Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Power of Change - YIOP Bulletin August 2007

Here in Michigan, we’re no strangers to the forces of change. In fact, we’re now experiencing the painful results of resistance and indifference to change, as economic forces, international trade agreements and numerous other factors have conspired to throw us into the slump we find ourselves in now. But perhaps, more than anything, Michigan finds itself in its one-state recession because of an unwillingness to change. The auto companies continue to produce gas-guzzling cars irrespective of the rising cost of fuel. Unions continue to demand and expect significant concessions from these companies, irrespective of the prospects of the companies’ viability. Politicians refuse to continue to promote the notion that we should enjoy all of the benefits of the past, irrespective of our ability to afford them.
We make all of these mistakes, and many more, because most of us abhor change. We are creatures of habit. We like our routines, enjoy our regular activities, have the same friends and acquaintances, and don’t often try new things because we find the very notion of change painful and difficult. In the words of British novelist Arnold Bennett, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”
Yet, change is perhaps one of the only constants of life. Change is all around us: the world continues to develop and grow, both for the better, and for the worse. We change professionally, personally, intellectually and emotionally. Our community changes, ever so subtly and gradually, but definitively. Our families change and grow. Our jobs change – whether we transfer to a different firm or company, or simply take on new responsibilities. And yet, despite all this, we still resist change.
Perhaps that is why Judaism considers change an integral aspect of religious life. After all, as the month of Elul begins, we blow the shofar each morning at the end of davening to awaken ourselves to begin the process of Teshuva. Sure, we translate the word תשובה to mean “repentance” or “return,” but isn’t that just a fancy way of referring to change? In order to “repent” or “return” we must change the way we do things: the way we act and react to each-other; the priorities that set the agenda for the way that we lead our lives. Sometimes I think that because we undergo the Teshuva process in the religious arena of life – in shul, during davening – we allow ourselves to divorce that process from what we consider “real life”: from our jobs and marriages, from our friendships and families.
But if we think about the High Holidays as a time not just of Teshuva, but a time of “Opportunity for Change,” then other avenues begin to open themselves to us. Perhaps someone needs to change jobs, because the one he has now doesn’t allow for any real family time. Someone else might need to consider changing friendships, because her current relationships are negative and destructive. And to me, these changes are much more fundamental, significant and all-encompassing than any particular ritual commitment, as important as that may be.
To highlight the importance of this notion of change, YIOP’s annual Pre-High Holiday lecture will revolve around the topic of “Navigating Change.” As always, we have the privilege of hearing from wonderful and enlightening speakers local and regional speakers and educators. They include our rebbetzin Rena Spolter, Rabbi Yehuda Gettinger, a Rosh Yeshiva from South Bend, Indiana, Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, who teaches throughout the community and runs the Lidrosh Institute, and the ever-popular Rabbi Leiby Burnham of Partners in Torah. Also, the series concludes with a family Shalosh Seudos and the Shabbos Shuvah Drashah.
While it’s hard to think about the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah will be upon us before we know it. And if we embrace the possibility for change within ourselves, our shul, and our community, that openness and willingness to change also gives the potential for incredible spiritual growth.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Table Talk -- Vaetchanan 5767

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was once returning home quite late at night. As he walked through the dark alleyways towards home, he suddenly realized that a candle still burned in the house of the shoemaker. Rabbi Yisrael knocked on the door of the shoemaker and entered.

“Why,” Rabbi Yisrael, “are you still sitting and working at such a late hour?”

“Rebbe – as long as the candle burns,” the shoemaker replied, “it is still possible to fix.”

Rabbi Yisrael was extremely moved by the simple, yet deep lesson from the shoemaker, and from that point on, he would quote the phrase often.

“Do you hear?” Rabbi Yisrael would ask his students. “As long as the candle burns, one can still make repairs. As long as a person lives, and his soul remains inside him, he can return to God and mend his ways…”

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Fishy Email Conversation

I recently had the following email discussion with Lisa Winer, which I thought might be useful to others as well:

Now that Farmer Jack has closed it is harder to find kosher fish. Is it necessary to go to a place where they have a separate kosher fish knife or is it okay to just buy fish anywhere and rinse the fish off since its all cold.
thanks, Lisa

It's much better to use a place that has a separate fish knife -- the gemara and shulchan aruch speak about a concern that a shamnunis -- a fat residue -- remains on a knife once it's used, even though it's all cold, that's difficult to remove without thorough washing with soap, warm water, etc.
but I'm not sure which place has such a knife...which place do you know of that has a kosher knife? Maybe we can encourage a local store to have such a knife? Perhaps Meijer would be interested. I know that Rabbi Morris has a relationship with them -- perhaps I'll ask him about it. Also, I know that One Stop carries kosher fish that's fresh.
-Rabbi Spolter

Superior Fish Co. on 11 mile Road (just east of Woodward) has one. You obviously have to select a whole fish and they'll filet, debone and scale it. But it ends up being more expensive and you're obligated to buy the whole fish. This means that I can't buy a salmon unless I freeze it) b/c its just way too much fish. It would be really nice (especially in a community this size) to have a place with a separate fish counter, like Farmer Jack had, where they run specials and you're not obligated to buy the whole fish.
I am not aware of other places have a kosher knife. In Ann Arbor we used to go to a place in Kerrytown that had one. Since they were willing to do this for such a small demand there, II'm guessing other local fish suppliers would be open to it, espcially if they heard from you and Rabbi Morris that there was a demand. My sense from talking to people is that a lot of people just purchase fish anywhere. So, if you are able to sway another fish market to obtain and keep a kosher knife, please publicize this information. It would be especially nice to have this type of convenience at a place where they sell other food items, like Vics or Westborn markets.

I was thinking about your email....even if the fat residue were not properly washed off the knife, wouldnt rinsing the fish off at home get it off? Also, if any residue remained, wouldnt it create a batal b'shishim case -- not enough fat residue on the fish to make it traif? While I understand that its better to use a kosher knife that's been only used for kosher fish, is it really halachikly necessary?

You asked a great question, and I looked into the issue further. Fresh fish purchasing has a couple of issues involved:
1. If it's cut, then there is the issue of the knife. You are correct on the first issue: because we cannot assume that the knife was properly cleaned from the (shellfish - for example) residue, we must assume that the residue is still on the kosher fish that was cut from the knife. But, because the fish is still cold, you can rinse that residue of if you scrub the fish with some kind of brush under running water.
Regarding the issue of bittul, we might apply bittul if one accidentally cooked the fish without washing it after the fact (bedieved), but the halachah forbids one from entering into a bittul situation lechatchilah. Perhaps the best option might be to keep your own fish knife, and ask them to put a piece of fresh paper down on the counter and use your knife to cut the fish with your knife in the store. Not practical to carry around, but halachically ideal.
2. Fresh fish nowadays raises another problem, and that's the issue of identification. Most fresh fish is no longer sold whole. Rather, the vast majority of the fillets that you see in the store are filleted in a plant and shipped boxed to the store, where they sell it. So, how do you know that what they say is rainbow trout actually is? What are the identifiable marks? That perhaps was the greater value of the hashgachah in Farmer Jack. Regarding finding another store, I was in Westborn this week, and their fish setup is not at all feasible -- the kosher and treif fish types are all mixed together, and they also sell pre-prepared fish in the same cooler, so there's just too much possiblity of actual treif contamination there. I would also look into Holiday Market. They just hired David Neumark, who was the mashgiach at Farmer Jack, and having him supervise a kosher fish knife, cooler or something like that might be the best bet right now. If you have any other thoughts, please let me know. Also, after we had this exchange, I realized that other people might have the same questions regarding the kosher fish, so I'd like your permission to share this discussion with the shul -- either with or without your name - your choice.
Rabbi Spolter

When you talk about brushing the fish, do you mean taking the type of brush used for dishes and keeping it for this use only? Or could you take a dish brush used for pareve dishes and scrub it with soap and cold water after brushing the fish? I just want to be sure I understand you correctly after this long discussion!
I'll give the store location more thought and ask around to see if others have any ideas.
Thanks again.

You can use any kosher brush -- since it's cold and you're washing it off afterwards.
Rabbi Spolter

Great Jewish Audio Links

Are you having trouble teaching your (young) kids how to bentch? Need some help learning the tunes? Stuck on some of the words? A great solution to all of these challenges is the Bentching Tape -- A CD for kids that's pretty much just Bentching. Instead of Disney or Barney, pop this CD in the car during carpool or shopping runs, and before long, the entire family will be betching better -- guaranteed. To order the CD online (and it's on a great sale right now), click here to access the Sameach Music Web Site.

I also found a great site that has a tune for Al Hamichya - the blessing recited after eating cake, pasta and the like -any mezonos food. You can download the song and burn it to a CD for free. This tune is widely used in many schools in Israel, and is quite catchy!

I also found a great site that has basically all the audio for Shabbos -- kiddush, zemiros, blessing the children -- to click on and listen to. It's a great resource for people looking to learn the Classic Shabbos tunes or fine-tune their pronunciation. Click here for the link, and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Table Talk -- Devarim 5767

Question: I pre-ordered the 7th and final book of the Harry Potter series, which is due to arrive on Shabbos. Is there any halachic way to open the box, and if so, can I read the book that arrives on Shabbos?

Answer: No. Wait until after Shabbos, and then enjoy.

While most of the fantasy world created by J.K. Rowling emanates purely from her imagination, one detail from Harry Potter’s world actually appears in our parshah.

During Moshe’s review of the Jewish people’s experiences in the desert, Moshe reminds them of their defeat of the nation of the Emori, and especially their victory over Og, the King of Bashan. Og is no ordinary king. Aside from being alive since the time of the flood, he is enormous. In the words of Moshe, “his bedstead was a bedstead of iron…nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it.” (3:11) At the very least, his bed was 15 feet long and 7 feet wide. But Og isn’t just big. He’s also abnormal in another way.

The Midrash notes that normally, a person’s height is approximately three times his width. But from Og’s bed measurements, we can deduce that he was only about twice as tall as he was wide. From this, says the Midrash, we learn that “he was a disgusting creature, different from other creations.”

In other words, he wasn’t just a “giant”. Today, we would call him a “monster.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Table Talk - Matos Masei 5767

What’s in a number? Well, if the number is one, or seven, or even ten, each number has specific significance. One=God; Seven=Days of the week, weeks in the Omer, days of Sukkot and Pesach, ten=commandments. But what if the number is something much larger…say 24,000? While it seems strange, that number appears in Judaism too often to be coincidental.
When God commands the Jewish people to attack the nation of Midyan and avenge the desecration that Midyan caused (by instructing their daughters to seduce the men and entice them into idolatry), God commands Moshe to send a specific number of troops: אֶלֶף, לַמַּטֶּה, אֶלֶף, לַמַּטֶּה--לְכֹל מַטּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל – “One thousand per tribe, one thousand per tribe, for all the tribes of Israel.” While some explain that Moshe only sent 12,000 men, the Midrash, noting the repetitive nature of the verse, explains that God commands Moshe to send two thousand troops from each tribe, for a total of 24,000. Intuitively, this seems to make sense, as it’s the exact same number of Jews who died in the plague that followed the sinful behavior precipitated by the Midyanite women. (see 25:9)
But if God really wants two thousand per tribe, why not just say אלפים למטה – “two thousand per tribe,” instead of saying “one thousand” twice?
Perhaps God’s command has to do with the nature of the number 1,000. The Hebrew word for 1,000 is אֶלֶף – (pronounced eleph), which we spell identically to the letter א', written in Hebrew as אָלֶף – (pronounced aleph). אָלֶף – the first letter of the alphabet, is also equivalent to the number 1, and carries mystical references to the unity of God. Perhaps then, אֶלֶף – the number 1,000, refers to the smallest unit of numbers that make up a large community, in this case a tribe.
Interestingly, this number appears in another famous example in Jewish history as well. As we know, during the Omer we mourn the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students who died between Pesach and Shavuos. How many died? The Gemara tells us that it wasn’t simply 24,000. Rather, in the langue of the Gemara, 12,000 pairs of students perished – or, put another way, the tribes of Israel multiplies times two.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Table Talk -- Pinchas 5767

As any Harry Potter fan will tell you (as we eagerly await the publishing of the seventh and final book), Voldemort’s ultimate goal, other than being evil, is to achieve immortality. But Horcruxes and soul-splitting, unfortunately, seem to have some painful and negative side-effects. They seem to transform you into an evil, snake-like, murderous tyrant. Could there be another way?

According to this week’s parshah, there is a much better way to achieve eternal life.

During the listing of the counting of the families of the Jewish people, the Torah inserts an interesting fact: ושם בת אשר שרח – “and the name of the daughter of Asher is Serach.” (26:46) Who is Serach, and why name her if she doesn’t add to the counting of the nation?

Rashi explains that her uniqueness lays in the fact that she’s still alive. Serach is, in fact, the daughter of Asher, who traveled with Ya’akov and his family down to Egypt hundreds of years before. The Midrash also identifies her as the “wise woman” who appears in the book of Samuel during the times of King David, hundreds of years later. On this verse, Yonatan ben Uziel in his Aramaic translation adds that “Serach went up to the Garden of Eden alive.” Serach somehow achieved immortality. Like Eliyahu the prophet, she never died. How did she do it? What was her secret?

Yonatan ben Uziel explains that she merited eternal life, “because she told Ya’akov that Yosef was alive.” She was the messenger. She gave her grandfather the good news about his beloved son. And for that, she lived forever.

Sure beats soul-splitting.