Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Changing a Habit/Praying For Rain/Goring Oxen

Ok... before we go any further, we need to be absolutely clear about one thing: "Ox" is not a species of animal any more than "computer programmer" is a species of human.  Any bovine that is used as a draft (draught for us snobs) animal -- ie, to do work around and for the farm -- is an ox.  Sometimes they also take freshman physics, as I remember from my teaching days.  Whew... I feel much better.

We recognize two seasons in our prayer -- rainy and not rainy.  Our prayers, of course, change with the season in two places: the second bracha (גבורה) because rain goes with תחית המתים/resurrection, and the ninth bracha (ברך עלינו) because rain goes with livelihood.  We (human beings) are creatures of habit, which has benefits and drawbacks.  A benefit for prayer is that our prayers become more fluent with repetition; a drawback is that we could stop thinking and start just reciting.  Because of that, Chazal decreed a 30 day window during which one needs to be mindful that he could easily slip into old speech patterns and just say the words he was reciting... err... davening... before the change.  The halachic ramification of that nervousness is that is one is not sure during the first 30 days after the change what he said, then he must repeat.  How much to repeat, where to repeat, what's called not sure, whether the 30 day rule just a decree or is for the average person (therefore your mileage may vary), are all interesting topics and all out of scope for today's TfdD (though, of course, you are welcome and even encouraged to think on your own time).

The Tur says that instead 30 days, one can just repeat 90 times an excerpt of the part of the prayer that includes the the insertion "משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם".  Where does the Tur get that rule?  From a the way an innocent ox becomes a goring ox (ha! and you were wondering what in the world praying for rain had to do with oxen).  The rule is that if an ox gores three times in three days, then he becomes a goring ox.  R' Mayer says: if three times in three days works, then all more so (a fortiori) three times in one day.  Says the Tur: "Aha!  So if thirty days of three prayers per day work to cancel the worry about habit, all the more so (a fortiori) 90 times in one day."

There are at least two issues with this Tur.  One relatively minor issue is that included in those 30 days are four Shabbosim, two days of Yom Tov, and two days of Rosh Chodesh -- all of which have a musaf service that adds another "משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם".  So... maybe it should be 98 times.  Or maybe 101 (Chasam Sofer); I don't know why.  Or maybe Chazal meant "30 days of regular prayer" and never meant to be referring to those specific days (makes a lot of sense, since they apply the same rule to the change in ברך עלינו, which has few weekday prayers than 90, so should only be 78); which is likely how the Tur learns it.

A more serious problem is: what do goring oxen have to do with changing a habit, anyway?  There is disagreement among the Rishonim about whether an ox reveals itself to be a goring ox with three gorings or if it trains itself to be goring being repeating the action three times.  If the latter, then we have a good proof (or, at least, a reasonable proof).  If the former, though (that is, its a sign of the animal's nature), then it provides no proof that repeating a phrase 90 (or 98 or 101) times will change ones habit.  You'll find poskim on both sides.

Personally, I don't repeat the requisite phrase 90 (nor 98, nor 101, nor 78) times.  Not because I am taking sides in a discussion among the poskim.  I have a much simpler view: I don't think its a bad idea to pay more attention to my prayers for a month to be sure I don't make a mistake.  Enough negative and double negatives for you?  Fine!  I think its a good idea to pay attention and ensure that every word of prayer is send correctly; at least three months out of the year, anyway.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…