Parsha Vayechi: What’s in a Name? Jacob or Israel

This SD just started reading the Ohr Hachaim. It is one of the commentaries in the Chumash. (Don’t be impressed, there is an English Translation which I read when I don’t quite understand the Hebrew.)

The Ohr Hachaim starts by anaylzying the first sentence : And Jacob lived in Egypt. His qustion: Why the name Jacob and not Israel?  He broadens the question: when does the Torah use the name Jacob and when Israel.

He answer: When Jacob is on a high spiritual level the Torah refers to him as Israel. When it is not so high a spiritual plane he is Jacob.

Implicit in this idea of the name being pegged to the spiritual level is that even Jacob has his ups and downs spiritually. He is not always in spiritual bliss. Jacob is interesting because he had a hard life. He had challenges. He had conflict.  It makes sense that he always wasnt singing and dancing.  If Jacob was challenged spiritually, it should give us comfort that spirituality is a process. Spirituality is a work in progress.


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Woody Allen:Why do we Eat Doughnuts on Chanuka?

Woody Allen in Annie Hall (or maybe Manhattan) asks in a sing-song Talmudic voice “Why do we at Matzo on Pesach?” The same can be asked of doughnuts on Chanuka.

On Tuesday nite the SD went to a class given by Rabbi Prager of the West Side Kollel. He explained why we eat donuts on chanuka.  According to Jewish law we are required to increase our food or eating on Chanuka. We are not necessarily commanded to eat a Seuda like on Purim, rather just eat more goodies. Eating snacks requires Al Hamichya-blessing after snacks.

Interestingly, in the prayer after eating a snack”Al hamichya”, the prayer mentions the Mizbeach (altar)   We know according to Rabbi Prager that on Chanuka the Temple and Mizbaeach (Altar) were rededicated after the Greeks desecrated the Temple.  In order to rededicate the altar, they poured OIL over it.  Therfore, for rededication of the altar and the oil, we remember the Mizbeach in Al Hamichya… and eat dougnuts.  We eat the doughnuts, filled with oil and say the Al Hamichya and re-dedicate the temple.

What could be better than doughnuts. What a mitzva. We eat doughnuts and remember the rededication of the temple and then thank Hashem for the great food.

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Chullin 4: Accounting for Weaknesses

The daf yomi just started learning the tractate Chullin.  The first Mishna states that all people who are eligible to slaughter an animal for food consumption, except a deaf person, a mentally challenged person and a minor.  The Talmud then questions other classes of people such as Cutheans and what is known as a “Momar” or renegade Jew.

The Talmud determines this is Momar acts out of weakness rather than dogma. We can eat the meat he slaughtered. He believes in the Torah, yet he transgresses due to voracious appetite. For example, he would eat kosher if the option presented, but absent kosher meat he will eat non-kosher. It is not doctrinal with him, rather he cannot control his appetite.

At the bottom of page 4A, the Talmud quotes a source  that states one can even eat the chometz after Passover of a Renegade Jew.  Rashi states, that he did not destroy his chometz because he did not want to incur a financial loss.

The interesting part of all this to the SD is the sensitivity and laxity the Talmud has for weakness and temptation toward the Renegade Jew.   He eats non kosher of out weakness, he does not destroys his chometz so as not to lose money, yet we can still rely upon his slaughtering.  It is interesting to note what foibles the Talmud will accept and what weakness can be forgiven.

What is the lesson: The take-away is that if the Talmud and Hashem can be forgiving of flaws, weaknesses or imperfections in peoples, so much more so, we should not judge and accept people for all their good and their weaknesses.

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Parsha Vayashev: Inspire More Order Less

In Parsha Vayashev we are told that Joseph is with Bilha and Zilpa (handmaidens) boys. Joseph  “hung out ” with Bilha and Zilpa sons.

We all know the story: Joseph goes out into the field to  find  his brothers on the instruction of his father and the brothers conspire to kill Joseph. However, they throw him in a pit and sell him.

The Ramban asks a great question: If Bilha and Zilpa’s boys used to hang out with Joseph, why did  they not help him? Why did they not have his back?

If the SD understands the answer (and the SD gets it wrong alot because the Hebrew is hard) it sounds like Jacob made the boys take care of him or watch. It does not sound like it was done of their on volition.  The command vs. the inspiration kind of issue.

The answer: when talking to your kids about kindness, caring and charity  dont make them or order them. Inspire them. You do it and show them how meaningful it can be. Somehow Jakob missed an oppportunity to show the boys that caring for a young man like Joseph who does not have a mother and needs a friend warrants a kindness.

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Menachos 103: Speech

In Menachos page 103 there is a Mishna that ostensibly seems rather dry. If somoene says,  I take on myself to bring a mincha (wheat  offering) of barely, what do we do? The mishna assumes the reader knows that a Mincha is wheat. Do we reform the words? According to Rabbi Shimon   we vitiate the whole statement.

The Talmud asks what do we do if somoene says I will bring a mincha of beans.  According to the Talmud this is too far afield.  Barely to wheat is possible according to the main reading of the Mishna… beans is too far. The Talmud goes through an analysis of parsing words or interpreting words that would make Justice Scalia smile.  The big question is what do our words mean when we dont speak precisely. Rashi gives a little insight. He says “nobody expresses words that has no meaning.” He uses the expressesion “Butal” or void.

The Shikkerdovid would like to chime in.  The  Shikkerdovid has  a terrible habit of saying stupid, silly and sometimes hurtful things.  It just comes out. Especially at the Thanksgiving table, surrounded by family and having had too many drinks.      The Mishna and Talmud’s lesson should resonate,  words have meaning. Words influence the world. Nothing is batul.

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Vayalech, Menachos 28 and maybe even Rosh Hashana

In today’s daf – Menachos 28, there is a discussion about the silver trumpets made during the time of Moshe.  The Talmud states that these are unique for that generation and further generations make their own.  Ironically,  in this weeks parsha Vayalech, chapter 26  verse 28, the pasuk says “Gather to me the elders,  tribes and officers so I can speak to them about Heaven and Earth.”

Rashi on this pasuk states that they did not blow the trumpets to gather because Joshua did not have power over the trumpets , and then after Moshe died t they were hidden away. He cites the pasuk in “make for you”.

Wow.   The pasuk that rashi cites is the same one that the Talmud was dealing with in Menachos 28 -and the same concept: trumpets just for that generation.   It begs the question:  Why cant they keep using the same trumpets?  Why new ones for every generation?

Here is where Rosh Hashana kind of chimes in.. (maybe). Just as new trumpets must be made, for a new generation, so too do we have to look at laws, customs, values and make them our own, NOT change laws and values, but rather make them relevant, meanginful and valuable for our existence. In the upcoming New Year, our challenge is to take our values, customs, ideals and laws and make them more relevant and meaningful to us. We need to find new meanings in the timeless and unchanging laws.

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Menachos 16:Born to Make Mistakes

The Shikerdovid was born the day the world learned Menachos 16 nearly 52 years ago in the daf yomi cycle of 1966. It was also learned last Sunday in the current daf yomi cycle. The SD is a cohen and this “date of birth daf” is  appropriately and ironically all about the mistake riddled  cohen.

A brief overview of the daf is necessary: The Mishna talks about a cohen who performs the mincha (flour offering)  improperly, by doing  it half correct (Chatzi Matir).   The Mishna has various scenarios of mess ups.  The bottom line is some mistake create Pigul (abominations) and some just invalidate the sacrifice.  There is a big difference between creating this abomination and invalidation: Kares- excision.

The Talmud  continues with mess ups. The most egregious is when the Cohen Gadol on Yom Kippur become “posul ” (ineligible to do work) smack in the middle of the avodah and another Kohen must take over. This  daf  16 is a crazy mix of mistakes made the by the, Priest from wrong intentions,no intention (shtika) to as stated before, invalid in the middle of the holiest day of the year.

As the holy magid Shiur R. Shloime Gottesman as points out, this tractate is probably 3/4 about mistakes. Why is so much of the tractate dealing with mistakes. Can’t we assume that people will be careful and do things properly? Can’t we assume that in the House of Gd  the Cohen will not be addled or distracted?

The SD would like to weigh in.  We are human. The cliche goes-To be human is to make mistakes. Ironically, the more you do something, the more chance you will eventually screw it up. For every million procedures performed  by a surgeon, there will be one screw up. It is statistically inevitable. It is life.  Life is comprised of mistakes, miscalculations, thoughtlessness, distraction. The key is accept your mistakes, not beat yourself up and move on. Mistakes are the human experience.  During elul we can try to rectify our mistakes, but we all know what happens later.

The SD has more to say on mistakes, but will leave the rest for the next time this daf is learned… in 7 and 1/2 years from now.


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