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Thought for the Day: Halacha First/Ikar, Minhagim Second/Tafel

We love our minhagim.  They are fun and add flavor to our observance.  On the other hand, it is imperative to know what things are "mei ikar ha'din" (required by halacha) and which things are minhagim.  It's always important that one's avodas HaShem is not a matter of just going through the motions, but when minhagim and halacha collide... whoa, Nelly!

Halichos Shlomo in hilchos ta'anis paskens that a child who has not yet reached the age of bar/bas mitzvah should not fast any of the four ta'anis tzibur, including Tisha b'Av.  In the footnotes (which I believe I have mentioned before, right?), R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is quoted as regularly "joking" about people who are so makpid (insistent) on three threes that have no basis in halacha.  One at a time, these three threes are:

Fasting the three fasts before one's bar/bas mitzvah.  There certainly is a basis for fasting Yom Kippur a year or even two before bar/bas mitzvah for at least some hours, but no basis at all for fasting any of the rabinic ta'anis tzibur.  First of all, children need to eat.  They don't have to eat lots of cake and candy, but they need to stay healthy.  (One ta'anis when my son was about eight he asked the rav if the fast was over yet.  The rav smiled and said, "For you it is."  The rav thought it was cute, but I knew what he was asking.  Yosef immediately popped the sucker he got from the candy man's bag into his mouth.  I thought he was pretty clever to ask the rav; he very well knew what I would have said.)  Besides fasting being bad for the child's health, it's also bad chinuch.  I"YH, the fasts will be a thing of the past when they become a gadol; better to m'chanich them in tzipita l'yeshua (waiting expectantly for the imminent arrival of the mashiach, may that be soon and in our days) than in expecting to be still stuck in galus.

Washing three times (back and forth) for t'filla is the next three that has no source.  We certainly do wash three times upon arising and some people have the minhag (al pi kabala) to wash three times for bread.  Washing for t'fila, on the other hand (get it?  "hand"?  I crack me up.) is strictly for cleanliness.  You don't even really need a kli.  Moreover, the Mishna Brura makes a strong point that lack of water for washing is certainly no reason to miss even davening with a minyan.

The final three has to do with when to permit temporaty relocation of a sefer Torah.  That one is a bit more interesting, so I don't want to squeeze it into a final paragraph that you already are only skimming because this thought for the day is already too long and seems to just go on and on and


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