Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reader Question

כתוב בסי' עבודת ישראל (בתפילת יהי רצון שבברכת כהנים לפני אמירת תיבת "שלום") "בהתר ולא באיסור". "התר" נכתב עם פת"ח תחת הה"א וקמ"ץ תחת הת"ו. איזה מילה היא זו?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Life as we Know it

In the section dealing with our obligation to reach out and come to the aid of our neighbour, there is a glaring discrepancy, pointed out by Meshech Chachmah, in two adjacent pesukim. The first deals with the ger toshav, a non-Jew who has sworn off avodah zarah but is not subject to all of our mitzvos. We are commanded to support him in his time of need. The pasuk ends of, "vachai imach." The next pasuk, dealing with the prohibition of charging interest, ends of, "vechei achicha imach." The message seems almost the same but the word vachai turns into vechei.

Meshech Chachmah explains the difference between these two similar terms. One might summarize it as follows: Chei is to live whereas chai is life itself. We find the word chai used with respect to HaShem, as in "Chai HaShem," because He embodies everlasting lifeThe word chei is used with respect to more fleeting life, such as Yoseif's use of the term "chei Par'oah."


When we support our neighbour, the ger toshav, it is far more than providing financial stability. Since he has not accepted the full burden of all mitzvos, his sole source of "everlasting life" is his connection to our community. If we do not come to his aid, he will surely stray and give up the life he had chosen. Therefore, reaching out to him is indeed providing him with everlasting life.


The second pasuk refers to achicha, your Jewish brother. He therefore already merits the "everlasting life" by virtue of his service of HaShem and acceptance of all mitzvos, a pact he surely cannot alleviate himself of under any circumstances. Therefore, our financial support, however mandatory, is simply providing superficial, physical life. And so, the word chei is used instead. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

ט"ו בשבט הגיע

Ok, I'm not sure why this has never bothered me as much as it has this year but that's just the way things go sometimes. It seems no matter where you go, where you turn, the name of this holiday is misspelled. Now, I have long believed that there can never be an absolute set of rules for Hebrew transliteration but I think the misspelling of this holiday speaks to a lack of understanding of one of the rules of דקדוק and so, while I stand on my soap box, I should probably take the opportunity to explain the situation.

So, for starters, I believe it should be Tu BiShvat. I have very rarely seen it spelled that way. I see plenty of B'Shevat, BeShevat, etc. Kudos to BaltimoreJewishLife.com for modifying the title of this article to reflect the correct spelling.

Interesting fact: Shevat is the only month in our calendar that begins with a שוא underneath the first letter. As a general rule (with very few exceptions) a שוא underneath the first letter of a word is a שוא נע. The common prefix for "in" or "of" is בְּ, with a שוא under the ב. So, six months ago we had Tu BeAv. However, there is a rule that a word may not begin with two consecutive שוא's. (One day, I plan to dedicate a post to why very often the change from a וְ to a וַ is not מעכב because of this rule.) So, to accommodate this rule the vowel underneath the ב becomes a חיריק. Consequently, because the ש is no longer the first letter, the שוא also becomes a שוא נח. And so we have BiShvat.