Baal Shem Tov
answered with a parable.

A prince once committed an offense for which he was banished from the royal palace and exiled to a distant village in the kingdom, where he lived a very austere life. After a lengthy period of time, he received a message from his father that he was pardoned and could return home. This news made him so happy that he could not contain him self from singing and dancing. However, if he were suddenly to sing and dance, the townsfolk would think he had gone mad. He, therefore, gathered some of the townsfolk
together for a party, and gave them lavish food and drink. Well satiated with food and drink, they arose to sing and dance, and the prince joined them. The townsfolk were dancing because they were merry with food and drink, whereas the prince danced because he was returning to the royal
palace.

"A person," the Baal Shem Tov said, "is a composite being,
comprised of a physical body and a spiritual neshama. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, the neshama wishes to engage in prayer and Torah study to bring it in closer contact with G-d. However, the body does not appreciate this, and is a barrier to spirituality. We, therefore, provide the body with things it can enjoy, so that it, too, will be happy, and will not stand in the way of the neshama's quest for and celebration of spiritual delight."

Earthly goods enjoyed in this way give primacy to the spirit. Indulging in pleasure, even permissible and "kosher" pleasure as an end in itself, is a corruption of Yiddishkeit.

We need not deny ourselves permissible pleasures, but we must take great care that they do not become our primary motivation. It is important to study those Torah works that address spirituality, primarily the writings of mussar and chassidus, and take their teachings to heart. If we fail to do this, we may get caught up in the "hedonic treadmill" that is
characteristic of the society in which we live, running from pleasure to pleasure, but never arriving at a goal.

The frum world is suffering its share of casualties from the influence of the prevailing hedonism in our environment. This is partially responsible for the unprecedented numbers of failed marriages, with either spouse (or both) feeling that the relationship is not providing the gratification they desire. While marriage should indeed be a source of mutual gratification, the basis and goal of marriage should be spiritual, as is indicated by the very first berachah after the couple is joined in wedlock, shehakol bara lichvodo, that all creation is to bring greater
glory to Hashem, and that should be the primary goal of the marriage.

Young people mimic the adult population. The number of young people who seek the high of alcohol or drugs are seeking the pleasure in life to which they feel entitled. Both young and old are increasingly falling victim to compulsive gambling, seeking the thrill, but ending up with catastrophic debts and frank criminal acts to support their gambling. And both young and old fall into the trap of internet addiction, whether to constantly surfing the web, playing video games, or indulging in pornography.

I have defined spirituality in secular terms, seeing the human spirit as comprised of those traits that are unique to human beings and hence distinguish them from animals. In addition to greater intelligence, some of the more obvious uniquely human features, are (1) the ability to learn from the history of past generations, (2) the ability to search for truth, (3) the ability to reflect on the purpose and goals of life, (4) the ability to have a self-awareness; (5) the ability to volitionally improve oneself, (6) the ability to have perspective, to contemplate the
future and to think about future consequences of one's actions, and (7) the ability to be considerate of others and to be sensitive to their needs, (8) the ability to sacrifice one's comfort and possessions for the welfare of others, (9) the ability to empathize; (10) the ability to make moral and ethical choices in defiance of strong bodily drives and urges, (11) the ability to forgive, (12) the ability to aspire, and (13) the ability to delay gratification.

Yiddishkeit gives a special flavor and perspective to
spirituality. In addition to observance of the mitzvos, we must emphasize the middos of Torah living. If we wish to save ourselves and our children, we must get off the "hedonic treadmill" and make Torah spirituality the single most important component of our lives.
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Take Heart Pluto, Less is More [Sep. 1st, 2006|02:57 pm]
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By Yisroel Rice

I am sure you have all heard by now: Pluto has been demoted. The International Astronomical Union has convened, debated and voted that Pluto is simply sub-planetary. "It's too small," they say. And even more, it follows a different orbit than the other, normal planets.

As a member of the Jewish people I say: Pluto, we feel your pain... Many have debated your planethood, as many have tried to decide our peoplehood. Do not be discouraged.

"Pluto, we feel your pain..." We too, have been set on a course that makes us "a unique and strange, spread out people." I guess our orbit has bumped into the orbits of too many other nations and rubbed them the wrong way. Pluto, we understand what it's like to be out there on the fringe.

We know that many people out there look at size; they think bigger is better (and look at the expanding orbit of our national girth!) As human beings, large things catch our attention and we get caught up in size over substance.

Our Torah, however, offers a different perspective. Well before the word "demography" existed Moses conveyed the following message to the Jewish People:

"The L-rd your G-d has chosen you to be to Him a special people, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth... G-d did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you are the fewest of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:6-7)

It is quite amazing how we human beings, so small and insignificant in this universe, are so enthralled by big things. G-d, on the other hand, is impressed by small things. "The fewest of all peoples" is not just meant in terms of size, but in terms of attitude. The Midrash relates that although G-d bestowed greatness upon Abraham, his attitude was that "I am but dust and ashes." G-d bestowed abundant blessing upon the patriarch Jacob, yet his reaction was "I am diminished (katonti) by all the kindnesses... You have shown Your servant."

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains in Tanya, that one of the remarkable qualities of holiness is that the more one receives, the less deserving one feels. But why is this so? After all, if I am receiving so much, I must be great, or deserving, at the very least! The Rebbe explains that the more we receive, the more we realize that this is a gift from G-d, the source of blessing. Accordingly, the more we get the more we are inspired and grateful to Him, and our own ego is diminished. When one is receiving without this holy consciousness, the opposite is true.

Through our smallness, we are able to draw the greatest blessings down into ourselves and the entire universe.

So, my cosmic colleague, do not be deterred by the smallness of your size, the uniqueness of your path, or what others think about them--even if they are the IAU. It is not the size of the planet in the universe. It is the size of the universe in the planet.



By Yisroel Rice

Rabbi Yisrael Rice is the Executive Director of Chabad of Marin, Marin County, California and Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Rice is the creator of the "Infinite Within" seminar and author of "The Kabbalah of Now." Rabbi Rice lives in San Rafael, California with his wife, Gittel, and nine children.

The content on this page is copyrighted by the author, publisher and/or Chabad.org, and is produced by Chabad.org. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with the copyright policy.

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Parshas Ki Thetze 5766 Commentary by Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum [Sep. 1st, 2006|02:30 pm]
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Although the primary reason of observing the Torah’s commandments is to fulfill the will of G-d, nevertheless, we also benefit from their observance. One of the mitzvos discussed in this portion is shiluach ha-ken, sending away the mother bird. This involves someone who chances upon a wild mother bird sitting upon a nest of eggs or fledglings, and the person wants the young for himself. The Torah obligates him to first send away the mother bird and only then take the offspring. Although this mitzvah involves only a minimal effort, great rewards are promised for its fulfillment.

It may seem cruel to forcibly separate a mother from her young. Yet, the commentaries explain, the love of a mother to her young is instinctive, and it would pain her even more to see her offspring taken away. By sending away the mother bird before taking the young, it instills a feeling of compassion into man for all creatures.

This is also seen in another mitzvah discussed: the prohibition against muzzling an animal while it is working. This too shows compassion for an animal that becomes hungry while working in the fields. Even if the owner intends to feed the animal afterwards, there is still an element of cruelty in denying it food while it is working. The person who does not show this compassion to an animal will not show it to another human being either.

On the other hand, though, it is sometimes necessary to refrain from feeling compassion. There is a mitzvah to totally wipe out the memory of the Amalekite nation– every man, woman and child. Amalek is viewed as the archenemy of the Jewish people, because they were intent on destroying the image of G-d from them. Their war against the Jews was more than just a personal hatred. It was an ideological battle against the recognition of G-d’s involvement in the physical world. G-d’s name remains flawed, as it were, as long as the nation of Amalek exists.

Here, there is no room for compassion. One who realizes the importance of propagating G-d’s ideals throughout the world, understands the necessity of sometimes having to wage the wars of G-d. The Talmud says in relation to the war against Amalek, that one who shows misplaced compassion to those undeserving of it, will eventually show cruelty to those who truly deserve compassion.

“…they discipline him, but he does not listen to them...” (Deut. 21:19)

The commentators point out that sometimes the discipline itself causes the child not to listen. Rav Ya’akov Kaminetzky was asked if it is proper to employ corporal punishment as a means of disciplining one’s children.

Rav Ya’akov related an incident with Rav Baruch Ber Lebovits, whose child misbehaved. Rav Baruch Ber waited a while to make sure he was in control of his emotions. He called the child to him and said warmly, “ You know that I love you very much and I wish you a long and good life. However, because you misbehaved, you deserve a potch (spanking).”

Rav Ya’akov concluded, “Only someone who could punish like that is allowed to use corporal punishment.”

Did You Know...

It is forbidden to keep something dangerous in one’s home. The authorities rule that this includes keeping a dog that bites, or even if it barks incessantly at any passerby. If it is for security purposes, however, it is permissible. Similarly, if the dog is chained, one may keep it. Some authorities also permit posting a sign to beware of the dog.

A squared table with sharp corners is also considered dangerous and should not be kept anywhere people could get hurt. Keeping a rickety ladder in one’s home is also included in this prohibition. Similarly, a pit in one’s yard must be covered to prevent anyone from falling into it.
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Massoreth Ha-Massoreth [Aug. 27th, 2006|09:59 pm]
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Massoreth Ha-Massoreth of Elias Levita, being an exposition of the massoretic notes on the Hebrew Bible, or the ancient critical apparatus of the Old Testament in Hebrew, with an English translation, and critical and explanatory notes, by Christian D. Ginsburg, LL. D.

Scan copy of paper book in http://bible.zoxt.net. Welcome!
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http://www.aish.com/torahportion/kolyaakov/Exile_and_Its_Egregious_Effects.asphttp://www.aish.com/to [Aug. 25th, 2006|12:25 pm]
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Exile and Its Egregious Effects: Torah Portion: Shoftim by Rabbi Boruch LeffCollapse )Exile and Its Egregious Effects: Torah Portion: Shoftim by Rabbi Boruch LeffCollapse )
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Parshas Re'ei 5766 by Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum [Aug. 25th, 2006|12:09 pm]
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Moshe warned the nation that the Promised Land would be given to them on the condition that they remained faithful to G-d, and that they not follow the ways of the earlier inhabitants who had all been idolaters.

When the Jews entered the land, it was full of the earlier nations’ idols, altars, and other such abominations. The Jews were instructed upon entering the land to totally destroy all the idols and altars, so that no memory of them whatsoever remain. Even the names of the idols were to be destroyed. Instead of their proper names they should be referred to by derogatory nicknames. Although this may seem to be somewhat extreme, the Torah recognizes the powerful lure of alien forms of worship. In order to prevent one from being attracted to heresy it is not enough to present philosophical arguments or even hard evidence. A person must be psychologically repelled from it too. This can only be accomplished by viewing idolatry as a total non-entity and as something ridiculous.

Because of the severity of idol worship, the Torah is extremely harsh in dealing with a person who tries to entice others to serve idolatry. Although he may not have been successful in his efforts, this person is put to death to serve as a deterrent to others. Similarly, if a city in Israel is enticed to follow idolatry, the worshippers are all put to death and the city is destroyed. Even the homes and belongings are burnt. The city may not be rebuilt, and the rubble stands as an eternal warning to others.

The people were also instructed regarding the sacrificial order. Service of G-d differs from that of idolatry. Sacrifices could only be brought to the place that G-d designated for them to be brought. Once the Temple was built, people could no longer offer sacrifices wherever they wanted. Likewise, certain sacred foods could only be eaten in the area of the Temple.

The Torah cautions the Jew not to be callous to one’s fellow’s needs and to open one’s hand generously to offer assistance to those in need. We must understand that G-d divided the wealth of the world disproportionately for this very purpose, to allow some people to help others. The money one gives to the poor was not meant to be his or her personal possession in the first place; it was merely entrusted to him in order to allocate it to others. That is why charity is called tzedakah, literally meaning justice, because one gives that which is justly meant to belong to the poor.

The Torah also instructs us to be sensitive to the needs of the individual. The obligation to help is expressed as lending to the poor. Even if one knows that the recipient cannot repay a loan, it should still be “lent” to him in order to preserve his dignity. True tzedakah assists the benefactor as much as it does the recipient, as it helps mold one’s character.

“You shall tithe…” (Deut. 14:22)

The Talmud teaches that by giving a tithe of one’s income to charity one will become wealthy. The Ben Ish Chai compares giving charity to a nursing mother. As long as she continues to suckle her child, her milk supply is replenished and even increases. Once she weans her child, however, her milk supply dries up. The same is true regarding charity. As long as one shares his wealth, G-d increases the supply. The more you give, the more you will have; the less you give, the less you will have.

Did You Know..

A person should give a tenth of his or her income to charity, to assist the poor. One may not fulfill personal obligations with this money, such as synagogue dues or any communal tax. If one’s initial intention was to use the money for mitzvah purposes, the money may be allocated for synagogue or mikveh operating expenses, as long as it is an optional donation.

Similarly, under normal circumstances, one may not use the tenth to pay tuition for a child’s Jewish education, since that is a parent’s responsibility. Anything above the actual tuition cost, however, may be deducted from the tenth. One who is unable to meet his tuition obligation may, under certain circumstances, deduct it from his charity obligation, but rabbinical guidance is recommended.
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The Parshah in a Nutshell : Shoftim Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 Shoftim Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 [Aug. 25th, 2006|11:41 am]
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from chabad.org also watch http://www.chabad.org/kids/article.asp?AID=229315

Moses instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law-enforcement officers in every city; "Justice, justice shall you pursue," he commands them, and you must administer it without corruption or favoritism. Crimes must be meticulously investigated and evidence thoroughly examined -- a minimum of two credible witnesses is required for conviction and punishment.

In every generation, says Moses, there will be those entrusted with the task of interpreting and applying the laws of the Torah. "According to the law that they will teach you, and the judgement they will instruct you, you shall do; you shall not turn away from the thing that they say to you, to the right nor to the left."

Shoftim also includes the prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery; laws governing the appointment and behavior of a king; and guidelines for the creation of "cities of refuge" for the inadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules of war: the exemption from battle for one who has just married, built a home, planted a vineyard or is "afraid and soft-hearted"; the requirement to offer terms of peace before attacking a city; the prohibition against wanton destruction of something of value, exemplified by the law that forbids to cut down a fruit tree when laying siege (in this context the Torah makes the famous statement "For man is a tree of the field").

The Parshah concludes with the law of Eglah Arufah - the special procedure to be followed when a person is killed by an unknown murderer and his body is found in a field - which underscores the responsibility of the community and its leaders not only for what they do but also for what they might have prevented from being done.
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What's Bothering Rashi? Parshas Re'eh [Aug. 18th, 2006|06:00 pm]
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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


This week's parsha speaks of laws pertaining to coming into Eretz Yisrael, destroying the pagan idols and establishing the House of God; the laws of a true prophet and the false prophets; the list of kosher animals and fowl; the ways of the Land - tithing the produce, shemitta (the Sabbatical year), and it ends with a brief review of the Holy Days.

Rashi cites evidence for the antiquity of the Oral Law Code.

Deuteronomy 12:21

"When the place which Hashem, your God, has chosen to place His name there, is distant from you and you will slaughter from your cattle and your herd which Hashem has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates as all your soul desires."


RASHI

And you will slaughter etc. as I have commanded you - RASHI: This teaches us that there is a command regarding slaughtering [animals to be eaten], how one should slaughter, and these must be the laws of slaughtering which were told to Moses at Sinai.


SOME BACKGROUND

The laws of shechita, ritual slaughter, are an important part of daily Jewish living. The fact that meat must be prepared in a specifically kosher manner is something with which every traditional Jewish household is familiar. These laws are quite complex and precise. Yet, despite their centrality in Jewish life, these laws are nowhere to be found in the Written Torah! Why something so basic to the Torah way of life should be missing from the Torah, is answered in our verse.


WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?

Rashi bases his comment on the fact that the verse tells us that we are to slaughter an animal "as you were commanded." Yet, nowhere in the Written Torah do we find a command relating to slaughtering animals in a specified halachic manner. Thus, Rashi concludes that these laws were, in fact, commanded to us, but since they were not incorporated into the Written Torah, they must have been given by God to Moses orally at Mt. Sinai.


The SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS COMMENT

I have chosen this Rashi-comment, not because of any difficulty in interpretation, but rather because it teaches a very important concept about the Oral Torah. The halachic corpus in Judaism is comprised of different levels of authority. There are the 613 mitzvot that are taught to us in the Written Torah and explained in finer detail by the Sages in the Talmud. These explanations, based on argumentation and analysis, comprise a substantial part of what is called the Oral Law. The source of these laws was also God, Who gave them to Moses at Sinai together with the Written Law. There are other laws that the Talmudic Sages themselves promulgated; they are called Rabbinic Laws, and are of a lesser authority than the Written Law. Some examples of these: The laws of muktza on the Sabbath; taking the Four Species on Sukkot for the seven days of the holiday, in the synagogue; and the writing of a marriage contract (ketuba).

There is yet another category of laws called "halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai" - "a law given to Moses at Sinai." These are laws that do not appear in the Written Torah, nor are they laws decreed by the Sages. And while there is no hint of them in the Written Torah they, nevertheless, have the same authoritative level as the laws found in (or derived from) the Written Law. Rashi is telling us that the laws which regulate the slaughtering of animals belong to this latter category.


THE IMPLICATION OF RASHI'S COMMENT

The implications of Rashi's statement are quite significant from an historical and a theological perspective. What this means is that along with the Written Law, an accompanying codex of laws was received by Moses from God and imparted by him to the people at Sinai. It must be emphasized that these laws existed at the time of Moses (as is implied by our verse). They were not later accretions to the basic Sinai laws.

Thus when the Torah says, "and you shall slaughter as I have commanded," this indicates clearly that we were commanded at some point by God as to how to slaughter animals, even though we find no hint of these laws in the Written Torah.

The whole question of the existence of a corpus of Oral Law, which accompanied the Written Law, has now become a matter of dispute between traditional Jewish philosophy and more modern interpretations of Judaism. Our verse offers validation for the belief that the Oral Law Tradition did indeed exist side-by-side, contemporaneously, with the laws found in the Written Torah.
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