Tuesday, September 30, 2014

an interesting exception to the rule of safeik brachos l'hakeil

1. They must be gearing up for Yom Kippur in Iran, and boy, do they take maftir Yonah seriously there. The Times of Israel reports that the government of Iran hung a prisoner accused, among other things, of insulting the prophet Jonah.  (Don't worry, I'll eventually get to the point in the title of this post.)

2. The Rambam writes that if you blow tekiyos from a stolen shofar you are yotzei because “ain b’kol din gezel” – you can steal a physical instrument, but you can’t steal sound.  Ra’avad disagrees and quotes a Yerushalmi that there is no problem is mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira because of a gzeiras hakasuv: “Yom teru’ah” – m’kol makom.

The Rambam is predicted on two assumptions: 1) mitzvah haba’ah b’aveira is a psul in the chefza shel mitzvah; 2) the cheftza shel mitzvah when it comes to shofar is the sound that emanates from it. 

You could read the Ra’avad as rejecting the first assumption.  Even if only the kol is the cheftza shel mitzvah, the bottom line is that had the shofar not been stolen, there could be no kol.  It’s not the object that is the sole focus of mitzvah haba’ah b’aveirah – it’s the process of enabling the mitzvah performance.  So you need a gezeiras hakasuv to take off the psul.

But you can also read the Ra’avad as rejecting only the second assumption.  Mitzvah haba’ah b’aveira is a psul in the chefzta shel mitzvah – but the Ra'avad is arguing that the cheftza shel mitzvah is not the kol shofar, it’s the day itself!  Blowing is just a means to create a chalos of the day being a “Yom teruah,” not an end in its own right.  (See R’ Baruch Povarski’s Bad Kodesh #46 for a similar approach.)

3. There is an interesting machlokes haposkim among the sefardi poskim regarding what to do if one forgets and says “melech oheiv tzedaka u’mishpat” instead of “halemech hamishpat” during the aseres y’mei teshuvah.  The Mechaber paskens that one must repeat shmoneh esrei, similar to forgetting “hamelech hakadosh.”  The Rama disagrees and holds that since you also mention “melech” in the normal chasimah, that is sufficient.  Even though sefardim usually follow the Beis Yosef, here the Ben Ish Chai paskens like the Rama based on the rule of safeik brachos l'hakeil.  When in doubt (and the Rama's view is sufficient to create at least a doubt as to what the final rule shuld be) one does not repeat a bracha.

One of the themes that runs through R’ Ovadya’s teshuvos is his staunch defense of Maran, the Beit Yosef, and this case is no exception.  Let me say off the bat that R' Ovadya does not deny that in principle one can rule against Maran based on the rule of safeik brachos l'hakeil when there are other dissenting views.  However, this case is different.   R' Ovadya starts with the premis that if one omits or errs in a bracha of tefilah, the entire tefilah is invalid.  From here he creatively argues that if one has any doubt whether one is yotzei with the chasimah of "melech oheiv tzedaka u'mishpat," by simply continuing with the rest of shmoneh esrei one is risking reciting all the remaining brachos in vain as the entire tefilah is worthless if the chasimah is wrong.  The rule of safeik brachos l'hakeil must be weighed against the potential competing risk of bracha l'vatalah on all the remaining brachos.  In effect, the rule of safeik brachos l'hakeil does not apply to tefilah.

A full discussion of all the proofs and counterproofs is beyond what I can summarize here (see the two teshuvos in Yabia Omer vol 2 and in shorter form Yechaveh Da'at vol 1).  I will mention one question as it relates to inyana d'yoma.  The Mishna in Rosh HaShana (34) writes that brachos and tekiyos on a ta'anis are not me'akeiv, but are me'akeiv on Rosh haShana.  You need to say all of malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros to get credit -- if you only know one of the three, it doesn't do you any good.  Same with tekiyos: you need to blow tekiya, teru'ah, tekiya -- if you only know how to blow one and not the other, it does you no good.  On a ta'anis, however, even if you only know one of the six additional brachos that are added to the shmoneh esrei, you can say that one addition and omit the rest.  The MG"A (siman 593) extrapolates from here that the same is true of any brachos of shmoneh esrei except for those of Rosh haShana, i.e. if you know only some of the brachos of shmoneh esrei and not others, say what you know -- covering everything is not m'akeiv.  Clearly this MG"A flies in the face of R' Ovadya's assumption that missing a single bracha renders the entire shmoneh esrei and all subsequent brachos to be brachos l'vatalah.  Two possible defenses: 1) perhaps the MG"A's extrapolation from the additional brachos added to tefilah on ta'anis to the core 18 brachos is incorrect; 2) even if the MG"A is correct, perhaps he merely meant that there is some value as a kiyum of "rachamei" in reciting what you know, but even he would not consider that recitation to be a fulfillment of the requirement of tefilah.  Be that as it may, there is much more to the discussion.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

the most important thing to daven for

Slichos week(s) for me means suffering from a lack of sleep, so I haven't had energy to write, but I did want to wish everyone a kesiva v’chasima tovah and say thank you for those who take a few minutes to read, comment, and e-mail during the year and apologies to everyone whose e-mails I never got to or whose comments I may not have responded to or responded to inconsiderately.  

R’ Tzadok says “shanah tovah u’mesukah” = ain tov elah Torah, and when it comes to mesukah, what can be sweeter than learning?  We should all have a year filled with limud haTorah and the sweetness of Torah for ourselves and for all of Klal Yisrael.

Everyone is busy davening for health and parnasa and nachas from their children – banay, chayay, mezonay – but Rosh haShana is about much more than that.  The Sefas Emes explains that we use the simanim derech remez to ask for our needs not because these things are so important that we need extra reminders, but to the contrary, because aside for our tefilos that “m’loch al kol ha’aretz,” everything else is secondary.  It's like when you learn a pasuk and you the pshat is staring right at you, but derech remez there is a little hint to something else in there.  The really important think is to be mamlich Hashem, and like a derech remez along with that we can shlep in our own needs that can help accomplish that goal. 

We've been saying "achas sha'alti m'eis Hashem... shivti b'beis Hashem."  Is there a quota that says you can only make one request?  Why did Dovid haMelech say he asks for one thing and one thing only?  Tosfos (B.M. 106a d"h l'nisa) says a chiddush: if someone rents a field and plants barley instead of wheat, breaking his agreement with the owner, even if everyone's field is hit with a problem, e.g. a locust swarm ruins all the crops, the owner of the field can say to the person renting "Tough luck."  The owner has a dinei mamonos right to say to the person renting that he was davening for a good wheat crop and Hashem would have listened and saved his field -- it's only because the renter switched and planted barley that it was a total loss.  But, says Tosfos, if the owner doesn't specify what to plant, all bets are off.  Even if the person renting plants nothing, the owner should not have a claim because for Hashem to respond to the prayer to let whatever is planted succeed, some general all-purpose request, takes a miracle.  

So what are you going to daven for?  You have to be specific if you are not relying on a miracle.  Shoud you ask for your shares of Facebook to go up?  But then what if your real estate goes south?  Should you ask for the real estate to go up?  Then what is going to happen to the stocks?  So the Tiferes Shlomo tells us that Dovid haMelech had the answer.  If you want to choose one specific thing to daven for, "Achas sha'alti," it's gotta be "Shivti b'veis Hashem."  If you daven for that, then Hashem will give you whatever you need to make it happen, banay, chayay, mezonay.

My daughter is in Eretz Yisrael and I wanted to tell her something about Eretz Yisrael for the Yom Tov so I asked her why we say Aleinu in the middle of musaf.  Some people may see Aleinu and get excited thinking davening is almost over, but it's just a fake out and we have a long way t go.  Is there a shortage of tefilos that we have to borrow Aleinu from the end of davening and can't come up with something new for malchiyos?   

The theme of malchiyos is that Hashem should be king over the entire world.  “Tein pachdecha al kol ma’asecha…”  “Meloch al kol ha’olam…”  etc.  If we had completely conquered Eretz Yisrael and subjugated all the nations there when we first entered the land, that would have been it – geulah achieved, and Hashem’s malchus over the world complete.  Aleinu was composed by Yehoshua and it spells out exactly that plan: “L’takein olam b’malchus Sha-kai…” to bring about Hashem’s malchus.  Unfotunately, we didn't get the job done.  Therefore, says the Sefas Emes, on  Rosh haShana, the time of teshuvah, we revisit Yehoshua's plan when we come to say malchiyos.  We think about what we failed to achieve at the time of Yehoshua and hope that inspires us to work toward the goal now and establish Hashem and the one King over all. 

A few weeks ago R' Zev Leff was in America and he spoke to a women's group and said that the year Taf-Shin-Ayin-Hey spells the word tisha .  This year is like the 9th month and geulah is waiting to be born. Maybe it's also a remez to teshu'ah (you need a shuruk instead of the vav).  But what I am reminded of by the letters Shin-Ayin-Hey in the name of the year is something else: the gemara tells the story of R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya, who was told by a zonah that teshuvah was impossible for him, as he had sinned too much.  These words pierced his heart and he decided to repent.  He begged first the heavens and earth for help, then the planets and stars, but they all refused him.  Each one claimed that they had their own problems to deal with.   R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya realized that teshuvah was up to him alone, and so he put his dead down and cried till his soul departed.  A bas kol then declared that R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya had earned olam haba.  When Rebbi heard this story he cried and said, “Yeh koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas.”  Shin-Ayin-Hey = sha’ah.  When I hear Taf-Shin-Ayin-Hey I think of the sha’ah achas of R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya.

The simple pshat in the story is that in a single moment, sha’ah achas, a person can redeem his/her whole life.  R’ Tzadok haKohen tells us that the real meaning of a word is always found in the first place the Torah uses it.  What is the first place the word “sha’ah” appears in the Torah?  When Kayin tries of offer a second-rate korban, the Torah says, “V’el Kayim v’el minchaso lo sha’ah,” Hashem did not desire Kayim or his sacrifice.  Sha’ah means desire.  What Rebbi was saying is “Yesh koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas” – a person can acquire olam ha’bah if he/she just has even a little bit of desire to get there.

Kesiva v'chasima tovah to everyone!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

the 13th sefer Torah: a chiddush of the Rogatchover and more

1. Let me start with something about Eretz Yisrael: “…V’hasheivosa el levavecha b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha Hashem Elokecha shama.” (30:1)  The parsha says that we will all eventually do teshuvah and Hashem will respond by bringing us out of galus.  Yet a few pesukim later (30:8) the parsha again says, “V’atah tashuv v’shamata b’kol Hashem…”  Why does the parsha need to repeat the fact that we will do teshuvah?  It already told us that in the first pasuk?

Ksav Sofer answers that the first pasuk is speaking about teshuvah done in galus, “b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha”.  While that teshuvah is certainly significant, it is incomplete.  Only in Eretz Yisrael, when we live as a nation in our own homeland, when we can do all mitzvos, including the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, can we return to Hashem in earnest.  Therefore, after telling us that Hashem will bring us back to Eretz Yisrael, the parsha repeats again, “atah tashuv…”  Only then will our teshuvah be complete.

2. A few weeks ago I mentioned the Rambam regarding the mitzvah on a king to write a second sefer Torah (Melachim ch 3:

  בעת שיישב המלך על כיסא מלכותו, כותב לו ספר תורה לשמו יתר על הספר שהניחו לו אבותיו; ומגיהו מספר העזרה, על פי בית דין של שבעים ואחד.

I asked why the king had to copy his sefer Torah davka from the sefer in the azarah under the supervision of Beis Din haGadol.  If it was simply a matter of accuracy, then why apply that standard to only the second sefer of the king – wouldn’t we want ever sefer to be accurate?

The Rogatchover in our parsha comes to the rescue.  Rashi in our parsha quotes from Chazal that Moshe wrote 13 sifrei Torah just before he died.  He gave one to each sheiveit, and one was designated for sheivet Levi and stored in the aron.  The Rogatchover writes that the sefer stored in the aron was unlike the others: it was written with nikud, masorah, ta’amei keri’ah, including the nikud of the shem hameforash.  That was the special sefer from which the king’s torah was copied – a unique copy, different from all other seforim. 

Someone (if you comment anonymously I assume you prefer your name not mentioned) in a comment to the earlier post said that the R’ Soloveitchik quoted his father as saying that there was a special chalos to the sefer azarah, and as proof he cited Rashi (Baba Basra 14) who says that it was this sefer that was used for the hakhel ceremony and for the Kohen gadol’s leining on Y”K.  I wasn’t convinced at the time, thinking that Rashi was perhaps just telling us the metziyus, not a din.  Yet in light of the Rogatchover (who also makes note of this Rashi), it does seem that the sefer azarah was used deliberately and not just because it was the closest sefer torah available.

Why was Moshe and the Levi’im alone entrusted with this special sefer?  The Rogatchover explains that the Levi’im needed to know the ta’amei mikrah because the Levi’im were charged with the mitzvah of shirah, which involved singing parshiyos (e.g. parshas ha’azinu, see Rosh haShana 31).  Moshe himself was a Levi.  When Moshe received the Torah from Hashem, he heard it with the nikud and ta’amim. These were passed on to Klal Yisrael as torah sheba’al peh, but were inherent in the torah sheb’ksav of that 13th sefer.

The Rambam describes the hakhel ceremony as follows (Hil Chagigah ch 3):

 אפילו חכמים גדולים שיודעים כל התורה כולה, חייבין לשמוע בכוונה גדולה יתרה.  ומי שאינו יכול לשמוע--מכוון ליבו לקריאה זו, שלא קבעה הכתוב אלא לחזק דת האמת; ויראה עצמו כאילו עתה נצטווה בה, ומפי הגבורה שומעה--שהמלך שליח הוא

Clearly this was not your regular kri’as hatorah experience or just a kiyum of talmud torah.  The Rambam doesn’t discuss hakhel in hilchos talmud torah – he puts it in hilchos chagigah.  The king’s reading from the special sefer which contained the ta’amei kri’ah and points to the fact that the ceremony is in some sense a re-enactment of Sinai, the way Torah shebksav was delivered to Moshe. What does the Rambam mean when he says even if you couldn't hear you had to have kavanah -- what are you having kavanah on if you can't hear?  Perhaps the kavanah is for the melody, the ta'amaim, which in this case are part and parcel of the text being read, not just the icing on the cake.  Even if you can't make out the words, you can still follow the tune.  

I would say that hakhel is not about kri’ah, but about shirah.      

3. Coming back to the pesukim I started with, which speaks about the teshuvah we must do while in galus, why does the pasuk need to end with “…asher hidichacha Hashem Elokecha shamah?”  What does how we got here have to do with it?

R’ Tzadok haKohen answers that the first step in the teshuvah process is recognizing that we are not in galus by chance.  Hashem put us here to teach us a lesson.  Have we learned that lesson?

The Tiferes Shlomo, however, reads the pasuk a little differently.  “V’haya…,” when the day comes that we do teshuvah “b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha,” in the galus that we unfortunately find ourselves in, don’t think we will have to go it alone.  “Hashem Elokecha shamah” – Hashem is right there along with us.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

lessons from parshas bikurim for a year in Israel

On Monday night I had the zechus of bringing my oldest daughter to the airport to see her off to Israel for a year in seminary.  Parents and daughter are still adjusting.  : )  

The farmer who brings his bikurim to the Mikdash says, “Higadti hayom… ki basi el ha’aretz asher nishba Hashem Elokecha lases lanu…”  R’ Tzadok haKohen asks: “higadti” means “I have declared.”  Where is this declaration that the farmer made?  This is the first sentence he is saying to the Kohen – there was no declaration yet!

R’ Tzadok answers that it’s the act of bringing bikurim itself which is the declaration of belief that it’s Hashem who is in control and who brought us into Eretz Yisrael in fulfillment of his promise to the Avos.  By forgoing eating those first fruits, the most cherished part of the crop, and bringing them to the kohen, the farmer is making a statement.  Actions speak louder than words. 

Before each Shabbos the past few weeks I’ve posted divrei Torah that relate to Eretz Yisrael which I also share at home in an effort to impress on my kids the need for solidarity with Eretz Yisrael, to appreciate the importance of Eretz Yisrael, to realize that our future as a people is only in Eretz Yisrael.  But no matter how many divrei Torah they hear, no matter how often the message is repeated, it’s not the same as driving to the airport and saying goodbye.  Higadti hayom…”  Sending our bikurim, our children, to Eretz Yisrael,whether for a year or more than a year, says more than all the words can. 

The Sifri on our parsha writes, “Aseh mitzvah zu she’bishvila tikanes la’aretz,” do this mitzvah [of bikkurim] and it will allow you to enter Eretz Yisrael.  There is an obvious problem: the gemara (Kid 36) writes that the mitzvah of bikkurim can be done only after kibush v’chiluk, only after the land was conquered and divided among the shevatim.  That was 14 years after the people first stepped foot in the country.  How can the mitzvah of bikurim be the means by which we will be zocheh to enter Eretz Yisrael when the mitzvah can be done only once we are already there?

This Sifri is teaching us an important lesson.  What defines Eretz Yisrael is not geographical boundaries or population or establishing an autonomous Jewish government.  You can move out Kena’anim and fill whatever square number of miles you want with a Jewish population and set up a malchus and that still won’t make it Eretz Yisrael.  What makes it into Eretz Yisrael is the fact that it is the spiritual homeland and the spiritual center of Jewish life.  What makes it Eretz Yisrael is the farmer’s willingness to come to the Mikdash with those first fruits that he really wants to taste and give them up to acknowledge that it’s not about him – it’s the yad Hashem gives us the land and the crops and everything else that we have (based on R' Reuvain Katz's 'Dudai Reuvain').

My middle daughter remarked that the airport on Monday night looked like the annual Beis Ya’akov convention.   Baruch Hashem!  Going to Eretz Yisrael for a year has become the thing to do.  But therein lies the danger.  If it’s just about seeing the sights and hanging out with friends and going because it’s the thing to do, then your passport may be stamped Eretz Yisrael and your plane may have landed in Ben Gurion airport, but that’s not really where you are.   It’s only Eretz Yisrael if you bring bikurim, if you come to see the yad Hashem that makes it our spiritual homeland.  
I hope my daughter and all the others who are there take advantage of the opportunity.

Friday, September 05, 2014

the influence of the klal on the din of the prat

1) Ramban explains that the ben sorer u’moreh poses a threat to society and is therefore killed:
זה טעם וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו -
כי לא הומת בגודל חטאו, אלא לייסר בו את הרבים ושלא יהיה תקלה לאחרים:
וכן דרך הכתוב שיזהיר כן כאשר ימיתו לגדר כדי שתהיה במיתתם תקנה לאחרים, כי הזכיר כן בזקן ממרא (לעיל יז יג): לפי שאין בהוראתו חטא שיהיה ראוי למות בו, רק הוא להסיר המחלוקת מן התורה כאשר פירשתי שם (בפסוק יא), וכן בעדים זוממין (לעיל יט כ), שנהרגין ולא הרגו, וכן הזכיר במסית (לעיל יג יב), לפי שהוא נהרג בדבורו הרע בלבד אע"פ שלא עבד הניסת ע"ז ולא שמע אליו, אבל מיתתו לייסר הנשארים.

R’ Y.L. Chasman notes that we see an interesting chiddush: the din prati of the individual is influenced by the social context, by the klal.   Had the ben sorer lived on a desert island, his actions would not have warranted his being punished so harshly.  But a Jew is not alone on a desert island, certainly not in a spiritual sense. 

Chazal already read the smichus haparshiyos of yefat to’ar and the parsha of ben sorer as a warning that while one is allowed to take a yefat to’ar, eventually lust will turn to loathing and the offspring from such a union will become a ben sorer.  This poor guy thought he found a great wife, and then lo and behold, he ends up hating her.  He thinks to himself that all is not lost, at least maybe he will have some nachas from his children, and then that child turns into a bes sorer u’moreh and has to be killed.  What a horrible life!  Yet, says the Ishbitzer, that is not the end of the story.  The parsha continues with the issur of allowing a body to remain hanging, without proper burial and then with the parsha of hashavas aveidah, returning lost objects.  There is a smichas haparshiyos here as well.  That ben sorer that was just killed is not a worthless bum.  “Ki klilas Elokim taluy,” there is a neshoma nitzchis even in that ben sorer (see Seforno).  Ultimately, lo yidach, that neshoma will have a hashavas aveidah done with it and Hashem will rehabilitate it. 

I would put this Ishbitzer together with R’ Leib Chasman’s observation.  The midas hadin sometimes is a result of circumstance – society cannot tolerate a ben sorer u’moreh.  That judgment, however, does not reflect on the intrinsic worth of the neshoma of the ben sorer, which ultimately is open to being redeemed.
2) The Ohr haChaim haKadosh learns the parsha of hasahvas aveidah as directing us to look out for those souls who have become lost.  We’ve discussed on other occasions the idea that every individual corresponds to a letter in the Torah.  When Kayin is punished, he complains to G-d that, “geirashta osi m’al pnei ha’adamah.”  The Radomsker explains that Kayin was concerned that “osi,” his os, his letter, was being driven away.  Vayasem l’Kayis os,” Hashem reassures him and gives him his letter back.  The Radomsker reads the words in our parsha, “Vhayisa imach ad derosh achicha oso,” as saying that sometimes you have to hang on and wait until your brother comes looking for his os, and then, “v’hasheivoso lo,” you can return it to him. 
3) A few weeks ago I did a post (link) on why Hashem didn’t just ignore Bilam and let him say whatever he wanted.  If G-d didn’t want Bnei Yisrael to come to harm, then surely all the words of all the magicians in the world wouldn’t make a difference!  The Chasam Sofer offers an answer based on the words in our parsha (23:6), “V’lo avah Hashem Elokecha lishmo’a el Bilam…”  When you love someone, you don’t want to hear that person put down, even if you know the words are false.  Of course whatever Bilam said would have been for naught, but Hashem didn’t want to hear it.
4) There is a Midrash on the parsha of kan tzipor that raises the question of whether hatafas dam bris is required for a baby born with a milah.  What does this have to do with kan tzipor?  Ramban discusses the reason for the mitzvah of kan tzipor and writes that while al pi peshuto mitzvos are didactic in nature – they are about training us to behave in certain ways:
שאין התועלת במצות להקב"ה בעצמו יתעלה, אבל התועלת באדם עצמו למנוע ממנו נזק או אמונה רעה או מידה מגונה, או לזכור הנסים ונפלאות הבורא יתברך ולדעת את השם
Al pi sod there is something accomplished upstairs by on our actions.  Chasam Sofer says that if removing the orlah through milah was only about curbing ta’avar, what difference should it make if the orlah is cut off or one is born without an orlah?  The requirement of hatafas dam proves that there exists this element of sod below the surface, underscoring the Ramban’s point (see Ksav Sofer who offers a different answer). 
The Sefas Emes does see shiluach hakan as reflecting G-d’s rachamanus (he deals with the sugya in Brachos that seems critical of ascribing this as the ta’am hamitzvah in a few places, but I’ll leave that for another time).  The point of the Midrash is that G-d’s mercy does not come into the world on its own.  Just as G-d could just as easily have made a person born mahul, but he didn’t – there is a mitzvah to remove the orlah, and even when it’s already gone, a mitzvah to do a hatafas dam, so too, G-d puts a nest in the path of a person and allows him to do the mitzvah of shiluach hakan so that the of midah of rachmanus should be elicited by man’s actions, not just come about on its own.  We have to play a part in perfecting the world.
4) There is so much more to say on this parsha, but my fingers are tired.  Let me end off (as usual the past few weeks) with something about Eretz Yisrael.  The Midrash Tanchuma asks: it says in our parsha, “Zachor es… Amalek,” meaning the job is in our hands; it says in Beshalacha that “Ki machoh emcheh,” that Hashem will destroy Amalek.  How do you reconcile the two?  The Midrash answers that until the enemy attacked G-d’s throne, it was up to us.  Now that the enemy attacked the “kisei Hashem,” then Hashem himself steps into the fight.  What is the “kisei Hashem?”  The Midrash answers: Yerushalayim. 
We are not in this fight alone, and that's why I'm sure, even if it takes time, we are going to win.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

l'David Hashem ori -- why does it come after aleinu?

The shir shel yom comes before L’David Hashem ori v’yishi because of the rule that tadir always coming first.  I saw a clever question posed to R’ Chaim Kanievsky: l’David Hashem ori is said twice a day over a span of 50 days.  Each individual shir shel yom is said only once a day for about 50 weeks of the year (let’s put side leap years).  It therefore comes out that l’David Hashem is twice as tadir as any given shir shel yom!  R’ Chaim must have though this too clever by half and dismisses it.  Apparently we look at the fact that a shir shel yom, irrespective of the particular mizmor, is said daily every day of the year and that makes it more tadir.  (Not 100% clear why this is so pashut.  R’ Chaim Kanievsky responds typically with one word answers which I guess are enough if all you care about is halacha l’ma’aseh, but which are positively frustrating if you want to have any clue as to his thinking.)

During the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos many shuls will count sefirah and then conclude davening with aleinu.  The GR”A, however, switches the order.  If I recall correctly, R’ Soloveitchik somewhere suggests that the issue depends on whether aleinu is part of the normal seder of davening and it just happens to come out last, or whether aleiunu was instituted b’davka to serve as a concluding tefilah.  If it is part of the normal seder, then rules like tadir come into play and it should precede sefirah.  If it was instituted as a concluding tefilah, which seems to be alienu’s function at the conclusion of kiddush levanah or the seder of bris milah, then it always should come last.  (This would mean that even though your Yom Kippur machzor does not have aleinu after musaf, probably because it was put together by someone that did not have an afternoon break, the tefilah should conclude with aleinu before everyone walks out the door.  Mincha should then also start with ashrei.)  This chakirah might also explain the different minhagim (Ashkenaz vs Sefard) as to whether the shir shel yom comes before or after aleinu.   

Assuming all this is correct, you would expect that at least someone should have the minhag of saying l’David Hashem before aleinu at ma’ariv so that aleinu would be the last prayer said before walking out the door.  As I know, no such minhag exists.  [Update: Someone commented that the minhag in Mosdos Boston is to say it before aleinu.]  See here in the Shu”T Revivos Ephraim vol 1 siman 392 who raises the question. 

Some explain that the GR”A’s practice of saying aleinu before seifrah is not based on the rule of tadir, but rather is based on the fact that sefirah is not really part of the seder hatefillah at all – it’s a separate mitzvah that we happen for the sake of convenience to do after ma’ariv.  By way of analogy, if someone learns mishnayos after davening every day before they leave shul, their davening still ends with aleinu – they just happen to do another mitzvah afterwards that keeps them in shul a little longer.  I would like to suggest that the same sevara may be true of l’David.  It’s not that during Elul we change/extend the davening and give it a slightly different format than the rest of the year.  To the contrary, davening ends with aleinu or the shir shel yom as always.  However, the halacha comes and tells us during Elul not to run out of shul right after davening – stay for an extra moment and do another mitzvah by saying a perek of tehillim.  Asking where l'David fits into the seder hatefillah misses the point -- it's not part of the seder hatefilah, but is something above and beyond ordinary tefilah.  Just like sefiah comes after aleinu because it is a separate mitzvah, so too, the saying of l’David may fit that same pattern.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Elul -- time for change

Elul zman.  A few weeks ago Rabbi Rakkefet spoke in a local shul and he said that he remembers one of his Rebbeim saying that in Lita, once Elul came, even the fish in the sea were trembling.  Rabbi Rakeffet remarked that even in Israel, where he has experienced davening with all the chumros, with all the hiddurim, with all the intensity of yeshiva davening there, there’s still something missing – there is no trembling.  And us here in NY?  Kal v’chomer. 

But I don’t mean be down today, not when my trust in mankind to find its way to teshuvah has been rekindled by this article.  Rabbi Richard Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, someone who identifies as “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi,” and someone who for forty years (!) was a subscriber to the NY Times, suddenly woke up and realized the truth – the Times is “intellectually deficient, morally obtuse, and profoundly unworthy of its readers.”  I know… what took him so long to figure it out?  But I’m in a charitable mood and am inclined to say better late than never.  Those who are mystically inclined may believe those 40 years correspond to 40 days of yetziras ha’vlad for this new phase in Rabbi Block’s life.  I don’t know.  I pray that getting rid of the Times is the first step and next (hopefully it won’t take another 40 years) will come dropping the Reform before title rabbi and the affiliation as a Democrat.  Baby steps…

Rabbi Block learned something and changed. What have we learned from events this summer and what changes are we going to make as a result?  Or has a week or so of cease fire made you forget already?

My kids, like so many other kids, are returning to school today.  In Daniel Gordis’ book ComingTogether, Coming Apart: A Memoir of Heartbreak and Promise in Israel he recounts a conversation he had with a French school principal.  He asked the principal if he has made any changes to the message to students based on the rising anti-Semitism in France.  The principal answered:
“We’re teaching exactly what we’ve always taught them,” he responds.  “The parents here know our position.  There’s no future for Jewish kids in France.  Today it’s more clear.  But we’ve known it for a long time.  So we teach what we’ve always taught: graduate high school, and go to Israel.  Study.  Join the army.  Whatever.  But get out of here.  And go there.  It’s your only chance for a future.”

This conversation took place a decade ago – if this message was true then, how much more so now.  What’s changed is that now, the same message needs to be given to students not only in France, not only in England, not only in the Netherlands and Belgium, but also in Teaneck, in the Five Towns, in Monsey, in Boro Park. 

Waiting until they start smashing shop windows or firebombing shuls (lo aleinu) is waiting until it’s too late.  Events move too quickly.  If I would have told you 10 years ago that we would have a Secretary of State who refers to Israel as an “apartheid state” and a President more enraged at the State of Israel than at terrorists who behead people, an event he can only react to with canned phrases of sympathy before going off to a golf course, I guarantee you would have laughed in my face in disbelief.  Yet here we are.  And so many in our community are still willfully blind to the changes that have happened.  You still have writers in our Orthodox community penning op-eds lauding this President's support of Israel.  The blinders are glued on so tight... 

Change does not happen overnight.  It took Rabbi Block 40 years to get it.  I worry that we don’t have another 40 years to spare.