Monday, March 03, 2014

Online dating: faster, cheaper, better?

And, of course, there's the shadchan fee savings, as well, see Online dating proves to be economical 


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Crumb chocolate cake

As the old ads for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups demonstrated, some things improve in combination. Peanut butter flavor is not the only thing that can rise to new heights with the addition of chocolate; crumb cake can, as well.
See the recipe I adapted here

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Pesach hotels

As the ads for Pesach hotels have already started appearing in Jewish publications and the parshios we're reading touch on the original Pesach story, I thought it's time to share this little piece from  the introduction of Nor the Moon by Night by Devora Gliksman Feldheim 1997 pp. xx-xxi

On a fundraisng trip for the yeshiva, R' Shliomele visited R' Shimon Wolf Rotschild, of the wealthy and famous Rotschild family. R' Shimon Wolf showed R; Shloimele around his beautiful estate, finally pausing beside a house built of the main house.

  "And this," R' Shimon Wolf gestured proudly, "this is  my Pesach house. I built it jut to be used on Pesach. The rest of the year it is kept locked."

R' Shloimele just shrugged his shoulders. R' Shimon wondered why he wasn't impressed.
R' Shloimele explained that his holy grandfather -- the Sanzer Rav - though not a wealthy man would have spent anything any amount of money to perform a mitzvah properly. Had he felt hat keeping Pesach properly necessitated building a separate house, he would have done so. Therefore, if he feels he needs it, why shouldn't Baron Rothschild?"

Thinking on the matter further, R' Shloimele saw a downside to a Pesach house:
"The gemara says that chumetz can be interpreted as to the yetzer hu'reh. Our searching for chumetz and destroying it is a mushol for searching out and destroying the  yetzer hu'reh, thereby doing teshivah.  We know that the only way to do complete teshivah is to put ourselves again in the same situation where we have done an aveirah and, when the opportunity presents itself, not repeat that aveirah. Therefore, it is only fitting that the house where had eaten chumetz be cleaned out and used for mitzvos -- the mitzvos we perform at the seider, the mitzvos we perform during Pesach. having a separate house set aside for Pesach does not accomplish that purpose."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thoughts on Midrash

Over three years ago I wrote about Midrash on this blog. Today I thought of another analogy -- animation. Quite a while back, the New York Hall of Science had an exhibit on animation. Cartoons are produced by bringing together a number of elements. There are the characters that convey the action -- the plot. There is the background to provide a setting and to indicate movement. There is also the aspect of sound, which is not only a matter of dialogue but of sound effects and music. Now you could have the basic story just told by a character with no background (like on a stage with no scenery) and get the basic gist. But the extra elements add aspects of mood and possible depth to the story.So in the case of pshat in Tanach, we have the basic story line as understood from the text alone. But what the Midrash comes to add is not simply extraneous matter that we would be better off without but like music and backgrounds that enhance the story, bringing out particular nuances of meaning.

That's on  one level, which is the way Midrash is instructive for children, but there is yet another level that some people never move to -- that is an appreciation of what the Midrash comes to teach us, something that the Maharal does brilliantly in a number of places. Here's one of his observations inBe'er Hagolah, e in the third Be'er on p. 44 in my edition. This is a direct quote translated by myself:
A  man who is a stranger to matters of wisdom will be astounded on the distance that appears [at the Midrash of Chazal] and he cannot apprehend their words. And this is nothing new, for also in the Torah and all the Scripture it is thus, for the man who is a stranger to the matters of wisdom sees in Torah some things that seem distant [unlikely]. However, the the intelligent man will say that it is not that the words are empty, and if they appear thus to him, it is due to him [the shortcoming of his own understanding]. That is the way for all the drashos in the Talmud and in all the other midrashim. Not a single one of them, whether big or small, does not [reveal] the depths of the Scriptures according to its truth. As one deeply investigates the interpretation of the Text, he will find it thus. That is why it is called drasha, for it is drishas [an investigation of] the Text with extreme [deep]chakira [digging out the truth] and drisha of up to the depth of [meaning of] the Text.

 Even if at time, he will find that one interprets a point one way and one another, this matter is not a difficulty, for, certainly, the shape of the pshat is one, but the deep matters that emerege from it are very many. It thus for every thing that is found in the world. It is one thing unto itself when revealed to everyone's eye. Yet, when each thing is examined [analyzed] in terms of the truth of its idea and being, many thoughts and ideas can be found in them. And they are all clearly truth. Consequently, when we study the truth of the Text we will find many things that appear contradictory and various ideas according to the issue, and it is all truth. Only to the one who doesn't grasp their words [the teachings of Chazal] does it appear to be a strange [illogical] view.

A few pages later, the Maharal offers an analogy to illustrate how Midrash is always rooted in the truth of the text even if it seems distant from it. The pshat would be analogous to the trunk of the tree, which is singular. But the tree extends into branches, leaves, and even fruit. Though they may extend very far beyond the trunk, they are still integral to the tree and stem from the same root.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The thought that counts for gifts in the Torah

Chanukah really was the time of gifts over 2,000 years ago when the nesiim of each shevat brought their offerings, and the way they did it tells us much about the Torah perspective on bringing gifts.
I was very impressed by this particular dvar Torah from Rabbi Yissocher Frand. I'm also taken by "herring from New York," as the ultimate standard of luxury. In NY itself, herring is of no account for most kiddushes today, and you'd have to set out sushi platters to really make a statement.

The Torah Readings Of Chanukah

the Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev. The actual inauguration of the Mishkan was put off until the first day of Nisan, which is when the Nessiyim started bringing their offerings. But since the Mishkan was actually completed on the 25th of Kislev, we read the section of the Nessiyim on Chanukah, to link the rededication during the Chanukah period with the original dedication of the Mishkan in the time of Moshe.
...... The Medrash indicates that when the Nessiyim brought their offerings, every Shevet had in mind what they would be bringing. The first day, Nachshon ben Aminadav of the Shevet of Yehudah brought his offering. The second day was the turn of Nesanel ben Tzuar of the Shevet of Yissachar.
The second person to offer was faced with a dilemma. What should I bring? The first person brought a beautiful offering, but what should I bring? Should I bring the same offering? No! That is not going to be good enough anymore. He was tempted to bring something even more impressive, which would have put pressure on the third Nossi to bring something even more expensive and so on down the line.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of one-ups-man-ship. It is like kiddushim in shul. The first week's sponsor has one potato kugel. The second person to make a Kiddush the following Shabbos has to add kishke to the menu. By the third week they are adding "herring from New York". It quickly becomes a contest of outdoing one's predecessor.
What did Nesanel ben Tzuar decide? He resisted the temptation. He recognized that the purpose of the Mishkan was to bring unity to the Jewish people, not strife and competition. He recognized if they began the inauguration of the Mishkan with competition, there would not be 'achdus' [unity] amongst the Jewish people, there would be dissension. Therefore, he took heroic action and brought exactly the same type of Korban as did Nachshon ben Aminadav, thereby sending a message -- my friends, this is not the time for competition or ones-up-man-ship. His example was followed by the third, fourth, and fifth Nessiyim and so on down the line.
This explains why the Torah, which is so frugal with its words, spends 60 plus pasukim in repetition of that which we already knew. The Torah could have told us in a pasuk or two that they all brought the same offering. Why go through the repetition, over and over again? The Almighty is teaching: "It is so precious and dear to Me that you each brought the same offering and did not play ones-up-man-ship that I will give each Nossi the exact same amount of 'print' in the Torah."
The Chofetz Chaim suggests it could be for this reason -- the Almighty's pleasure at the unity of His children by this non-competitive gesture -- that He made an exception and ruled that 'This private offering can even negate the laws of Sabbath.'

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thinking outside the box about Dina

The upcoming parsha has one of my least favorite episodes in TaNaCh (ranking pretty close to pilegesh bagiva) I have a particularly negative feeling about it because of the spin that BY teachers tend to put on Dina's abduction, saying she should have stayed home. Her curiosity about what was going on in the town is what put her in danger. That's just one step behind the "she was asking for it" argument that some use to justify rape.

However, the Torah does not present Dina's experience as what was coming to her at all. The man who took her and abused her (see Rashi on that) is held fully culpable. In fact, the whole town is held culpable for allowing her abduction to happen. Dina brothers who plotted to kill out every single man justify their extreme measures to their father, and he has no answer to them.

If you bear in mind Dina's age and the Torah's timeline, not to mention the fact that her rapist calls her "yalda," a young girl, you may remember that she was only around seven. That's the age that Sarah is given for beauty in the breakdown of her years, and the reason for the child's age to be singled out is precisely because it is a beauty without suggestions of sensuality. Sarah, of course, was taken, as well, but she was a mature woman with full feminine attractions at that point. And in her case, no one has dared suggest that she brought the attention upon herself.

A notable common experience for both Dina and Sarah, according to Midrashm is being hidden in a box. In both cases, it didin't work. Avraham tried keeping his wife's beauty hidden, and Yaakov kept her out of sight of his brother, lest he want to take her as a wife. Avraham's ruse didn't work, as Sarah was discovered. In the case of Yaakov, the ruse seemed to work, as Esav didn't see Dina; however, Chazal are critical of what he attempted to do, and said there was an aspect of punishment for that in Dina's experience.

Now to take another view on this, perhaps we really should be thinking outside the box. The solution to protecting one's virtue is not staying hidden away altogether. Going to that extreme tends to backfire.  And as for the danger of going out there, yes it exists, but it is ludicrous to say that a seven-year-old girl was asking to be attacked. In fact, no female or any age or state of dress ever asks to be attack.

After I posted this, my husband sent me a link to another post that puts a positive spin in Dina's going out: יצאנית למעליותא
על הפסוק "ותצא דינה בת לאה גו׳ לראות בבנות הארץ" (לד, א) פירש רש"י "על שם יציאתה נקראת בת לאה שאף היא יצאנית היתה שנאמר ותצא לאה לקראתו".
ולכאורה תמוה, הרי אמרו חז"ל (ב"ב קכג, א) שאפי' בגנות בהמה טמאה לא דיבר הכתוב, וא"כ מדוע נכתב כאן "גנותה" של לאה, ש"יצאנית היתה"?
וביותר יוקשה, הרי בנוגע ל"ותצא לאה לקראתו", פירש רש"י (ויצא ל, יז) "שהיתה מתאוה ומחזרת להרבות שבטים", וא"כ, יציאתה כדבר טוב תחשב, ומדוע כאן חשבינן לה כ"יצאנית"?
וי"ל, שקושיא אחת מתורצת בחבירתה, שבא הכתוב כאן לבאר שבחה של דינה, שהיתה "יצאנית" כאימה לאה. דכמו שלאה יציאתה היתה לדבר טוב, כן הוא בדינה ש"יצאנית" הייתה, למעליותא.
דהנה כתב רש"י לעיל, על הפסוק "ויקח גו' ואת אחד עשר ילדיו" (פרשתנו לב, כג)"ודינה היכן היתה, נתנה בתיבה ונעל בפני' שלא יתן בה עשו עיניו, ולכן נענש יעקב שמנעה מאחיו שמא תחזירנו למוטב, ונפלה ביד שכם".
ונמצא, שדינה הי' כוחה רב בהחזרת רשעים למוטב, שאפי' עשו הי' ביכלתה להחזירו למוטב.
וזהו שבחה של דינה ש"יצאנית היתה", כי יצאה "לראות בבנות הארץ" כדי להחזירן למוטב, ולהכניסן תחת כנפי השכינה.
[וזה שלפועל נפלה ביד שכם עי"ז, לא הי' עונש לה, כ"א עונש ליעקב על שמנעה מעשו, כפי שהובא ].
(ע"פ לקוטי שיחות חל"ה עמ' 150 ואילך)
Essentially, what it's saying is that as Chazal learn that Dina was a yatzanit [one who goes out] like her mother, Leah was, the parallel should be extended fully. Just as Leah went out for good, so too, did Dina. She went out to have a good influence on the girls of the land of Shchem [perhaps another parallel to Sarah here, for she was the one to be mekarev  the women, while Avraham did so for the men]. In other words, Dina is not to blame for what befell her. It is her father who is faulted here for having put her in a box and so having kept her from doing what good she could have done for his brother.