Parshat Bo: Kiddush Hachodesh and Kiddush Hazman

26 01 2012 presents this d’var Torah on Parshat Bo by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

In this week’s parsha we have the mitzvah of “hachodesh hazeh lachem”, the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh. This is actually the first mitzvah given to Am Yisrael as a nation. Rav Soloveichik zt”l would like to explain1 that this mitzvah represents the idea that the Jewish people have the koach, the ability, to be mekadesh the zman, to sanctify time. Bais Din has the ability to create real kedusha in the world. The Torah gives a date for the Yomim Tovim- Pesach, Succos, and Shavuos. However, Bais Din decides on which day the Yom Tov will fall, Bais Din has the authority to decide when Rosh Chodesh will be, and based on when Rosh Chodesh falls out, then the date of the month is established, and that determines when the Yom Tov will occur two weeks later. This is why in our davening we say “mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim”. Hashem is mekadesh Yisrael, and then Hashem, along with B’nai Yisrael are mekadesh the Yomim Tovim. We play a role in being mekadesh the Yomim Tovim. The Rav explained that it does not say “mekadesh Bais Din, v’hazmanim.,” rather mekadesh Yisroel v’hazmanim.” Why? The Bais Din Hagadol served two functions2. One is to be similar to the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of certain halachic shailas. And two, in certain areas the Bais Din Hagadol would act like the House of Representatives, as the representative of Am Yisrael. When B’nai Yisrael was mekadesh the chodesh, the Rav explained, they were acting on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael, and that is why we say “mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim”.

The truth is this is very important. Why is kiddush hachodesh the first mitzvah in the Torah? I have seen the following explanation. When Bais Din is mekadesh the Chodesh, they are actually creating real kedusha. As explained above, Bais Din decides when Yom Tov will occur. If for example, in a certain year, Rosh Chodesh Nissan could fall on either a Tuesday or Wednesday. And a Jew was planning on eating a bread sandwich on the third Tuesday morning of Nissan. Who decides whether that would be muttar or ossur? Not Hashem, but rather Bais Din! If Bais Din declares Rosh Chodesh on Tuesday, then it would be prohibited because the third Tuesday would be Pesach. If Bais Din, however, declares Rosh Chodesh on Wednesday, then it would be permitted. This is a powerful idea. Bais Din has the authority to create Kedushas Hayom. So too, when a Jew performs any mitzvah, he is creating real kedusha. Kedusha, ruchniyos, lasts forever. When a person performs a mitzvah, the impact, the schar, is forever. Each moment in time becomes an opportunity to generate nitzchiyus. Therefore, as opposed to time being the enemy, time is our friend. We control time. Every moment of time is a chance to produce nitzchiyus that will last forever. Therefore it is fitting that the first mitzvah given to us is the mitzvah that most powerfully expresses the idea that human beings can create kedusha in the world.

We mention zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as well. L’chorah, what does Yitziyas Mitzrayim have to do with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? The Rav explained3 this is the idea. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are yomim tovim which have dates in the Torah, but again, on which day the date falls out depends on the declaration of Bais Din regarding kiddush hachodesh. Bais Din plays a role also in the establishment of the kedusha of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and therefore, we mention zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as well.

The Rav went further. Why is it that we received this mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh in conjunction with leaving Mitzrayim? The answer might be as follows4. A slave lacks time awareness. A slave has no control over his own time. The Rav explains various dimensions that are part of the time experience: retrospection, anticipation, and appreciation. Anticipation “is man’s projection of visions and aspirations for the future. Appreciation embraces the present as precious possession, as inherently worthy.” The Rav explains that a slave lacks this. Time awareness is the singular faculty of the free man, who can use or abuse it. To a slave it is a curse or a matter of indifference. It is not an instrument which he can harness to his purposes. The free man wants time to move slowly, because presumably it is being employed for his purposes. The slave wants to accelerate time because it will terminate his oppressive burdens. Not being able to control time, the slave grows insensitive to it.

The Rav explains this is why a slave is patur from mitzvos aseh she’hazman grama, because he lacks time consciousness. Therefore, it fits beautifully that as we were becoming free men and leaving Mitzrayim, and we were achieving this newfound sense of time appreciation and time consciousness, specifically at that point we were given the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh. At that point we were given the opportunity and the obligation to be mekadesh the zman. Time becomes an instrument which we can harness for our purposes. The ability to be mekadesh the Chodesh, the ability to be mekadesh time, comes along with our freedom from slavery, and therefore, we received this mitzvah in conjunction with Yetziyas Mitzrayim.

Our challenge is to use our freedom properly. As the Rav explains, a Jew is supposed to use his time as an instrument, to harness it for mitzvos and kedusha. A person should fill his day with productive uses of his time5- Torah, avodah, chesed, productive exercise, making a parnassah, developing strong relationships with friends, etc… This is one of the lessons of Yetziyas Mitzrayim and one of the lessons of this week’s parsha. It is our obligation and our challenge to be mekadesh our time in our everyday lives just as the Bais Din Hagadol is mekadesh the Chodesh.

Good Shabbos,

B. Ginsburg


How Can I Make Tefillah Meaningful For My Daughter?

17 01 2012

Rebbetzin’s Perspective I: Class#7

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective


My ten year old daughter finds davening boring. I can’t think of ways to inspire her except to tell her that Hashem is waiting to listen to her tefilot (prayers)and that she can ask for anything she wants, like new shoes or clothes. Can you help me with more ideas?



If your daughter is not extraordinarily spiritual, like most ten year olds, she will not like davening. Accept this as appropriate for her stage of development.


Babies start out completely materialistic and as their spirits grow, they become more spiritually attuned. It’ll take a good two years for her to become more sensitized to prayer. All you can do during this time is make davening more appealing and inspiring by teaching her the tunes to some of the tefilot and helping her understand what the words mean. Sometimes communal davening with other people helps too.


Obviously she’ll need a lot of affirmation and appreciation, but ten year olds in general don’t daven with kavanah (intention), so don’t have unrealistic expectations.

The Women of Egypt and the Desert

16 01 2012
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

The Women of Egypt and the Desert The Gemara and the Midrashim call Paro’s daughter, Batya, meaning the daughter of Hashem. The yud and the heh at the end of her name spell the name of Hashem. With this name, He reveals Himself as above all reality but still within this world.

What inspired her to extend her hand when the basket holding baby Moshe was clearly beyond her reach? She couldn’t bear to see his suffering. She is an example of someone who exerted super human efforts and was helped from above. We learn from this episode that if we try our best, we often receive far more than anticipated.

Miriam was the leader of the Jewish women. Rashi says she taught the women Torah just as Moshe taught the men. Women have a different way of understanding and grasping Torah, hence they needed a woman to teach them. In the Zohar it says that parallel to the heavenly Torah academy for men, women will learn Torah from Miriam and Batya.

Miriam had enormous spiritual depth and vision. She waged battle against evil, which is what her name connotes. When she left Egypt there was so little time, yet she made sure to pack her instruments. Her faith was so strong that she was sure they would need it.

Tzipora was Moshe’s wife. Tzipora means a bird. Her nature was to soar above the mundane. She was the perfect wife for Moshe. They were both people of great spiritual transcendence similar to each other and dissimilar to other people. Moshe elevated himself to the point that he was in a state of continued readiness to receive prophecy. He had to separate from his wife.

Miriam couldn’t understand this because her level of prophecy was different than his. The conclusion Miriam reached wasn’t that Moshe’s prophecy was unique, but that there was something inherently lacking in his relationship. Consequently, she was stricken with tzaraat, a skin illness. Skin, the largest organ of the body, creates a separation between one person and another. When a person sees another in a diminished way, he becomes in a certain sense lifeless or unimportant.

Although Miriam clearly meant what she said for Moshe’s benefit, she was punished severely. Tzaddikim are penalized for infractions as fine as a single hair. Tzadikim desire closeness and an intense relationship with Hashem that isn’t blocked by any faults. Suffering purifies their flaws.

In the desert narrative, we read about Korach’s wife. Korach had enormous potential. He could have been the Levi Gadol. The Levites had to go through a unique ritual which involved shaving off all their body hair in order to give them a feeling of being one unit. Korach’s wife told her husband, “You’re a nobody, you’re just a number, there’s no difference between you and the next Levi. Look how Moshe turned you into nothing. He did it to keep his own position. Why are you putting up with this?” She egged him on which ultimately led to their doom.

In marriage, a husband provides and the wife must take what he gives and turn it into something greater. When the wife sees her husband trying to provide, she feels beloved. When he sees his will actualized in the highest sense, he feels respected. This is how a marriage grows. Korach’s wife corrupted her husband’s desire to be something. She is the epitome of an evil wife.

In contrast, On ben Pelet’s wife didn’t argue with her husband. She didn’t disparage his dreams and desires. Instead she said, “Either way, whether Moshe or Korach leads, you won’t come out on top anyway.” It was clear to him that his wife was acting with his best interests in mind. He went inside the tent and she sat in the doorway blocking the entrance. That is how she saved him.

Man is compared to dough. The soul is water and the body is flour. The body is the wife of the soul. Our yearning self which is called ruach is meant to rule the nefesh, the part of us that’s connected to this world. A good body takes what the soul offers, builds with it, and turn it into something. The soul says, “I want connection.” The body actualizes it by performing mitzvot. The body is meant to uplift the soul, to give it credence and credibility, not to disparage it.

We’ve looked at three paradigms of great women. The woman who is known for what her husband becomes, the woman who is known for what her children become, and the woman who is known for what she herself becomes.

The influence of careerism is touching the observant community. In today’s society, self-actualization is idealized. It’s wrong to say, “Who I am to my family has nothing to do with my true self.” From the Torah’s perspective, these three women are in fact one. Your imprint, who you are, shines through in how you succeed in affecting others.

Hilchot Shabbat: Havdala

13 01 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

There is a disagreement among the Rishonim whether havdalah is d’orayta or d’rabbanan. The majority of Rishonim rule that it is d’orayta. Are woman obligated in havdalah? Is havdalah a mitzvah of Shabbat or of motzai Shabbat?

Since women are obligated in the negative commandments of shamor, they are also obligated in the positive commandments of zachor. According to the Rambam, havdalah is part of the mitzvah of Kiddush and women are obligated. According to the Orchot Chaim, women are only obligated in kiddush. Havdalah is a time bound mitzvah of motzai Shabbat from which woman are exempt. Based on this, the Rama rules that women should not make Havdalah for themselves.

Some Rishonim argue that although havdalah is d’rabbanan, women are still obligated because it was meant by the sages to be a part of the mitzvah of kiddush. The Mishna Berura cites the Bach who asks, if the Orchot Chaim is correct and woman aren’t obligated why can’t they make Havdalah anyway? In fact the Magen Avraham and the Bach rule that women can make havdalah. How then do we understand the Rama?

With havdalah there’s no maaseh (action). The blessing itself is the mitzvah. Therefore the Rama rules that women shouldn’t say it. Preferably, a man should intend to recite it for a woman when he says havdala for himself. The man should not say havdalah earlier because if in fact a woman isn’t obligated, he may be reciting it in vain. In principle, a woman is obligated and therefore if there’s no man the woman should say it herself.

The Biur Halacha questions whether a woman should say the blessing of Bori meorei haish since it is essentially a mitzvah of motzai Shabbat which women aren’t obligated in. Therefore, it may be an interruption between Borei Pri Hagefen and Havdalah. The common practice is that women do say Borei meorei haish.

There’s a Kabbalisticsource that mentions that women shouldn’t drink the wine of havdalah. Rav Meltzer explains that Borei meorei ha’aish may qualify as an interruption before Borei pri hagefen. Therefore, a woman shouldn’t drink the wine. However, the custom is that if she makes Havdalah for herself, she does drink from it.

Parshat Shemot: Fundamentals of Hashem’s Chesed

12 01 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

The midrash says that at the time of the exodus, the Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity. They didn’t deserve to be redeemed. Yet Hashem appeared to Moshe and said He would take them out of the land. Rabbe Yochanan maintains that the angel Michael was the angel who delivered G-d’s message because he represents chesed (kindness). Rabbe Chanina disagrees and says it was the angel Gavriel who signifies din (judgment).

The Shem Mishmuel explains that the Jewish people were in fact redeemed with both chesed and din. They didn’t deserve to be saved. Hashem acted beyond logic with beneficence, much like a father’s instinctual love for his son. Although the angels didn’t protest during theexodus, they did put up an argument at the Red Sea. At that time, chesed transformed into din. The angels objected, “Both the Jews and the Eyptians worship idols, why are you preferring the Jews?” The Jews needed to be worthy of the miracles, and indeed Hashem waited until they jumped into the sea before he split the waters. Once they deserved the miracles, the attribute of din was activated in their favor.

Even chesed has to have some reasonable basis. Otherwise it’s misplaced. The Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity. Yet at their deepest core, they were still holy. Hashem understood that this inner spark would emerge after the redemption. In exile, they were spiritually and physically enslaved. All they could think about was surviving. Therefore, Hashem sent the angel Gavriel who symbolized strict justice to punish the Egyptians. When the Jews could finally breathe freely, their latent holiness rose to the surface.

Hashem created the world with a combination of din and chesed. At first there was din. Hashem put limits upon himself (tzimzum) to make space for the world to come into existence. Then he poured forth his chesed. Similarly, the exodus was a kind of creation ex-nihilo. A holy nation arose from a band of shattered slaves. Chesed, Hashem’s generosity, took us out of the 49th level and brought us to Sinai.

The Shem Mishumel notes that the exodus will be a model for the future redemption. It too will be a melding of chesed and din. Hashem waits for us to be worthy. When we repent, we will be redeemed immediately.

When Moshe asked Paro to release the Jews, he increased their suffering. Moshe complained to Hashem, “Why did you send me?” Hashem responded enigmatically, “Now you will see that Paro will send them out and I will redeem them.” Why did He send Moshe on a failed mission?

When Moshe first came, the Jews’ hopes were raised. They began to think that perhaps they would be redeemed. But when Paro rejected Moshe’s request, they reverted back to their old ways. There was a seeming accusation in heaven. Perhaps the Jews weren’t worthy to be redeemed. When Moshe said, “You are preventing the nation from serving Hashem,” Paro countered, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?” Then the mission changed from redeeming the Jews to defending the honor of Hashem’s name. This was the basis of Hashem’s chesed.

This will also be the foundation of the future redemption. It may very well be that the Jews won’t deserve to be redeemed, but Hashem will perform miracles for the sake of His name. At the end of Avinu Malkeinu, we say “Asei imanu tzedaka va’chesed.” Please perform for us justice and kindness.

Netivot Olam: Suffering In This World #12 part 2

9 01 2012
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

In Masechet Brachot, Reish Lakish says, “When a person busies himself with Torah, yissurim separates from him. In the evening the bird can go up.” This refers to Torah which lifts up one’s eyes. “And there is no evening like suffering,” as it says, “In the darkness of night.” Yissurim comes as a result of lack. It is meant to purify and galvanize change. Torah can elevate a person to the point where yissurim have no dominion over him. Torah is wholeness.

Rav Huna says in the name of Rav, “If a person sees yissurim coming upon him he should examine his deeds.” If he doesn’t find any personal flaws, he should assume it is because of bitul Torah. If it is not bitul Torah, then it is out of love, (not lack) as it says, “Hashem rebukes those whom he loves.” He wants to draw us closer, so He afflicts us. A person could suffer and not gain anything. He could choose to learn nothing and blame it all on external causes. Alternatively one can grow and view it as a catalyst for change.

Rav Yaakov Bar Idi and Rav Chana bar Chanina differed on their view of suffering. One said that any suffering that prevents a person from learning Torah cannot be yissurim shel ahavah (suffering out of love) for how can you turn someone on and then take away his ability to act upon it? The other says that if a person can still pray to Hashem and achieve deveikut (connection), it’s still yissurim shel ahavaha. Rav Chiya and other opinions maintain that even suffering where one cannot pray is an expression of Hashem’s love.

Suffering can be extrinsic in that it is a means towards actualizing potential. It also works intrinsically by purifying the body so that the soul becomes the person’s primary identity. This is learned from the law of shen v’ayin. A non-Jewish slave who loses a tooth or eye must be freed. If a slave can redefine himself as a free person through minor suffering, how much more so can a person whose entire body is afflicted with suffering become a different person.

The Torah commands us to add salt to a sacrificial offering. This is called brit melach. Similarly, yissurim are also called a covenant. Just as salt enhances food, yissurim sweeten sin by cleansing and purifying the person. Suffering humbles the body and atones for sins. It drives a person to begin thinking beyond physicality.

When a person cannot find any sin, it is bitul Torah, meaning he has unfulfilled potential that must be brought out. Yissurim puts a person on the fast track drawing out his untapped strengths.

Hashem doesn’t beat dead horses. There’s a vast difference between what a refined person and what a vulgar person can learn from suffering. For a tzaddik, it’s a sign of love. Yissurim expel the material side of a person and propel him higher.

Nobody longs for what they have. We long for what we don’t have. In order to generate this yearning, Hashem created barriers to prevent us from being who we are. When things are easy for us materially, we don’t think about spirituality because we are so involved in our physical self-fulfillment. Therefore, Hashem creates obstacles in the form of suffering to propel us to higher levels of spiritual yearning.

What is the proper balance of trusting Hashem and being responsible?

8 01 2012

Achieving Balance #3

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Achieving Balance: Class#3


What is the proper balance of trusting Hashem and being responsible?  According to the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” most things are preventable and can be controlled, as long as you are smart, think ahead, and prepare for different situations. I trust Hashem, but I have so much to work on when it comes to my own actions, that I can’t write off everything that happens as His decision, because I could have really done better.  Is this correct?




You can do everything right. You can plan ahead, define what your goals are, take steps to work towards it, and consult, but you will not necessarily get the results you anticipated. You can follow the “seven habits,” but unlike what the book espouses, it doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome.


On the flipside, if you do everything wrong, your results will most likely be influenced by your misguided decisions. Hashem created the world in a way where he gives us what we need if our hands are outstretched to receive. The balance of hishtadlut (effort) and bitachon (trust) is doing what you can and trusting Hashem. It’s opening your hands to receive, but realizing that ultimately Hashem will give you what’s good for you. However, no outside force can change anything except Hashem Himself.

Practical Judaism II: Mizmor L’Todah part 2

8 01 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Ari Jacobson 

Does one recite Hagomel after a flight? Some authorities rule not to say the bracha, because flights have become routine. Others say that if one flies over an ocean or desert then one should recite it. Rav Moshe Feinstein held that one says Hagomel after every flight because it is an act of overcoming nature. Other poskim disagree. When there’s a questionable situation, one should receive an aliyah and have in mind while answering to Barchu, to thank Hashem. Hagomel should be recited in the presence of a minyan, ideally in front of a sefer Torah, while receiving an aliyah. The Chasam Sofer explains that the bimah represents the altar and itis as if one offers a korban todah.

Several authorities say women are also required to say Hagomel. Some rule that one man and eight other women are enough to count as a quorum for this. Others maintain that ten men are necessary. Some authorities worry about modesty issues and rule that the men should be relatives. Others say she should recite the blessing from the women’s section. Some rule that because Hagomel generally requires a minyan of men, the mitzva requirement was never imposed on women. Different communities have different customs. However everyone agrees that a woman can say Mizmor L’todah.

There’s a dispute among the Rishonim as to whether one only recites Hagomel when one is saved from the four scenarios Some authorities rule that for a different hazardous situation, the blessing should be recited without shem u’malchut. Ashkenazim follow the view that any dangerous predicament requires Hagomel. Sefardim don’t say the blessing as frequently, following the view of the Shulchan Aruch. However in a situation where one is unsure if Hagomel is required, one can have special concentration in the daily recital of Mizmor l’todah.

In the future, all the various songs of praise for Hashem will be nullified except Mizmor l’todah. We say it every day because in reality we should be thanking Hashem all the time for the natural order of the world. It is recited standing up and with great joy as if one is offering a thanksgiving offering.

On Shabbat and Yom Tov we don’t say Mizmor L’todah because korbanot nedava (voluntary sacrifices) were not brought then. It is also not recited Chol Hamoed Pesach and Erev Pesach because the korban todah wasn’t offered on these days. Of the forty loaves that had to be brought, ten of them were leavened bread, which couldn’t be offered on Pesach. An offering that would have to be burnt earlier than usual was not brought either. Therefore, we don’t recite Mizmor L’todah on Erev Yom Kippur because the thanksgiving offering could not be eaten on Yom Kippur evening