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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tevillas Keilim of Geirim; Disrespect of Gedolim; Earliest Bracha on Tzitzis; Well-intentioned but Profound Stupidity

Accumulated thoughts from the last two weeks.


The following four subjects are:
I. Does a geir have to be tovel the keilim he owned before his geirus.
II. A pox upon people who ascribe base motives and willful naiveté to Gedolim.
III. When is the earliest you can make a bracha on Tzitzis.
IV. Profoundly Stupid things I've heard people say to Aveilim and Cholim.

I
When a person becomes a geir, does he have to be tovel all his keilim? The answer, of course, is absolutely yes. There is ZERO evidence from any rishon that he doesn’t. There is no obvious svara to say anything different. But the Avnei Nezer, as brought by his son in the Shem Mishmuel in Parshas Mattos and in his drashos for Sukkos, holds that he does not have to be tovel his keilim. Why? Who knows. Some say it’s because he didn’t buy or acquire them, he just had them from before. Since there’s no ownership change, no chiyuv was chall. I am told that in a recent geirus in Houston, Rabbi Nota Greenblatt paskened that he should be tovel his keilim without a bracha. I am torn between the awareness that if the Avnei Nezer says something, then it was said carefully and deliberately with Shas and poskim behind it, and an acute discomfort with taking this to be normative halacha.

Anyway, for you Gerers out there, and assuming that you trust the Shem Mishmuel, as opposed to those that say that the Avnei Nezer himself said to be tovel the keilim without a bracha, I have a fine idea. Sometimes, a caterer has to be tovel a whole carload of things, which might also be fragile or unwieldy. Here's an option: Just give them all as a gift to a man or woman who is becoming a ger. When that person is misgayeir, they will give it all back to the the caterer, and it will not need tevilla.

This really sounds like Kinyan Agav. You make a kinyan (te'vila) on the karka (Geir), and the metaltelim (keilim) are nikneh (muchshor) "bechol mokom she'heim."

II
I was talking to Rav Reuven Feinstein about what is being said on the internet about the EJF, and the many writers who ascribe venal, base, and selfish motives to the people who comprise and who support the EJF. I can say that his reaction was negative, and that he disagrees with those who say that he is being misled and bamboozled, or that he was distracted, or whatever other nonsense is being spread. He was just surprised that this is still going on. He thought that this kind of talk was already passe. I’m not a gadol in either middos or Torah, so my reaction is less civil. I hope that they either seek mechilla or that they see, as the Meraglim saw, the cost of malshinus. For those that are looking for mechilla: he's not hard to find.

III
What is the earliest time you can make a bracha on your talis/tzitzis? Of course, the zman is Misheyakir, as in OC 18, when you can discern between undyed wool and tcheiles, or when you can recognize a casual acquaintance from a few feet away. When is that? The shittos vary from 66 minutes before sunrise (Pri Megadim, but very few hold like this le'halacha) to 60 minutes before sunrise (see Taharas Yom Tov, VII, 92) to 35 minutes before sunrise (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, LeTorah ve-Hora'ah, no. 3, p. 7). Of course, you should consult YLOR. But if you follow Reb Moshe, your should know that Reb Moshe’s shittah is that just like a blind person is pattur from tzitzis, Misheyakir depends on the actual, local, subjective misheyakir, and if it’s cloudy, then it’s later. Does this makes life much harder for us? Not really. Just wait until you’re sure, and then make a bracha. Also, three things to know: it varies between forty and thirty five minutes before sunrise on average days, and even the most cloudy day it will be misheyakir sometime before sunrise, unless there’s a total eclipse. Please note, also, that the determination of the zman for tefillin and the zman for tzitzis are not the same, since we pasken that mide'oraysa, there is a mitzva of tefillin at night, and it is just that Chazal took off the chiyuv for extraneous reasons. And don't worry about Rabbeinu Yona in Brachos and Tosfos in Sukka's shitta about what it means that Chazal "took off a chiyuv."

IV
And now, introducing a special feature:
Profoundly Stupid Things I Heard from People Who Meant Well.
'A' and 'B' refer to the people having the conversation.

1. Conversation with a person recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer:
A. "I know what you are going through, my sister in law had the same thing."
B. "Thank you for your concern. And how is your sister in law?"
A. "Oh, she died within a year of her diagnosis."


2. At a Shiva House:
A. "Yes, (his mother) was a tremendous ba'alas bitachon. I once asked her how she dealt with the horrors she saw during the war. She answered that she had no questions: If Hashem did it, there is a reason, and we all have to love and trust the Ribono Shel Olam."
B. "You know, I've met people like that, and I think that the unsophisticated people, the uneducated, klein shtettlsheh people, they just accepted everything unquestioningly. The more educated people are the ones who threw away their bitachon."
(Oh. I used to think of her as a rock solid ba'alas bitachon. I guess she was really just a glassy-eyed cow.)

3. At another Shiva House:
A. "I don't know how I can take this...it's so hard to lose a father...."
B. "It's much harder when you lose your mother."
(I have to admit, these were not the actual words, but I was afraid you wouldn't believe me if I quoted her verbatim. What she actually said was "Wait until you lose your mother." I'm not making this up.)

4. At another Shiva House:
(background: A was sitting for his mother. When his father had passed away some years before, the chevra kadisha messed up, perhaps it was the fault of the local funeral chapel, or the chevra kadisha that took the Aron from the airplane in Israel, and they ended up eulogizing what turned out to be a nun's coffin in his Rebbe's Beis Medrash, as they realized when they opened the Aron for burial on Har Hazeisim.)
B. "Well, at least they didn't misplace her Aron...."
(Thank you, my friend, for re-opening an old wound.)

5. At a Shiva where, nebach, parents were sitting for their teenaged daughter.
A. At a time like this, maybe we can only say that (the daughter) was a gilgul of a holy neshama that came to this word to work out unfinished business, and when her neshama achieved its tafkid, she was taken back to Olam Haba.
B. I don't know about that. Reb Saadia Gaon says there's no such thing as Gilgulim, and the whole idea of Gilgulim was just made up because people couldn't deal with situations just like this.
(B, by the way, is a gifted talmid chacham, but a through and through Yekke/Litvak, although he's a big baki in Reb Tzadok.)

UPDATE APRIL 2013;
I was directed to the following article in the Wall Street Journal.
Reprinted with the author's kind permission.

For a Sick Friend: First, Do No Harm 

Conversing with the ill can be awkward, but keeping a few simple commandments makes a huge difference

 By Letty Cottin Pogrebin

 'A closed mouth gathers no feet." It's a charming axiom, but silence isn't always an option when we're dealing with a friend who's sick or in despair. The natural human reaction is to feel awkward and upset in the face of illness, but unless we control those feelings and come up with an appropriate response, there's a good chance that we'll blurt out some cringe-worthy cliché, craven remark or blunt question that, in retrospect, we'll regret.
Take this real-life exchange. If ever the tone deaf needed a poster child, Fred is their man.
"How'd it go?" he asked his friend, Pete, who'd just had cancer surgery.
"Great!" said Pete. "They got it all."
"Really?" said Fred. "How do they know?"
A few simple commandments makes a huge difference when conversing with the ill.

We're all nervous around illness and mortality, but whatever pops into our heads should not necessarily plop out of our mouths. Yet, in my own experience as a breast-cancer patient, and for many of the people I have interviewed, friends do make hurtful remarks. Marion Fontana, who was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years after her husband, a New York City firefighter, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center, was told that she must have really bad karma to attract so much bad luck. In another case, upon hearing a man's leukemia diagnosis, his friend shrieked, "Wow! A girl in my office just died of that!"
Later, when Pete told him how demoralizing his remark had been, Fred's excuse was, "I was nervous. I just said what popped into my head."

You can't make this stuff up.
If we're not unwittingly insulting our sick friends, we're spouting clichés like "Everything happens for a reason." Though our intent is to comfort the patient, we also say such things to comfort ourselves and tamp down our own feelings of vulnerability. From now on, rather than sound like a Hallmark card, you might want to heed the following 10 Commandments for Conversing With a Sick Friend.
1. Rejoice at their good news. Don't minimize their bad news. A guy tells you that the doctors got it all, say "Hallelujah!" A man with advanced bladder cancer says that he's taking his kids to Disneyland next summer, don't bite your lip and mutter, "We'll see." Tell him it's a great idea. (What harm can it do?) Which doesn't mean that you should slap a happy face on a friend's grim diagnosis by saying something like, "Don't worry! Nowadays breast cancer is like having a cold!"
The best response in any encounter with a sick friend is to say, "Tell me what I can do to make things easier for you—I really want to help."
2. Treat your sick friends as you always did—but never forget their changed circumstance. However contradictory that may sound, I promise you can learn to live within the paradox if you keep your friend's illness and its constraints in mind but don't treat them as if their illness is who they are. Speak to them as you always did (tease them, kid around with them, get mad at them) but indulge their occasional blue moods or hissy-fits. Most important, start conversations about other things (sports, politics, food, movies) as soon as possible and you'll help speed their journey from the morass of illness to the miracle of the ordinary.
3. Avoid self-referential comments. A friend with a hacking cough doesn't need to hear, "You think that's bad? I had double pneumonia." Don't tell someone with brain cancer that you know how painful it must be because you get migraines. Don't complain about your colicky baby to the mother of a child with spina bifida. I'm not saying sick people have lost their capacity to empathize with others, just that solipsism is unhelpful and rude. The truest thing you can say to a sick or suffering friend is, "I can only try to imagine what you're going through."
4. Don't assume, verify. Several friends of Michele, a Canadian writer, reacted to her cancer diagnosis with, "Well, at least you caught it early, so you'll be all right!" In fact, she did not catch it early, and never said or hinted otherwise. So when someone said, "You caught it early," she thought, "No, I didn't, therefore I'm going to die." Repeat after me: "Assume nothing."
5. Get the facts straight before you open your mouth.Did your friend have a heart or liver transplant? Chemo or radiation? Don't just ask, "How are you?" Ask questions specific to your friend's health. "How's your rotator cuff these days?" "Did the blood test show Lyme disease?" "Are your new meds working?" If you need help remembering who has shingles and who has lupus, or the date of a friend's operation, enter a health note under the person's name in your contacts list or stick a Post-it by the phone and update the information as needed.
6. Help your sick friend feel useful. Zero in on one of their skills and lead to it. Assuming they're up to the task, ask a cybersmart patient to set up a Web page for you; ask a bridge or chess maven to give you pointers on the game; ask a retired teacher to guide your teenager through the college application process. In most cases, your request won't be seen as an imposition but a vote of confidence in your friend's talent and worth.

7. Don't infantilize the patient. Never speak to a grown-up the way you'd talk to a child. Objectionable sentences include, "How are we today, dearie?" "That's a good boy." "I bet you could swallow this teeny-tiny pill if you really tried." And the most wince-worthy, "Are we ready to go wee-wee?" Protect your friend's dignity at all costs.
8. Think twice before giving advice.Don't forward medical alerts, newspaper clippings or your Aunt Sadie's cure for gout. Your idea of a health bulletin that's useful or revelatory may mislead, upset, confuse or agitate your friend. Sick people have doctors to tell them what to do. Your job is simply to be their friend.
9. Let patients who are terminally ill set the conversational agenda.If they're unaware that they're dying, don't be the one to tell them. If they know they're at the end of life and want to talk about it, don't contradict or interrupt them; let them vent or weep or curse the Fates. Hand them a tissue and cry with them. If they want to confide their last wish, or trust you with a long-kept secret, thank them for the honor and listen hard. Someday you'll want to remember every word they say.
10. Don't pressure them to practice 'positive thinking.' The implication is that they caused their illness in the first place by negative thinking—by feeling discouraged, depressed or not having the "right attitude." Positive thinking can't cure Huntington's disease, ALS or inoperable brain cancer. Telling a terminal patient to keep up the fight isn't just futile, it's cruel. Insisting that they see the glass as half full may deny them the truth of what they know and the chance to tie up life's loose ends while there's still time. As one hospice patient put it, "All I want from my friends right now is the freedom to sulk and say goodbye."
Though most of us feel dis-eased around disease, colloquial English proffers a sparse vocabulary for the expression of embarrassment, fear, anxiety, grief or sorrow. These 10 commandments should help you relate to your sick friends with greater empathy, warmth and grace.
Ms. Pogrebin is the author of ten books and a founding editor of Ms. magazine.  Her latest book is "How to Be a Friend to a Friend who's Sick," from which this essay is adapted.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

That last one sounds like the script of a Movie.

LkwdGuy said...

or that their tongues rot in their mouths.

You really have to update your klalos for the internet age. I propose something along the lines of "let their fingers be severed".

Barzilai said...

"That last one sounds like the script of a Movie."

Oh, I heard it was pretty awful. They had been maspid the Aron at a yeshiva, and after they realized what had happened (when they opened the Aron and saw the big old crucifix on top of the sewn up shrouds), they had to very, very, quickly find out where the right Aron had gone and retrieve it, and once they got it, they were maspid him again, albeit a little more hastily.

Lkwdguy, I'm sorry about that line and I'm going to edit it. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 16b or something says "kol hamoseir dino lashamayim hu ne'enash techila." It's not "dino", but it's never smart to be a mekalel-- ve'ha'elokim yevakeish es hanirdaf and all that. I was just disgusted by the azus panim, the chutzpah, the fractious, factious unwillingness to show respect while disagreeing.

Barzilai said...

By the way, I'm not immune from this. Just two days ago I said a foolish thing to an aveil, but I somehow managed to extricate my foot from my mouth by putting a different spin on it. The problem is that you feel you have to say something, and there's really nothing to say, so when something, anything, pops into your head, you say it without thinking. The mussar haskeil here, of course, is that you have to be doubly careful in these situations to think about how what you're about to say will sound.

Anonymous said...

Which explains, in part, the gemorah in Berachot 6b about igrah d'bei tamyah...
One does not always have to say something to contribute or solace. The urge to speak, when not requested, stems from a desire to appear significant.

Barzilai said...

Good tzushtell to the Gemara in Brachos.

It seems to me (and Reb Moshe says this in one of the later Igros that I don't have at hand) that while the menacheim doesn't need to talk, part of nichum is getting the aveil to talk, as is arguably evident from YD 376:1 and the relevant passuk in Iyov. I, personally, found it comforting to hear people talk about my father's lasting legacy and their fond memories of him in the time that he was full of energy and kishron, which in turn encouraged me to remember and tell stories about him. Maybe some people like to talk about how much the person suffered toward the end. I guess it's subjective.

Ariella said...

so much for nichum aveilim. Perhaps people need a little training in tact before attempting to pay a shiva visit. You know, I bet there could be a market for a book on suggestions for people who may as well keep their feet in their mouths to prevent themselves from spouting such stuff. Sometimes I don't really say anything when paying a shiva visit, particularly if I am not that close to the aveil or if other people are talking. I think one is yotzeh by coming, and that the visitor is supposed to let the aveil open the converstation.

Barzilai said...

Regarding whether a visitor should try to talk to the aveil: See Igros Moshe OC V, Siman 20, sub-division 21. There, he says that merely saying Hamakom is not nichum aveilim. Hamakom is the last thing one says to an Aveil, which caps the conversation that came before. But essentially, Nichum Aveilim is extensive talk to and conversation with the aveil, such that it will bring him spiritual solace. His words-- "Sheket be'rucho," tranquility, or calm, or quietude, to his soul. He brings examples from Moed kattan 28b.

Bringing tranquility to an aveil often seems impossible. Preparing before going helps, but sometimes you just do your best and hope for siyata dishmaya. And, certainly, sometimes the only thing you can do is sit there and show the Aveil that you care about him or her.