Monday, August 31, 2009

Gedolei Yisrael - R. Tzadok HaKohen

R. Tzadok (1823-1900) was a prolific author and a profound thinker. A chassidic Rebbe who was a talmid of the Ishbitzer Rebbe, R. Tzadok grew up as a Litvak and was later convinced to "do teshuvah" and follow chasidut. (A good lesson for all of us, it is never too late to become a chasid!)

R. Tzadok authored many seforim on different subjects and he often discusses Kabbalah. His two works which are the most well known are, "Tzidkut HaTzadik" and "Pri Tzadik". Tzidkut HaTzadik is a discussion of improving your Avodat HaShem, but it is also a perush on Massechet Berachot. Pri Tzadik was actually written down by his students and is a discussion of the Parshah and the Moadim.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Personal Pocket PC Chess Story

chess pieces

Many of you out there in the blogosphere may not be aware of the fact that I am a quasi-avid chess player. I have a wonderful little chess program on my Pocket PC called Pocket Grandmaster and I can often give it a pretty good game on the Novice level. I recently reformatted my Pocket PC and my name was erased from the Owner’s Information. This caused my copy of Pocket Grandmaster to unregister itself. I ended up being checkmated in real life by this chess program because I could not find a copy of the registration key anywhere!

Fortunately, I emailed an apologetic letter to the company explaining the situation. Amazingly, they still had my name in their records and they sent me the registration key. It is certainly a pleasure to work with a company that provides quality customer service.

Photo Credits:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

All the Torah Sh'Baal Peh from One Pasuk

Rambam Portrait

It is a rare treat that an edifice as large as the Torah Sh'Baal Peh can be boiled down to a single pasuk. Parshat Shoftim manages to do just that! It is better than seeing all of the works of Shakespeare in one 90 minute play. (I think that it is fair game to add a little Torah u'Madda to my blog.) It is better than having almost all of the written religious Jewish word on a single CD-ROM. It is even better than having an LCR (gasp!). This is the greatness of Parshat Shoftim according to the Rambam. The pasuk (Devarim 17:11), "על פי התורה אשר יורוך - According to the Torah that he (a Rabbi) teaches you" is actually that amazing. It states that HaShem commands you to listen to the Torah and to the halakhik decisions that a Rabbi tells you. Five little innocent words, yet more powerful than Superman on steroids.

Now before we get too excited, I am a Rabbi and this pasuk certainly does not refer to any halakhik decisions that I would make. In reality, I have always refused to make decisions, and I prefer to make halakhik deliberations. Less dangerous that way. At any rate, this pasuk most likely refers to halakhot that were created and/or enforced by Chazal. According to the Rambam, Chazal and earlier Rabbinical figures were commanded by HaShem to create and/or enforce the halakhot.

WARNING - The continuation of this blog post may present challenges to your emunah. Read on at your own risk!

Most of you probably know that there are 39 אב מלאכות for Hilkhot Shabbat, but how many of them are actually detailed in the Torah? I would say at most five. That means that Chazal described the other 34 מלאכות in the Gemara. However, there is no halakhik difference between a מלאכה which is listed in the Torah and one which is described by Chazal. All of the 39 מלאכות are halakhot d'oraita, they are commandments from HaShem and not from the Rabbis. According to our pasuk from Parshat Shoftim: if Chazal tell you that a halakhah is d'Oraita - then HaShem also commands you to listen to Chazal, even though that mitzvah/halakhah does not appear in the Torah.

One of the lesser-known treasures in the Mishneh Torah is Hilkhot Mamrim. It is located in Sefer Shoftim, which is the last Sefer in the Mishneh Torah. The title Hilkhot Mamrim, refers to the halakhah of a rebellious Rabbi a זקן ממרה, to be discussed at another time.

In the first perek of Hilkhot Mamrim, the Rambam discusses different types of halakhot and mitzvot: d'Oraita, d'Rebanan, Takkanot, and so on. He also states that this pasuk from Parshat Shoftim teaches us that the Great Sannhedrin in Yerushalayim is the essence of the Torah Sh'Baal Peh.

If you have some time this Shabbat, take a look at Hilkhot Mamrim and learn about the origin and development of the Torah Sh'Baal Peh. I am always here in the blogosphere to answer any questions.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How (Not) to Learn Chassidut

Chopping WoodRecently I was at another shiur given by my LCR (Local Chassidishe Rebbe) and he gave over a great story about the Yid HaKadosh and learning chassidut. The Yid HaKadosh is of R. Yaakov Yitzchak of Peshischa (1766-1813) and is one of the Chassidishe Rebbe's in the fourth generation after the Ba'al Shem Tov.

In the lifetime of the Yid HaKadosh seforim of Chassidut were being published and already there were over twenty different Chassidishe seforim that you could learn. The Yid HaKadosh was asked why do you need to learn Chassidut from a Rebbe when you can learn it from a sefer?

The Yid HaKadosh responded with the following mashal: If a person wanted to be a woodcutter, he could buy a book on how to chop wood. He could read about how to lift the axe over his head. And then he should use all his strength to bring the blade into the wood. There could also be all sorts of diagrams showing what angle he should swing the axe and what is the proper grip for him to use. But if he were to go and watch a person chop wood, he would hear the krecht krechtz (grunt) that is made as he swings the axe. He could read the book a hundred times and he wouldn't find that krecht krechtz mentioned anywhere. So too with learning Chassidut - you can read the words in a sefer, but you need to learn with a Rebbe to bring them to life.

As we approach Elul, try and find a Rebbe who can bring new life to the words of Torah.