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.





Meaningful Prayer: Consistent Dedication

29 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Our sages teach that the prayers were enacted to correspond to the sacrifices. The korban tamid, which was brought daily in the beit hamikdash, signifies the idea of dependability and regularity. It is the concept of a continuous relationship, of absolute dedication to Hashem, which is a fundamental aspect of prayer.

We must maintain a continuous connection with our Creator. We are intrinsically bound to Him. We only exist because He wills us to. He supports us in every situation and is constantly providing for us. The Gemara says that a person should never cease praising and thanking Hashem for all that He gives us. Since it’s impossible for a person to pray all the time, the sages instituted a minimum of three times a day. We can also express our ongoing dedication to Him by involving ourselves in kindness and good deeds.

Although we don’t have the korban tamid any more, our steadfast readiness to serve Hashem day after day with dedication and love stands in its stead.





Chumash In depth: The Sale of Yosef

18 12 2011

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

What is the connection between the end of Parshat Vayishlach, which speaks about the lineage of Esav, and Parshat Vayeishev, which describes the difficult incident of Yosef and his brothers? Rashi explains that although Esav’s background is mentioned briefly, the Torah focuses on the story of Yaakov and the twelve tribes. It is compared to a precious stone that fell beneath the sand. After finding the stone, the debris is discarded and attention is focused solely on the stone. Similarly, Hashemsifted through all the generations until He found Yaakov, the bechir h’avot (the chosen one), and then focused on him.

Rashi tells another parable about a coal dealer who came to the market to sell his coal. After his arrival, another merchant arrived laden with straw. The coal dealer worried that there would not be any room now for his coal. A wise person said one spark released from your coal will decimate the entire wagonload of straw. When Yaakov saw all the generals of Esav, he worried how he would overcome them. Therefore, the Torah says, “Eleh toldot Yaakov, Yosef.” These are the children of Yaakov,Yosef. Sefer Ovadaya states, “Vayaha beit Yaakov aish u’beit Yosef l’hava u’beit Esav l’kash. (Yaakov is the fire, Yosef is the flame, and Esav is the straw.) One spark of Yosef can destroy the entire camp of Esav. The Netivot Shalom notes that Esav represents our negative inclinations. Hashem said, “V’haya beit Yaakov l’aish, your passion, desire, and yearning to do the will of Hashem will outweigh all the evil of Edom.

Rabbi Tatz explains that straw symbolizes the nations of the world who believe that the more material a person has the better off he is. Esav said, “I have a lot,” while Yaakov said, “I have everything.” What really counts is spirituality. Life is not about having, but about appreciating what one does have and elevating it for Hashem. Although Esav’s lineage seems impressive compared to Yaakov, Yaakov is central in the narrative of the Chumash.





Repent! A Survey of Al-Hateshuva-Two Processes of Teshuva #2

5 09 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Two Processes of Teshuva In Hilchot Teshuva, the Rambam discusses the three segments of vidui (confession): admitting to the sin, regretting the sin, and committing not to sin again. In the first chapter, the Rambam mentions charata (regret) and then kabala al h’aatid (commitment). In the second chapter he mentions kabala al h’atid and then charata. Obviously both elements are necessary, but why is the order reversed?

The Gemara discusses two ways in which a person can be released from his vows, charata-regretand pesach-an opening. Pesach is based on miscalculation. The person wasn’t aware of all the facts, miscalculated, and made a vow. Charata is when the person knew all the facts but couldn’t control his emotions. He made a vow and now regrets it. Charata and pesach stem from two different parts of the human psyche, intellect and emotion. Logic helps us understand and come to conclusions. Emotions control and direct our actions. The struggle between what we know and feel is the conflict between the good and bad inclinations. Either the mind knows what’s right and the heart pulls towards the reverse or the heart intuitively feels what’s right and the mind comes to the wrong conclusions. Pesach is intellectual while charata is emotional. Sin can come from the heart or mind just as repentance can result from an emotional or logical awakening.

Sin is a disease of the soul. Illness indicates imbalance. Just as a physical illness has symptoms, so too does a spiritual sickness. Pain lets us know that we are ill and that we should address the dysfunction quickly. Guilt is a gift from Hashem. It’s the pain of the soul signaling us to get back on track. It’s Hashem telling us to fix ourselves.

The Torah describes the Jewish people’s emotional reaction to chet ha’egel and chet meraglim, “Vayisablu”-They mourned. When a person realizes that he’s failed spiritually, he reacts with depression, sadness, and disappointment. When he sees that he’s tarnished his tzelem Elokim (spark of divinity), he mourns for his soul. Aveilut is a yearning to return to one’s unblemished past. The Jews grieved because of their sins. They remembered the days when Hashem performed great miracles for them. They relived the giving of the Torah and the special bond they formed with their Master. They mourned the purity, the holiness and the closeness they once had. Now after the sin, they felt the loss of this closeness and purity.

Regret is a form of anger directed at oneself. This is supposed to lead to repentance. Teshuva driven by emotional pain requires focusing on the past. It’s much like charata for a vow. This is why the Rambam mentions this teshuva in the first chapter. Many times a person doesn’t have this emotional awakening. He doesn’t know how sick he is. He struggles. His heart is full of desire and then his mind says no. This is teshuva of the intellect and it is more difficult than teshuva of the emotions. Emotional teshuva can happen quickly because the person is eager to escape the pain. Intellectual teshua is slower, because the mind has to overcome emotional proclivity to sin. It can take years, or a lifetime. Intellectual repentance is not a reaction to the past but rather an effort to get back on track for the future.

The mind and heart of a Jew are a receptacle for the Divine Presence as it says, “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’sochom.” Hashem assures us, “I will reside within each of you.” We’re not alone in the process of teshuva. We are partners with Hashem. May the awakening within our hearts and minds bring us to complete repentance.





Growing In Ruchniyut During The Three Weeks

26 07 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Beinush Ginsurg

Growing in Ruchniyus During the Three WeeksWhen we visualize the Beit Hamikdash in its glory, we imagine there was nothing holier than it. Yet Chazal tell us that studying Torah is even greater. “Hashem consoled David who did not merit to build the Beit Hamikdash, “One day of Torah learning in your courtyard is greater in my eyes than one thousand sacrifices.” Similarly David said, “Tov li Torahat picha…” David gathered great quantities of precious metal for the Beit Hamikdash yet he affirmed that Torah was worth more to him than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. Additionally Chazal tell us, “The Torah study of children may not cease even to build the Beit Hamikdash.”

Bitul Torah was the cause of the first exile. It says, “Im bechukosai teileichu.” Rashi explains, “Shetihiyu ameilim b’Torah,” If we immerse ourselves in Torah we will merit blessings, if not, klalot (curses) will come upon us. The Ramban says that the tochacha of Bechukosai corresponds to the first Beit Hamikdash and the tochacha of Ki Tovo corresponds to the second Beit Hamikdash. We can understand from this Rashi and the Ramban that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of a weakening in Torah study.

In Eicha it says,”Her kings and her priests are exiled among the gentiles and there is no Torah.” Rav Dessler lived in England and in his later years settled in Eretz Yisrael. He once said that a day of Torah study in Eretz Yisrael could not equal many days of learning in chutz l’aaretz. Indeed Chazal say, “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.” The Gra writes that exile lacks the special spiritual aura of Eretz Yisrael. We end Shemone Esrei with a prayer to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash and we add “Give us a portion in your Torah.” The Gra explains that the sufferings of exile weakened our Torah study. Therefore we ask Hashem to restore the Beit Hamikdash so that we can once again serve Him with all our capacities in Eretz Yisrael.

Let us dedicate ourselves with new vigor to the study of Torah in an attempt to rectify the misdeeds of the past and merit the ultimate redemption.





Jewish Names

28 06 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com 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.





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20 10 2010

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