ב"ה
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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

Born in Jerusalem in 1689 (5449?), Yaakov Culi moved to Constantinople, Turkey, where he found adequate facilities and financial backing to publish the scholarly output of his learned grandfather, Rabbi Moses ibn Habib, including classics such as Get Pashut and Ezrat Nashim.

The brilliant young scholar quickly came to the attention of the chief rabbi of Constantinople, Yehuda Rosanes, the undisputed leader of Sephardic Jewry at the time, and he was appointed to the beth din (rabbinical court).

Upon the passing of Rosanes, Rabbi Yaakov edited and published his late teacher’s writings with his own additional glosses: Mishneh Lamelech on Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah and Perishat Derachim.


Toward the end of his own short life, Rabbi Culi began work on the Mea’am Loez, a compendium of rabbinic lore and commentary on all books of Scriptures. He wrote in Ladino, then the common language of the Sephardic diaspora.

Unfortunately, he never completed his project and passed away on 19th Av, 5492 (1732), having only completed the book Genesis and most of Exodus. However, subsequent scholars used his extensive notes to finish the work. Popular to this day, the Mea’am Loez has been translated into many languages, including Hebrew, English, and even Arabic.

Daily Thought

So it will be, on the heels of you listening to these judgments of Mine and doing them…that G‑d will love you, bless you, increase your numbers, bless the fruits of your womb and the fruits of your land, your grain, your wine, and your oil, the offspring of your animals and your wealth of sheep… (Deut. 7:12-13)

All mitzvahs can be distributed over a wide spectrum between two poles:

There are mitzvahs that we judge to be of practical utility, such as the prohibitions against theft and violence.

Torah calls these mishpatim —judgments —because they engage the discretionary judgment of our minds and hearts.

And then there are mitzvahs whose reasoning is entirely beyond us, even contradictory to our understanding. At this end of the spectrum, you’ll find laws of ritual impurity, most of the laws of forbidden foods, as well as many of the details of otherwise reasonable halachah.

Torah calls these chukim—from the word chakak, meaning “engraved in stone.” We do them as though they are simply built into our hardware, wired into the tough, desensitized skin of our heels.

There’s a beauty to chukim. They allow us to feel connected to something far beyond ourselves, an infinite G‑d who has brought us into His own unfathomable view of His creation and its purpose.

And there’s a hazard to mishpatim. When everything makes sense to us and serves us well, we easily become captives of our tiny reality-bubble and lose connection with the mystery and wonder beyond ourselves.

So Moses tells us to listen with our heels, to connect our minds to our inner hardware, to do mishpatim as chukim.

Because, in truth, every mitzvah, even a simple rule that we would have figured out on our own, is part of a covenant and connection that entirely transcends our limited reality.

And when we make that connection, wiring the most ultimately transcendental into our minds and our hearts and all the way to the tough skin of our heels, the universe follows in concert:

Infinite, divine love expresses itself not only in spiritual forms, but all the way down to the quantifiable physical world—in children, health and material wellbeing.