Friday, April 12, 2013

SHABBAT: "hotza-a", introduction to the melakha of carrying.

 There are 39 activities that are forbidden in Shabbat (melakhot , see here). One of them is called in Hebrew hotza-a, i.e., carrying, transporting or transferring an object from one domain to another. 

Although this melakha is not explicitly mentioned in the Tora (same as most of the 39  melakhot) there are a few places where this activity is seen as a melakha.  For example, when haShem sent the manna (heavenly bread, Ex. 16 ) which the people of Israel would gather everyday as their only source of sustenance, haShem forbade the people to gather, carrying and bringing home the manna on Shabbat. They had to relay on the manna of Friday, which consisted of a double portion. 

A second source where carrying objects is called as melakha is found in Exodus 36:6. The people of Israel donated precious metals, fabrics, leathers, stones, etc. At one point, they realized that they had a surplus  of materials and Moshe ordered them to stop all melakha (as we know melakha defines the activities done for the building of the mishkan), the pasuq then says "vaikale ha'am mehabi" and the people, following the instructions of Moshe "refrained from bringing" any more things to the mishkan.    
This melakha is so important (and its details so intricate) that the Mishna of Shabbat devotes to this subject five of its 24 chapters, and of course most of the tractate 'erubin, ten chapters, are related to this melakha. Maimonides, in his Mishne Tora devotes to hotza-a eight out of 30 chapters and most of the eight chapters of hlkhot 'erubin.  

B'H in the following HOTD we will explain some of the details of this  melakha. 

Le'ilui nishmat haRab haGa-on R' Ya'aqob ben haRab Obadia Yosef, z'l.  

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC:   7:12 pm

Shabbat ends in NYC:     8:13 pm

WATCH here Hilkhot Shabbat from rabbi Ya'qob Yosef z''l (Hebrew).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pirqe Abot 2:2, Rabban Gamliel vs. Intellectual Arrogance

"Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, said: The study of Tora is good combined with the good ways of the world (derekh eretz), when one endeavors in both of them, sin disappears." 

Rabbi Ytzhaq Magriso, the author of the commentary of me'am lo'ez to Pirqe Abot, explains in his words what we call today "intellectual or academic arrogance".   

This Mishna is addressing those who might "think highly of themselves because they are learned and consider themselves to be above the general populace at large. This attitude leads to arrogance, which is a very bad trait.  When a scholar studies he must do so with humanitarian outlook. Together with his studies he must learn to be humble and able to get along with people.  When a scholar sees someone doing wrong and wishes to correct him, he should not do so with strong language and disrespectful tone. rather, it should be with a sweet language and in a calm tone". 

On the same note, in August 2012, a teacher confesses her mishaps in this field: "The philosopher Foucault pointed out that knowledge and power are so intimately related that we cannot really think about them separately. .. Arrogance is the Dark Side of knowledge and students, no matter how old, can become scared of you because you have power just from being a teacher." (see the rest of the article here ).

Rabbi Magriso concludes that a humble teacher or rabbi will make sin disappear: "Since he shows respect for the public and speaks to them in kind terms, they hold him in regard and esteem him. Then, when he admonishes them for some error,  they will heed him and respect his views. Thus, the study of Tora and good manners can allow the scholar to banish sin" 

READ here, when Israel paid the price for British academic arrogance. From NYTIMES (2006)

Pirqe Abot   English translation online, by
MUST WATCH "Don't be too late"
Rabbi Lau exhorts President Obama to remember the lessons of the Shoah

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pirqe Abot 1:7, friendship and second-hand smoke

 To prepare ourselves for the day of Shabu'ot, the day we received the Tora, it is customary to study pirqe abot, the "Chapters of the Fathers" which is a tractate of the Mishna composed around the Second Century.  This Mishna does no deal with the technical details of the observance of specific Mitzvot, as usually the Mishna does, but with practical Jewish wisdom, values and mores.      

There are many excellent English translations and commentaries of pirqe abot. My favorite is the Me'am Loez, written by rabbi Ytzhaq Magriso, 18th century, Turkey. He wrote his commentary originally in Ladino (Judeo- Spanish) and the book was published in 1747.  Today we have a beautiful English translation of his book done by rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, z'l (see here).   

Let me share with you a few insights from this book

The Mishna 1:7 talks about bad neighbors and bad friends. Exhorting us to be careful when choosing our company (or our children's company!). 

*Rabbi Magriso warns of the danger of bad influences. Influence, positive or negative, is not perceived while taking place. We might realize the effects of bad influences on us or our children when it is already too late. Bad company is like second-hand smoke: I will bear the effects and consequences of smoking cigarettes even though I, myself, did not smoke.

*The Mishna warns us to keep away from a bad neighbor. Rabbi Magriso offers his interpretation of a bad neighbor.  In his opinion a bad friend or neighbor is defined, primarily, by his or her character. A bad friend is an individual who suffers when sees you happy. Find neighbors and be among friends who are not jealous of you, and save yourself from a lot of trouble!

*Anticipating the era of Facebook, rabbi Magriso also sentenced: What is the best way to asses someone's character? What is the way to see if our children are in a good path? Look at his or her friends. Your circle of friends is the best indicator of who you are. Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are (or who you are about to be!)

Pirqe Abot   English translation online,  by

MUST WATCH "Don't be too late"
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

SEFIRAT HAOMER: What is the 'omer?


It is a Mitzva to count the days of the 'omer,  49 days from the 16th of Nisan. What was the 'omer?  The 'omer alludes to an offering of barley that was offered in the Temple of Yerushalayim (Bet haMiqdash). The 16th of Nisan, the second day of Pesah at night, they would select stalks of barley, pick and roast the grains and grind them into flour.  That flour, prepared in a special way, would be offered in the Temple's altar the next morning.  After the Cohen offered this qorban ha'omer it was permitted for everyone to consume from the new harvest (tebu-a hadasha or  hadash). The  quantity of flour assigned for this offering was one'omer (the 'omer, a Biblical volume measurement unit, would be equivalent to approximately half dry-gallon).  Now, the Tora (Lev. 23:15-17) instructs us that from the day the 'omer was offered we should count 49 days, seven complete weeks. And then, it also instructs us  (Deut. 16:9-10) that on the day following the seven weeks we should celebrate the festival of Shabu'ot (which means 'weeks").  Therefore it is a Mitzva for every individual to count 49 days and seven weeks from the second day of Pesah until Shabu'ot.     

Shabu'ot celebrates the day in which we were chosen by God to receive the Tora and to become the People of the Covenant (bene berit).  The Rabbi Shibole haLeqet explains the relationship between Pesah, Shabu'ot and Sefirat ha'omer: Once the Jewish people came out of Egypt, Moshe revealed to them that in fifty days they will receive the Tora. The Jews were so enthusiastic to receive the Tora that they prepare themselves and counted the days, eager for the great occasion.  

Sefirat ha'omer also reminds us that we too should prepare ourselves to receive the Tora. 

But, how do we prepare ourselves to receive the Tora?  

(To be continued...)

MUST WATCH "Don't be too late" Rabbi Lau exhorts President Obama to remember the lessons of the Shoah

Monday, April 8, 2013

YOM HASHOAH: We are all survivors.

"Those who endured the horrors of the camps are not the only Holocaust survivors. That group includes a wide range of Jews from all over the world. At the beginning of the 1980s, Ed Koch, mayor of New York City, invited me to his office. He is*a warm Jew, sensitive and emotional, a great lover of Israel and the Jewish people.

At our first meeting, he introduced himself to me and declared that he was also a Holocaust survivor. Out of politeness, I refrained from asking him what exactly he survived and where he had been during the Second World War. I wanted to give him a chance to tell his story himself. He said that he had been born in the Bronx and had lived his whole life in New York, but insisted that he was a real survivor. Smiling, I dared to ask how that could be- and Ed Koch began to explain.Years earlier, he had traveled to Germany for an educational trip. At one of the stops, the guide showed the group the globe that had sat on Hitler's desk. "It reminded me of Charlie Chaplain's movie about the great dictator. But unlike the one in Chaplain's movie," Koch recounted, "that big globe had lots of numbers written on it in black marker. When the guide spun the globe, Europe blackened with numbers. Other continents had far fewer black marks. The guide explained that when World War II broke out, Hitler recorded the Jewish population of each country. After all, they represented his life's goal. Albania, for example, bore the number 1 for the single Jew living there. Our enemy decided that he would not rest as long as that one Jew from Albania, a total stranger to him, remained alive. The territory of the United States bore the number six million.[The population statistics are slightly inaccurate] That includes me," said Ed Koch with undisguised anger. "So I am also a Holocaust survivor-if the Allies hadn't stopped the Nazi beast, no doubt I would have been destroyed."

I shook his hand warmly and said, "Today I have learned an important lesson from you, and I will carry it home with me to Israel. I've heard that not all Jewish communities feel a connection to Holocaust Day. From now on, I'll tell them about the Jew born in New York who lived all his life in an American city, but who feels like a Holocaust survivor..."

A story From Rabbi Israel Meir Lau's book "Out of the Depths" (p. 241-242)  

*Mayor Ed Koch z"l died this year, February 1, 2013, at age 88. 

A survivor tells his story for the very first time. After participating in the November 2010 Mission to Israel, Mr Ben Hiller was inspired to share his experiences during the Holocaust for the very first time, as a legacy to his family and future generations. Mr Hiller, born in Grojec, Poland, is one of 17 survivors of a city that once had a Jewish population of 7,000. In this clip he recalls his Holocaust experiences through various ghettos, a labor camp and Theresienstadt.