Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Immersing Erev Yom Kippur and When a Minhag Doesn't Gets a Bracha

The Shulchan Aruch, OC 606:4 says you are allowed to immerse in a mikvah on erev Yom Kippur any time you want as long as you immerse before sunset and that you shouldn't make a bracha on that immersion.  Being given permission to immerse implies that I was afraid it was forbidden; being told not to make a bracha on said immersion implies that I thought that I should make a bracha.  Now we have four questions:
  1. Why would I think it is forbidden to immerse?
  2. That being the case; why am I allowed to?
  3. Why would I think I should make a bracha on that immersion?
  4. That being the case; why don't I?
The first two questions arise because Shulchan Aruch is starting in the middle of a sentence, as the Mishna Brura explains.  The Shulchan Aruch should have started by mentioning that there is a minhag for everyone -- even unmarried young men and women -- to immerse erev Yom Kippur.  So the answer to question (1) is that usually unmarried men and women do not immerse now a days because we don't have the Beis HaMikdash, which means we don't daven in a place where one must have immersed before entering.  That being the case, going to the mikvah today doesn't allow an unmarried youth anything that would have been otherwise permitted.  Besides that, it lowers the level of issur for an unmarried couple to have relations from d'oraisa to d'rabanan; that being the case, better not to immerse.  So why does the Shulchan Aruch permit it?  Because it is erev Yom Kippur -- people want to do whatever thay can to feel more holy and it is not a day when most people are thinking about how to be sneaky with HaShem's rules of conduct.  So the Shulchan Aruch say, "go ahead, but be careful to immerse well before sunset.

The answer to question (3) is that it the holiness of the day practically demands extra purity and going to the mikvah erev Yom Kippur has become such a well established minhag/custom that to not go is seen as separating oneself from community practice.  Question (4) is now also answered, because it is only a minhag.  (Mishna Brura there, sk 19)

What a minute, says I (here comes my value added): saying Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is also only a minhag, but we say a bracha.  Lighting candles in shul on Chanuka is only a minhag, but we make a bracha.  On the other hand, taking aravos on Hoshana Raba is a minhag and we do not make a bracha.  What gives?

Here's my theory, for what it's worth.  The Rosh says that even with the Beis HaMikdash, there is only an obligation to immerse on erev Yom Kippur when we have the ashes of the red heifer so we can become completely tahor -- even from tumas meis.  However, says the Rosh, if you can't become tahor from all forms of tuma, then there is no obligation to become tahor from any forms of tuma.  That, in turns, means that our immersion on erev Yom Kippur now a days is only a memorial to the immersion that is actually obligated when we have the ashes of the red heifer.  On the other hand, Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and lighting Chanuka candles in the shul are not memorials to anything -- they are what they are; a beautiful and well established custom.

In conclusion, therefore, we see that a minhag that is what it is, gets a bracha.  A minhag that is a memorial to a practice that we cannot do now but hope to soon (may the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt soon and in our lifetime) does not get a bracha.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  Until proven wrong, of course.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…