Shabbat Scenarios: Kotev and Mochek Part III

11 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

Kotev and Mochek Demonstrations, Part 3

·Can you zip or unzip a sweatshirt with words on it on Shabbat? A problem arises with bringing together and breaking apart letters on the shirt much like a book with wording on the side. Therefore, it should be avoided if possible. One can be lenient in cases of necessity as per the Mishna Berura.

·Jigsaw puzzles that are meant to last may not be put together on Shabbat.  Wooden picture puzzles where pieces are fitted into corresponding holes are permitted. Picture puzzles with a background are ok for children. Puzzles that are meant to be taken apart and are affixed to a surface may pose a problem. However if the pieces are on a cardboard background, one can posit that it is the same as affixing a background to a background, which is permitted. Nevertheless adults should avoid this if possible.

·Writing with icing on a cake violates the Rabbinic prohibition of Kotev. It follows that if one cuts  through the letters, one is violating Mochek.  One may not cut through icing with script writing as the letters are attached.

·Are biscuits with lettering ok to eat on Shabbat? The Maharam MiRottenberg prohibited this. Most Acharonim permit it on the basis that the Maharam ruled stringently in a specific case of biscuits which were meant to be erased/consumed as a Kabbalistic segula (good sign) for wisdom.  Indeed the Dagel Merivava notes that it is permitted as one is eating the letters directly, there is no intention to erase, and the writing is temporary. Likewise, the Mishna Berura permits it as one is swallowing letters in the normal manner of eating.

·Are chocolate bars with imbedded words a problem? Here too, the letters are engraved in the bar and one breaks the words with one’s mouth and not with an instrument. The Chazon Ish, ruled stringently and prohibited it. The custom is to be lenient.

·A four- pack yogurt, which when attached form a complete picture, may not be broken apart on Shabbat.

·Food particles stuck to a bentcher may not be removed on Shabbat as one can come to pull letters off a page.

·Food packages with printed words or images should be opened before Shabbat. If one needs to tear them on Shabbat, one should be careful to tear where there are no letters or pictures or between the letters.

·Shoes with soles that leave a written imprint in the snow may be worn on Shabbat as the writing is unintentional.

Parshat Chukat: The Well of Miriam

17 06 2010

Based on a  shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Our Sages teach us that the Well of Miriam accompanied the Jews in the desert in the merit of Miriam. When she passed away, the well dried up. If we examine the nature of the well and the personality of Miriam, we can discern an intricate connection between them.

The mishna in Avot tells us that the mouth of the well was created bein hashmashot on the first erev Shabbat. The Maharal explains that the well consisted of a mundane element of Friday, and a holy element of Shabbat. Although the well functioned in the natural world it had a metaphysical dimension.

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer writes that at the end of time, the well will once again spring up under the threshold of the Beit Hamikdash and divide into twelve different paths, one for each tribe. Its waters will irrigate all the barren fields and vineyards, which will then produce fruit. It will sweeten the waters of the Dead Sea and heal all those who immerse in it.

There is a tradition that the well is now found in the Kinneret, and water drawn from its source on Motzai Shabbat has unique healing properties.

We see that the well is not only connected to Friday night but also to Motzai Shabbat. We also see that it not only provided physical nourishment but contains supernatural healing powers.

Let us take a glimpse at the unique personality of Miriam. The Kli Yakar asks how Chazal knew that Puah was really Miriam. He answers that Puah means to coo. Miriam’s strength was in her mouth. Her job was to coo to newborn babies and calm them. When she saved the babies in Egypt, she demonstrated her belief that the exile would not last forever. She never gave up hope and continued to trust that the redemption would eventually come.

Rav Yedid notes that we see two outstanding elements of Miriam’s personality. She believed in her prophecy that her mother would give birth to the redeemer. When Moshe was placed in the Nile, she stood by to watch him. She never let go of the vision of redemption. Second, she valued the beauty and sanctity of the Jewish home. She told her father that he, as the gadol hador, must be a model of rebuilding this holy sanctum.

We see these themes repeated later in the Torah. Miriam took along drums when they left Egypt because she strongly believed that Hashem would perform miracles for them. Additionally, the washbasins in the Mishkan were fashioned from the mirrors of the Jewish women of Egypt. With iron clad emuna, inspired by their leader Miriam, the women used their mirrors to continue holy Jewish family life and raised new generations. They believed that the geula would come.

The Netziv offers a different explanation. Just as the mann fell closer or further from each person depending on his level of tzidkut, the water would flow based on a person’s level of middat hachesed. Water is chesed and women are connected to chesed. The Maharal notes that spring water rises from beneath the ground to above.  Miriam’s mission was to bring the people from a lower level to a state of elevation and desiring Hashem.

Water has an absorbable quality. When water is absorbed, it transforms latent potential into actual life. The waters of Miriam nurtured the nutrients of Torah and abstract faith to each individual, and were absorbed on his particular level. Just as the well had both a mundane and holy quality, Miriam’s job was to teach the people how to uplift the physical into something spiritual.

This is reflected in Motzai Shabbat where we take the holy experience of Shabbat and bring it into the new week. Miriam is connected to the beginning of Shabbat and the end of Shabbat. The well is also connected to the beginning of time and the end of time. Miriam understood that this world has a beginning and an end. She embodied the power to hold on and believe that salvation would ultimately come.

May our efforts to emulate Miriam’s indomitable faith and strength, help bring the final redemption speedily in our days.

Class Spotlight: Pirkei Avot Teachings of Hillel

8 06 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

visaPirkei Avot presents the ethical teachings of our sages, as opposed to purely halachic lessons. It is a powerful guidepost for every Jew attempting to perfect his or her character and behavior. In this course, Rabbi Taubes teaches the Torah mode of conduct based on Pirkei Avot in a stimulating series of classes.

Hillel Hazaken was one of the great leaders of the Jewish people during the time of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash. He bequeathed to us a number of important teachings found in Pirkei Avot. Hillel tells us, “One who spends his life trying to build up his name will end up losing his name.”   The Torah permits a person to take credit for his good deeds. In fact, the Rashba rules that a donor may put up his name on a Yeshiva building because this will inspire other people to give. However, if a person’s intent is not to do good deeds, but rather to see his name in lights, he will eventually be forgotten.

Then Hillel says, “One who does not increase, diminishes.” Many people understand this statement refers to learning. If a person does not continue studying, he will lose what he already knows.  A person who has not used his physical limbs for a long time needs physical therapy to get back in shape. If a person does not exercise his mind, he will forget his learning. Indeed, a noted psychologist points out that one of the reasons older people’s minds deteriorate is because the brain does not work as hard as it did when the person was young. Many commentaries write that the key to success in Torah learning is review. All of our great gedolim knew this and spent countless hours reviewing what they learned. In fact, the Gemara says that until one has reviewed something four times, it is not even called review.

The Mishna writes that one who does not review will forget, and one who doesn’t learn deserves death. This seems strange, but in a certain sense if you stop learning, you stop living the way Hashem wants a Jew to live, which is a form of death.

Hillel continues, “One who makes personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish.” The Gemara says that Rabbe Yehuda Hanasi, who compiled the Mishna, said of himself before his death, that although he spent his entire life learning, he never derived any personal benefit from it. Using the Torah for one’s own grandeur and pleasure is a terrible thing.

Hillel continues, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?” Some people suffer from debilitating depression, which leaves them with the feeling that they can’t do anything for themselves. A person has to recognize his responsibilities and do what needs to be done.
In order to accomplish in life, one needs a certain measure of self dignity and pride. Every person needs to recognize the gifts Hashem gave him and use them to sanctify His name.  However, Hillel admonishes us, you may not care only about yourself. You cannot step over others to accomplish your goals. May Hillel’s ethical teachings serve as our guidepost through the bumps and turns on the path of life.

Unraveling The Haggadah: History of the Haggadah #1

16 03 2010

Unraveling the HaggadahBased on a shiur by Mrs. Chana Prero

The Haggadah holds a coveted place in every Jewish library and has been reprinted in hundreds of editions throughout the centuries. What is our earliest source for the Haggadah? Who put it all together?

Rav Kasher explains that the basic text of the Haggadah was codified by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola, but it is not the complete version we have today.

The Gemara in Pesachim cites a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel about which negative point in history the Haggadah should begin with. The fact that there was still discussion about this in the time of the Amoraim hints to us that the text was not fully established. The Avudraham writes that originally there were two versions, one by Rav and Shmuel and another by Abaye and Rava. The compiler of the Haggadah combined these two versions into the text we use today.

Rav Amram Gaon, who died towards the end of the ninth century, wrote a siddur, which included the Haggadah. Approximately sixty years later, Rav Sadyah Gaon wrote another siddur with a Haggadah. These are two of the earliest texts we have on the complete Haggadah. Rav Kasher
posits that the text of the Haggadah was established during the Gaonic period. He quotes a letter by Rav Natronai Gaon, a contemporary of Rav Amram, who writes strongly against those who followed a different text of the Haggadah. The letter states, “These blasphemers do not follow
our custom.” The fact that it says “our custom” and not “the Rabbis’ custom” suggests that the Gaonim established the text and not the Ammoraim or Tannaim. He conjectures that just as the seder of Hallel and the blessings on the four cups of wine were instituted by the Gaonim, they also
agreed on the text of the Haggadah.

If you look closely at the Haggadah, you can see that it is comprised of selections from the Mishna, Gemara, and Midrashim. Although the actual Haggadah text may have been put together during the Gaonic period, most of its sources are from an earlier era. “Ha Lachma Anya” was written
during the Babylonian exile. We know this because it was written in Aramaic, the spoken language in Bavel, and it mentions the enslavement of the Jews and their hope for the eventual redemption.

The source of Mah Nishtana is a Mishna in Pesachim. The question about the roasting of the korban pesach is not relevant in exile so it was left out of the Haggadah. Avadim Hayinu is mentioned in the Gemara Pesachim in which Rav and Shmuel argued over which negative point to begin the
Haggadah with. We recite Hallel hagadol which includes Hodu and Nishmat. Tannaic and Ammoraic sources both point to the obligation to say this on the Seder night.

The songs at the end of the Haggadah were mostly added during the Middle Ages. This is the least important section of the Haggadah. The essential part, when we fulfill the actual mitzva of sippur yetziat Miztrayim, begins with Avadim Hayinu. Here each of the sections in the Haggadah are explained and include verses in the Torah upon which they are based. They discuss our suffering and redemption, which are intrinsically connected.

The actual mitzva is to verbally express our subjugation and redemption.

This year as we sit at the seder once again, let us pray to for ultimate freedom and eternal redemption speedily in our days.