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

Simcha and Bitachon

8 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Simcha and Bitachon

What does bitachon really mean and how do we acquire it?

You cannot have trust without faith as it says, “Those who know Your name trust in you.” What is Hashem’s name? The word Hashem literally means, “the name” but here it refers to the letters, “yud, keh, vuv, keh,” which have enormous symbolic value. They are a contraction of the time senses-hayah hoveh, v’yiheh-He is, He was, and He will be. Hashem is reality. He is the source of all being. Unless a person internalizes that, he cannot have bitachon. People tend to take Hashem out of their lives. They’ll say, “I trust Hashem but I have to take care of this myself,” or “For this I have to be a realist.” Knowing Hashem means including Him in every moment.

The Maharal writes that the letters of Hashem’s name tell us about Him. The letter yud hints to His creativity. It is above the line which tells us that He is completely one and not a part of this world. His creativity isn’t defined by His having created. He is creative wisdom. The letter Hey is meant to suggest that He made a world with the possibility of descent. Hashem from his unknowable unity brought about this world and He is here at the moment in our lives. The letter vav, like a pillar, is a connective letter. A pillar can measure a million feet tall, yet the top and bottom still remain linked. The vav is completely straight which symbolizes Hashem’s unwavering constancy. Connecting to the meaning of Hashem’s name is what having emunah is about. When you know Hashem’s great name and have a sense of His presence, creativity, and unity, you develop sensitivity towards His greatness and power. Then your whole heart will trust Him. Faith will not automatically breed trust. Emunah is knowing Hashem, by opening your heart and mind. It is the source of the whole Torah. Therefore the first commandment is “Ani Hashem”-I am Hashem.

Every so often, I’ll meet someone who will say, “I don’t believe in Hashem.” And I’ll answer, “The Hashem you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.” People have infantile pictures of the Creator as the big guy in the sky. This is not emunah. Emunah is cultivating an idea of Hashem who is unknowable, who created the world, who is connected and involved in everything that happens to us moment by moment.

Jewish Names

28 06 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Jewish Names Parshat Shemot begins, “V’ele shemot bne yisrael habaim mitzrayama“-These are the names of the people of Israel who came to Egypt. The Baal Haturim notes that the first letters of this verse spell out “sheviye“-imprisonment. Even when the Jews were imprisoned in exile, they stood out. They maintained their identity by keeping their Jewish names, language, and dress.

Tosfot is bothered by a question raised by Rabbeinu Tam in Gittin. An apostate Jew wanted to give his wife a divorce. Could his gentile name be included in the get since he was no longer known by his Jewish name? Rabbeinu Tam replied, chalila to include in a get, a religious document, a non-Jewish name. Similarly the Maharam Shick writes in a teshuva in Yoreh Deiah, that it is a Torah prohibition for a Jew to use a non-Jewish name. Having Jewish names helps bring the redemption closer. How can we go the opposite way? We must be proud to identify ourselves with our Jewish names. For this reason, the custom in Poland based on Rabbeinu Tam, was not to use non-Jewish names. The Darkei Teshuva follows this opinion. The Rogachover also concurs but adds a dispensation that if the name is just a transliteration from Hebrew to English it’s permitted.

The Gemara questions whether a get signed by witnesses with non-Jewish names is kosher. The Gemara answers that it is because most Jews outside the land of Israel used non-Jewish names. Similarly, the Maharashdam writes that using a non-Jewish name is permitted and brings proof from this Gemara. Perhaps it is middat chassidut to use a Jewish name exclusively but non-Jewish names are certainly not a problem. Rav Moshe Feinstein agrees. Certainly one should use ones Jewish name, but it is permitted to use a secular name when needed. Perhaps the reason why Chazal praised the Jews for keeping their Jewish names was because before Matan Torah, Jews identified themselves with this. Therefore writes the Meshesh Chochma, this safeguard was needed.

Rav Shlomo Luria in his commentary on Gittin explains that Rabbeinu Tam forbade the use of the apostate’s gentile name because it symbolized his rejection of his Jewish roots. However an ordinary non-Jewish name should not pose a problem. The issur d’orayta perhaps only applies when the name identifies the Jew with another religion.

The Midrash Tanchuma in Haazinu makes an astounding comment on the verse, “Zechor yemot olam.” “L’olam yivdok adam..”- A person should be careful to select a name which identifies his child with a tzaddik because sometimes the name itself can influence the child positively or negatively. A name is not a simple matter. One should select a name that that child will live up to.

In secular society, names across all cultural spectrums are acceptable. Why shouldn’t we be proud to use our own Jewish names? May it be a pivotal, positive step towards the redemption.

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.