Showing posts from January, 2012

Do you really want the mon?

Today is Tuesday, and  not just any Tuesday, but the Tuesday of Parshas Bishalach. I've seen a number of "reminders" to say parhas hamon (shnayim mikra v'echad Targum [the text twice and the Aramaic translationtoday as a segulah for parnassah [livelihood]. The concept behind the connection is attributed to Reb Mendel M'rivinov.  I am not taking a position about segulahs here, something I 've discussed on blog posts in other years. I am simply making an observation about what the mon was really about.

Chazal say "Lo nitna Torah ela leochley hamon [The Torah is only given to those who eat the mon.]" We have no mon today, so what can it mean for us? The mon came directly from Heaven, so someone who orients him/herself to connect directly to Hashem and recognize Him as the source of all sustenance would be fit for Torah. Beyond that, though, the mon came down each day with just enough for that day (except on erev Shabbos when the double portion came for …

Catching up over a thousands years later

That is studies of psychology, like this one, It found "it was the participants who felt more envy, rather than admiration, who said they planned to work harder in the next semester.

Well, chazal picked up on that point a long time ago with the saying "Kinas sofrim tarbe chachma." (Bava Basra 21a)- {Jealousy among scholars increases wisdom.] 

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Natural vs. Man-made

We are now in the month of Shvat during which we give due consideration to the trees. But the fact is that after the cheyt in Gan Eden, our food supply is not defined as much by fruit as by bread that is made by man. Adam is told bezeas apecha tochal lechem [by the sweat of your brow, you will eat bread], and bread become the quintessential form of sustenance. We don't merely gather our food, we plant, water, tend, harvest, winnow, pound, knead, shape, and bake it. We may even experiment with new recipes to try to improve it.  I was thinking about this in light of R' Akiva's argument with Turnus Rufus and the argument of intelligent design that Nassim Nicholas Taleb just hints at in a footnote on p. 170 in The Black Swan. He is in the midst of rattling off discoveries that resulted from the serendipity of randomness or "unintended consequences" rather than design, like the discovery of penicillin. Though he positions himself outside of the debate, he says: "c…

Knowledge, decisions, and responsibility

Note: this post reworks two previous ones from years back. The Wordpress blog they were on is not searchable or even fully accessible, so I give the thoughts new life here.

 During the  reign of Chezkeyahu, all across the country there was not a single child (tinok o tinoket) that were not thoroughly versed in hilchos tuma and tahara [the laws of ritual purity].  There is that wonderful picture of the king planting a sword in the doorpost to demonstrate his point that anyone who does not study the Torah would be stabbed by the sword.  Int hat case, strong tactics worked.  But what the king imposed was not his own authority or even blind obedience to other authorities; he imposed studying enough so that one knows on one’s own—even a female one—what the halacha is. 

 In contrast, today many push for people—particularly female ones—not to really learn the principles and derivations of halacha.  The goal is not that one should know the halacha oneself but that one should know just enough to…

Was he pulling his leg?

I'm currently in the middle of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (which deserves more starts than Amazon gives it). On p. 131, the author relates being at a cocktail party where Yossi Vardi, whom he describes as "one of the most insightful thinkers I know, the computer entrepreneur" asks "to summarize 'my idea' while standing on one leg."

The combination of the distinctly Jewish name of Yossi brought in connection to a reference to a summation while standing on one leg evokes Hillel and Shamai's different responses to that same request made about Torah (Shabbos 31a).  Though Nassim Nicholas Taleb comes across as very erudite, he doesn't indicate that he's familiar with the Talmudic account, though. He seems to focus on the problem of maintaining balance after downing a few glasses of wine: "It was not too convenient to stand on one leg after a few glasses of perfumed Riesling, so I failed in my improvisation." The…

Minimum payments and the wisdom of R' Shimon

OK, I know it's not the time of year designated for the study of Pirkei Avoth, but I was struck by this thought just now. I have in front of me an invoice for a credit card. It offers me a choice of paying $60 or a figure with 4 digits before the decimal point. Which do I choose? If you know me, you know my answer.

But I happen to be seeing that choice all by itself protruding from the ripped corner of the envelope. Seeing  it in isolation, I finally realized how those who opt for the lower amount see it. That's the key: they see the choice of two amounts -- one small and easy, and the other large enough to give many people pause. They  do not pay attention to the larger picture that paying the smaller amount now will result in pay far more over time than paying off all that is owed on this bill.

What struck me is how this is a prime example of what R' Shimon advocates as the trait a person should acquire: being roeh es hanolad -- seeing the ramifications of one's act…

Divrei Chaim: talking to the walls makes a difference

Divrei Chaim: talking to the walls makes a difference: 1. Bnei Yisrael was not receptive to Moshe's message that the redemption was immanent. Moshe Rabeinu went back to Hashem and argued (6:12) ...

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Are these the top 10 novels?

I read almost all of these. I'm not sure I agree that they sharpen the mind particularly, especially as they tend toward the best known works of these authors. 

What do you think of this list of 10 books?10 Novels That Will Sharpen Your Mind [Interactive]: Scientific American

I read most of them. I'm not sure I agree that they sharpen the mind particularly. To that end, one of the works of Camus should have been included.  It's possible to argue for a place for Thackery's Vanity Fair, also, if only because it challenges the notion that a novel must include characters one can admire or sympathize with. As for the novels selected, they tend toward the best known works of the featured authors.

For instance, If anyone reads only one book by Jane Austen, it usually is Pride and Prejudice. But the author herself, fond as she was of it, considered it nor so deep: "The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and…

Divrei Chaim: the source of Pharoah's zechuyos

Divrei Chaim: the source of Pharoah's zechuyos: 1. You have to be the Sefas Emes could ask the following question: What was the zechus that Pharoah had that allowed him to merit having a d...

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Check your impulse

Good advice:
related posts:
Also see the "Saver or Spender" quiz at

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Slaying the Deerslayer

An 1895 rant -- yes, people did that even before blogs were a realized -- by Mark Twain in response to James Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer.. A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are — oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.Read more at

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Divrei Chaim: ro'eh -- shepherd or friend?

Divrei Chaim: ro'eh -- shepherd or friend?: I want to share two linguistic observations on the parsha that shed light on two well known pesukim in Tehillim: 1) Most translations rend...

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Going behind the myth of mammographies

Early detection through x-ray mammography has been the clarion call of Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns for a quarter of a century now.
However, very little progress has been made in making the public aware of the crucial differences between non-malignant lesions/tumors and invasive or non-invasive cancers detected through this technology.
When all forms of breast pathology are looked at in the aggregate, irrespective of their relative risk for harm, disease of the breast takes on the appearance of a monolithic entity that you either have, or don't have; they call it breast cancer.
The concept of a breast cancer that has no symptoms, which cannot be diagnosed through manual palpation of the breast and does not become invasive in the vast majority of cases, might sound unbelievable to most women.
However, there does exist a rather m…

Avoiding the up escalator in lifestyle inflation

I couldn't have said it better myself, so I won't bother to paraphrase. Read the post at
and as proof of the many activities that are open to people at no cost at all in our fair city here, see

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