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Showing posts from August, 2012

Thought for the Day: Shmone Esrei Is About Connecting to the Creator

The shmone esrei is divided into three distinct section: three paragraphs of praise (shevach), 13 of requests (bakashos), and a final three or thanks/acknowlegdement (ho'da'ah).  (The observant reader will note that adds up to 19, not 18.)  Each section has its unique character that expresses itself in halachic distinctions.  The shevach and ho'da'ah are inseparable units that must be said correctly from start to finish.  The bakashos need to be said in order, but to correct a mistake in the middle that requires a repetition requires only going back to the bakashah in which the mistake occurred.  One may make additions for personal needs in the bakashos, but no personal additions may be made in the shevach nor ho'da'ah.

There is a very nice distinction that shows up in the change we make between winter and summer that spans both shevach and backashos.  In the winter: "mashiv ha'ru'ach u'morid ha'gashem" in shevach, "v'sein tal…

Thought for the Day: Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim

There are all sorts of jokes (mostly stemming from the non-religious yiddish literature, I think) that about the talmudic process.  They basically following the same format:
Two talmidim are embroiled in a heated debate and finally decide to go to the rosh yeshiva for clarity.  "Rebbi," says the first talmid, "I say the gemara means X; and I can prove it because of Y!"  "Hmmm," says the rosh yeshiva, "You are right."  The second talmid balks, "But Rebbi!  I say the gemara means A; and I can prove it because of B!"  "Ahh," says the rosh yeshivah, "You are right."  They both look astonished and a third talmid who had overheard the whole things exclaims, "But Rebbi!  They can't both be right!"  "Exactly!" beams the rosh yeshivah, "You are also right!" That, I fear, is the outsiders view of "eilu v'eilu divrei elokim chayim."  The truth of the matter, however, is that cont…

Thought for the Day: Masora and Halacha

The havadala in the sh'mone esrei of motzei Shabbos has an interesting status.  Havdala is really meant to be a ceremony to mark the end of Shabbos/onset of the week.  Havdala is a rabbinic innovation that was decreed to correspond to the Torah obligation of making kiddush that marks the onset of Shabbos.  As such, it is, l'chatchila, a bracha said over wine; the wine being a common accompaniment to our religious ceremonies that adds a measure of distinction to the event.

During one epoch in our history wine became prohibitively expensive and havdala became a burden on k'lal yisrael.  In response to that era, Chazal instituted an insertion into the bracha of "atah chonein l'adam da'as" in the ma'ariv of motzei shabbos as a substitute for the wine ceremony.  Once wine went down in price the wine ceremony with which we are all familiar was restored, but the insertion to t'fila was also retained.  As such, the insertion has an interesting status in h…

Thought for the Day: Tashlumin Learns Both from Whence It Came and Where It Is

No one Jew can fulfill all 613 mitzvos. Some are specific to kohanim, some to women; one (geirus) can only be done be a non-Jew!  So how do we reach the perfection that only comes from fulfilling all 613 dimensions of perfection?  Chazal tell us that by learning about a mitzah that we cannot fulfill, we are credited as fulfilling it.  Moreover, some mitzvos, even though one could fulfill them, it is not desirable to fulfill them.  Returning a stolen object, for example.  Stealing something just to return it is at best a mitzvah ha'ba b'aveira and generally frowned upon.  So some mitzvos are best fulfilled even l'chatchila through study.  I am going to put tashlumin in that category.  I found the following case cool because it touches on a lot of issues.

Suppose Moshe is unable to daven mincha one erev rosh chodesh.  So at ma'ariv he will daven a tashlumin right after his ma'ariv sh'mone esrei.  So far so good.  Ma'ariv on rosh chodesh itself is interesting,…

Thought for the Day: Praise vs Request

Batei k'nessios (places designated specifically for prayer) used to be outside of town and in relatively deserted fields.  I have no idea why, but that's the facts, ma'am.  We have a few remnants of that historical fact in our ma'ariv davening.  The basic idea it that we don't want to leave someone alone there at night, so there are extra paragraphs that we say but that could be skipped by a latecomer to catch up and/or not be delayed.  One of these is known as "mei'ein sheva" -- the essence of the Friday night shmone esrei in shortened form.  If someone were late getting to shul Friday night (I know, unheard of, right?), then he could catch up while everyone else is saying that quasi chazaras ha'shatz.  (Maybe it would be more accurate to say they can catch up while he says the mei-ein sheva...)  Nowadays are shuls are in town and we don't worry so much about someone being alone, so now everyone says it.

Mei-ein sheva has another function, ho…

Thought for the Day: Giving Mussar Like Moshe Rabeinu

Parshas D'varim is always read the Shabbos before the fast of Tisha b'Av is observed.  Sefer D'varmim is Moshe Rabeinu's farewell address and summary of four decades of loving leadership of the Jewish people.  Parashas D'varim begins with a mussar shmuess to Klal Yisrael.  Of course the Shabbos before we as a nation mourn the loss of our Holy Temple and contemplate the thoughts and deeds that led to that horrific disaster is a perfect time for a mussar shmuess.  But perhaps as much as the message itself, the careful and precise manner of delivery can have just as much impact on us for good.

First, Moshe Rabeinu gathered everyone together; no exceptions.  There was to be no possibility of anyone who wasn't there having a grievance that he could have said this or that in rebuttal.  One may infer from that, by they way, that when Moshe Rabeinu spoke, he also listened.  There must have been time for people to absorb the discourse, think about it, and conclude that …

Thought for the Day: Living Jewish

Look up "crowd control" in Wikipedia and you'll see phrases like "to prevent possible riots", "events such as soccer games", "stanchions and crowd barriers", "cooling fans and entertainment [to keep the crowd from getting unruly]".  And that's just the first paragraph.  Most of us probably imagine that crowds as small as several hundreds would probably start to need some crowd control; by the thousands and tens of thousands, you are definitely in crowd control territory.  Yet, with more then 90,000 Jews attended the Siyum haShas in NY MetLife stadium, there was no talk of crowd control.  The police and heightened security were in place for protection of the crowd, not control.

That got me thinking about the paragraph in the "hadran" that compares our waking, laboring, and running to their waking, laboring, and running.  The structure is oddly poetic, "we get up early and they get up early; we get up early for thi…