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Thought for the Day: Commemorating Churban Beis HaMikdah at Every Meal

We all joyously sing "Shir haMa'alos" before bentching on Shabbos and Yom Tov.  The truth is, however, that you will not find this brought in hilchos bentching.  Instead, you will find it right near the beginning of the Mishna Brura, Siman 1, Syef 3, s.k. 11.  There the Mishna Brura is commenting on the halacha that every y'rei shamayim should be distressed and worried about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.  The Mishna Brura brings the Sh'lah, who says it is appropriate to say "Al Naharos Bavel" before bentching, except on Shabbos and other days that one does not say tachanun, when he should instead say "Shir HaMa'alos".  Doesn't really fit the general tune and mood, does it?

In any case, it is interesting that in many homes, Shir HaMa'alos is practically part of the nusach of bentching, but Al Naharos Bavel is all but forgotten.  I called R' Fuerst, sh'lita, about it once.  I was expecting him to say that it is not the minhag to say it.  Instead, when I about saying Al Naharos Bavel, he just said "Yes"; in that tone of "why would you think any differently".  Obviously one of us is out of touch with normative Jewish practice.  In a magnanimous show of extreme humility, I decided to defer to the rabbi's authority.  I feel so holy.

Recently, while learning this halacha with a young tzurba d'rabanan, the question came up about which psalm to say when bentching on the afternoon before a day we don't say tachanun.  (Ok, ok... it was entirely his question.  Sheesh... how much humility am I expected to show in one day?!?)  Should we be m'dakdek in the words of the Sh'lah and only say Shir HaMa'alos on full days when tachanun is not said?  Or do we understand him to mean that any time that tachanun is not said -- the afternoon before shabbos, yom tov, and rosh chodesh, for example?  After all, the reason we don't say tachanun at those times is because the k'dusha of the day is already leaking into the prior afternoon.

I ran home to look in my Dirshu Mishna Brura, who gave me the reference I needed.  The Mishna Brura on siman 267 (hilchos erev shabbos) paskens to say Shir HaMa'alos on erev Shabbos after noon.  However, the dirshu note adds, if it is not the day that caused tachanun to be skipped, but some external reason (bris mila, for example), then Shir HaMa'alos is said only at the s'udas mitzvah, but Al Naharos Baval otherwise.

One last note: the Mishna Brura that brings the Sh'lah also points out that it is not the quantity of supplications, but the quality.


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