Proper Prayer #13

11 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Ari Jacobson 

The Mishna in Avot says, “Hevei mekabel et kol adam b’sever panim yafot.” Greet every person pleasantly. Yet the Kitzur writes that just as it is prohibited to eat before praying, one may not greet a person before giving proper respect to Hashem.

The Kitzur says that one may not deliberately knock on a neighbor’s door in order to greet him before one has davened. This is relevant in an apartment building or a college dorm. If one is preparing to pray in shul and another person comes in, one may not purposely walk over and say good morning.

If you happen to meet someone on the way to davening, it’s permissible to greet him. However, it is proper to change the greeting so that it is evident that you cannot continue on with a long conversation. The Gemara distinguishes between giving shalom and saying good morning. The word shalom is one of Hashem‘s names. When you great someone with Shalom Aleichem it’s implying that He who is the purveyor of all peace should be upon you. Therefore, it is considered a more significant greeting than good morning. Similarly, Shabbat Shalom might have connotations in this regard as opposed to Good Shabbas, which might be more permissible.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, going to someone’s house and greeting him with Shalom Aleichem is prohibited before davening. You can say good morning, although we try to avoid that as well. In cases where it’s permitted to offer a greeting, you can say Shalom Aleichem, but it is better to use a different greeting so the person realizes you have to be on your way.

 

Once the earliest time for davening has arrived, one may not study Torah. The Rishonim give a number of exceptions to this rule. The law only applies if one is studying alone in the house. This is because one may get caught up in learning and miss the times for davening or even forget entirely. If someone else is there he will be reminded. If one is studying in shul or if one attends a regular minyan, there is no concern.

Chazal say that when we stand before Hashem in prayer we should picture ourselves as if we are standing before a king. One should be particular to dress properly for davening. In a place where the custom is to wear a belt, one may not daven without it. There is a prohibition against pronouncing the name of Hashem without a separation between the upper and lower body. If a person is wearing a hospital gown he may press his arms against his waist as a form of separation.

Some people are careful to have special clothing for davening. This is one of the reasons that Chassidim wear a gartel (belt). It serves both as a separation and as a unique article for davening.

It’s appropriate to give tzedaka (charity) prior to davening as the verse says, “Ani b’tzedek echze panecha.” I will greet you with tzedaka. This is the source for the custom to give tzedaka before candle lighting erev Shabbat. In some shuls, many men give tzedaka after the repetition of the shemone esrei. However, it is better to give tzedaka before that and many have a custom to give charity in the middle of Veyavarach David as they say the words “V’ata moshel bakol,” you rule over all. When one gives tzedaka it is as if one is saying, “I believe You have given me all that I have and therefore I will share it with others.”

Prior to davening a person should accept upon himself the mitzva of V’ahavta l’reicha, loving other Jews. If we are united below it creates greater unity above. When our prayers are joined together they are sure to be accepted by Hashem.

One should go to the bathroom before praying. Part of washing negel vasser (ritual hand washing) in the morning is preparation for Shachrit later on. Before davening Mincha you should ideally wash again. If you don’t have water you can cleanse your hands by rubbing them on a hard surface.

Davening with a minyan (quorum) is important; so is praying in shul. Even if a person won’t be attending shul, he should try to daven at the same time the community is davening shemone esrei as the verse states, “V’ani tefilati lecha Hashem eit ratzon.” May my prayers reach You at an opportune time. The Gemara says Hashem doesn’t reject the prayers of a community. When we pray with a minyan individual deficiencies are overlooked.

Hashem promised us that even when the Beit Hamikdash would be destroyed He would provide us with a mikdash me’at, a sanctuary in exile. Therefore, even if there’s no minyan one should try to daven in a shul because the Divine Presence rests there.





Chovot Halevavot – Meaningful Actions #4

10 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

The Chovot Halevavot discusses the various marks of wisdom that a person can see in the world and the way Hashem is manifests in creation. He lists seven ways to see this.

The first mark is manifested in the four fundamental elements of the world: fire, water, air, and earth. In contemporary terms, these are energy, liquid, gas and solid matter. The earth is a ball, which by nature doesn’t stay stationary. Yet our world stays suspended in the middle of the universe. It is surrounded by water, above that air, and above that fire. Each element stays within its boundaries. Nature stays faithful to its Creator and doesn’t change. This shows the magnificent greatness of Hashem. David says, “You Hashem are the creator of heaven and earth, which exist eternally.” If there would be one slight deviance, the entire world would be destroyed.

The second mark is man himself. Every person is a small universe. The completion of this world is man. Without him there is no purpose. Humans are like a dot in comparison to the vast cosmos. Yet we see it is only man that can understand creation. In Tehilim David wrote, “Man is a little bit less than Hashem.” When Adam was created the angels wanted to say kadosh. They thought he was the Master of the world. Hashem is a perfectionist par excellence. He made man flawless and in whatever state he’s in his Divine Image remains.

The third mark is the amazing synthesis of soul and body. Hashem covered over spirituality with flesh and bones and formed Adam. Iyov said, “You made me as if someone poured milk into a bottle. You curdled me like cheese. Then you clothed me with bones, sinews, and ribs. You sheltered me, gave me life, favored me, and watched over my soul.”

The fourth mark is the animal kingdom which is made up of hundreds of different species. They swarm in the air, swim in water, and creep on the ground. Hashem created them all with a purpose and their daily existence is in His hands.

The fifth mark is the wisdom in the design of the plant world. There are myriad types of vegetation that have the ability to heal and provide nourishment.

The sixth mark is the wonders of Hashem that we see in industry and science. Hashem revealed different ways through which man can meet his needs in this world. Iyov said, “Who gave wisdom and understanding to the heart? Only Hashem.”

The seventh mark is the wisdom found in Torah. The Torah teaches us above and beyond what man could ever imagine or create. The oral Torah is not the work of man. The sages transmit concepts that were already accepted at Sinai. Through studying Torah a person can truly see the greatness of our Creator.





Marriage: The Eternal Structure

3 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

 The Shem Mishmuel quotes a perplexing Gemara in Brachot. The Rabbis asked Rav Hamnuna to sing a song at a wedding and he began to sing, “Woe to us people, we will die. Where is the Torah and mitzvot that will protect us?” Why did Rav Hamnuna sing such a mournful tune at a wedding?

The Shem Mishmuel explains that marriage is the antithesis of death. It is a binyan adei ad, an eternal structure that is created through the couple’s descendants. In this world, both the soul and body can ascend by making the right choices. After death, the soul can no longer be sanctified by engaging and lifting physicality. If it didn’t achieve what it needed to on this world it cannot do it anymore after death. But the Gemara says there is a way out. If a couple’s children continue to do mitzvot it is as if the parents never died and their souls will continue to ascend in heaven. That’s why Rav Hamnuna mentioned death and mitzvot. Clearly the mitzvah of peru urevu, having children, is a central part of the joy of a wedding.

In Parshat Balak, Bilam says concerning Hashem, “The Almighty in heaven counts the offspring of the Jewish people.” Chazal say this refers to children. Bilam questioned how Hashem could be involved in something so physical.

The Shem Mishmuel explains that in many ways the material world is the antithesis of purity and sanctity. There are religions that teach their adherents to live an ascetic life. Bilam only understood spirituality as an entity on its own. However, the mainstream Torah view, which is emphasized by Chassidut, is to take physicality and elevate it to spirituality. This is the secret of Torah. There is holiness embedded in the material world which is brought out through the mitzvot.

The most important institution where this idea is expressed is the Jewish marriage. The deeper one digs in a mine, the better quality diamonds one finds. The more physical something is, the more sanctity can be extracted. Marriage is called kiddushin. The kohen gadol, the holiest leader of the Jewish people was required to have a wife. The bond of marriage creates a very deep and intense holiness.

The Gemara explains that when we dance at a wedding we lift our body up in the air. We take physicality and elevate it to something holy. This is the essence of marriage. Hashem fashioned man in His Divine Image. He gave us the power to create. Hashem is the third partner in bringing children into the world and since He is eternal it is a binyan adei ad (an everlasting structure).

When we raise children to serve Hashem, we generate more holiness. Chassidut emphasizes the concept of “Olam chesed yibaneh.Hashem created the world as an act of kindness. He wanted to give us reward in the next world. Bringing up children is one of the greatest acts of chesed, a part of which is sharing the wisdom of Torah with them. Spend ten minutes a day with each child one on one, preferably with a Torah book. In this way you will be actualizing one of the greatest aspects of kedusha of a Jewish marriage.





Nachamu Nachamu Ami: Our Destiny

2 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

In the haftorah of Shabbat Nachamu, the prophet Yeshaya consoles the Jewish people, “Be comforted, be comforted, my people.” The suffering of exile and the sins that brought it about are part of a journey. The day will come when we will see that it was all meant to bring us to our destiny. This is true for geulat haprat (individual redemption) as well as geulat haklal (national redemption). The Malbim says Hashem is speaking specifically to the prophets. He tells them, “You must comfort my people. You must tell them that the geulah will eventually come, either because of their merits or because they received their just punishment and achieved their rectification.”

The Gemara writes that whenever Hashem remembers our sins he remembers the sin of the golden calf. The Lubliner Rav explains that the golden calf did not lead to our end. In fact Klal Yisrael gained atonement. Similarly, however far we fall there is always hope for return.

The prophet Yeshaya says further, “Speak to Yerushalayim’s heart and call out to her that her time has been filled and her sins have been appeased.” The heart of Yerushalayim is our ability to accept emotionally, not just rationally, that the process of exile was worth it. Part of the exhilaration that a runner experiences is not only the knowledge that he’s reaching his goal, but the feeling of pushing his limits and seeing how far he can go. We grow by facing challenges. It’s not just a trade-off, it’s an expansion. This is our consolation.

The prophet Yeshaya continues, “There’s a voice calling out in the desert, clear the way for Hashem, straighten out the plain, make a path for Him.” In the end we will be comforted seeing that Hashem led us exactly where we needed to go. Rashi says this road is meant to return us from exile. At the seder we say, “Next year in Yerushalayim,” but do we mean it? Do we find living in exile easier? The Gemara teaches that a person who lives outside Israel is considered an idol worshipper because he can only achieve an indirect relationship with Hashem. There’s no parallel to the Divine intervention inherent in Eretz Yisrael.

The Navi says, “Every valley will be uplifted and every mountain and high place will go down and what is crooked will become straight.” There are many obstacles, both material and spiritual, that will prevent a person from coming to Israel. They are compared to hills and valleys. But in the end Hashem will take them all away and reveal His presence.

“The grass will dry and the flowers will wilt but the word of Hashem will be established forever.” No matter how much we suffer in exile, we must keep our spirits up. The mishna says the beginning of defeat is retreat. When we let ourselves despair, we prolong the journey towards our destiny.

“On a high mountain I’ll go up to you, you who give good news to Tzion. Uplift your voice powerfully, you who bring good news to Yerushalayim. Lift up your voice loudly. Don’t be afraid. Say to the cities of Yehuda, behold here is Hashem.” The Radak explains that just as a person who wants his voice to be heard will stand in a high place, our yearning for Hashem will elevate us to be willing to hear the prophecy that was given to us. Ultimately we will be redeemed and we will return.

“Behold Hashem will come with force. And his outstretched hand will be the source of his dominion. And his reward is with him and his action and repayment is before him.” Hashem will reward the tzaddikim. He will shepherd us like a shepherd who gathers in his sheep. When Mashiach comes, Hashem‘s greatness will touch everyone at whatever level they’re at. We will discover our tikkun, the messianic part within us that’s redeemable. We will find our way back because Hashem will make the mountains low and the valleys high. We must not be afraid if we see people that seem irredeemable or distant.

“Who is there from whom we could take counsel, who could give us the understanding to go in the way Hashem has measured out?” The Torah itself is our guiding light in exile. It tells us how to respond to every possible life situation. We can’t be taken in by the nation’s threats or predictions. They are like dust on a scale. We don’t understand Hashem‘s way but we have to be attuned to miracles. We are a nation that lives beyond the laws of nature.

Each one of us is created for a specific purpose. We are all redeemable and none of us will be left behind.





Tisha B’Av – Short Idea with A Big Impact

26 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles 

 In Eicha, Tisha B’av is referred to as a moed (festival). How can we call the saddest day in the Jewish calendar a holiday?

Aleh Shur notes that there are some moadim that are called festivals of closeness such as the shalosh regalim. There are other moadim that are called moed shel richuk, festivals of distance. What is the idea of a holiday of distance?

In the three weeks we must stop and ask ourselves, “Where am I in life? Am I really as close to Hashem as I think I am? Are my mitzvot and Torah on the level it should be or am I fooling myself? Am I merely going through the actions but missing the soul?” A moed shel richuk is celebrating Tisha B’av and telling Hashem, “I am far away, I’m nowhere near where I should be.” When we can make that declaration with honesty and a sincere desire to change, we begin to bridge the gap and move forward.

The baalei mussar say that the clarity of vision one can reach on Tisha B’av is similar to the level one can reach at the end of Yom Kippur. On Tisha B’av we experienced the destruction of our relationship with Hashem. If we can face Hashem with truth and sincerity we will begin the process of renewal and return.

 





Essence of Peace- Parshat Pinchas

13 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The parsha begins by telling us that Pinchas was rewarded with the brit shalom, the covenant of peace, for boldly avenging the honor of Hashem. Pinchas performed an act of vengeance. He was c

ertainly righteous. He did not express misplaced hostility, egotism, or superiority. However

, Hashem deals with us midah k’neged midah. He relates to us in a way that matches our beha

vior, as the verse says “Hashem tzilcha.” Hashem is your shadow. One would think that the zealous Pinchas would be rewarded with the role of eternal warrior. Perhaps he would have appeared as a reincarnation of King David who slayed Golyat or Yehuda Maccabee who conquered the Greeks. Why was he rewarded with the covenant of peace?

Alacrity and kana’ut (zealousness) are not just the desire to eliminate evil. The motivating force for this middah is that one treasures goodness. Pinchas’s vengeance did not stem from hatred but from love. The more one is drawn towards good, the more one will hate evil.

If there were children trapped in a burning apartment, you’d break down the door and flood the house with water, not because you hate the fire but because you desperately want to save the children. Pinchas acted in this manner. His goal was to preserve holiness. This is why Hashem gave him the covenant of peace. He’d be the one to draw things together.

Pinchas teaches us what true zealousness is about. There will always be issues that we will have to fight against. We must stamp out evil but it should never take on its own energy. Rather kana’ut should come out of a desire for purity and holiness, which is what true peace is about.





Overview of the Three Weeks Part 2:

12 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Ilan Segal

The Tur notes that the source for the three weeks of mourning is in the book of Daniel. Rav Sadya Gaon writes, “The prophet Daniel saw the destruction of the second temple and he mourned for three weeks. And upon the end of these three weeks on the 21st of Nisan he had his next vision.” Why was Daniel mourning the churban in Nissan?

There are only two occasions during the year when we have a custom to eat eggs: the night of the seder and at the seudat hamafseket on the eve of Tisha B’av. Why do we eat an egg, a symbol of mourning, on the joyous night of Pesach? The Rama explains that these two time periods are connected. The first night of Pesach always falls on the same night of the week as Tisha B’av. Secondly, although the seder night is a celebration of freedom, there is an element of mourning. We sense the acute absence of the beit hamikdash and the korban pesach.

The Gemara in Bechorot records an interesting discussion regarding the different gestation periods of various creatures and their parallels in the plant world. The Gemara says a chicken takes 21 days to lay its eggs. Similarly, the luz tree, which Tosfot tells us is the almond tree, produces its fruit in 21 days.

The Gemara relates a story about a Roman ruler who challenged Rabbe Yehoshua to bring the wise men of Athens to him. Rabbe Yehoshua discovered their secret hideout and they began a debate with him. The commentators say that they asked deep philosophical questions couched in riddles. They brought two freshly laid white eggs and said, “Tell us which egg was laid by a black hen and which by a white hen.” In reply, Rabbe Yehoshua placed two white cheeses before them and asked which was produced by a black goat and which by a white goat.

The Maharsha notes that the egg represents two 21 day periods in the Jewish calendar, the 17th of Taamuz through Tisha b’av and the 1st day of Tishrei through Hoshana Rabbah. The wise men asked Rabbe Yehoshua, you maintain that the 21 days of Tishrei are days when one’s sin can become white like an egg. It is a period of joy and connection to Hashem. But you also have another 21 days of disaster and churban. It seems everything you have achieved in Tishrei is cancelled out in Av. He responded with goat cheese. Two goats are offered on Yom Kippur, one l’azzazel and the other L’Hashem. Although they are identical, one represents white, pristine atonement and the other represents the darkness of sin. Yet both produce white cheese, libun avonot, whitening of sin.

We can come close to Hashem in many different ways. In Tishrei we do it through good deeds and joy, and and in Av through exile and suffering. Yet both ultimately lead to repentance and atonement.

If we look at the three weeks of Nissan, Av, and Tishrei , we can see a structure. Nissan begins with “hachodesh hazeh lachem,” the uniqueness of klal yisrael, the birth of the Jewish people, their leap of faith culminating with the revelation of the Divine Presence at the splitting of the Red Sea. These weeks built klal yisrael and elevated them. The bein hametzarim is the reversal of that process. Everything created in Nissan unraveled in Tamuz. The descent begins on the 17th of Tamuz when the luchot (tablets) were shattered and continues with the downward spiral of Klal Yisrael to the destruction of the beit hamikdash.

Following the bein hametzarim, there are seven weeks of consolation, shiva d’nechemta , which lead up to Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the next three week period. Then we reconstruct what was destroyed through repentance and good deeds.

We are commanded to eat the korban pesach together with matza and maror. The sweetness of the matza and the bitterness of the marror are intertwined. Daniel mourned the churban in Nissan because he saw the potential for destruction. Likewise, when we mourn the beit hamikdash on Tisha B’av we must see the potential for rebirth.

The Gemara discusses the prayer Ashrei, which follows the order of the aleph beit. Even though it follows the order of the alef bet, it is missing the letter nun. Rabbe Yochanan explains that this is because it represents the downfall of the Jewish people. “Nafla lo tosef kum betulat yisrael.” The daughter of Israel has fallen and will not rise again. The Gemara suggests that we can read the verse with a small change. “Nafla lo tosef, kum.” She will no longer fall, arise! With the minor insertion of a comma, the verse is transformed from a message of despair to one of hope and promise. We can choose to focus on the misery and desolation or we can accept our failings and resolve to get up again. On Tisha B’av, after midday, we rise from the ground. We recognize that although the bein hamitzarim are days of sadness, they have the potential for rebirth.

The Midrash says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B’av. Hashem planted the seeds of compassion and redemption within the darkest day. We must not focus on sadness and despair but use these days to come closer to Hashem. The time when we feel His distance is when we can reach out to Him. Eicha ends with the words, “Hasheveinu Hashem elecha.” Bring us back to you. Ultimately if we utilize these days correctly, we will merit to return.