Eating Before Davening

30 12 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Ari Jacobson

Eating Before Davening

The Gemara teaches us, based on the verse in Vayikra, “Lo tochlu al hadam,” that one may not eat or drink before Shacharit. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch writes that one who does eat is referred to in the verse, “You have cast me behind your back.”   In Hebrew, the word gabecha (back) can be interchangeably read as geyecha (arrogance). Tending to one’s own physical needs prior to acknowledging the source of one’s sustenance is haughtiness in one of its highest forms.


The accepted ruling in the Shulchan Aruch is that one may drink water before praying. Similarly, someone who is very weak and will be unable to have minimal concentration may eat before davening. However, at the very least, one should recite birkot hashachar beforehand. The majority of halachic opinions permit drinking coffee or tea if a person needs it to concentrate in prayer. The Mishna Berura prohibits adding milk or sugar as one may only drink what is minimally necessary. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach writes that in our times when most people can afford milk and sugar and are generally accustomed to it daily, it is permitted. Going beyond this and having a cappuccino or a double vanilla shake is prohibited.  The Kitzur writes further that someone who is old or weak and cannot wait till the end of davening on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when the prayers are lengthy, should daven Shacharit at home, make kiddush and eat something, and then go to shul for Mussaf.


How do these halachot apply to women? The Mishna writes that women are obligated to pray because they need Hashem’s mercy too.  The Rambam holds that the Torah obligation of tefilah is to pray once a day in any language as long as it includes praise, supplication, and thanks.  The specific text and times are d’rabanan. The Ramban disagrees and states that tefilah on a daily basis is completely d’rabanan. Only in times of distress does prayer becomes a Torah obligation.

The Magen Avraham notes that women in ancient times who would pray a tefillah in their own language were relying on the Rambam. Some modern day poskim continue to argue that women can fulfill their obligation with a short prayer that includes praise, supplication, and thanks. Others say that they must recite the Shemonei Esrei of Shachrit and Mincha daily. The consensus among all poskim is that women are exempt from Maariv because this was originally voluntary for men.


Rav Shlomo Zalman rules that the halachot of eating before davening apply equally to women.  Therefore, a woman must pray before eating unless she is weak or infirm, in which case a man would be exempt too. On Shabbat, a woman should daven whatever prayers she is accustomed to praying and then make Kiddush.


Many times, women who are busy with their family may make it to shul late on Shabbat. If a woman arrives when the tzibbur is already davening Mussaf, she should daven Shacharit first. Rav Akiva Eiger writes that women may be exempt from Mussaf. This is because even though Shacharit and Mincha have an element of sacrificial services, they are mainly an expression of compassion.  However, Mussaf strictly corresponds to sacrifices. Since women did not contribute to the half shekel and did not participate in the sacrifices, there is a machloket whether they are obligated to pray Mussaf at all. Therefore, for women, Shachrit takes precedence over Mussaf.

Tomer Devora-Examples of G-dliness

22 12 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

Examples of G-dliness

The sefer, Tomer Devora, is based on a verse in Micha, “Mi Kel komocha..”-Who is like you Hashem.  It describes how man should adopt Hashem’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, transforming himself from a mere human to a G-dly individual. This class focuses on the middah of chesed as expounded further in the verse, “Ki chofetz chesed hu..”-Hashem desires chesed.

In the heavens above, there are angels whose sole purpose is to receive and present the chesed of the Jewish people to Hashem, particularly in a time when they are not following the Torah. This chesed intercedes for them and sweetens the judgment. Even terrible sins punishable by death, merit forgiveness through chesed. Why is chesed so significant in the eyes of Hashem?

The Michtav M’Eliyahu writes that giving is the foundation of all mussar and machasava. It is a prerequisite for emunah and avodat Hashem. Chesed is a form of giving. When a person gives of himself, he indicates that he is investing in something spiritual and eternal. The Jewish nation distinguish themselves as being merciful, modest, and kind. We do not pride ourselves on our physical prowess or intelligence.  The Torah tells us “Vahavata l’reicha komocha…” Ahava comes from the root word “hav”-to give. We indicate our love by giving of ourselves. Our goal should be to give without expecting anything in return. Even those who hurt us, should be the recipients of our chesed. This is how Hashem acts with us and this is our basis for emunah.

The text in Micha reads further, “Yashav yerachameihu..”-Hashem is merciful to those who return. When one person sins against another, the level of love and respect for the other person can never be the same. In contrast, when a person does teshuva, he becomes even closer to Hashem. This is the level we should strive to achieve with those who wrong us. While a tzaddik can have a relationship with Hashem, a baal teshuva is in the category of a servant who is even closer to his Master.

The Midrash asks, why is Magen Avraham called Avraham’s bracha? Does it not say Elokei Avraham? Avraham brought Hashem’s existence into the world with his actions. Similarly, when we emulate Hashem’s middot, our divine like aspect comes to the fore. We glorify Hashem with our righteous actions and bring His presence into the world. May our efforts to perfect our inner selves sanctify Hashem’s name and bring atonement for all of Klal Yisrael.

Contemporary Halacha-Meat & Fish

19 12 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Meat and Fish

Rav Kana taught that if one bakes bread in an oven with roasted meat, one cannot eat this bread with dairy. Further on the Gemara  in Pesachim writes that Rava B’Parziska prohibited consuming fish that had been roasted in an oven with meat, together with dairy. Mar B’rav Ashi  adds that one should not even eat the fish itself because it causes bad breath and tzoraat.

The Shulchan Aruch develops this halacha further and writes that not only may one not eat fish roasted in an oven with meat, but one should refrain from eating fish and meat altogether. The Rema notes that b’dieved if one already cooked fish and meat together it is permitted. This is corroborated by the Shach. The Beer Sheva disagrees and rules that even b’dieved one may not eat it since this is a question of danger. The Chasam Sofer notes that the Rambam did not cite this din at all. He postulates that the case mentioned in Gemara may have referred to a particular fish, or that human nature has changed since ancient times and the danger referred to no longer exists. Nevertheless the Chasam Sofer rules that “Minhag avoseinu k’din“-the customs of our forefathers are like law and therefore we do not mix fish with meat.  However we cannot say that the laws of meat and fish are stricter than the laws of meat and dairy.

The Shulchan Aruch writes further that one should wash ones hands and eat something to wash out ones mouth between fish and meat because it can lead to tzoraat, and “Sakanta chamura m’issura“-Matters of danger are more stringent than prohibitions.  The Magen Avraham disagrees and notes that we find many examples in Gemara where Chazal tells us about dangers which are not found today. This is because our natures have changed and we dwell in different lands. Therefore there is room to be more lenient here. The Mishna Berura rules that we follow the Rema who holds that one does not need to wash ones hands between fish and meat. The Rema writes that fish and meat are only a problem when they are cooked together however it is still better to eat or drink something in between courses. The widespread practice in Klal Yisrael during the Shabbat meal is to drink liquor between fish and meat.

Chazal categorized poultry the same way as meat with regard to the laws of meat and dairy. Therefore the halacha would be the same in regard to fish and meat too. Some Sefardic Poskim prohibit consuming fish with dairy. Rav Akiva Eiger notes that there is a practice to refrain from drinking water after fish because that too is a danger. Indeed as noted, the custom is to drink schnapps. Perhaps the minhag to say L’chaim after drinking an alcoholic beverage stems from this idea.

Living a Torah life means living a measured, focused, existence. There is meaning and purpose behind everything we do.  May our studying and knowing the halachot well help us reach our ultimate purpose.

When Its OK to Bend the Truth

16 12 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Permissible Falsehood

There is a common practice for sales people to tell customers the advantages of a product while ignoring its drawbacks. Torah law demands integrity; covering up a flaw is deceitful and forbidden. The gemara in Bava Metzia tells us that a person may not ask a seller the price of an item if he has no intention to buy it. This is onaat devarim (hurting with words). Similarly, asking to see a product in a store when you intend to buy it on the internet at a cheaper price is prohibited.


The Torah says, “Cursed is the person who leads a blind man astray.” This applies to anyone who takes advantage of another person’s naiveté or lack of knowledge.  All of us have our expertise and blindness in certain areas. When we engage in geneivat daat (deceiving the mind), we incur a curse upon ourselves. Lying in the courtroom is not only a violation of one of the Ten Commandments, but is a desecration of Hashem’s name. The Torah writes, “Tzedek tzedek tirdof. Pursue justice.” The repeated word teaches us how critically important justice is.  Thwarting justice undermines society which is a severe crime.


There are cases in halacha when it is permitted to bend the truth.  When delivering bad news to a patient, a doctor should be careful not to deprive the person of all hope. On the other hand, if the patient is in advanced stages of a terminal illness, then it would be foolhardy and inappropriate for the doctor not to apprise the patient at all. One may lie to a poor person to get him to accept charity or to save someone from embarrassment. The gemara brings many instances of this. One example is the story of Shmuel Hakatan who confessed to something he did not do to save someone from humiliation.  Additionally, the gemara writes that one may lie in three instances: to protect someone from being exploited, for reasons of modesty, and in order to conceal matters of intimacy and personal life. In general, exaggeration should be avoided, but if you are using it to make a point and people will not take it literally, it is permitted.


The prophet Yishayahu tells us, “Tzion b’mishpat tipadeh. Zion will be redeemed in the merit of justice.” May our efforts to live with truth and integrity bring the redemption closer.

Parshat Vayigash: Two Forms of Leadership

9 12 2010

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Vayigash: Two Forms of Leadership

It is written, “Within a person’s heart there are very deep waters, and a wise person knows how to draw upon these waters.” Both the Zohar and the Midrash connect this verse to the confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda. The Midrash notes that the “wise person” refers to Yehuda, who knew how to draw the deep waters out of Yosef. The Zohar disagrees and writes that it was Yosef who drew the waters out of Yehuda. Both Yosef and Yehuda emphasized a different aspect of gadlut, which led to a resolution of the conflict between the brothers.


The Midrash quotes a verse in Navi, “Days will come when the plow will meet the harvest.” The plow refers to Yehuda, the heart of Israel, while the harvester signifies Yosef, the mind of Israel. Plowing the ground involves softening it for planting. This represents the tender, caring heart, which not only feels the pain of others, but can accept the light of Hashem. Yehuda symbolized emotion. He was the progenitor of King David, the epitome of the kind, feeling heart. Tehilim, his gift to us, is full of expressions of extraordinary closeness to Hashem.


In contrast, Yosef represents the reaper. Harvesting creates separation. For human intellect to be perfect it needs to be detached from emotion. When studying Torah, we must follow its logic where it takes us without letting emotions blind us. Yosef was the paragon realist. His iron logic kept him loyal to his brothers all through the long years as he waited for their moment of teshuva.


The Shem Mishmuel asks why Yehuda waited to make his impassioned plea until after Yosef expressed a desire to take Binyamin away.  Yehuda knew the prophecy that the Jews would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years. When the brothers were caught, Yehuda thought they would now be punished in the worst possible way to atone for the sale of Yosef. However, when Yosef singled out Binyamin, he realized this must be the diabolical plan of an evil king, because Binyamin had not been involved in the sale. It was then that Yehuda offered himself as a slave.  When Yosef saw Yehuda’s display of emotion he had to reconcile.


Both mind and heart are fundamental expressions of serving Hashem, namely the intellectual endeavor of studying Torah and the emotional service of tefila and performing mitzvot.  Chazal tells us that the Jewish people are merciful, modest, and kind. Yet we are stiff necked people, tenacious in upholding the truth, and stubborn in our beliefs. How does one meld the seemingly contradictory qualities of softness of heart and azut d’kedusha, iron-tough Jewish commitment? We are all a combination of Yosef and Yehuda. The greatness of Torah living is knowing when to employ our kindness to help others, and when to activate our strength to preserve our identity.  May we travel the straight path of Torah with hearts full of faith.

Parshat Vayigash – Confronting Ourselves

8 12 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

When Yosef imprisons Binyamin, Yehuda attempts to arouse the compassion of Yosef by depicting the unbearable pain their father would experience upon hearing the news. Yosef then reveals himself by declaring, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” The verse reads, “His brothers could not answer him because they were disconcerted.” Why did Yosef ask if his father was still alive if Yehuda had just spoken of him? The Midrash says, “Woe to creation on the day of judgment. Woe to creation on the day of admonishment.”

The Bait Halevi explains that there are two distinct days, the Day of Judgment and the Day of Admonishment. When the soul reaches the world to come after 120 years, he will be shown a film of his life split in two screens. One screen will ask him why he did
not give charity. The soul will answer he did not have any money. The other screen will show him buying a fancy chandelier and flying away on an expensive vacation. The soul will be pitted against itself. You may be able to answer anything in the world but you
cannot justify your own self. This is what happened with the brothers. They attempted to arouse Yosef’s mercy out of concern for their father but when Yosef confronted them they had nothing to say. They realized the magnitude of their misdeed and how they
had hurt their father with the sale of Yosef. It was a moment of truth. Our moment of truth awaits us too. Let us be sure to repent
before it is too late.

Career or children?

2 12 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.comRebbetzin's Perspective Class 10



Although children did not come easily to me, thank G-d I now have three school age children. Sometimes I can’t help feeling like I’m neither here nor there – not really immersed in child-rearing to the exclusion of everything else, but not entirely free to go back to school to pursue my interests. I can only imagine how betrayed women who planned careers or employment as prospective mothers and were not yet fortunate enough to get married and/or have kids must feel!



It seems like you only see two possibilities of fulfillment. One is full time employment in a demanding career, and the other is full time mothering. However, there are many other possibilities and ways to spend time that are fulfilling and interesting. When a person’s basic physical needs are met, people usually pursue aesthetic pleasure. After that, people search for relationships.  Think about the individuals you like the most, ask yourself why you like them. The answers are always spiritual. You can’t weigh loyalty or measure kindness. Feeling loyal, kind, and positive when you are with the person makes you like them even more. This is called spiritual bonding, and it is a very deep pleasure.


You need opportunities for spiritual bonding. It can take place within your family, through tefila, through chesed, or by taking a course which can equip you to help others.  If Hashem gave you the ability to do more, than by all means do more. Some single or childless women may feel betrayed, but the proper response is, “This is where I am supposed to be and I am going to find the good in it.”


The Sefat Emet explains that when Hashem told Avraham, “Lech lecha,” he did not tell him where to go because he wanted to bring Avraham to the maximum level of bitul haratzon, negation of his own will. Hashem gave him the opportunity to say, “I will go where you will lead me, wherever that may be.”


Everyone is told, “Lech lecha,” to go to Eretz Yisrael, in a theoretical sense, the place of bitul haratzon. Ask yourself, “How can I do Hashem’s will without questions?”  By giving you time and space, Hashem is saying, “Go where I am leading you.”  Don’t waste this time. Fill it with meaning and depth by nurturing your relationship with Hashem and giving to others in a way that will expand your inner self.