Safeguarding Our Holiness

9 03 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Safeguarding our HolinessIn his discussion on Parshat Shekalim, the Shem MiShmuel asks two penetrating questions. The machazit hashekel was donated in Adar and was used to fund the new cycle of korbonot tzibbur (public sacrifices) which commenced in Nissan. Why was it necessary to dedicate the entire month of Adar to collecting the half shekel when it could have easily been accumulated in less time?  Additionally, why is Nissan the beginning of the new season of sacrifices? Why do we not count from Tishrei, when the Jewish year actually begins?

 

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana notes that the Divine machshava (thought) to create the world took place in Tishrei. The actual creation began in Nissan. Rashi adds that when Hashem first conceived the world, he intended to create it with middat hadin (strict justice). However, because man is such an unpredictable and fickle creature, he foresaw that din alone would not work. Although angels are programmed to do good, humans have free choice and are constantly changing. This is our greatness and also our weakness. Life is a road with many curves, ups and downs, and triumphs and failures. The ultimate victory of good over evil, the battle of the inner self, is the ultimate human struggle. Therefore Hashem decided to use an unpredictable system, midat hachesed. A world based on mercy is a world filled with surprises. Indeed chesed is at the heart and soul of the teshuva process. Man can rectify his deeds by changing his ways. Our instability can create something wondrous, a transformation of self. In Tishrei, we face Hashem’s din. Not too many of us can pass muster. Therefore Hashem gave us a different time frame, Nissan, the month of chesed, the month when the Jewish people sunk in the forty ninth level of impurity were redeemed through Hashem’s mercy.

 

Life’s purpose is to build a relationship with Hashem. This is achieved through movement from above and below which will always affect a response. In Chassidic terminology it is called “iserusa d’letata” (arousal from below) and “isresua d’leyla” (arousal from above).  This is the difference between Tishrei and Nissan. In Tishrei, the month of din, man must take the first step. It is our obligation to do what is right and Hashem responds in kind. Chesed, on the other hand, begins from Hashem. It comes from above.  We have no claim on it. However there is a factor that can trigger it. Hashem redeemed us from Egypt despite our unworthiness because he saw our potential for greatness. He invested in us. This is the chesed of Nissan. It is a month of awakening, a month when Hashem extends us a credit line and gives us blessings, not for what we are today, but for what we have the potential to become. This is a moving testimony of Hashem’s love for us. We  actualize His trust by tapping in to our will to grow and connecting to the inner point of our soul which can never be destroyed.

 

Modesty and chastity are the hallmarks of the Jewish nation. Discarding this can cause us to lose our very identity. Yosef was the epitome of modesty. He remained holy despites the many temptations he encountered in Egypt. Mechirat Yosef was the abandonment of that model. The twelve tribes sold Yosef for twenty geira and each of them received half a geira. With the machazit hashekel, we make a commitment to rectify Mechirat Yosef and to follow the example of our holy leaders. We can then be deserving of Hashem’s beneficence.

 

The month of Adar is dedicated to correcting the sin of immorality, to connecting to the Beit Hamikdash, to bringing the sacrifices necessary to lead a holy life, to becoming a tzaddik like Yosef, and to actualizing the potential Hashem implanted within each of us. In this way we will merit the  heavenly mercy, the isrusa d’leyla, which immediately follows in Nissan, the month of chesed and ultimate redemption.





Adding to Shabbat

14 01 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Adding to Shabbat

In Parshat Vayakhel, the Torah tells us, “Six days you shall work and on the seventh day you shall rest.” When does the seventh day actually begin? Can one accept Shabbat early? The earliest time when one can voluntary accept Shabbat is plag mincha, approximately one and half hours before sunset.  It has become accepted in many communities to have an early minyan for Kabbalat Shabbat, especially during the long summer days when nightfall is very late. If the Torah specifically says that Shabbat begins on the seventh day, and since in Jewish law the next day is only counted from nightfall, how can one accept Shabbat when it is still day?

 

The origin of accepting Shabbat early is a verse in Parshat Emor that relates to Yom Kippur. “V’initem et nafshoteichem… You shall afflict your soul on the ninth of the month in the evening.” The Gemara asks, if Yom Kippur begins on the ninth day at night then shouldn’t the Torah refer to it as the tenth day. Why mention the ninth? The Gemara answers, “Mosifin m’chol al kodesh. The weekday is added to the holy day.” We begin fasting while it is still day. Indeed, most shuls commence Kol Nidrei before sunset. The Gemara adds that all holy days during which we refrain from work fall under the category of mosifin, we begin early and end late.

 

The Rambam, however, records this law with regard to Yom Kippur only and does not mention it in relation to Shabbat and Yom Tov. The Kesef Mishna explains that the Rambam held that tosefet Shabbat was neither a d’oraita nor a d’rabanan obligation.  The Radvaz disagrees and explains that the Rambam did hold that this law applied to Shabbat. He only mentions it in relation to Yom Kippur because it is implicit that since Shabbat is holier than Yom Kippur it would most certainly apply to Shabbat. L’halacha, there are significant opinions that hold that one should add on to Shabbat and one may certainly do so if one wants to.

 

The Maharshal asks, if one davened Maariv on Friday night while it was still daylight, can one still count the Omer? He answers that something related to Shabbat can be done after accepting Shabbat even though it is still daylight. However, something dependent on actual nightfall like Sefirat Haomer, must be done after tzeit hakochavim.  Similarly, if one davened Maariv while it was still day, he is obligated to repeat Shema after nightfall.

 

The Maharshal rules that one should not accept Shemini Atzeret early, since the two competing days would raise a problem of whether to recite a bracha before eating in the Sukkah.

 

The general consensus among many poskim is not to accept Shavuot early as the verse specifically states, “sheva shabotot temimot,” seven complete weeks. However, the Taz disagrees and counters that once one accepts the Yom Tov it automatically becomes seven complete weeks.

 

There is a disagreement among the Baalei Hatosfot if one can accept Pesach while it is still day. One opinion allows it. Others disagree based on the verse, “V’yochlu et hapesach b’layla hazeh.” The sacrifice must be eaten at night. Since matzot and marror have the same halacha as korban Pesach it must be eaten after dark. Can one still accept Pesach early if he argues that it will take untill nightfall to eat the matzot and marror? According to the Terumat Hadeshen anything unique to Pesach must be performed in the evening. This would include Kiddush and the four cups of wine. Technically, one can daven earlier, but the Seder must begin when it is definitely nightfall. Similarly, one cannot accept Sukkot early because the Gemara draws a correlation between the first night of Sukkot and Pesach.

 

The Taz notes that the obligation to eat three meals on Shabbat is derived from the verse that repeats the word hayom, this day, three times. The question then arises, does tosefet Shabbat allow a person to eat the Shabbat meal when it is still day, or does it only permit one to pray the Shabbat davening? Some opinions hold that one can eat the meal and others disagree. The Mishna Berura suggests that one extend the meal into the night and eat a kzayit after dark.

 

To summarize, one can accept kedushat Shabbat and Yom Tov earlier, as tosefet Shabbat has the power to transform a mundane weekday into a sanctified day. However, it does not transform the astronomical aspect of the day and therefore, any mitzva that is connected to nightfall must be performed after the stars emerge.





Eating Before Davening

30 12 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com 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.





Contemporary Halacha-Meat & Fish

19 12 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com 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.





Insights of the Chassidic Masters: Standing Before G-d

5 09 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Chassidic Masters

The Baal Hatanya, in his introduction to his essay, “Atem Nitzavim” explains the Torah’s ambiguity about Rosh Hashana. He writes that Rosh Hashana is the day we were created. It is the beginning of man’s existence. Therefore, Hashem wanted us to strain to understand it, to uncover the starting point within each of us, to remember the struggle and to recapture the magic of this very pivotal moment. This is compared to a couple remembering their wedding, and to parents recalling the birth of their first child.

When we study the Torah, mussar, chassidut, or halachot relating to a particular holiday, it is critical to understand its central core.  All learning and prayer connected to a particular holiday shines forth from this point. The Torah does not specify the theme of Rosh Hashana, but Chazal tell us that “Hamelech” sums up the essence of the day. In fact, old Chabad chassidim would call Rosh Hashana the “Day of Coronation,” for on this yom tov we crown Hashem as king over us.

The Gemara writes, “On Rosh Hashana, Hashem tells us, ‘Say before me these prayers: Malchiyot, so you will accept my kingship, Zichronot, so that I will remember you in a good way. How does one accomplish this? With the shofar. From this passage we understand that the essential theme of Rosh Hashana is accepting Hashem’s kingship, and the shofar is the means to attain this. Additionally, if we examine the prayers of Rosh Hashana, we will find that they revolve around the theme of kingship. The writings of Chassidut explain that our mission on Rosh Hashana is to reconstruct the malchut of Hashem by making ourselves worthy of crowning Him.

Rav Sadya Gaon lists several reasons why we blow shofar, but the inner meaning of the shofar is kingship and coronation. We verbalize and actualize our acceptance of Hashem’s kingship through the shofar.

In Tehilim, King David writes, “Bakshu fanei, es panecha avakesh.” Hashem says, “Seek my face.” Panei is related to penimiyut. Our avoda on Rosh Hashana is to reveal the deep inner connection between our soul and the essence of Hashem. For a person to say “Hamelech” on Rosh Hashana and ignore the King is not only absurd but dangerous. If Hashem is really our King what kind of effect has He had on our life? Accepting the yoke of Hashem’s kingship as a means to fulfill one’s responsibilities as a Jew is a very important outgrowth of Rosh Hashana but it is not the core. The essence is making Hashem a part of life during the year; knowing what “melech haolam” means when we say a bracha and developing a real connection with malchut Hashem. This will all depend on how we crowned the King on His coronation day. The call of the shofar jolts us awake and the prayers of Rosh Hashana helps us realize that nothing rules over us except Hashem.  Our “Hamelech” is not Wall St, Elvis Presley, our boss, or our physical desires.   We answer to a Higher Authority.   By tapping into the power of “melech” in everything we do, we will become stronger more dedicated servants of Hashem.





Gemara Brachot Resumes

12 11 2009

This week, Rabbi Moshe Nechemia Reichman resumes his Gemara Brachot class, with a new course beginning from Daf 13A of Gemara Brachot.

Gemara Brachot IV class 1

In this Torah shiur (class) on Gemara Brachot, Rabbi Moshe Nechemia Reichman begins learning daf 13A, with a discussion of the halacha which states that one who is reading from a Sefer Torah fulfills his obligation to recite Kriat Shma daily if he reads the Kriat Shma from the Torah.





Halachot of Tisha B’Av: A Window to the Essence of the Day

27 07 2009

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

The Gemara writes that Hashem brought the great Destruction because, “Shelo birchu b’Torah techila“-The Jewish people did not recite the blessings on the Torah before learning. With the cessation of prophecy and open miracles, the only way the Jews were able to achieve deveikut-connection to Hashem was through studying Torah. How did this bring about the Churban? The Alshich explains with a parable. The court musician once committed a crime for which he was liable to be put to death. However, since the King appreciated his music so much, he stayed his execution. After some time, the musician lost his ability to play. It was then that he was executed, as there was no reason left to keep him alive.  Similarly, as long as the Jews were learning Torah sincerely they were connected to Hashem in a very intimate bond. Once they ceased studying, there was no reason left to stay the execution and the Churban began.  The way back to Hashem and the ultimate Geula, is through renewed commitment to Torah study.

Excerpted from Torat Imecha: Women’s Torah Weekly. For this weeks edition on Tish B’Av click HERE

For the full version of this class click HERE