Category Archives: Moadim

A Channukah Message – Culture and Rhetoric

The Mishna in Succah 51a-b describes the happiness of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah. In response, the Gemara raises the general glory of the Beis HaMikdash and then begins to praise the Beis HaKnesses in Alexandria:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף נא עמוד ב 

גמרא. תנו רבנן: מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו. מי שלא ראה ירושלים בתפארתה לא ראה כרך נחמד מעולם. מי שלא ראה בית המקדש בבנינו לא ראה בנין מפואר מעולם, מאי היא? – אמר אביי ואיתימא רב חסדא: זה בנין הורדוס. – במאי בניה? – אמר (רבא) +מסורת הש”ס: [רבה]+: באבני שישא ומרמרא. איכא דאמרי: באבני שישא כוחלא ומרמרא. אפיק שפה ועייל שפה, כי היכי דלקבל סידא. סבר למשעיין בדהבא, אמרו ליה רבנן: שבקיה, דהכי שפיר טפי, דמיתחזי כאדותא דימא. תניא, רבי יהודה אומר: מי שלא ראה דיופלוסטון של אלכסנדריא של מצרים לא ראה בכבודן של ישראל. אמרו: כמין בסילקי גדולה היתה, סטיו לפנים מסטיו, פעמים שהיו בה (ששים רבוא על ששים רבוא) כפלים כיוצאי מצרים +מסורת הש”ס: [פעמים שהיו שם ששים רבוא כיוצאי מצרים ואמרי לה כפלים כיוצאי מצרים]+, והיו בה שבעים ואחת קתדראות של זהב כנגד שבעים ואחד של סנהדרי גדולה, כל אחת ואחת אינה פחותה מעשרים ואחד רבוא ככרי זהב. ובימה של עץ באמצעיתה, וחזן הכנסת עומד עליה והסודרין בידו. וכיון שהגיע לענות אמן – הלה מניף בסודר, וכל העם עונין אמן. ולא היו יושבין מעורבין, אלא זהבין בפני עצמן, וכספין בפני עצמן, ונפחין בפני עצמן, וטרסיים בפני עצמן, וגרדיים בפני עצמן. וכשעני נכנס שם היה מכיר בעלי אומנתו ונפנה לשם, ומשם פרנסתו ופרנסת אנשי ביתו.

The Gemara starts by stating, similarly to the Mishna that one who did not see the happiness of the Mikdash during the Succot celebrations has never seen happiness. It then continues to state similarly that if one has never seen the glory of Yerushalayim has never seen glory and one who has never seen the beauty of the Mikdash has never seen beauty. Afterwards, the Gemara states in the name of Rabbi Yehuda that if one has never seen  the twin towers of the synagogue of Alexandria one has never seen the glory of the Jews. It then describes the glory of the shul at some length.

אמר אביי: וכולהו קטלינהו אלכסנדרוס מוקדן. מאי טעמא איענשו? – משום דעברי אהאי קרא לא תוסיפון לשוב בדרך הזה עוד, ואינהו הדור אתו. כי אתא, אשכחינהו דהוו קרו בסיפרא ישא ה’ עליך גוי מרחוק. אמר: מכדי, ההוא גברא בעי למיתי ספינתא בעשרה יומי, דליה זיקא ואתי ספינתא בחמשא יומי, נפל עלייהו וקטלינהו.

In the end Abaye asserts that this was all destroyed by Alexander the Great. Hashem used him as a vehicle of divine justice for the sin of returning to the land of Egypt, and it happened while they were (seemingly righteously) reading from the Torah a pasuk which predicted exactly that event. This depiction is difficult to understand. How is it that Alexander the Great destroyed the synagogue in Alexandria, a city which was completed after he died (and was named after him)? The tiny town which existed there before hand could not have possibly had such a large Jewish community. What does Abaye intend by this comment?

If we look at the Gemara it describes a glorious shul, however, the shul is described as a Greek building. It is a Basillica (a Roman public building used for court sessions). It contains within it catedras (meaning thrones) and it was named with a Greek word. These were people who were very assimilated in the local culture. Furthermore,  they had undertaken this process of assimilation in a place where they were not allowed to live. They weren’t just passing through, they were truly living there, it was their home. That is what destroyed them. If they had not depended so totally on the surrounding culture, and thus taken themselves permanently back to Egypt maybe it wouldn’t happen to them. Alexander the Great did this to them because he brought them the culture which they then attached themselves to. The point is not that he is directly responsible. The point is that he brought them the idea set they thought they could unite with Torah which told them the opposite and this was the result (that is the meaning of the fact that they were destroyed while reading psukim which foretold their fate).

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Rosh HaShanah All Year Round

Now that Yom Kippur is over, in many ways we return to our normal routines. While Sukkos is just around the corner and so we still have a great many things to do which are not a part of our daily lives, nevertheless, davening has returned to normal, there are no more extra tefillos in the middle of the night, and the constant pressure to do teshuvah has receded. The immediate question which we should be asking is: “what can I take from the last ten days to help me for the rest of the year?” The Alter Rebbe in the Tanya gives an interesting answer:

תניא איגרת הקודש פרק יד
אך הענין יובן ע”פ מ”ש ה’ בחכמה יסד ארץ שיסוד הארץ העליונה היא בחי’ ממלא כ”ע והתחתונה היא ארץ חפץ המכוונת כנגדה ממש ונק’ על שמה ארץ החיים הנה הוא נמשך מהמשכת והארת חכמה עילאה מקור החיים העליונים כדכתיב החכמה תחיה בעליה וכו’ והארה והמשכה זו היא מתחדשת באור חדש ממש בכל שנה ושנה כי הוא יתברך וחכמתו אחד בתכלית היחוד ונק’ בשם אוא”ס ב”ה שאין סוף ואין קץ למעלת וגדולת האור והחיות הנמשך ממנו יתברך ומחכמתו בעילוי אחר עילוי עד אין קץ ותכלית לרום המעלות למעלה מעלה ובכל שנה ושנה יורד ומאיר מחכמה עילאה אור חדש ומחודש שלא היה מאיר עדיין מעולם לארץ העליונה כי אור כל שנה ושנה מסתלק לשרשו בכל ער”ה כשהחדש מתכסה בו ואח”כ ע”י תקיעת שופר והתפלות נמשך אור חדש עליון מבחי’ עליונה יותר שבמדרגת חכמה עילאה להאיר לארץ עליונה ולדרים עליה הם כל העולמות העליונים והתחתונים המקבלים חיותם ממנה דהיינו מן האור א”ס ב”ה וחכמתו המלובש בה כדכתיב כי עמך מקור חיים באורך נראה אור דהיינו אור המאיר מחכמה עילאה מקור החיים (וכנודע לי”ח שבכל ר”ה היא הנסירה ומקבלת מוחין חדשים עליונים יותר כו’) ובפרטי פרטיות כן הוא בכל יום ויום נמשכין מוחין עליונים יותר בכל תפלת השחר ואינן מוחין הראשונים שנסתלקו אחר התפלה רק גבוהין יותר ודרך כלל בכללות העולם בשית אלפי שנין כן הוא בכל ר”ה ור”ה. וז”ש תמיד עיני ה’ אלהיך בה שהעינים הם כינוים להמשכת והארת אור החכמה שלכן נקראו חכמים עיני העדה ואוירא דא”י מחכים והארה והמשכה זו אף שהיא תמידית אעפ”כ אינה בבחי’ ומדרגה אחת לבדה מימי עולם אלא שבכל שנה ושנה הוא אור חדש עליון כי האור שנתחדש והאיר בר”ה זה הוא מסתלק בער”ה הבאה לשרשו. וז”ש מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה לבדה ולכן כתיב מרשית חסר א’ רומז על הסתלקות האור שמסתלק בליל ר”ה עד אחר התקיעות שיורד אור חדש עליון יותר שלא היה מאיר עדיין מימי עולם אור עליון כזה והוא מתלבש ומסתתר בארץ החיים שלמעלה ושלמטה להחיות את כל העולמות כל משך שנה זו אך גילויו מההסתר הזה תלוי במעשה התחתונים וזכותם ותשובתם בעשי”ת וד”ל:

Basically, the Alter Rebbe suggests that the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah brings about a flow of energy and inspiration from G-d (which is stongest by far in Eretz Yisrael) which continues to influence us for the rest of the year. The echoes of the shofar are heard all year round until the last day of the year, something which we symbolize by stopping the blowing of the shofar the day before Rosh HaShanah. That influence is the lasting effect of Asseret Yemei Teshuvah, and it is very much the point of the blowing of the shofar, at least in this piece.

The Alter Rebbe links this inluence specifically to the davening of Shacharis. I don’t have a good reason why it would be linked to Shacharis (except that the shofar is blown in the morning typically, although that does not seem particularly satisfying since the shofar may be blown all day), however, I think that the influence of the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah can be felt palpably in davening every single day. I heard for Rav Moshe Lichtenstein shlit”a once that the first three berachos of shemoneh esreh are contained in the first berachah. When we say the words “hakel hagadol hagibor vehanora” we can see that gadol roughly corresponds witthe first berachah (this becomes stronger when one takes into account the kabbalistic idea of a parallel between gedulah and chesed, and the first berachah is clearly about Hashem’s kindness to our ancestors and to us). The second berachah is parallel to gevurah (it is actually referred to as gevuros). The third berachah is parallel to nora, because it speaks of the awe we fell in out encounter with the divine, and or our urge to praise and our inability to approach. G-d is transcendent and awe inspiring and He controls the world.

I would add to this a further thought. The first berachah continues “gomel chassadim tovim vekoneh hakol vezocher chasdei avos umeivi go’el livnei vneihem lema’an shemo be’ahavah”. Koneh hakol implies G-d mastery over the world. He created the world and therefore He owns it and He control it. This similar to the berachah of malchuyos on Rosh HaShanah which also speaks of G-d’s mastery over the world. Zocher chasdei avos is parallel to the second berachah of mussaf on Rosh HaShanah, zocher haberis. And meivi go’el livnei vneihem lema’an shemo be’ahavah is parallel to the berachah of shefaros which ends on a request that G-d sound his great shofar of ge’ulah and redeem us. If so, we carry the three berachos of mussaf on Rosh HaShanah with us the entire year. Furthermore, those berachos accompany the blowing of the shofar. As such, if we allude to them, we are really alluding to the blowing of the shofar. It is as though we are sounding the shofar for ourselves every day three times before we pray. If Rosh HaShanah is meant to be the moment of Malchus Shamayim which lasts us for the entire year then we tap into it each time we daven, because when we daven we have to be conscious of our standing before the king, and of our dependence upon him.

Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot on Yom Kippur?

In Rabbi Yosef Albo’s Sefer HaIkarim, Albo writes that the Mussaf for Rosh HaShana is a kind of philosophical guide by Chazal, teaching us the central tenets of our faith.  In general, Albo is unique in treating the siddur as a source of Chazal’s philosophy.  It makes a lot of sense that if Chazal used the siddur to convey a belief system, on Rosh HaShana, as we start the new year, we would focus on the basics.  Thus, Albo sees in the three middle berachot the basis of the three Ikarim, foundations of faith, for all religions, and Judaism is particular.  Malchuyot, which deals with God’s king, teaches us the centrality of the belief in God.  Zichronot, which discusses God’s remembering all and rewarding/punishing based on our actions teaches the importance of the notion that there is reward and punishment, consequences for our actions.  Shofarot, the beracha that records the revelation at Sinai, teaches us that we must also believe that God has a specific message and task for mankind, and the Jewish people in particular.  Continue reading Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot on Yom Kippur?

Hataras Nedarim Lomdus and Rosh HaShanah

In today’s daf (21) of Nazir the Gemara discusses the statement in the Mishna that if a wife makes a neder to be a nazir and afterwards her husband says “ve’ani” to mean that he too would like to be a nazir, he can no longer release her from that vow. The Tosafos on 21b s.v. “ela” discuss why. They record two opinions:
1) He cannot release her from her vow because the manner in which he took his vow made his own nazirate vow dependent upon hers, therefore, by releasing her from the vow he would release himself also. This violates the rule that one may not release oneself from any vow (only someone else can release a person from a vow he took) in Chagigah 10a; or,

2) The Tosafos quotes the opinion of Rabeinu Elyakim that it is permitted to release oneself from a vow in this fashion but in this particular case by agreeing to take a vow contingent upon his wife’s vow, the husband effectively agreed that her vow should be binding. After doing so, he can no longer release her from its authority.

The opinion of Rabbeinu Elyakim makes a lot of sense. He’s not really releasing himself from his own vow. By releasing his wife, he indirectly causes the effect that his own vow would no longer maintain its force because it was contingent upon her vow, but that is something which is not relevant to the question of whether he can release her from her vow. It would be including in common parlance under the “law of unintended (or, in this case, intended) consequences”. However, how are we to understand the first opinion? We can understand it by assuming that the rule preventing a person from releasing himself from his own vow is not merely a detail in the complex laws of nedarim. It lies at the very heart of that system. If you could release yourself from a neder you took., then there would be no reason for the rules of nedarim to exist at all. The Torah dictated that if you make a vow, you must keep it. By making that vow you incurred a moral obligation to see it through. If you don’t, then you literally “profaned your speech” (see Rashi on Bamidbar 30, 3). Furthermore, I heard once from Rav Lichtenstein hk”m that the reason for laws which protect the sanctity of speech, ranging from this prohibition to that on lying, is Onkelos defines humans as possessing “רוח ממללא” or “the spirit of speech.” In other words, it is our very ability to communicate in words which defines us. As such, it simply cannot be that a person would so violate his responsibility to respect the sanctity of his own speech by releasing himself from a vow, even indirectly. If an action of his would automatically have that consequence, it must be that the Torah would not allow that action to take effect.

Tomorrow morning we will all release ourselves from any vows we might have taken over the last year. This ceremony seems incidental to the observances of the yamim noraim, and yet it lies at their very heart. By going before a panel to release ourselves from any vows we may have taken over the past year (even if we haven’t kept them through lack of knowledge), we are affirming the sanctity of our speech and our responsibility to respect that sanctity. May that awareness travel with us through the coming year and help us maintain the requisite level of holiness in all our words, not just when we make a vow.

Is It Worse to Sin on Shabbat than During the Week?

Is it worse to do an averiah on Shabbat than during the week? The Chofetz Chaim (in the Hakdama) famously claims that doing an aveirah in the Mikdash or shul is worse because it is shows a lack of mora mikdash. Not to mention that there are numerous sources that suggest that mitzvot and aveirot are more serious when done in Eretz Yisrael (or only count there). Would the same be true of one violated the sanctity of time by sinning? This question arises in a discussion in a Yerushalmi in Demai (4:1, I discussed it in a shiur: here). Normally, when one has Demai, produce received from a Am HaAretz who we are not sure gave Maasrot, one cannot eat from it without separating Maaser again, and you cannot believe the Am HaAretz if he claims he already gave it. However, on Shabbat, the Mishna rules that you can ask the Am HaAretz and he will be believed. The Gemara suggests two rationales for this – either Kavod Shabbat or Eimat Shabbat. Kavod Shabbat means that as we want people to have food to enjoy Shabbat, we have leniencies that make it easier to have food. Eimat Shabbat means that we assume the Am HaAretz is afraid to lie on Shabbat, so we will believe him. Rashi in Ketubot 55b offers the first explanation (he calls it Oneg Shabbat). Tosafot offer the second. The Yerushalmi itself assumes that you need both, and the only question is which reason is primary (see there for how it plays itself out). At any rate, the issue I was wondering about is whether Eimat Shabbat indicates that it is actually worse to do aveirot on Shabbat? The Rambam and others assume not – the notion that it is worse to sin on Shabbat is just a helpful misconception that unlearned people have that allows us to be assured they are telling the truth. Other Rishonim assume that even unlearned people wouldn’t assume that. Rather, as there is a unique connection between Maasrot and Shabbat, as once Shabbat has passed one can no longer snack (eat arai) from produce without being mafrish Terumot and Maasrot, they think it is worse to lie about Maaser on Shabbat. Continue reading Is It Worse to Sin on Shabbat than During the Week?

Some thoughts on Yom Tov davening

Seemingly, davening on special days should reflect our primary experience of the day. As such, on Shabbos we say “mekadesh haShabbos”. Similarly, on Rosh Chodesh we say “mekadesh Yisrael veRashei Chadashim”. On Rosh HaShana we both name God as king of the world and name the day (Yom HaZikaron, its biblical name) and on Yom Kippur we not only name the day and proclaim God king of the world but also celebrate his forgiveness. As such, one might have expected that for the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos) we would name the day at the end of the bracha in davening, the most important part of the bracha. However, we don’t. Instead, we have a generic label for all three holidays which seems to proclaim their sameness, not their uniqueness. Furthermore, the entirety of the davening for these three festivals seems the same. While we do (twice) name the specific festival we are celebrating, the wording of the prayers doesn’t distinguish between them at all. Why is this? It would seem that the primary of experience of Yom Tov (which our davening should reflect) is just that, a Yom Tov.

An interesting test of this premise could be the Gemara in Eiruvin 96a. There the Gemara states the (normative) opinion of Rabbi Akiva that one is exempt from the Mitzva of Tefillin on Shabbos and Yom Tov because Tfillin is an os, or sign (according to the Rid it is a sign that we keep the mitzvos) and so too Shabbos and Yom Tov are an os (from God to us). The Tosafos there ask whether this applies to Chol HaMoed because it features a very limited probation on melacha as well as the mitzvos which characterize the festival such as eating matzah or sitting in the Sukkah. They prove from a Gemara that seemingly there is no such exemption on Chol HaMoed. Seemingly, if these mitzvos were sufficiently a sign so as to preclude the need for the sign of Tefillin they would be more prominent in our davening as well. As such, it would seem that they form only a secondary layer to our experience of Yom Tov.

It should be noted that the Behag and the Zohar both state that Tefillin should not be worn on Chol HaMoed seemingly contradicting my analysis. Also I think that what I wrote here explains nicely the reason why Chol HaMoed our only mention of the chag features its particular description, either Chag HaMatzos or Chag haSukkos. On Chol HaMoed our primary experience of the festival is really through its own unique mitzvos and not through any issur melacha, and as such, that is what our davening reflects. Just some musings from Yom Tov

Halacha and Kabbala (Halachic Methodology 8)

Sorry for the hiatus.  Things have been a bit crazy.  The shiur and sources are available: here.

In this shiur I spoke about the role that Kabbalah plays in the Halachic process.  This question can be asked on several levels, but I focused primarily on the role of the Zohar and the Arizal in psak.  [One can also speak about the role of dreams, bas kols, etc.]

There are two extremes:  1) The view of the Chasam Sofer, that is traditional in many Ashkenazi circles, that Kabbalistic material does not affect Halacha.  He pithily calls any psak based on a synthesis Kilayim.  2) The view often cited of the Masas Binyamin, that the Zohar outweighs all post-Talmudic authorities combined.  The Ben Ish Chai and Chida, as well as many poskim of various Edot HaMizrach have similar sentiments about the Arizal.  One can in theory accept only one of these authorities in this way. Continue reading Halacha and Kabbala (Halachic Methodology 8)

What Tish’a Be’av Means To Me

I was recently listening to a shiur given by Rabbi J. J. Schachter asking what Tish’a Be’av means to us today given our difficulty in mourning for the Temple. He stated that with the foundation of the State of Israel and the seeming fulfilment of many of the prophecies about the messianic era, it has become very hard to mourn for what we lost. I was very bothered by this difficulty for a long time. Admittedly we still do not have a Temple, but in all honesty, how does that change my life? Then it occurred to me that this issue has already been addressed in a famous Chazal. The Gemara in Berachos 3a tells us about how Rabbi Yossi went into a ruin to daven. While he was in there he heard a voice cooing like a dove and sighing: “woe for the sons that for their sins I destroyed my house and I burnt my hall and I exiled them amongst the nations of the world.” Eliyahu appears and tells him that G-d says this regularly; G-d says these words three times each day. Furthermore, every time the Jews enter a synagogue and say the words “may His great name be blessed,” (words recited as a part of kadish) G-d nods His head and says: “praised be the king who is praised in such a fashion. What for the father who had to exile his sons? And woe unto the sons who were exiled from the table of their father.” This Gemara, for me, sums up nicely what is missing. Even when HKBH has given us so much, while the exile continues and there is still not a Temple, with all that comes with it, from the sacrifices to the Sanhedrin sitting in their rightful place, we can have a king, but we cannot have a father. We can still observe the halachah to the best of our abilities and be G-d fearing Jews, as well as live a good life. However, the sense of closeness, the deeply personal relationship is missing, Our father is very far and we can barely hear him. We can barely feel his presence. That is surely something to cry for.

First, we cry because we feel the distance in the lack of obvious miracles. For example, the yard of the Temple (the Azara) was never too small to hold the people within it. Similarly, the area of the Temple allocated for the slaughter and dissection of animals never smelled bad. Without obvious miracles we feel doubtful. Is G-d really there? Does he really care what we do?

The second factor which springs to mind is the Sanhedrin. Even if we were to reconstitute the Sanhedrin today in a genuine manner, they would not be sitting in their rightful place, in the Temple. As a result, they would not be able to function fully as a Sanhedrin. For example, we cannot pursue a capital case in the absence of the Sanhedrin in the Temple. Why is that? Presumably it is because even if we have a Sanhedrin, but they do not sit in the Temple, they are missing some element of divine inspiration which prevents them from adjudicating in the most serious cases. They are missing the (admittedly indirect) divine communication.

Tish’a Be’av is about much more than any earthy concern, even the building of the Temple. H’s about the relationship with G-d that we dait have. It’s about the relationship which we lost so long ago that we’ve forgotten what it ever was.

The Unique Character of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh

By Alexander Tsykin

The Gemara in Berachos 49b rules that if you forget to say ya’aleh veyavo in benching on Rosh Chodesh, you need not repeat benching. The Rashba comments that this only applies on a regular Rosh Chodesh, but if Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos you will have to repeat benching, even if you only forgot ya’aleh veyavo but not retzeih.

חידושי הרשב”א מסכת ברכות דף מט עמוד ב

והילכך ראש חדש שחל להיות בשבת כיון דעל כרחיה אכיל אפי’ טעה בשל ראש חדש בברכת המזון מחזירין אותו לראש הברכה דהיינו לנחמה, ואין צריך לומר בשלא פתח הטוב והמטיב שאומר ברוך שנתן, ואפי’ בכל ראשי חדשים נמי אומר ברוך שנתן.

While most Rishonim disagree with the Rashba, and his position is not accepted by Tur or Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 424), I think the theory behind his opinion may have resonance in our practice. Continue reading The Unique Character of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh