Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur

6 10 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Blowing The Shofar on Motzai Yom Kippur #1 & #2 Rav Hai Gaon teaches that the custom to blow shofar at the end of Yom Kippur is based on the Torah obligation to blow shofar on the Yom Kippur of the yovel (the jubilee year). The Kol Bo says it is meant to confound the Satan. The Meiri concurs with this second reason but the Shibolei Haleket, the Mordechai, and the Tur mention the first reason. Tosfot in Shabbat offers a third explanation. The shofar blowing proclaims that night has fallen and that one is now permitted to prepare the festive meal of motzai Yom Kippur. Many rishonim suggest other reasons, among them that it is a sign of the Divine Presence ascending to the heavens.

Why do we blow shofar every year if the shofar of yovel was only blown once in fifty years? In addition, if the shofar was only blown in Eretz Yisrael during yovel, how does it connect to motzai Yom Kippur when the shofar is blown everywhere? Rav Hai Gaon explains that there is a doubt when yovel falls out. Therefore, we blow shofar in every year. This still begs the fundamental question: What is the connection between yovel and Yom Kippur?

The Meshech Chochma discusses the sanctity of yovel and shemitta (the seventh year). While both relate to the land, shemitta is connected to Shabbat while yovel corresponds to Yom Tov. Shemitta and Shabbat both have inherent holiness, while yovel and Yom tov are dependent on the sanctification of the Jewish people. We say in Kiddush of Yom Tov, “Mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim.” Likewise, Yovel is established through the proclamation of the Jewish court and its holiness is dependent on our actions.

Yovel signifies repentance and freedom. Property is returned to its original owner, slaves are set free, and liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. While shemitta focuses on the earth, yovel involves the individual. Rashi says the term yovel refers to the blowing of the shofar. Rav Kook explains that yovel is a kind of social and economic revolution necessary for the equilibrium of society. Similarly, the purification of Yom Kippur is the ability to transcend the shackles of the evil inclination. It proclaims freedom from the desires of the yetzer hara. On Yom Kippur, we become like angels divested of physicality. Likewise, yovel has an element of the world to come where the satan cannot rule. ‘Hasatan’ is the numerical value of 364, which signifies the 364 days of the year when the Satan has permission to meddle in our lives. One day in the year, Yom Kippur, we return to our source and are set free of his overpowering influence.

The shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur heralds the realization of the ideals of yovel. We once again enter the lofty realm of alma d’teshuva (the world of repentance) and alma d’cherut (the world of freedom).

Themes of Rosh Hashana

26 09 2011

Based on a 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.

Embarrassing Others

6 07 2011
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Embarrassing Others

In Parshat Vayeishev the Torah records the difficult story of Yehuda and Tamar. Yehuda gave Tamar his staff and signet as collateral and when she was taken out to be burned, she sent a message to her father-in-law hinting to what he had done. Tamar refrained from embarrassing Yehuda at the risk of her own life. She left the choice up to him to admit his act. The Gemara in Bava Metziah makes an intriguing statement based on this story, “It is preferable for a person to allow himself to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than to publicly humiliate someone.” Is this halacha l’maasah (practical halacha)?

The Rif and the Rosh maintain that it is. However there is a Gemara in Pesachim that says that a Jew may violate any sin to save himself except the three cardinal sins-idol worship, adultery, and murder. Tosfot in Sotah asks, what about humiliating another person in public? Why isn’t this included in the list?

The commentators answer that since the prohibition of embarrassing someone is learned indirectly from the verse, “V’lo sisa alov cheit” (Do not bear a sin on his account), it’s not included. The Rambam understands it differently. The Gemara says, “Noach lo..” (It is preferable), meaning that it is not a requirement. Rabbeinu Yonah maintains that humiliating someone is avak rechitza-an extension of murder because it causes the person’s blood to drain out of his face. Tosfot in Pesachim offers another explanation. In some instances, such as if you are a passive participant, you are not required to give up your life even in a situation of shefichat damim. Therefore it can be suggested that humiliating someone which involves talking is not considered actively killing someone.

The Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah writes that the din is “Yaavor v’al yiharog.”(Transgress rather than forfeit your life), except in times of gezeirot hashmad when it may be permitted.  The Gemara tells the story of Elisha Bal Kinfayim who risked his life to wear tefilin in public. Similarly in Gittin, the Gemara records the incident of the group of boys and girls who jumped into the sea to avoid sin. Tosfot notes that there are cases when you may voluntarily give up your life.

Perhaps we can say that the din of “Yaavor v’al yahorog,” only applies to mitzvoth between man and Hashem and not to mitzvoth between man and man. If it means hurting someone, one can possibly give up one’s life. We see that Tamar was ready to die rather than humiliate Yehuda. Similarly, the Gemara in Yoma records the story of Rav Yehuda who suddenly had stomach pains and needed to eat something quickly. He stole some bread. Rav Yossi rebuked him. Sometimes even saving one’s life doesn’t warrant stealing. An ones (one who is forced) is not considered a sinner. This may also be true bein adam l’chaveiro.  However since you have harmed another person you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. So maybe even the Rambam would agree that in these cases you may even give up your life.

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.

Contemporary Halacha-Meat & Fish

19 12 2010

Based on a 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.

On Yom Kippur Hashem Welcomes Us Back as His Children

13 09 2010

The following inspiring Yom Kippur article is based on a class by Rabbi Michael Taubes

One of the most moving and inspiring highlights of the Yom Kippur davening is Kol Nidrei. We preface this prayer with the words, “Al daas Hamakom, v’al daas hakahal. With the approval of the Omnipresent and with the approval of the congregation.” “Hamakom” is one of the names of Hashem, which connotes that He is found in every place. Why do we specifically refer to Hashem here as “Hamakom?”

Rav Soloveitchik explains that we find the name “Hamakom” used in situations where we might think that Hashem is far away. We comfort mourners with the verse “Hamakom yinachem eschem.” We remind a person grieving over a loved one that Hashem is right there with him, feeling his pain, and that he will help him through this tragedy. Similarly, in our prayers on Monday and Thursday we say, “Hamakom yirachem aleheihem,” where we pray for people who are suffering. In times of affliction one can very easily succumb to feelings of abandonment. Therefore we emphasize that Hashem never leaves us and
that He will always stand by us come what may. During the Pesach seder we recite, “Baruch Hamokom baruch hu.” Here too, while we recount the torment of our forefathers in the midst of Egyptian enslavement, we refer to Hashem as Hamakom.

On Yom Kippur we may think that our many sins have formed a barrier between us and Hashem and that He is now far away from us. Therefore we use the name Hamakom. We inject that element of chizuk and accentuate that He is still here with us waiting patiently for our return as a loving father welcoming his wayward son back home.

New Pirkei Avot Course begins this week!

22 10 2009

We are excited to present a NEW course on Pirkei Avot, taught by Rabbi Michael Taubes, for your learning pleasure.  The course will go through all of the six chapters of Pirkei Avot, explaining the background of the various ethical teachings of our Sages,a s well as explicating them and applying them to our daily lives.  This course will be geared to students of all levels and backgrounds.

Rabbi Taubes brings many years of experience as a Rav, educator, and author for Artscroll to this class.  He is able to present his material in an interesting and thorough manner.  We look forward to this new learning opportunity, and hope you will take advantage of it as well!  Click on the image below to watch the first shiur in the Pirkei Avot series:

Legacy of Our Sages:  Introduction to Pirkei Avot

Rabbi Michael Taubes Explores Relevant Halachic Issues in Depth in ‘Contemporary Halacha’

29 12 2008

Rabbi Michael Taubes explores various contemporary Halachic topics in a well-researched and clear manner, in Naaleh’s class ‘Contemporary Halacha’. Each class presents a specific contemporary topic. Rabbi Taubes first presents students with the relevant verses in the Torah. He then continues the ‘journey’ through Jewish Halachic history continuing with the Halachic sources from the Talmud all the way through time until contemporary poskim (Halachic authorities) of today.

In the first class in this series, Rabbi Taubes explores the Mitzvah of Tochachah, rebuke. Rabbi Taubes first defines the mitzvah and then goes on to explain various Gemaras which explain the parameters of the mitzvah.
Click here to watch this class: The Mitzvah of Tochacha

Other class topics include the Halachot of an Onan, one whose close relative has passed away and is still not buried, and also the Three Meals of Shabbat.

New Elul Class by Rabbi Taubes

28 08 2008

Dear Friend,

Elul is fast approaching.  In addition to our many NEW classes on teshuva and the nature of the month of Elul, has begun a new course by Rabbi Michael Taubes on the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur davening (prayer), entitled Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Davening:  Open the Gates! Rabbi Taubes, a veteran educator and well known Rabbi, co-authored the Artscroll Machzor Mesoras Harav on the Tefillos (prayers) of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. This course can be enjoyed by students of all levels who would like to enhance their davening experience this year.

Click on the images below to view the first class in this new series, as well as some of our other Elul classes.