Jun 29, 2016

The Value of Intentions in Preparations

continued from previous post
also taken from the weekly Shabbos emails

This message underlies a famous story told in Maseches Bava Metzia (85b) of Rabbi Chiya, who described how he worked to ensure that Torah would not be forgotten from Israel. He brought flax, planted it, and used the produce to prepare nets, which he then used to catch deer. He fed the meat to the poor, and then used the skins to prepare parchment scrolls, upon which he wrote the Torah and Mishnah. He brought these scrolls to places where there were no teachers, and he taught children, thereby ensuring the continuity of Torah knowledge.

The commentators raised the question of why Rabbi Chiya went through this long process to prepare the scrolls. If Torah was on the verge of being forgotten, it would seem to have made more sense to expedite the process and to try to obtain scrolls that had already been prepared.

The answer is that preparation has an impact. Rabbi Chiya's pure intentions during the preliminary stages of planting the flax, catching the deer and preparing the parchment directly affected the quality of the Torah learning this process facilitated. If he had just obtained ready-made parchment, the learning would not have had the same impact. He injected sanctity into the scrolls through his intentions over the course of the process of preparing them.

Jun 28, 2016

Shuls, Shabbos and our Intentions

continued from previous post

I received the following in one of the weekly Shabbos emails I subscribe to:

The Vilna Gaon remarked (as cited by his brother) that if, when a shul is built, each and every nail is banged into place with the proper intentions, then one will not be able to pray in that synagogue without concentrating. The kedushah generated by the intentions with which it is built will have such an impact that people who pray in the building will automatically feel uplifted and inspired.
This applies to Shabbos preparation, as well. The purer our intentions when we prepare for Shabbos, the more of an impact Shabbos will have upon us. Whether it's the woman's preparation of food, or the work done by the husband to earn money with which to purchase food for Shabbos, if the preparations are done with sincere and pure thoughts, these thoughts will affect the spiritual impact of the Shabbos experience. Of course, Shabbos is inherently sacred and will thus have some impact regardless of the preparations, but the quality and force of that impact depends upon the preparation.

Jun 27, 2016

Do We Affect Inanimate Objects with our Moods and Intentions? part 4

I find the concept of koach ha'poel b'nifal intriguing and wrote about it here and here and here.
The Ramban refers to this and it means we don't just look at the item, but at the person who put something into it, so that, for example, a Sefer Torah written by a min must be burned.  We need to know who the sofer is.  The sefer Beis Yisrael says that if the sofer is a yirei shomayim and he writes l'sheim shomayim, he brings a ruach of kedusha (spirit of holiness) into that Torah. If the sofer is a heretic, he brings a ruach ha'tuma (spirit of impurity) into that Torah and whoever reads from it will be influenced by that ruach ha'tuma.
Since I last posted about this, I've come across some new examples.
A man went to R' Yerachmiel of Pshischa and said, I'm a tailor and have acquired a reputation for my expertise.  I received the most important commission of my life.  The prince asked that I sew him a suit. But when I brought it to him, he yelled, and said it was awful.  Rebbe, I am ruined. All my capital was invested in the cloth and my reputation is ruined too
R' Yerachmiel said, remove all the stitches and re-sew it and Hashem will help.
He did so and the prince loved it.
What was the difference between the first and second time when it resulted in the identical suit?
The first time, the stitches were sewn with arrogance which resulted in a repulsive suit, technically perfect but missing chein.  The second time, the stitches were sewn with humility which gave the suit its beauty. (from Week in Review, vol. 8, No 16).

Jun 26, 2016

Knee Surgery - Moral Issue

What should a doctor do when a patient complains of knee problems? What if the patient is obese or heavy enough that it is adversely affecting his knees?

Should a doctor say to an overweight patient - no elective knee surgery until you lose weight and seek other ways to help your knees?

Is it morally acceptable for a doctor to operate on someone, which entails anesthesia which has its dangers, various possible complications, and a recovery period, and of course, a hefty fee for the doctor, when the patient's weight is bearing down on his knees and causing the problem? Is that the build-a-hospital-under-the-bridge idea of Chelm in which they don't fix the bridge that is rickety and results in multiple accidents, but construct a hospital on site to deal with the injuries?

Jun 22, 2016

Rains of Blessing

The weather forecast yesterday was for a possible thunderstorm in the morning (which did not happen) and clear for the rest of the day.

It did not occur to me to check the forecast of the place I was going to, not far from where I live.  I traveled on a frum bus line and as we arrived at our destination it began to sprinkle.  Then drizzle. Then rain.  Then pour!

I was completely unprepared for this.  Although I had only a short distance to walk from the bus, it just wasn't possible without rain gear, which I did not have.  What should I do? I could not get off the bus at the last stop.  I said this to the bus driver, and the one person left on the bus said to me, "My daughter is coming to pick me up, do you want a ride?"


Just getting in and out of the car was drenching but it was fantastic to have this chesed offered to me.  He had a younger daughter, not the driver of the car, dash out in the downpour (she had a hood, but still!) to check whether we were at the correct address.  Then he said I could use the umbrella in the car to get me the few feet to the door and his daughter came again in order to take the umbrella back from me.

A wonderful chesed, it was such a help, and I bless them.

Jun 20, 2016

You Are What You Eat

In Torah Tavlin I read, the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim says that the foods that we are not allowed to eat are not only spiritually impure, but are harmful to the body.  The Rashbam brings a proof for this from the Gemara in Shabbos 86b that gentiles who eat these foods have a different physical makeup than Jews.

Very interestingly, the Chasam Sofer (YD 158) says, based on this Gemara, that while non-Jewish doctors have ne'emanus (you can rely on them), nevertheless all their research is based on the biology of non-Jews, which is not like ours because of their different dietary habits.  Therefore, their medical conclusions do not necessarily apply to Jews!

Jun 1, 2016

A Peek at Biblical Times

I just finished reading a book about a slum in India.  The extreme poverty in which millions of people live is quite awful.  However, what struck me about what I read, is how the people the author describes regularly transgress the sins of idol worship, sexual immorality, murder, theft, corrupt courts - that's five out of the seven Noahide Laws!

There is a scene in which a person is seen lying on the roadside, badly injured.  The author describes various people who pass by and do nothing to help, being busy with their own lives.  The hours pass.  More people see the weakening man whose cries become fainter.  By the end of the day his corpse is carted away and the wrong cause of death is deliberately written down in the records. 

That is when it struck me - this is what Avrohom Avinu had to contend with, a world of idolatry, murder, immorality, and corruption, the likes of Sedom, the people of Canaan, of Egypt.  Through India, we get to see the revolution Avrohom brought to the world.  Monotheism! Kindness! Loyalty!

And we can see the inroads that the message of Avrohom and subsequent generations of Jews has made in the world.  America, in particular, has championed the Bible and has promoted Torah morality and values.  It is known as a malchus of chesed which is unprecedented in the history of the world.  And where does this value of the sanctity of life and the desire to help others come from? From Avrohom and the Jewish people.

There are many Americans threatening these values today, those who equate the life of a gorilla and a human, those who seek to legalize immorality, those who support legalizing the murder of babies.  But although this is terribly harmful, the bedrock was laid and we won't be going backward to barbarian times.  Truth, justice, and the supremacy of one G-d will hold sway.