Thursday, March 04, 2010

Pomegranates and Mitzvos

On Rosh Hashana, one of the simanim that we traditionally eat is a pomegranate, with the prayer that "sheyirbu zechoseinu karimon - that our merits be increased like a pomegranate." One common explanation is that since a pomegranate has 613 seeds, we are asking that we also should merit to fulfill all 613 mitzvos. Although this variant can be easily disproved empirically, many other sources (cited by Rabbi Zivotovsky in Jewish Action) do seem to assume that the relevance is that a pomegrante has many seeds, even if not specifically 613. However, I was always troubled by this explanation. We don't ask "sheyirbu zechoyuseinu k'garinei harimon - that our merits should be increased like the seeds of a pomegranate." Our request must be based on something more inherent about the fruit itself, not just the seeds.

I was troubled by this for a long time, until I had the good fortune of going to a yeshiva with pomegranate bushes growing outside the chadar ochel. Every day after lunch I walked past the bushes, and watched the fruits grow and grow. A few times I picked a pomegranate and tasted the seeds to see if it was ripe, but the seeds were always too sour to eat. (Note: as the bushes were hefker, there was no requirement to separate trumos and maasros. In other cases, if you have a fruit tree in your back yard in Israel, you can not just pick a fruit and eat it.)

Those pomegranates never did get edible. But here's the amazing thing I found: as the seeds continued to expand, the skin did not. The skin hardened, and the expanding seeds cracked open the skin, leaving the seeds to break out and propagate, in a way that seeds tend to do.

This gave me a totally new understanding of the Yehi Ratzon. We are not asking that we have many merits; we're asking that our merits should grow and grow, until they expand beyond our own self-imposed limitations. Once that happens, those merits can spread out across the world and propagate themselves on their own.

Thanks to Dixie Yid for prompting me to write this post.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Second Marriage

I heard a wonderful quote over shabbos (wrongfully attributed, but Google fixed that...):

"A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience."
-- Samuel Johnson

The idea behind this quote extends far beyond the context of marriage. Very often in life, we tend to give up when things don't go the right way. Whether it's in our relationship with G-d, others, or (especially?) ourselves, we feel that once the trust underlying the relationship is betrayed, the relationship is doomed, or irreparable. But the fact is, G-d gives us second chances, other people give us second chances, and we can give ourselves second chances. As I spoke about in my Sukkos dvar Torah (which I still have to write up, but I think it's perhaps the best dvar Torah I've ever given), the idea behind Sukkos is that even אחר החטא, even after sinning, G-d is still there ready to have a relationship with us. The ענני הכבוד can come back, even after something as devastating as the חטא העגל, as soon as we begin work to build the משכן.

Someone told me about a marriage workshop run by a husband and wife team. The wife starts off by introducing her husband as, "This is John, my eighth husband." Everyone is shocked - this woman's been married eight times, and she's the one running a marriage workshop?!" But then she continues - "I love him more than John my seventh husband, and even more than John my sixth husband, and ..."

We have multiple opportunities to create new relationships. It's important that we don't let our burnout from previous experience eclipse our hope for the future.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Concern for others

When I was in KBY, the guy who sat next to me in the Beis Medrash, Moshe*, got married. Sitting next to the guy for hours a day, I was pretty close to him, so I of course went to the wedding. It was an amazing wedding, with my favorite Jewish band, and everything was awesome.

Well, I had my pencil in my shirt pocket (where I always kept it) during the dancing. Well, dancing isn't so good with keeping things in your shirt pocket, so it fell out. I only realized when the groom, right in the middle of the dance set, found me and gave me back my pencil that he had noticed on the ground.

That concern for someone else, even at a moment that any person really has a right to be self-centered, continues to inspire me to this day.

* This blog post sat for a long time waiting to be posted because I couldn't, and still can't, remember Moshe's last name. Honestly, I always just called him "Moshe" or "Reb Moishe" or "Moshe Hakohen" so it's not all that bad that I can't remember his last name, but it's still embarrassing.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Blogging about Economics

I'm sitting in ECON now, and need something to fill the other half of my mind.

  • My professor is actually pretty good. He has a tiny bit of an accent, but not so much that it affects comprehension at all. He speaks clearly, makes clear points, and turns to face the class often, even while making a graph on the board. He is speaking from a powerpoint, but it looks like he's using it as a tool, not a crutch.
  • However, it's 20 minutes into class, and already I'm blogging. A 0-hundred level class is bound to be easy compared to the 400-level and 500-level classes I've been taking. I should take that as an opportunity to get an A, and put the effort in to get that A (yes, it will take some effort), rather than slacking off because of the easiness.
  • The trick is (I think), finding something to do during class that occupies half my mind, so I can still listen (and pay attention) to lecture, without getting bored and losing my attention entirely. In the past I've tried reading the textbook, and that's probably worth another try, but I doubt it'll work. Right now, blogging seems to be working, but I don't know if I can really spend an hour and a half a day (or ~45 CPU minutes :-) ) blogging. Working on code or the like is usually an all-or-nothing activity that consumes all of my attention while I'm doing it, so that probably wouldn't be a good choice for an activity during class.

Psychology of a Mouse

"Hmm, there's a yummy piece of cheese sitting on the countertop. Let me nibble at it."

"Hmm, there's another piece of cheese on top of a black thing on the countertop. Why don't I make some squeaky noises so the human will think I'm caught, but I'll stay away from that cheese."

If only us humans were able to see the consequences of our actions as well as that mouse can....

Monday, June 29, 2009

What comes down, must come down

I am not generally a big fan of camera phones. Whenever something amazing is going on, people are always ruining the moment by taking a picture. As if there aren't millions of pictures of whatever it is that are already online.

But this shabbos, on the one day that I didn't have my phone with me, I saw something that truly deserved to be captured by a camera phone. (Too bad it was shabbos...) I saw this pidgeon walking along the sidewalk, a brown pidgeon (as pidgeons are wont to be), but with a big white splotch on its head and some dribbles along its back. Apparently, it's not only cars that get subjected to bird poop, it's birds as well.

I had about zero sympathy for the pidgeon - I'm sure it got what it deserved.