Friday, December 24, 2010

SHABBAT and alarm systems

Today is the 17th day of Tebet, 5771

It is permitted to set an alarm system on a private residence which will operate on Shabbat, especially when there is a real possibility of life threatening situations.

The alarm system must be activated before Shabbat begins. If possible, one should by-pass one of the doors to be used by the family (some people would recommend to by-pass the front door, which ironically is less used by burglars to break in) and leave all other doors and windows 'activated'. If this cannot be done, please consult a rabbi how to set the alarm system.

When the alarm is activated, there are motion sensors, typically located close to the ceiling, which some people cover or deactivate before Shabbat begins. In any case, it is not forbidden to walk though those sensors, although small led lights are activated by the motion of family members inside the house (pesik resheh derabanan dela nicha leh).

If the alarm accidentally goes off on Shabbat, and won't stop by itself, one should try to have a gentile to turn it off. If that is not possible, it would be permitted for a Jew to shut off the alarm, because 1. the noise is disturbing the entire neighborhood, and it could affect sick people, etc. and 2. preventing or stoping the flow of electrical current is not Biblical -deoraiita- prohibition, (adapted from Practical laws of Shabbat, I, 335).

There are many different alarm and surveillance systems, and I can't possibly cover all details. Here, I just referred to a few principles which I believe apply to most systems. Please, consult a knowledgeable rabbi for more details.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC: 4:14 PM
Shabbat ends in NYC: 5:23 PM

Today in American Jewish History, from Aish

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Identifying the 'Truth'

Today is the 16th day of Tebet, 5771

Saying the truth, speaking and acting truthfully, is one of the principles human civilization is founded upon (pirke abot 1, 18). The Torah exhorts us to tell the truth and keep away from lying. It also teaches us that there are some exceptional cases in which we are allowed - or even commanded- to alter the truth.

First we need to understand that spiritual growing depends on grasping the 'true' nature of our existence and living accordingly.

The God given tools to identify the truth are our intelligence (sekhel) and reason (Rambam).

The ultimate reality is God.

But it is not easy to hold 'constantly' in our minds the reality of God's existence (let alone God's Presence!) and live according to that Truth. Why? Becuase most people do not stop their lives to reflect where are they going or what are they living for? They are driven by pure 'imagination', constantly escaping, eluding, mocking or ignoring the reality of God's existence, which is
also the reality of their own existence. Even those who are believers, often 'forget' of His existence and fall into the tricks of imagination.

The rabbis said that: "The seal of God Almighty is EMET" (the notion of 'truth'), which means, that we should identify the ultimate reality as the reality of God. Therefore, whatever comes from God -the Torah: the book of His will- emanates from that source of truth too.

Living a truthful life begins by identifying the world of imagination around us and have a clear notion that the only true REALITY is God's.

TV and the world of imagination :

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Maimonides on habits formation

Today is the 15th day of Tebet, 5771

Maimonides (Rambam) affirms in Hilkhot De'ot that we're all driven by habits. These habits are part of our personalities, either because of a natural (today we would call it: 'genetic') tendency toward a specific behavior or because we have acquired this habit, imitating our peers, family members, etc. With time habits -good and bad habits- become a second nature.

By being more conscious of how habits are formed and how they become part of our character, we might be able to control them.


What is more significant in terms of character formation? To give a big amount of money to charity at once or to give one dollar at a time? (We are not examining here the merits of the different charities, just the impact of this habit on our character)

Maimonides says:

"positive behavior characteristics are not acquired by doing (a one time) great positive act but rather through the repetition of many positive acts. For example, giving one thousand gold coins to one charity will not accustom a person to the habit of 'generosity', whereas giving one gold coin to a thousand charities will do so. By repeating an act many times, an established behavior or emotional pattern is formed. In contrast, one great act might represent a one time arousal to good, after which that motivation might disappear".

Over time, one simple act repeated several times -a string of small experiences- can accumulate to become strong enough to overwhelm even a major experience.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The 10th Berakha: Gueula, redemption.

Today is the 14th day of Tebet, 5771

The Amida is divided into three sections, according to three different subjects. The first, which includes three blessings, consists of praising God. The third section (3 blessings) is about gratitude to God. And the middle part, (13 blessings) deals with our requests to God and it is subdivided into two major subjects: Personal requests and national requests.

As individuals we request God to grant us: intelligence, inspiration, forgiveness, protection, good health and a decent livelihood.

The tenth berakha of the Amida, -teka beshofar gadol- initiates the series of 6 blessings where we, not as individuals but as members of the Jewish people, convey our national aspirations. Every day, three times a day, we remind ourselves that we are not a religion but a nation. As such, we acknowledge that we are living in exile and we beg God to bring us back to our original homeland, Israel. We ask God Almighty to 'Gather our exiles from all the corners of the world' and to show as the signs of redemption: the sign of the Shofar's blow (hinting to the messianic
era) and the flag (=nes. Leadership?) pointing out at Zion as our final destination.

In this category of national berakhot we will find a key word, sometimes more than once in the same blessing: the word is 'mehera', which means: fast, now, 'make it happen in our own days', expressing our deep desires to be once again in our land, as the Nation of God.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Monday, December 20, 2010

Disobeying parents for their own good

Today is the 13th day of Tebet, 5771

Honoring our parents includes obeying them and pleasing their wishes, especially when dealing with something they wish for their own benefit.

But, what if the parents ask their son or daughter something which will be detrimental for them? For example: What should a son do if his father asks him to bring for him liquor, and the son knows the father will become intoxicated. Does the son still needs to obey his dad and bring the liquor, following blindly his father's order or should he refuse the order?

Most rabbis agree that in this case the son should refuse to buy or get the liquor for his father, but he should do so with utmost respect, trying to dissuade his father reasoning with him. The son is not allowed to fight, yell at or disrespect his father in any way, even when the son is right.
The rabbis bring a few other common cases. If the parent is diabetic and asks his son to bring him a sweet food or when a father ask his son or daughter to bring cigarettes or anything that would cause a 'significant' damage to the father's or mother's health, i.e. anything the physician will forbid them to have.

The rabbis agree that the son or daughter should refuse the order, but they insist that in all these cases, it is critical to maintain a respectful approach and avoid, God forbid, to offend or humiliate one's parents while trying to protect them from harm. (Yalkut Yosef, Kibbud Ab va-Em, Bet, 46-60)

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024