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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After a successful landing on the moon’s surface, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step foot on our celestial neighbor, on July 20, corresponding to the Hebrew date of 6 Menachem Av (after nightfall in eastern U.S.).

Links: Retaining Gravity on the Moon’s Surface, The Astronaut, Orbiting the Moon

Laws and Customs

During the “Nine Days" from Av 1st to the Ninth of Av, we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple. We abstain from meat and wine, music, haircutting, bathing for pleasure, and other joyous (and dangerous) activities. (The particular mourning customs vary from community to community, so consult a competent halachic authority for details.)

Consumption of meat and wine is permitted on Shabbat, or at a seudat mitzvah (obligatory festive meal celebrating the fulfillment of certain mitzvot) such as a brit (circumcision), or a siyum celebrating the completion of a course of Torah study (i.e., a complete Talmudic tractate). The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory initiated the custom of conducting or participating in a siyum on each of the Nine Days (even if one does not avail oneself of the dispensation to eat meat).

Citing the verse "Zion shall be redeemed with mishpat [Torah] and its returnees with tzedakah," (Isaiah 1:27) the Rebbe urged that we increase in Torah study (particularly the study of the laws of the Holy Temple) and charity during this period.

Links:
Nine Days laws and customs
Daily live siyum broadcasts
Learn about the Holy Temple in Jerusalem

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.