Jewish Calendar II #16-Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin

19 12 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Chanukah is a unique holiday in that the Gemara delineates two extra levels of hiddur mitzvah (enhancing the mitzva) when lighting the candles. The basic mitzva is for the head of the household to light one candle each night for the whole family. However, there is a level of mehadrin where each family member lights a light every night. In mehadrin min hamehadrin each family member lights the corresponding number of candles for that night.

The Beit Yosef discusses a question whether a person who made a blessing on the wrong number of candles must make another blessing when he remembers to light the additional candle(s). He answers that if there was a significant break (approx. 1-2 hours) after the first lighting, one would make another blessing. This is surprising, because in normative Jewish law one doesn’t repeat a blessing on a hiddur mitzva. From this we learn that the mehadrin factor inherent in neirot Chanukah is unique in that it is related to maaseh hamitzva (performance of the mitzva). While there is great importance attached to beautifying a mitzva, such as making a blessing on a fine etrog or tallit, it is only related to mitzva objects with which the person fulfills the fundamental mitzva regardless if the item is beautiful. Therefore, no further blessing is recited. However, when one adds more Chanukah candles, the performance of the mitzva is radically enhanced, it’s intrinsic to the mitzva. It’s not just lighting the candles, but also pirsumei nisa – publicizing the miracle. Therefore, another blessing is recited.

Similarly, the poskim explain that although the basic mitzva of ner ish u’baito, (the father lighting for the household) has already been fulfilled, other family members can still make their own blessing because they are adding to the fundamental mitzva, which is pirsumei nisa.

Can a child who has reached the age of chinuch and is obligated in Rabbinic mitzvot, be motzi (intend to include) an adult with a mitzva d’rabanan such as megilah or neirot Chanukah? The Shulchan Aruch rules that a child cannot be motzi megilah but he could be motzi neirot Chanukah. Rav Soloveitchik explains that megilah is a chiyuv gavra – an adult obligation. Neirot Chanukah is a chiyuv bayit – an obligation on the household. It’s not a transfer from one person to the next. Since a child has an obligation he can automatically be motzi the household.

There’s an old custom to sing Haneirot Halalu as the Chanukah lights are lit. This seems like a hefsek (interruption in the performance of the mitzva). The reason it is not is because it is part of publicizing the miracle.





Ask the Rebbetzin: Is This The World Hashem Envisioned?

16 10 2011

Rebbetzins Perspective: Class#4

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

Rebbetzin's Perspective #4

Question: 

I feel empty and alone and very far from Hashem whenever I am in a crowd or in traffic or waiting on line. I can’t comprehend how this unpleasant, noisy, world, with all of these people, could possibly be the world Hashem envisioned.  The last time this was bothering me, I looked up and the bumper sticker on the car in front of me said “One human family.”  Is this my answer?  Should I look at everyone like he or she is part of me?  Should I look at them like they belong here as much as I sometimes think that I do too?

Answer:

 

Every person is as important, real, and purposeful, as you are. The Gemara tells us, “Great is the king who mints many coins, each unique in its own way.” There is no such thing as optional people. Every single person is absolutely special. When people mention faceless hordes, it is usually in a racist context. The more you adapt yourself to seeing people as individuals, the easier it will be for you to bear crowds.

Did you ever wonder why Hashem chose Yerushalayim, a city teeming with people, as the holiest spot on earth? I would have chosen a majestic mountain or a breathtaking valley, because I sometimes tend to think like you. Although we view nature as beautiful and people as passé, Hashem sees people as His most magnificent creations. The profound depth of the human mind, the capacity to feel, the desire to create and build, the ability to make moral choices, are expressions of the soul and a reflection of the Divine Image.

Every person you see is an entire universe with enormous context and beauty of purpose. I would suggest you get past your difficulties of viewing people by finding ways to reach out to strangers. It can be through visiting the sick, helping needy people, or joining Partners in Torah. In this way you’ll learn to switch your mode of thinking from seeing people as a threatening anonymous mass to viewing them as unique individuals, each with a special story of their own.





Kohelet: Solving The Complexities of Life

12 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Kohelet: Perek 10: Solving The Complexities of Life #11The sages tell us that there are three forces that take a person out of reality: jealousy, desire, and honor.

Jealousy is the illusion that if someone else has more, than I have correspondingly less. In spirituality there are no limitations. We are given exactly what we need to achieve in life. We can be our absolute maximum self regardless of what anyone else has.

Lack of control is the voice of desire. Rav Dessler teaches that unlike jealousy, desire can’t be eliminated because it has a physical and emotional base. Imagery can help. At the moment when desires arises within you, try to imagine how you would appear out of control or, conversely, attempt to picture yourself in control and feel good about it.

Honor is connected to the body. Needing appreciation and validation on the deepest level, means not trusting who you are without external acknowledgement. If you need people’s validation then you are a prisoner to other people on the basis of what they tell you.

Honor takes a person out of intellectual reality, desire lifts him out of physical reality, and jealousy forces him out of emotional reality. The evil inclination then goes right into that empty space and does his work. The heart of a wise person leads him to the good path, the right side, which is stronger, while the desire of the fool takes him to the left side, the road less defined.

Right is chesed (kindness) and left is gevurah (justice). Chesed is the most predominant of the spiritual attributes and gevurah is the most corruptible. A person’s heart can steer him towards exploring things and feelings with the intent of wanting to bring goodness into the world. It can also lead him in the direction of defensiveness and restraint and not wanting to give anything at all. It’s better to trust the side of you that wants to give and make things good, than to trust the part of you that demands justice, because the desire for justice is easily corruptible.

The Baal Hatanya teaches that the heart has two ventricles. While the right side is empty, the left side is full of blood. The right side is the good side of the person, the part that gives itself over to Hashem. The left side is the animal side, the part that’s driven to pursue its goals. The fool doesn’t know the difference between right and left. He will do whatever he wants to do without thinking. His heart and emotions influence his actions.





An Invitation To Hashem’s House

11 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shoshie Nissenbaum

An Invitation To Hashem's House One would think Sukkot should have been after Pesach, when Hashem took us out of Egypt. That was when the Jews dwelt in sukkot in the desert. Yet the holiday comes close on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is as if Hashem says, “You invited me into your home, now I will invite you into my abode.”

 

Sukkot contains an aspect of the world to come. For one special week we merit to dwell in the shade of the Divine Presence. The halachot (laws) of this special mitzva help us understand how to come closer to Him. Everything in the physical world has a form and shape, something that gives it borders. Holiness, however has no boundaries. Just as Hashem is expansive and fills the world, spirituality has no limits. The sukkah‘s width is boundless. This teaches us that everything in the world can be included within the framework of kedusha (sanctity). We sleep and eat and spend the greater part of our time in the sukkah as a way of showing Hashem that all physicality can be sanctified for Him. Yet the walls of the sukkah cannot be higher than twenty amot because the boundaries of kedusha require a vessel.

 

The Ramchal in Mesilat Yesharim writes that a person can make himself into a mishkan (tabernacle) for Hashem. Just as the mishkan traveled from place to place, a person can connect to Hashem wherever he is. The more a person attaches himself to Hashem, the more he transforms himself into a dwelling place for Him. On Sukkot we take everything we have and place it within the firm boundaries of the sukkah walls and elevate it for Hashem.

 

Sukkot comes after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, days of tremendous closeness to Hashem. On Rosh Hashana we pray for sustenance, life, good health, children and a sweet new year. The sweetness is the aspect of uplifting what we have for Hashem. On Sukkot we actualize this by inviting Hashem into our homes and hearts.

 

The Gemara says that the merit of building the walls of the sukkah drives away both our physical and spiritual enemies. The sukkah protects us. It must have more shade than sun. Sun represents the power of the nations. It never changes or grows. We are compared to the moon, which constantly experiences renewal and rebirth.

 

Sukkot is a tremendous opportunity to store up kedusha and tahara (purity). This is why it is called zman simchateinu. This is what eternal joy is about.





Rebbetzin’s Perspective: What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana?

28 09 2011

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

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana without sounding like an annoying seminary girl? I’m not worried about his learning because he has a learning seder (session) every day, but whenever I bring up the idea of change or growth he gets annoyed.

 

Answer:

Some men like hashkafa, but most don’t. No man likes to feel as if his wife is the provider and he is the receiver. Be patient. As men mature, they want to know more about how to put it all together. Hashkafa sefarim were really written by and for men and many of them will eventually study them. When they do, it will probably be with a lot more depth and perception, and a higher level of integration than women, because men are much more grounded in Torah learning. By the time he’s thirty eight, he’ll probably be motivating you, instead of the other way around. This is usually how it goes in most marriages.

However, let’s say he’s already forty five and you’re still trying to get him to work on his inner life. Begin by asking some questions such as, “It’s Elul and I don’t feel anything much different than I did in Av. Did they ever say anything about this in yeshiva? Is there anything I could learn that can give me insight?” Make him your teacher. Don’t correct him even if he gets it wrong, just listen. Since his skills are better, in the end his grasp will be much more profound.

It could also be that he’s just not the hashkafa type. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a yearning for spirituality. It’s just that he doesn’t have the ability to listen to the language. His means of communication may be dikduk halacha (care in Jewish law). His ahavat Hashem (love of Hashem) may be expressed through tzedaka, charity. His yirat Hashem (fear of Hashem) may be actualized by the level of kashrut he maintains. Let his deeds show you where he truly is and don’t try to gauge his spiritual standing by how much he’s learning.





Rejuvenating Our Bond

27 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Rejuvevating Our Bond The first Rosh Hashana at the beginning of creation was different than all future Rosh Hashanas. The presence of Hashem descended upon Adam without any effort. It wasn’t a matter of avoda, working to achieve an awareness of Him. Rather it was a complete itaruta dl’eleh, an arousal from above.

In the Rosh Hashana davening we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon, a remembrance of the first day.” In order to reveal Hashem’s kingship upon us we must remember the brit. The brit is the immutable bond between Hashem and the Jewish people that can never be obliterated. This requires effort, an itaruta dl’tata, an awakening from below. This awakening is accomplished through the shofar. The shofar is an aspect of the highest teshuva. It is like a cry, a yearning from the depths of the heart, something very profound and powerful and impossible to contain in words.

The sages divided the service of Rosh Hashana into three parts: Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot. These are not three independent aspects but one unit with interdependent parts. Why does the memory of the brit depend on the shofar? Rosh Hashana is the beginning. On that day Adam was created and he accepted malchut Hashem (kingship). When we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon” we connect once again to the memory of the beginning of the revelation of Hashem. The Rambam says the avoda of teshuva is shofar. It signals to us, “Uru yesheinim mishnaschem! Awaken from your sleep, you slumberers!” The brit, the covenant between Hashem and knesset Yisrael is hovering above us waiting to be rejuvenated once again.

The Zohar teaches that there are two levels of repentance, a lower teshuva and a higher teshuva. The lower teshuva is meant to return the soul to its state of purity before sin. The higher teshuva leads the soul back to the level of d’veikut, attachment to Hashem that it had before it became connected to the body. Shofar is an aspect of this highest teshuva. It is the return of the soul to the root of its existence. It could be that the Baal Hatanya uses the term teshuva ilohe to mean a higher level of teshuva where the person is so deeply affected by his distance from Hashem that it touches the deepest point of his heart and he is overcome by uncontrolled weeping and brokenness.

The Rebbe Maharash retold a parable from the Baal Shem Tov about a king who sent his son away to a faraway land to learn the ways of the world. After many years the prince returned to his father’s kingdom, bereft of everything he had and clad in tattered clothing. When he arrived, the people did not recognize him. They taunted him and beat him until he reached the palace courtyard and a cry of pain escaped from deep inside of him. The king recognized his son’s voice and ran out to embrace him. Similarly, Hashem decreed that the soul should descend into the world, to attain its reward. Lost in the maelstrom of physicality it moves far away and forgets that it was once connected to Hashem. The voice of the shofar, the cry from the depths of the heart, contains all the regrets and past mistakes of the soul. It expresses the profound pain of the Jewish people and how we have distanced ourselves and yearn to return. The call of the shofar, awakens Hashem’s love for us and we too are aroused to come back once again to His warm embrace.





Themes of Rosh Hashana

26 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Themes of Rosh Hashana #1 The Gemara writes that the books of life and death are open before Hashem on Rosh Hashana. There’s a certain tension in the air in keeping with the awesomeness of the day. Hallel is omitted, and the prayers are unusually lengthy. Nonetheless, there’s an obligation to rejoice on Rosh Hashana. Although it is the yom hadin (day of judgment) it is also called Yom Teruah (day of the shofar blast). Rav Soloveitchick explains that teruah can be translated to mean friendship from the root word reut. Rosh Hashana is the day when we rekindle our loving relationship with Hashem.

In Shemone Esrei of Rosh Hashana, we say, “U’vchen ten pachdecha. Let your fear rest upon your creations.” This seems puzzling. Fear doesn’t engender positive sentiments. Rav Soloveitchik clarifies that fear of Hashem is healthy. But there’s another kind of fear. When Rosh Hashana comes we begin to introspect, thinking perhaps we were living life with the wrong assumption and we ask Hashem to reveal to us the truth. If we would stop and ask ourselves before anything we do, “What would Hashem think of this?” we would act differently. U’vchen ten pachdecha is the recognition that all the things we’ve done are recorded and we must account for them.

There is a custom to say chapter 24 in Tehilim at the end of Maariv on Rosh Hashana. The psalm speaks about the kingship of Hashem. Rav Soloveitchik says there are two ways a person can recognize Hashem. It can happen by force, through tragedy. But it can also come through joy or intellectual understanding. Sometimes the gate to let Hashem in moves involuntarily, and other times it happens because the gates themselves have opened to let Him in. This is the challenge of Rosh Hashana. People think they can’t change, but it isn’t true. It’s a matter of making the effort. Our eye must be turned towards the future, towards perfecting ourselves and becoming better Jews.

We say in L’dovid Hashem, “Achat sha’alti…shivti b’veit Hashem. I have one request… to sit in the house of Hashem.” King David asks Hashem to dwell in His house, But then he says, “U’levaker b’heichalo. Let me visit His palace.” If he is asking to dwell permanently with Hashem, why does he then ask to visit? King David desired both. He wanted to always be with Hashem, but with the excitement and freshness of a visitor.

May we merit this Rosh Hashana to renew our connection with our Creator with anticipation and joy.