Believing Is Seeing

Question #1: Kiddush Levanah on an Airplane

“It was cloudy on motzaei Shabbos, so I was unable to be mekadeish levanah after davening in shul. Later that night, I left for the airport, and I am now sitting in my window seat, which includes a beautiful view of the new moon. May I be mekadeish levanah now, although I am indoors, and I am also obviously looking at the moon through a window?”

Question #2: Havdalah on a Lightbulb

“I have been told that Rav Chayim Ozer, the posek hador before the Second World War, deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. How could he have done this when a lightbulb must be encased in glass for it to burn?”

Question #3: This Week’s Parsha

“What do the above questions have to do with this week’s parsha?”

Foreword

Of the many mesechtos of Mishnayos, the tractate named Nega’im, so germane to a proper understanding of both of this week’s parshios, may have the distinction of being the least familiar mesechta. Since few of us regard the laws concerning tzaraas on people, clothes and houses to be applicable, there is a tendency to assume that these are difficult topics and, therefore, they are often not studied. Nevertheless, a tremendous amount of Torah knowledge lies in this mesechta, in addition to it being essential to understand this week’s Torah readings correctly.

Mesechta Nega’im is arguably the most organized of the mesechtos of Shas.

Notwithstanding its length (it is the fourth longest mesechta), someone familiar with it can locate any Mishnah or subtopic effortlessly, since each of its 14 chapters is focused on a very specific aspect of the laws of nega’im and tzaraas.

The first chapter describes the various colors that a nega may have; the second, the details concerning how a nega is examined; the third is an overview and comparison of the various types of negaim. The fourth chapter discusses the symptoms of white hair and expansion that are mentioned prominently in the Torah; the fifth chapter discusses cases of questionable tzaraas; the sixth explains the laws of healthy-looking skin inside a nega, known as michyah. The seventh chapter discusses cases of nega’im that are not tamei; the eighth analyses the laws of a nega that covers the entire body; the ninth chapter explains the laws of nega’im on injured skin; and the tenth chapter teaches the laws of negaim on the scalp and beard.

The last four chapters are also very clearly organized, dealing, in order, with nega’im on clothing (Chapter 11), on houses (Chapters 12 and 13) and the process of making someone tahor after he became a metzora (Chapter 14).

Viewing

As I mentioned above, the second chapter of Mishnayos Nega’im is devoted to the details concerning how a nega is examined. Among the many issues discussed here are the times of the day that the lighting is adequate for a kohen to view and rule on nega’im, the quality of vision required of a kohen to do this, and how a kohen examines a nega inside a house that does not have quality lighting.

This week’s parsha

Notwithstanding the fact that I have just sung the praises of the importance of proper organization and how much was invested in mesechta Nega’im, I am going to discuss the last of our opening questions first. “What do the above questions have to do with this week’s parsha?” To answer this question we need to explore a relatively minor detail germane to the laws of nega’im.

Seeing is believing

Among the issues discussed by the later halachic authorities is: What is the halacha if the kohen’s vision is impaired and he cannot see the nega properly without eyeglasses? Is this considered that the kohen saw the nega, a necessary requirement to rule the person, cloth or house tamei? Or is this considered that he did not see the nega correctly, and the person, cloth or house remains tahor?

One of the later commentaries on the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisroel, discusses this issue, and draws analogy to several areas of halacha where we find discussion whether use of an implement to view something is considered as seeing it (Boaz, Nega’im 2:4).

Waxen wane

The first comparison the Tiferes Yisroel draws is to the laws of the reading of the Torah. An early authority discusses the following question: Wax, presumably from a candle in the shul, fell on a Sefer Torah. In the course of reading the Torah on Shabbos, this wax was discovered, and the laws of Shabbos prohibit scraping off the wax. Assuming that the wax is opaque enough that one can read the words underneath, is this considered that the baal keriyah read the Sefer Torah and the mitzvah has been fulfilled, or do we consider those words to be covered and that it is impossible to observe the mitzvah with this Sefer Torah until the wax is removed? According to the first approach, they can continue with the Torah reading, whereas according to the second approach, they must put the Sefer Torah back and take out a different one to continue reading the Torah portion for this Shabbos.

The Tiferes Yisroel quotes an earlier source, the Leket Hakemach, as ruling that it is permitted to continue using this Torah by reading through the wax. The Leket Hakemach is one of several halachic works by Rav Moshe ibn Chagiz, one of the gedolei hador in Eretz Yisroel in the early eighteenth century. The sefer Leket Hakemach is unusual in that it is an anthology in which Rav ibn Chagiz often quotes the conclusion of many halachic sources without discussing the details of the issues involved. This style became popular over two hundred years later, as evidenced by such works as the Pischei Teshuvah, the Sdei Chemed and the Darchei Teshuvah. In this instance, the Leket Hakemach concludes that it is permitted to read from this Sefer Torah, provided that the baal keriyah can see the word clearly through the wax. This means that the intervening wax is not considered a chatzitzah (block or intervention) from reading the Torah. The Tiferes Yisroel concludes that there is certainly no problem for the baal keriyah or the person receiving an aliyah reading the Sefer Torah to use eyeglasses. Similarly, the Tiferes Yisroel suggests at the outset of his discussion that a kohen could rule on a nega on the basis of what he sees with his eyeglasses.

Chalitzah

A similar question is asked by an early acharon. Can one perform a chalitzah when one of the dayanim can see the procedure only with the aid of his eyeglasses? Is this considered that he witnessed the chalitzah, which is necessary for the validity of the procedure?

The Shevus Yaakov rules that it is perfectly acceptable to perform the chalitzah this way (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 1:126).

Kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish

The Tiferes Yisroel then compares his question to an area that has more halachic discussion – whether one can recite the brochos of kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish, should one see the moon or the flame through glass.

Let’s trace this halachic discussion from its sources. The tanna’im (Mishnah Megillah 24a) dispute whether a blind man is obligated to recite the brocha that we recite every morning immediately after Borchu, which closes with the words yotzeir hame’oros, praising Hashem for providing the world with light. Rabbi Yehudah contends that since the blind cannot see sunlight, it is inappropriate for them to praise Hashem for something from which they cannot benefit. The Tanna Kamma disagrees, noting that they do benefit from light, since it enables other people to look out for them. The Gemara proceeds to tell us an anecdote about a blind man who was seen walking in the pitch-black night holding a torch. Rabbi Yosi asked him why he was holding a light, to which the man answered, “As long as the torch is in my hand, people see me and save me from pits and thorns.” Thus, although he may not be able to see the light, he certainly benefits from it. The halachic authorities conclude in accordance with the Tanna Kamma that a blind person does recite yotzeir hame’oros (Shulchan Aruch 69:2).

Borei me’orei ha’eish

The Mishnah (Brochos 51b) states that the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish cannot be recited unless the person can benefit from the light. How much benefit is enough to recite the brocha? The Gemara (53b) states: Enough that he can distinguish by the light between two coins of different size and value.

Upon this basis, the authorities conclude that there is a difference between the brocha of yotzeir hame’oros, which a blind person recites, and the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish (Ra’avyah, Megillah, and all subsequent authorities). As we just saw, the Gemara provided a quantitative visual criterion for the recital of this brocha, that is, the ability to use the light to discern between two coins. Reciting borei me’orei ha’eish requires not only that one can benefit from the light, but that one must actually be able to see something specific with it. This precludes the blind man from reciting this brocha: although he gains benefit from the light, he cannot fulfill the second requirement, which defines something physical that he can see.

Kiddush levanah

To review, the halachic conclusion was that the brocha of yotzeir hame’oros requires benefiting from the light, but not necessarily seeing the light whereas the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish requires actually seeing the light and discerning something with its aid.

At this point, we need to discuss the brocha of kiddush levanah, about which the Gemara states that he does not recite a brocha unless he can differentiate by its light between two coins. Should it be compared to yotzeir hame’oros, which would imply that a blind man can recite the brocha, or should it be compared to borei me’orei ha’eish, in which case he cannot?

We find that sixteenth-century authorities dispute this question, the Maharshal ruling that a blind person may and should recite kiddush levanah, whereas his younger contemporary, Rav Yaakov Castro (known as the Maharikash), ruled that he should not. (The Maharikash was born in Egypt around 1525. As a youth he traveled to Yerushalayim, where he studied under the Maharlnach, Rabbi Levi ibn Habib, the posek hador and the rav of Jerusalem. In 1570, the Maharikash, who at that time was a dayan in Egypt, visited Tzefat, where he was a house guest of Rav Yosef Karo, and later recorded in his own writings many of the halachic practices he noticed there. Among the Maharikash’s many scholarly works, he authored footnotes to the Shulchan Aruch, sometimes referred to as the “second set” — the first set being those written by the Rema. The Maharikash named his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, Eirech Lechem, based on the posuk, Shemos 40:23, which means the bread laid out on the table of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rema’s notes were called the mapah, the tablecloth on the table. Thus, the three works describe a table perfectly set with bread on it, ready for a meal to be served.)

The Maharshal contends that there is a difference between the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish and the brocha of kiddush levanah, writing that “the mitzvah of borei me’orei ha’eish is not dependent only on benefiting from the light, but also on being able to see… however this distinction is relative only to borei me’orei ha’eish, but regarding kiddush levanah, it seems to me that someone (who cannot see) can certainly recite the brocha, since the Gemara implies that it is sufficient if mankind in general can benefit from the moonlight” (Shu”t Maharshal #77).

The consensus of the later authorities is to follow the conclusion of the Maharshal that a blind man recites kiddush levanah, unlike the position of the Maharikash (Magen Avraham; Elya Rabbah; Pri Chadash, Biur Halacha , etc., all in Orach Chayim 426).

Kohen and nega

Notwithstanding the many proofs that seeing somethingthrough glass is valid, Tiferes Yisroel notes that some halachic sources indicate that a difference exists between the quality of viewing required for a brocha, versus that necessary for testimony. For example, he contends that someone cannot give testimony in court on the basis of something that he saw through a window. (His proof to this position is arguable, but we will not belabor the details.) Tiferes Yisroel contends that germane to testimony, we must be absolutely certain, and we must therefore be concerned that the tinting of color through glass might affect what we see. Similarly, he concludes that a kohen would not be allowed to rule on a nega on the basis of what he sees with his eyeglasses, or through any other glass.

Returning to glass

Let us return to our previous discussion about the mitzvos of kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish. May one recite borei me’orei ha’eish when the light is covered with glass? We find a dispute among earlier authorities whether one may recite borei me’orei ha’eish when one can see and use the light, but there is a pane of glass separating you from it. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 428) quotes a dispute between the Orchos Chayim and the Rashba (Brochos 53b s.v. Hayesa), the Orchos Chayim forbids reciting a brocha on such a light until it is removed from inside the glass, whereas the Rashba permits it. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 298:15) rules that one may not recite a brocha on such a light, whereas the Magen Avraham concludes that one may.

Kiddush levanah on an airplane

At this point, we can discuss the opening question of our article. “It was cloudy on motzaei Shabbos, so I was unable to be mekadeish levanah after davening in shul. Later that night, I left for the airport, and I am now sitting in my window seat, which includes a beautiful view of the new moon. May I be mekadeish levanah now, although I am indoors, and I am also obviously looking at the moon through a window?”

There are two questions here:

(1) Is it permitted to recite kiddush levanah indoors?

(2) Is it permitted to recite kiddush levanah when seeing the moon through a pane of glass?

Technically, these are two unrelated questions: one can physically see the moon when indoors by looking at it through an open skylight or window, and one can be outdoors and yet see the moon through glass.

Kiddush levanah indoors

Early authorities rule that kiddush levanah should be recited outdoors, since this demonstrates more respect (Shiltei Hagiborim). However, the consensus is that this requirement is only when it is practical to recite kiddush levanah outdoors. A person who is ill is permitted to recite kiddush levanah indoors, and the same law holds true for someone in other extenuating circumstances (Bach; Pri Chodosh).

What a pane!

Shu”t Radbaz (#341) asks an interesting question. What is the halacha if the moon is covered by a very thin cloud in a way that you can see the moon clearly, and it sheds enough light that you can use its light to tell the difference between two coins? The Radbaz rules that kiddush levanah may be recited under this circumstance. Similarly, kiddush levanah may be recited when the moon is clearly visible through glass and there is no practical way to see the moon directly, such as when you are on an airplane.

Havdalah on a lightbulb

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “I have been told that Rav Chayim Ozer, the posek hador before the War, deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. How could he have done this when a lightbulb must be encased in glass for it to burn?”

On many occasions, I was told by my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l, that Rav Chayim Ozer recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. Rav Chayim Ozer’s reason for doing so was for people to realize that turning on an electric light on Shabbos involves a Torah prohibition of desecrating Shabbos.

Because of Rav Chayim Ozer’s efforts, today this is realized. However, in his day there were those who contended that turning on an electric switch was considered an indirect way (grama) of doing melacha and, therefore, did not involve a violation of Torah law. In order to demonstrate convincingly how strongly he felt about the issue, Rav Chayim Ozer deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light so that people would realize that turning on this light is prohibited min haTorah.

We see that the fact that the “flame” of an electric light must be encased in glass did not disturb Rav Chayim Ozer, since it can be seen clearly through the glass.

In summation

The Magen Avraham and most later authorities rule that one can fulfill the mitzvos of kiddush levanah 426:1) and borei me’orei ha’eish (298:20) when seeing the moon or the light through glass. It might be that this is insufficient for a kohen checking a nega, where there is a good possibility that he must see the nega without anything intervening.

Conclusion

Through this discussion, we see how understanding Torah properly involves deep familiarity with halachic sources that are ostensibly dealing with other topics. The rishonim referred to this as divrei Torah aniyim bimkomam va’ashirim bimkom acheir, the words of Torah are few in the discussion at hand, but vast and more explanatory in other places (see, for example, Tosafos, Kerisus 14a). Thus a posek must have a broad base of halachic knowledge.

Lessons of Parshas Shemini

Question #1: Tanner Training

“I work as a leather tanner. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Question #3: Lessons of Parshas Shemini

What does either of the previous two questions have to do with this week’s parshah?

Introduction:

Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings when they are about this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require us to be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah, so that we are prepared to observe them. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tip, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be similar today or even better, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Some tumah basics

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim, foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of this week’s parshah mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which are numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws* is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel,** the mouse, and the various species of toad. Also the hedgehog, the ko’ach,*** the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you, among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei, and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used in this passage has a very specific meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched a non-shechted animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between a neveilah that was touched and one that was carried. Regarding carrying the carcass, which creates a status called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail regarding one who touches the carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries a neveilah and one who touches it without moving it. One who carries a neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, meaning tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and then will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin – earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore, someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something else he touches at the same time. While he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and waits until nightfall, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

Tanner training

At this point, let us examine our first opening question:

“I work as a leather tanner. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself is not considered neveilah and does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Even should our questioner handle neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is, indeed, true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim while he is tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood in this way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will teach us their proper identifications, so that we can properly observe the laws. According to the translation that I provided above, which is based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the ko’ach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

If our translation is correct, other small creatures – such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents – are not included under the heading of tamei sheratzim. Although it may not seem aesthetically pleasing to touch live creatures or dead insects, rodents and other small animals, you do not become tamei from touching them. I recommend washing your hands for hygienic reasons, but maintaining hygiene and becoming tamei are unrelated concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a dead turtle makes one tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi, a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (Taharos 5:1, 4).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing and anything else he touches while touching the sheretz, donot become tamei, unless they are in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for our commandments, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. We explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. We do this when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but no others, that generates tumah.

I will be continuing this topic in my next article.

Conclusion

This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah relating to neveilah and sheratzim. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the ko’ach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

Anointing Oil, Part II

Question Group #1: Who?

If the shemen hamish’cha (anointing oil) is used inappropriately, is the anointer liable, the anointed, or both of them?

Question Group #2: What?

If someone produces shemen hamish’cha inappropriately, is he liable, regardless how much he produced?

Question Group #3: Where?

Where is the shemen hamish’cha poured?

Where will we find the shemen hamish’cha today?

Introduction:

Parshas Ki Sissa contains the beautiful mitzvah of processing and using the anointing oil, the shemen hamish’cha, a mitzvah with which most people are not that familiar. I should, actually, say “three mitzvos,” since the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch note that there are three mitzvos, one positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseih) and two negative (lo saaseh) mitzvos:

(1) A mitzvas aseih (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Mitzvas Aseih #35; Chinuch, Mitzvah #107) to manufacture, use correctly, and treat this unique anointing oil in a special way.

(2) A lo saaseh not to pour the shemen hamish’cha onto a person who is not to use it (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #84; Chinuch, Mitzvah #108). We will see, shortly, that there are four categories of people who may be anointed with shemen hamish’cha. Anointing anyone else with the shemen hamish’cha violates this lo saaseh; furthermore, it also prohibited to smear or pour the shemen hamish’cha onto the skin of any person, even someone whom it is permitted to anoint with it. Thus, the Gemara states that a kohein gadol who smears shemen hamish’cha on his leg as a balm violates the prohibition of the Torah (Kerisus 7a).

(3) A lo saaseh not to blend a recipe equivalent to the shemen hamish’cha other than that which Moshe mixed (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #83; Chinuch, Mitzvah #109).

Last week’s article devoted itself to analyzing what are the correct components and quantities of the shemen hamish’cha.

Who?

At this point, I will explain the details of the mitzvah by addressing and answering our opening questions, the first of which was: Who may be anointed with the shemen hamish’cha?

There are four categories of people who are anointed with the shemen hamish’cha:

(1) All those designated as kohanim, at the time the Mishkan was dedicated.

(2) The kohein gadol.

(3) The kohein meshuach milchamah, the kohein anointed prior to the Jewish people going to war, for the purpose of encouraging them regarding their responsibilities.

(4) A king of the Jewish people who was a descendant of David Hamelech.

We will now examine the halachos of these four categories:

Seven days of dedication

As part of the pomp and ceremony of the seven days of dedication of the Mishkan, the five kohanim at the time, Aharon and his four sons, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Isamar, were each anointed with the shemen hamish’cha every day (Vayikra, 3:13 and several times in Chapter 8; Kerisus 5b). During these seven days, all the vessels of the Mishkan were also anointed, daily, with the shemen hamish’cha.

This anointing was limited to the dedication week. Once the Mishkan’s dedication was complete, there was no longer any mitzvah to anoint any vessels or a kohein hedyot. The only use of the shemen hamish’cha, after this point, was to anoint people, and, as such, it was used to anoint only three people:

The kohein gadol

All future kohanim gedolim were also anointed with the shemen hamish’cha, when they assumed their position. However, approximately 25 years before the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, Yoshiyahu Hamelech, realizing that it was only a matter of time until the Beis Hamikdash would be destroyed and overrun,hid the aron and everything that it contained, which included the shemen hamish’cha, so that it would not be seized during the churban. The answer is that we do not know where Yoshiyahu buried it, and, until it is found, its location is an unsolved mystery. The Gemara assumes that, at some time in the future, it will be found and used (Kerisus 5b).

TheMishnah(Megillah 9b; Horiyos 11b) teaches that, in the absence of the shemen hamish’cha, there is still a kohein gadol. How is he installed into his position? Donning garments that only a kohein gadol may wear and performing the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash while wearing them elevates him to the position of kohein gadol.

Are there any differences in halacha between the kohein gadol who was anointed with shemen hamish’cha and the kohein gadol who was not? There are some halachic differences between the two, but the vast majority of mitzvos and responsibilities of the kohein gadol apply, whether or not he was anointed with shemen hamish’cha. The Mishnah (ad loc.) reports that the only difference between the two is whether he offers a special korban chatos, should he violate, negligently, a serious prohibition of the Torah. We should also note that not all tanna’im accept even this distinction between the kohein gadol who was anointed with shemen hamish’cha and one who was not (Rabbi Meir, as reported in the Gemara ad locum).

The kohein meshuach milchamah

The Torah teaches that, prior to the Jewish people going to war, a kohein hedyot was appointed, specifically, for a special role of exhorting the people prior to their going to battle and bolstering their spirit (Devarim 20:2-4). This kohein, called the meshuach milchamah, was anointed for his position with shemen hamish’cha. Halachically, he now had an in-between status – he had some of the laws of a kohein gadol and some of those of a kohein hedyot, a regular kohein (see Yoma 72b-73a; Horiyos 12b).

According to several acharonim, when there is no shemen hamish’cha, there can be no kohein meshuach milchamah. However, some acharonim note that Josephus refers to a kohein meshuach milchamah during the war against the Romans, which was several hundred years after Yoshiyahu had hidden the shemen hamish’cha (Minchas Chinuch).

Judaic kings

The kings of the Jewish nation, Shaul and Dovid, and those who continued Dovid’s lineage, could be anointed with the shemen hamish’cha. However, in this instance, there is a halachic difference between this anointing and that of the kohanim mentioned above, in two ways. First, the king was anointed with shemen hamish’cha only when there had been some dispute or controversy concerning who would become the new king. For example, since Shelomoh’s older brother Adoniyah had initially contended he would become king after Dovid Hamelech’s passing (see Melachim I, Chapter 1), Shelomoh was anointed, to verify his appointment (Kerisus 5b).

When all accepted the appointment of the new king, he was not anointed, but assumed his position, without this procedure.

The second difference between the anointing of the kohein gadol and that of the king is how the oil is applied to the head of the anointed. When a king was anointed, it was applied in a way reminiscent of a crown, whereas when a kohein gadol or kohein meshuach milchamah was anointed, the oil was applied following a different pattern. There are different girsa’os, texts,to the Gemara that explain what this pattern was, and consequently, a dispute among the rishonim as to exactly how the kohein gadol was anointed, some contending it was in the shape of a crisscross atop his head, others, that it was poured similar to three sides of a rectangle, and still others with various other understandings of the text.

We should note that, at times, a Jewish king not of the family of Dovid Hamelech was anointed, not with shemen hamish’cha, but with a different, special anointing oil that had no sanctity (Kerisus 5b).

Where?

At this point, we can answer another of our opening questions: “Where will we find the shemen hamish’cha today?”

The answer is that we do not know where Yoshiyahu buried it, and until it is found, its location is an unsolved mystery. The Gemara assumes that at some time in the future, it will be located (Kerisus 5b).

Moshiach’s arrival

Will the Moshiach require that he be anointed with shemen hamish’cha? After all, doesn’t the word “Moshiach” mean “the anointed one?”

The answer is that whether the shemen hamish’cha is found before the arrival of the Moshiach or not, he can fulfill his role.

If the oil is used inappropriately, is the anointer liable, the anointed, or both of them?

How much?

What is the amount of each of these ingredients, in modern measurements, that this mitzvah requires?

The Torah prohibition is violated only if someone uses the exact quantities of the different oils. However, if someone wants to have a sense of blending the shemen hamish’cha, it is permitted to mix the qualitative equivalent as long as the quantities are not the same. This is different from a similar mitzvah, also mentioned in this week’s parsha, about blending the ketores, the incense burned in the Beis Hamikdash, in which case it is forbidden to mix the same proportions of the ketores, even when the quantities are different.

Why is there this halachic difference between the two mitzvos? The answer is that the ketores was used in smaller proportions, and therefore blending it proportionally is similar to the way it was mixed in the Beis Hamikdashs. The shemen hamish’cha, on the other hand, was never used or made in smaller proportions, and therefore, there is nothing wrong with mixing it in smaller proportions.

Blending

Making a blend of shemen hamish’cha for a person’s own personal use.

In truth, the shemen hamish’cha was made only once in Klal Yisroel’s history, and that was when Moshe manufactured it in the Desert.

Using

As we saw above, the Torah prohibited using the shemen hamish’cha for a non-authorized purpose. However, it should be noted that the prohibition is only to use the shemen hamish’cha, itself, that was intended for holy purposes, and not for using a privately-made equivalent. In other words, making a blend of shemen hamish’cha is prohibited min haTorah, but there is no prohibition in using that privately-made blend. The prohibition is only to use the shemen hamish’cha made by Moshe Rabbeinu.

At this point, let us analyze another of our opening questions: If the oil is used inappropriately, is the anointer liable, the anointed, or both of them?

From the Gemara, we see that the anointer is certainly liable. The question is whether the anointed is, also, liable. The Tosefta (Makos 3:1) states that the anointed is also in violation. However, the Rambam does not mention this law, which prompts many acharonim to discuss why he does not.

Conclusion

Toward the end of parshas Ki Sissa, the Torah notes: “Three times a year, shall all your males appear before Hashem, the Master, the G-d of Israel.” This mitzvah focuses our attention on the central importance of the Beis Hamikdash for the Jewish people. Similarly, the shemen hamish’cha is closely connected to the Beis Hamikdash, and its use for the future of Klal Yisroel is primarily to anoint the kohein gadol. Thus, although we cannot observe the mitzvah today, studying its laws reminds us of the significant role that the Beis Hamikdash plays in the life of the Jewish people, and the realization of how much we are missing.

One of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s talmidim related to me the following story that he, himself, observed. A completely red, female calf had been born. Since this is, indeed, a rare occurrence, much conversation developed concerning whether this was positive indication that the Moshiach would be arriving soon, and this would provide the parah adumah necessary to make the Beis Hamikdash, the people and the vessels tahor.

Someone approached Rav Moshe to see his reaction to hearing this welcome news, and was surprised that Rav Moshe did not react at all. When asked further whether Rav Moshe felt that this was any indication of the Moshiach’s imminent arrival, Rav Moshe responded: “I daven every day for the Moshiach to come now. The parah adumah is not kosher until it is past its second birthday. Do you mean to tell me that I must wait two more years for the Moshiach?”

Anointing Oil

Question #1: Who?

Who may be anointed with the shemen hamish’cha?

Question #2: What?

What are the ingredients of the shemen hamish’cha?

Question #3: Where?

Where is the shemen hamish’cha poured?

Introduction:

Parshas Terumah contains the first reference to the anointing oil used to dedicate the Mishkan and to consecrate the kohein gadol and the Jewish kings. Next week’s parsha, Ki Sissa, contains the beautiful mitzvah of processing this oil, called the shemen hamish’cha, a mitzvah with which most people are not that familiar. I should actually say “three mitzvos,” since the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch note that there are three mitzvos, one positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseih) and two negative mitzvos (lo saaseh):

(1) A mitzvas aseih (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Mitzvas Aseih #35; Chinuch, Mitzvah #107) to manufacture, use correctly, and treat this unique anointing oil in a special way. We see from the Torah that blending the shemen hamish’cha and “anointing” with it the various keilim used in the Mishkan fulfilled the mitzvah. We also see that the mitzvah includes “treating the shemen hamish’cha as holy,” although it is unclear, at this point, what that entails.

(2) A lo saaseh not to pour the shemen hamish’cha onto a person when unauthorized (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #84; Chinuch, Mitzvah #108). We will see that there are four categories of people who may be anointed with shemen hamish’cha. Anointing anyone else with the shemen hamish’cha violates this lo saaseh; furthermore, it is also prohibited to smear or pour the shemen hamish’cha onto the skin of any person, even someone whom it is permitted to anoint with it. Thus, the Gemara states that a kohein gadol who smears shemen hamish’cha on his leg as a balm violates the prohibition of the Torah (Kerisus 7a).

(3) A lo saaseh not to blend a recipe equivalent to the shemen hamish’cha that Moshe mixed (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #83; Chinuch, Mitzvah #109).

Let us begin by quoting the first posuk that describes this mitzvah (Shemos 30:22-23): “And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘And you – take for yourself the best of the fragrances.’” Because of the difficulty in ascertaining the precise meaning of many of the terms for fragrances used by the Torah, I will often transliterate the word and then explain what it means.

The Torah tells us that five ingredients were used in the anointing oil: (A) Five hundred holy shekel-weights of mor deror;(B) Fragrant kinneman, half of which is 250 holy shekel-weights; (C) Fragrant cane or reed – 250 holy shekel-weights; (D) Five hundred holy shekel-weights of kiddah; (E) A hin of olive oil.

As we will soon see, the identity of these ingredients is disputed. Furthermore, the tanna’im disagree whether the various fragrances were extracted by boiling them in the olive oil, or whether they were extracted in water and then blended into the olive oil (Kerisus 5a-b).

The posuk begins with Hashem saying to Moshe: “And you – take for yourself.” This implies that Moshe had a specific relationship with the shemen hamish’cha. The Gemara explains that the shemen hamish’cha was made only one time – by Moshe Rabbeinu (Kerisus 5a). Forever after, the laws governing when the shemen hamish’cha may be used apply only to the oil manufactured by Moshe Rabbeinuin the Desert.

How much kinneman?

How many units of kinneman are used? In other words, what do the words, “kinneman, half of which is 250 shekel,” mean? And, if it means simply that we are to take 500 shekel-weight of kinneman,why not say so, clearly?

The Gemara explains that, to make sure that enough fragrance was used, it was required to add a small amount of spice more than the weight used to balance against it. Thus, the shemen hamish’cha contained a bit more than 500 shekel-weights of mor deror and of kiddah, and a bit more than 250 shekel-weight of fragrant reeds. However, the fragrant kinneman was brought in two measures of 250 holy shekel-weights, and each of these was weighed separately (Kerisus 5a). So, there actually was a little more kinneman than mor deror or fragrant cane.

What are its ingredients?

What are the ingredients of the shemen hamish’cha? The Torah describes that Moshe is to take four fragrant items: mor, kinneman, knei bosem and kiddah. The rishonim dispute regarding the correct identity of every one of these fragrances.

Mor

According to Rav Saadya Gaon and the Rambam, mor is what we call, in English, musk, a glandular extract from various animals. Although most of them, such as the muskrat, civet and otter are non-kosher, there is a variety of deer and a variety of wild ox, both of them kosher species, that might be the source.

The ibn Ezra and the Raavad disagree with the Rambam. The ibn Ezra contends that the Rambam’s interpretation does not fit the description of the word mor in other pesukim in Tanach (Shir Hashirim 5:1, 5); whereas the Raavad argues that the Torah would not want an extract of a non-kosher species in the Mishkan. Both of these questions are resolved by later rishonim (see Rabbeinu Bachya).

Those who disagree with Rav Saadya Gaon and the Rambam usually suggest that mor is myrrh, a tree exudate (also called a gum) of the species Commiphora myrrha and related varieties.

Kinneman

In Modern Hebrew, the word kinneman means what we call, in English, “cinnamon,” whose scientific name is either Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum lourerii. Obviously, all of these names are cognate to the Hebrew and derived from it. However, this does not necessarily prove that cinnamon is the correct species. Among the rishonim, there are many opinions as to the correct identity of kinneman; the Ramban, for example, quotes four different opinions. Rashi does, indeed, identify kinneman as what is probably cinnamon, but it is quite clear that the Rif, the Rambam and others do not. The Ramban, in disputing Rashi’s opinion, notes that several midrashim describe kinneman as a field grass that goats forage – certainly not a description of cinnamon or any other tree bark. The Rif describes kinneman as being similar in appearance to straw. Among the candidates suggested for kinneman, according to this approach, is muskroot, also called sumbul or sumbal, which bears the scientific name of Adoxa moschatellina. Another possibility is palmarosa, also called Indian geranium or ginger grass, whose scientific name is Cymbopogon martinii. Thus, although the English word cinnamon is derived from the Hebrew, this could be a case of false identification, as is true in many such uses of Hebrew cognates.

Fragrant smelling reed

The Ramban (Commentary to Shemos 30:34) identifies knei bosem, fragrant-smelling cane or reed, with a species called, in Arabic, darasini, which I am told is the Arabic word for cinnamon. Thus, the Ramban agrees with Rashi that cinnamon is one of the spices used in the shemen hamish’cha, but disagrees as to which Hebrew word refers to it. There will be a difference between them as to how much cinnamon is included, since there are 500 shekel-weights of kinneman and only 250 of “fragrant smelling reeds.”

Kiddah

According to Rashi and Targum Onkelos, the Aramaic word for kiddah is ketziyah, which is cognate to, and usually translated as, cassia, a tree whose scientific name is Cinnamomum cassia, which is similar to cinnamon and also has a fragrant bark. Again, this identification is not certain. The Rambam calls it “kost” (often pronounced and printed with the Hebrew letter shin as kosht), which is usually assumed to be costos, the root of an annual herb called Sausurea lappa.

From the explanation that the Ramban provides to the ketores (Commentary to Shemos 30:34), it can be demonstrated that he disagrees with both Rashi and the Rambam, and identifies kiddah as a different herb. Among the species I have seen suggested are Castus speciosus, but this is merely conjecture.

How is it used?

Let us now continue the posuk: “You shall make with it oil for sacred anointment, blended together, processed as an apothecary does – and it will be oil for sacred anointment. With it you shall anoint the Tent of Assembly (the Mishkan), the Ark of Testimony (the Aron), the Table and all its implements, the Menorah and all its implements, the incense altar, the olah altar and all its implements, the laver and its stand… And you shall anoint Aharon and his sons… Furthermore, you shall tell the children of Israel – ‘This holy anointing oil shall be for Me, for all your generations. It shall not be poured on a person’s flesh, and any likeness of its formulation shall not be made; it is sacred, and you must always treat it as such. Any person who will blend anything similar to it, or put it on a zar (a person who may not be anointed with it) will be cut off from his people’” (Shemos 30: 25-33).

Before we continue, let us explain: What is the posuk emphasizing when it says: “This holy anointing oil shall be for Me, for all your generations?”

The Gemara explains that, notwithstanding that the shemen hamish’cha was used to anoint the kohanim, the vessels, and the kings, when the original hin of anointing oil is found, it will be found in its entirety. In other words, although the shemen hamish’cha is used, miraculously, the original amount never dissipates (Kerisus 5b; Horiyos 11b).

Qualitative or quantitative?

What do the words, “any likeness of its formulation shall not be made” mean? The answer is that the prohibition of blending the shemen hamish’cha is violated only when someone uses the exact quantities of the different fragrances. However, if someone blends the correct proportions of the shemen hamish’cha, but not the same amounts that were mixed by Moshe, there is no violation. In other words, someone who produces a mock shemen hamish’cha by mixing the five ingredients in the correct proportions, but in larger or smaller quantities than those described, is not guilty of violating the prohibition. This is in contrast to the prohibition of manufacturing the ketores, the incense burned in the Beis Hamikdash, which is violated by making the correct proportions of its different fragrances, even when the quantities are different (Kerisus 5a).

Why is there this halachic difference between the two mitzvos? The answer is that the ketores was used in smaller proportions, and therefore, blending it proportionally in smaller quantities is similar to the way it was used. The shemen hamish’cha, on the other hand, was never used or made in smaller proportions, and therefore, it is not prohibited to mix it in smaller amounts.

Kareis

Both of these prohibitions, blending the shemen hamish’cha and using the shemen hamish’cha, carry with them the severe punishment of kareis (“will be excised”). This is unusual, because kareis is usually reserved for severe and basic violations of the Torah, such as idolatry, blasphemy, desecrating Shabbos or Yom Kippur, eating or drinking on Yom Kippur, consuming chometz on Pesach, failure to have a bris milah, and arayos (Mishnah Kerisus 2a). Almost all the mitzvos of kashrus are not punishable by kareis, meaning that they are considered a lesser level of violation than using the shemen hamish’cha inappropriately or blending your own shemen hamish’cha. This certainly provides much food for thought.

I will continue this article in two weeks.

Like Pulling Teeth

In honor of the Aseres Hadibros:

Question #1: Pulling Teeth

May I pull teeth on Shabbos?

Question #2: Clipping Fingernails

Does clipping fingernails on Shabbos involve a Torah prohibition?

Question #3: Digging Up

On Yom Tov, may I dig up earth to perform the mitzvah of kisuy hadam?

Introduction:

Each of our opening questions involves a complicated and often misunderstood concept of the laws of Shabbos, called melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. This topic is the subject of a machlokes between the tanna’im Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon, as to whether it is forbidden min haTorah or miderabbanan: Rabbi Yehudah contends that it is prohibited min haTorah, and Rabbi Shimon rules that it is prohibited only as a rabbinic decree. I deliberately did not yet translate the term melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, since this might bias the reader toward one interpretation over another.

What we do need to understand is that the laws of Shabbos and Yom Tov are qualitatively different from most other mitzvos and prohibitions of the Torah; regarding these laws the motive is a factor as to whether an action is prohibited.

At this stage, the basic questions we must resolve include:

  • What is the definition of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah?
  • Since all opinions agree that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited, what difference does it make whether the prohibition is min haTorah or miderabbanan?

Some examples

As is typical, the Gemara does not define melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, but does provide numerous instances of the principle. This article will present some of the cases and endeavor to illustrate how some rishonim explain the concept. I will then explain some of the halachic differences that result.

Here are some cases that the Gemara cites of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. In all of them, Rabbi Yehudah ruled that they are prohibited min haTorah, whereas Rabbi Shimon prohibited them only miderabbanan.

  • Carrying a corpse out of a building so that a kohen may enter (see Mishnah Shabbos 93b).
  • Extinguishing a fire to help someone fall asleep (Mishnah Shabbos 29b and Gemara Shabbos 30a). In modern times, we would talk about turning off a light for the same purpose.

There are also some cases that most, but not all, authorities consider to be cases of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah:

  • Lancing an infection to allow the pus to drain (Shabbos 107a).
  • Catching a snake to prevent it from biting someone (Shabbos 107a). All agree that this is permitted if it is a life-threatening emergency. The case in question is where the snake bite cannot kill, but may be very painful.

In the last two cases, some contend that these are permitted only in a life- threatening emergency, whereas others contend that the prohibition is only rabbinic, and therefore permit it. This is because, when the prohibition is only a rabbinic injunction, Chazal permit these measures for safety or medical reasons, even when the situation poses no threat to life.

Tosafos’ definition

At this point, I will provide three approaches to explain melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. Rabbi Shimon; Chagigah 10b s.v. meleches) explains that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah means that the activity was performed for a purpose that is different from the purpose of this melacha when the Mishkan was built. For example, in the Mishkan, all carried items were transported because they were needed in the place to which they were brought. Thus, carrying an item in order to remove it from its current place, and not because you want it in its new location, qualifies as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Therefore, when you want a kohen to be able to enter a building and, to allow this, you carry the meis outdoors, that is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Your reason for moving the meis is not so that it will be outdoors, but rather so that it will not be in the house.

Clipping fingernails

Clipping fingernails and all other cases of removing something from a living thing are prohibited on Shabbos because of the melacha of gozeiz, shearing sheep; building the Mishkan required wool. In the Mishkan, sheep were shorn in order to use the wool. Therefore, removing the horn of a rhinoceros or the tusks from an elephant, in order to use them, is prohibited min haTorah as a form of gozeiz. (There is discussion among halachic authorities whether gozeiz applies if the animal is dead. According to those who contend that it does not, you would be in violation of gozeiz only by removing horns or tusks from living rhinos or elephants — probably not such a good idea, even on a weekday.)

In the case of clipping nails, the melacha “benefits” the body, not the nails, which is different from the melacha of gozeiz as performed in the Mishkan. Therefore, Tosafos explains that, according to Rabbi Shimon, clipping fingernails on Shabbos is prohibited only miderabbanan,but not min haTorah. (We should note that another rishon,the Rivosh, agrees with Tosafos’ definition of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, but disagrees with this application. He contends that clipping fingernails is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon, because some cases of gozeiz in the Mishkan involved benefit to what is being shorn and not exclusively to the item being removed – Shu”t Harivosh #394.)

According to Tosafos, the words melacha she’einah tzericha legufah mean a melacha that was not for the purposes of the Mishkan.

Ramban’s approach

Although some rishonim understand melacha she’einah tzericha legufah the way Tosafos does, most do not. The Ramban (Shabbos 94b) explains melacha she’einah tzericha legufah as: you are not interested in the specific result. In the case of carrying the meis out of the house, although you are carrying it from an enclosed area (a reshus hayachid) to an open area meant for public use (a reshus harabim), your goal is to remove the meis from the house. If you could have it disappear completely, your immediate needs would be addressed. You are carrying the meis into a reshus harabim only because this is the simplest way to resolve the issue, not because you have any interest in performing an act of carrying into a reshus harabim on Shabbos.

The subtle difference between Tosafos and the Ramban can perhaps best be explained by providing an example: According to the Ramban, clipping fingernails is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon, because your goal is to remove the nails from your fingers, and that is what you are doing. The fact that, in the Mishkan, this melacha was performed to use the item clipped off is not relevant. According to the Ramban, the words melacha she’einah tzericha legufah mean that the person doing the melacha she’einah tzericha legufah gains nothing from the result of the melacha activity. He is doing the act of the melacha to remove a problem, not because he has any need for the result.

Here is another case in which Tosafos and the Ramban would disagree: Let’s say someone picks a fight with an enemy on Shabbos and mauls him with a mean uppercut, drawing blood. According to the Ramban, this is prohibited min haTorah, according to all opinions. The reason is that his goal when he punched was to draw blood, and he successfully accomplished his purpose. However, according to Tosafos, this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, since in the Mishkan the purpose of drawing blood was to make the animal into a useful “implement,” which is a different intent from that of the puncher.

Here is a case where both Tosafos and the Ramban agree on the halacha, but disagree as to why this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Building a fire or burning wood, according to both of them, does not qualify as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah; it is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon. The reasons Tosafos and the Ramban conclude this are slightly different. According to Tosafos, the reason is because kindling and burning were performed in the Mishkan in order to process the vat dyes that were used: techeiles, argaman, and tolaas shani. Therefore, burning wood to cook is a similar activity to what was performed in building the Mishkan. According to the Ramban, Rabbi Shimon considers this a melacha min haTorah because the goal when performing the melacha is to burn the wood, and that is the forbidden outcome.

Opinion of the Baal Hama’or

A third opinion, that of the Baal Hama’or (Shabbos 106a), is that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah means a melacha performed when the improvement occurs not to the item on which the melacha is performed, but to a different item. In his opinion, the words melacha she’einah tzericha legufah mean an act in which the item upon which the melacha is performed does not improve because of the action.

Thus, clipping one’s nails is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah and, according to Rabbi Shimon, is not prohibited min haTorah, since the nails are not improved by the clipping. Thus, in this particular case, the Baal Hama’or agrees with Tosafos and disagrees with the Ramban.

On the other hand, here is a case that the Baal Hama’or and the Ramban agree that even Rabbi Shimon considers a violation of Shabbos min haTorah, whereas Tosafos disagrees. Among some populations, livestock are used for an interesting harvesting operation. The owners draw blood, which is a highly nourishing beverage, from their livestock, in a way similar to the method in which we humans donate blood. They then drink the blood, either straight or mixed with milk. (By the way, it is permitted for a non-Jew to harvest and drink blood this way, which is a topic for a different time.) Our question is whether this action would violate melacha on Shabbos min haTorah or only miderabbanan.

According to Tosafos, since blood was not drawn for this purpose in the Mishkan, it is prohibited miderabbanan, according to Rabbi Shimon. However, according to both the Baal Hama’or and the Ramban, this is prohibited min haTorah even according to Rabbi Shimon, although there is a subtle difference as to why. According to the Baal Hama’or, this is prohibited min haTorah because the melacha is performed on the blood, and this is a positive result (from a human perspective) because you now have access to the blood. According to the Ramban, this is also prohibited min haTorah, because the perpetrator’s goal is to have blood at his disposal, and he has accomplished this.

Bad odor

Here is an example where all the opinions quoted agree that it is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah: Moving an item that has a bad odor from a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, into a reshus harabim, an open area meant for public use. Although moving something from a reshus hayachid into a reshus harabim constitutes the melacha of carrying, moving the foul-smelling item from a house to a reshus harabim does not constitute a melacha min haTorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, because the purpose of the carrying for the Mishkan was to move the item to an accessible location. However, when removing a foul-smelling item, there is no significance attached to the place to which the item is moved; one’s goal is only to distance it from its current location. The public area does not constitute the goal of one’s act, but rather a convenient place to deposit unwanted material. I note that although all three rishonim that I have quoted are in agreement regarding this ruling, there is at least one early authority, Rav Nissim Gaon (Shabbos 12a), who disagrees and considers this action to be a Torah prohibition even according to Rabbi Shimon.

Clipping fingernails

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: Does clipping fingernails involve a Torah prohibition on Shabbos?

According to Tosafos’ understanding of Rabbi Shimon’s opinion, and also according to the Baal Hama’or,this is prohibited only miderabbanan. However, according to the other opinions we have mentioned, this is prohibited min haTorah, even according to Rabbi Shimon.

In practical halacha, the question is: When there is a pressing but not life-threatening need to clip or trim nails on Shabbos, is it permitted to have a non-Jew do so? (See Nekudos Hakesef, Yoreh Deah 198:21; Biur Halacha 340:1 s.v. vechayov.)

I am limiting this discussion about melacha she’einah tzericha legufah to these three approaches, notwithstanding that there are many opinions how to explain the concept, with many differences in halacha (see, for example, Rav Nissim Gaon, Shabbos 12a; Tosafos Rid, Shabbos 107b and 121b; Meginei Shelomoh, Shabbos 94a; Mirkeves Hamishneh, beginning of Hilchos Shabbos; Yeshu’os Yaakov, Orach Chayim 319:1).

How do we rule?

Does the halachic conclusion follow Rabbi Yehudah or Rabbi Shimon? This, itself, is a major dispute among the rishonim. The Rambam and others rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited min haTorah, following Rabbi Yehudah, while others rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited only miderabbanan, following Rabbi Shimon. It is even unclear which way the Shulchan Aruch and the later poskim rule.

What difference does it make?

We find that Chazal were lenient in several halachic issues that involve melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. For example, under certain circumstances, because of pain or illness, they permitted performing a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. (Those who rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah violates a Torah law permit this only when the situation is life threatening, or because of a different halachic reason).

Here is another situation in which many halachic authorities are lenient. As we are aware, most food preparation activities are permitted on Yom Tov, at least min haTorah. We may find it strange, but it is permitted to shecht on Yom Tov. Prior to the discovery of refrigeration, this was the easiest way to supply fresh meat for Yom Tov. (Although this may sound a bit pessimistic, life is the world’s best preservative.)

The halachic question we will address is the following: When shechting fowl or deer (or any other species of chayah), the halacha requires that we perform a mitzvah called kisuy hadam, which means covering the blood of the shechitah, both below and above, with earth or something similar, such as sawdust. The question is whether it is permitted to dig up earth, under certain circumstances, in order to perform kisuy hadam on Yom Tov.

If melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited min haTorah, as is the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, or if the act does not qualify as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah but is a regular melacha activity, it is prohibited to dig up earth in order to perform the mitzvah of kisuy hadam. However, if we rule according to Rabbi Shimon, one would be allowed to dig up earth (which is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah) to perform the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, at least under certain circumstances (Maharsha, Beitzah 8a s.v. Tosafos ve’eino; Machatzis Hashekel 498:25; Nesiv Chayim ad loc.).

At this point, we can return to our opening question:

Pulling Teeth

May I pull teeth on Shabbos?

Let us first analyze whether this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. According to Tosafos’ opinion, the melacha in the Mishkan this would fall under is gozeiz, and gozeiz was performed only to use the item being shorn. In my experience, a tooth is never pulled in order to use it. Therefore, this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah and prohibited only miderabbanan according to Rabbi Shimon. However, should the market price on tooth enamel go through the roof, and someone choose to remove his tooth for his huge resale value, pulling the tooth would be prohibited min haTorah.

According to the Ramban, the tooth is being pulled because it is painful, not because I want the tooth itself. If I could get the tooth to disappear, that would be even more helpful, since I would avoid the pain and risk of infection that pulling it entails. Thus, the Ramban also categorizes this as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah.

According to the Baal Hama’or, no benefit is gained from the tooth, and so, just as we explained according to the Ramban, this is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. As mentioned above, should circumstances change such that the removal of the tooth is performed for fnanical benefit, the act would become Torah prohibited also according to the Ramban and the Baal Hama’or.

Thus, all three rishonim we quoted do not consider pulling a tooth on Shabbos to be a Torah violation. Therefore, in a situation where a dentist wants to pull a tooth and the patient is in intense pain, all three of these rishonim would agree that this is permitted, according to Rabbi Shimon, even if the dentist is Jewish.

We also need to deal with the bleeding that will, undoubtedly, result when pulling a tooth. Again, according to Tosafos, this bleeding is not comparable to the reason that this melacha was performed in the Mishkan. According to both the Baal Hama’or and the Ramban, this would also qualify as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah.

Thus, it would seem that according to those rishonim who rule that melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is prohibited only miderabbanan, this should be permitted (Mishnah Berurah 316:30; Biur Halacha ad loc.; Nimla Tal, Shocheit #53; however, cf. Magen Avraham 328:3).

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos, in order for it to be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, activities or actions that achieve purpose and accomplishment. The concept of melacha she’einah tzericha legufah bears this out. It is no harder to perform a melacha hatzericha legufah, which is prohibited min haTorah according to all opinions, than to perform a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. Yet, according to Rabbi Shimon, the latter is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction. This is because this action is not considered to provide “purpose,” as explained above.

Shabbos is a day when we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes, and the melacha she’einah tzericha legufah type of activity is not considered our own purpose. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation, by refraining from our own creative acts.

The Fourth Brocha of Birkas Hamazon

Parshas Va’eira opens with Moshe Rabbeinu receiving admonition from Hashem for not being appreciative of His Ways. Thus, this is certainly an excellent time to study the brocha of bensching called Hatov Vehameitiv, “He Who is good and does good.”

Question #1: Why Beitar?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate the events that transpired in Beitar?

Question #2: Why in Birkas Hamazon?

Why was that brocha added to Birkas Hamazon?

Question #3: What a strange brocha!

Why does the brocha Hatov Vehameitiv have such an unusual structure?

Introduction:

The fourth brocha of bensching, which is called Hatov Vehameitiv, has little to do with the rest of the bensching. Whereas the first three brochos are to thank Hashem for our sustenance, the fourth brocha was created by Chazal for a completely unrelated reason. This brocha is called Hatov Vehameitiv because of the words it contains, “hamelech Hatov Vehameitiv lakol.” This article will discuss some of the halachos andconcepts of this unusual brocha.

Although in two different places (Brochos 46a; 49a) the Gemara quotes opinions that this fourth brocha is min haTorah, the consensus is that it is only rabbinic in origin. (We should note that the Midrash Shmuel [13:9] attributes the opinion that Hatov Vehameitiv is min haTorah to a very early authority, the tanna, Rabbi Yishmael.) To quote the Gemara:

Hatov Vehameitiv was established by the Sanhedrin when it was located in Yavneh, because of those who were killed in Beitar, as noted by Rav Masneh, “On the very day that those killed in Beitar were allowed to be buried, they established, in Yavneh, Hatov Vehameitiv. Hatov’ is to acknowledge that their bodies did not decompose; ‘Vehameitiv’ is to acknowledge that permission was granted to bury them” (Brochos 48b; Taanis 31a; Bava Basra 121b; see also Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

Hatov Vehameitiv

To avoid confusion, we must realize that there are two completely different brochos that Chazal call Hatov Vehameitiv. The other brocha, which is only eight words long, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam Hatov Vehameitiv, is recited upon hearing certain special, wonderful events or when breaking out a new bottle of wine. The laws germane to the shorter brocha will be left for a future article.

What happened in Beitar?

The Mishnah in Taanis (26b) records the calamities that occurred on Shiva Asar beTamuz and on Tisha Be’Av. Regarding Tisha Be’Av, it states, “On the ninth of Av, it was decreed upon our forefathers that they would not enter Eretz Yisroel, both the first and the second Batei Mikdash were destroyed, the city of Beitar was conquered, and the city of Yerushalayim was plowed under.” The Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanis 4:5), quoting the tanna, Rabbi Yosi, dates the destruction of Beitar as being 52 years after the churban of the second Beis Hamikdash, or, almost exactly 1900 years ago.

To understand the extent of the tragedy that happened in Beitar, let us quote some of the sources of Chazal.

A large city called Beitar, whose population was many tens of thousands of Jews, was ruled by a great Jewish king. All the Jews, including the greatest of the chachamim, thought that this king was the Moshiach, until he fell in battle to the non-Jews and the entire city was slaughtered (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 5:3).

The Roman emperor Hadrian owned a massive vineyard, twelve mil long and twelve mil wide (about fifty square miles). The Romans used the bodies of those who were killed when Beitar was destroyed as a wall, the height of a man, around the vineyard. Hadrian refused to allow the casualties of Beitar to be buried. Only with the succession of a new emperor was their burial permitted (Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

The city of Beitar had 400 shuls, each of which had 400 cheder rabbei’im teaching in them, and each rebbe taught 400 children. When the Romans conquered the city, they wrapped all the students and all the teachers in their seforim (which, in their day, were rolled like scrolls) and set them ablaze (Gittin 58a).

Enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found from those who died in Beitar to fill a mikveh. According to a second opinion, enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found to fill three mikvaos (Gittin 57b).

For seven years, the non-Jews fertilized their vineyards, exclusively, with the Jewish blood of those who were martyred in Beitar (Gittin 57a).

Fifteenth of Av

We should also note the following passage of Gemara: “No festivals of the Jews were celebrated to a greater extent than were the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. We understand why Yom Kippur has this unique quality – it is the day that forgiveness is granted – but why the fifteenth of Av?” Among the many answers the Gemara provides is “Rav Masneh explained, because that was the date when permission was granted to bury those killed in Beitar” (Taanis 30b-31a).

An unusual brocha

Now that we know a bit about the history behind this brocha, let us discuss the brocha itself, particularly, its structure. Of the many questions that we can ask, let us focus on the following three, which were our opening questions:

1. Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

2. Why was that brocha made part of Birkas Hamazon?

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

1. Why a brocha?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

Unfortunately, there have been many catastrophes in Jewish history, which we have, thank G-d, survived, but we do not have extra brochos to commemorate them (Kenesses Hagedolah, Tur Orach Chayim 189). Most tragedies are commemorated with fast days and the recital of selichos, and most miraculous events are celebrated on their anniversary, but not with a brocha that we recite daily.

These questions are already asked by very early authorities, who suggest the following answers:

The tragedy of the destruction of Beitar was great and unique in the bizayon haTorah that resulted, when thousands and thousands of observant Jews lay unburied. When Hadrian died, and his successor permitted their burial, Chazal felt the need to demonstrate, significantly, that this chillul Hashem had ended and was, on the contrary, accompanied by a tremendous kiddush Hashem, that the bodies of the fallen had not deteriorated, notwithstanding that they had been exposed to the elements for many years.

In addition, the events of Beitar teach that, even when Hashem is angry at us, He still performs miracles. This is to teach us that Hashem never abandons us, even at times when we sin and deserve punishment (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:2)

2. Why in bensching?

Why did Chazal place this brocha in bensching (Rosh, quoted by Tur, Orach Chayim 189)? The rest of Birkas Hamazon is acknowledgement to Hashem for providing for us and for the wonderful land of Eretz Yisroel that He gave us. Why commemorate the tragedy of Beitar during Birkas Hamazon?

This brocha was instituted in Birkas Hamazon as a constant reminder (Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351; Shu”t Mishpetei Shmuel #11). In addition, it was placed in Birkas Hamazon, which is, in its entirety, thanks to Hashem (Rosh, Brochos 7:22). Furthermore, the Rosh notes that the Yerushalmi (see our version, Sukkah 5:1 at end) states that the loss that the Jews suffered at Beitar will not be restored until the Moshiach comes. It is unclear to which specific loss this Gemara is referring, but regardless, this is another reason why the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv was placed immediately following the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim.

Several prominent gedolim provide an additional reason why this brocha was added specifically to bensching. After celebrating a joyous meal, people might lose sight of life’s priorities. To prevent this from happening, Chazal instituted a brocha reminding people of the tragedy of Beitar (Rabbeinu Bachya, Kad Hakemach #60; Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351). This is similar to the idea of breaking a glass at a wedding and mentioning the churban then, so as to keep our celebrations in a balanced perspective. We celebrate, but still need to remember that we are missing important aspects of life that we require as Jews.

Why not in Shemoneh Esrei?

The Binyamin Ze’ev, who lived in Greece and in Venice, Italy, during the first half of the sixteenth century, asks that, if Chazal wanted the association of this new brocha to be with the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, why was the brocha placed in Birkas Hamazon and not in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei, after Boneh Yerushalayim?

The answer is that inserting this brocha in the midst of the Shemoneh Esrei would be an interruption, whereas at the time that Chazal incorporated this fourth brocha into Birkas Hamazon, bensching included only the Torah required portions, which end with the words Boneh Yerushalayim (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:1). (The other requests that begin with the word Harachaman,the pesukim that we traditionally recite at the end of the bensching, and the blessing we recite for the household where we ate were all added to Birkas Hamazon after this time in history.)

Text of brocha

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

Let me explain. The numerous brochos that we recite daily follow three specific structural patterns:

A. Either they are very short brochos, such as those that we recite prior to eating, performing mitzvos, seeing unusual sites, or enjoying other pleasures, which begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and then close with the appropriate ending. These are called brochos ketzaros, short brochos.

B. A second structure of a brocha is the most common for a longer brocha. This type of brocha begins with the same words, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and ends the brocha by repeating the words Boruch Attah Hashem and closing with the theme of the brocha. These brochos are called brochos aruchos, long brochos.

Part of a series

C. The third type of brocha is one that follows another brocha in a series. Such a brocha does not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, but ends with Boruch Attah Hashem and closes with the theme of the brocha. This type is categorized as a brocha hasemucha lachaverta, literally, a brocha that follows another brocha; in other words, a brocha that is part of a series. For this reason, the brochos of Shemoneh Esrei, the brochos that surround the Kerias Shma, and the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon do not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam (except for the first brocha in the series). All begin by explaining the theme of the brocha and end with Boruch Attah Hashem and an appropriate conclusion.

The brochos of bensching

Now that we realize that all brochos fit into one of three categories, let us examine the four brochos of Birkas Hamazon and see under which category each brocha belongs.

The first brocha, Ha’zon es ha’olam, begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and closes with Boruch Attah Hashem hazan es hakol, “He who sustains all.” This structure fits our rules nicely, as category B: It is a classic “long brocha.”

The second and third brochos are part of a series and, therefore, do not begin with a brocha, but end either with the words Boruch Attah Hashem al ha’aretz ve’al hamazon, or with Boruch Attah Hashem boneh (berachamav) Yerushalayim. This follows the rule of brocha hasemucha lachaverta, a brocha that follows another brocha, which we called category C.

The unusual fourth

However, the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon does not seem to fit any of the above three categories. It begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, which means it is not considered part of a series. Although it is always recited as the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon, immediately after the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim, and you would think that it should be considered part of a series (Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov), our introduction can help explain why it is not. Since this brocha was not originally part of Birkas Hamazon, but was added for a completely unrelated reason, it is considered a beginning brocha and not a brocha hasemucha lachaverta.

Which remaining category?

The list above contains two categories of brocha that begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam: category A, the short brochos, and category B, the long brochos. However, Hatov Vehameitiv does not seem to fit either category. It is too long to be considered a short brocha, nor does it follow the structure of a long brocha, since it does not end with Boruch Attah, Hashem and a closing.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question. The rishonim do, and provide three answers to resolve this conundrum. But first, we need to provide another introduction.

Chazal instituted that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv should include three references to Hashem being King, a concept that Chazal call malchus (Brochos 47a). This we do, when we recite the following: (1) the word melech in the very beginning of the brocha, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, (2) the next words of the brocha are ha’keil avinu malkeinu, (3) ro’einu ro’eih Yisroel hamelech hatov (Divrei Chamudos, Brochos 7:69).

Why three times? The Gemara (Brochos 49a) explains that since the third brocha of Birkas Hamazon (that ends with the words, Boneh Yerushalayim) mentions the kingdom and royal family of David, there should be mention of Hashem’s monarchy in all four brochos of Birkas Hamazon. However, the mention of Hashem’s malchus that should be in the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon are delayed until the fourth. (The first brocha of Birkas Hamazon, begins with Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and therefore contains a reference to Hashem’s monarchy.) Thus, in addition to the basic theme of acknowledgement and thanks to Hashem for His performing a miracle, Chazal added a theme to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv, making sure that Hashem’s malchus is mentioned three times.

Three hatavos

The rishonim quote a midrash that states that Chazal required adding to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv three hatavos: We are to say three times that Hashem is beneficial to us. Although I was unable to locate this midrash, it definitely existed at the time of the rishonim but has been lost since their era.

Among the rishonim, I found several different texts for this concept. The standard nusach Ashkenaz says hu heitiv, hu meitiv, hu yeitiv lanu,“He has done good, He does good, and He will do good to us”. The Rosh discusses the correct text, and concludes that the correct text should be hu heitiv lanu, hu meitiv lanu, hu yeitiv lanu, with the word lanu repeated each time (“He has done good to us, He does good to us, and He will do good to us.”). The Shulchan Aruch rules that this is the correct practice, and this is the standard, accepted nusach used by eidot hamizrah and Sefardim. This is a very interesting point, because the Rosh is usually the source for minhagei Ashkenaz that differ from Sefardic practice, and here, he is the source for the Sefardic custom, and most Ashkenazim do not follow his approach.

Hu Gemalanu

In addition, the rishonim mention that we should also mention three times that Hashem grants us good, which we add with the words, hu gemalanu, hu gomleinu, hu yigmeleinu la’ad –“He granted us, He grants us and He will grant us forever…”

Why no ending?

Thus, we see that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv is a long brocha, and yet it does not end with the words Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, as a long brocha normally does.

Why not?

Again, the rishonim raise this question and provide several differing approaches to answer it. Rabbeinu Yonah (Brochos 36a) quotes two reasons:

I. Notwithstanding that the brocha is somewhat lengthy, it is still considered a short brocha, because all the ideas included are simply different aspects of the same theme – that Hashem is Hatov Vehameitiv.

II. When the original brocha was created, Hatov Vehameitiv was a short brocha that did not warrant an ending. Although other parts were gradually added, the original structure of the brocha was not changed (see also Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov).

III. The Rashba (Brochos 46a s.v. Teida) provides a third answer. Although this brocha should have been a long brocha, Chazal did not treat it as such, because they did not want this brocha, which is miderabbanan, to be more prominent than the two brochos that proceed it, which are min haTorah and which each have the words Boruch Attah Hashem only one time. Therefore, they decided to omit an ending to this brocha, making it an exception to the rule.

Conclusion

The most important message of Birkas Hamazon is our expressing thanks to Hashem for everything He provides for us. We see how Chazal also wanted us to remember to thank Hashem for kindnesses that He did for our people, thousands of years ago. It certainly behooves us to recite the Birkas Hamazon carefully and with kavanah, and to demonstrate at least a small expression to praise Hashem.

A Sweet Change of Pace

The Torah teaches that the second time the brothers came down to Mitzrayim, Yaakov told them to bring treats from Eretz Yisroel with which to woo Pharoah. Of course, they had no chocolate to bring, but we can discuss a different royal treat that the Aztecs considered a royal beverage.

What beracha does one recite over chocolate-covered raisins?

Before answering this question, we need to ascertain the correct beracha for chocolate itself. Although the accepted practice is to recite shehakol on chocolate bars and other products, the question is, why? After all, chocolate is the product of the bean from the cocoa tree. Shouldn’t its beracha be borei pri ha’eitz? As we will see, many poskim, indeed, contend that the correct beracha on chocolate is ha’eitz, accepted custom notwithstanding. We will also investigate whether there is a difference between the beracha on dark chocolate and white chocolate.

Furthermore, to resolve our question, we must analyze which beracha one recites on fruit products that have undergone extensive processing, such as sugar, peanut butter, jams, jellies, applesauce, and chocolate. We also need to understand something about the history and methods of chocolate production. We will discover that, aside from this being interesting, all this information impacts on halacha.

Chocolate history

Chocolate is native to southern Mexico and Central America, where the Maya, and later the Aztecs, cultivated the cocoa (also called the cacao) tree for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years. In fact, the word chocolate originates from an Aztec word meaning “warm liquid.” In their society, the royal family drank warm, unsweetened chocolate from golden goblets, and cocoa beans were used as currency. Thus, if a Jew had accompanied Hernando Cortez on his trip to the New World, he might have recited kiddush and havdalah over hot chocolate, since it qualified there as chamar medinah, a beverage used to honor guests!

The Spaniards transported cocoa trees to the Old World. Later, industrialists developed vast plantations of cocoa trees in Africa, Indonesia, and other tropical areas.

The Native Americans drank their chocolate unsweetened, whereas the Spaniards added sugar to it. This created two industries in the New World, the cocoa industry and the sugar industry. By 5340 (1580), hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was a common Spanish drink, and from there it eventually spread to the rest of Europe.

As long as chocolate was drunk as a beverage, its beracha was certainly shehakol, since we recite shehakol on all beverages (except, of course, grape juice and wine), even if, such as beer and whiskey, they are made from the five grains (Tosafos, Berachos 38a s.v. Hai).

Chocolate in the 19th century

Two major 19th century developments vastly changed the way people consumed chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced the first solid, eating chocolate. Until this time, chocolate had never been eaten.

The second development occurred in 1876, when the Swiss devised a method of adding milk to chocolate, thereby creating what we know today as milk chocolate. Prior to this invention, all chocolate was pareve. (By the way, some European manufacturers currently add animal fat to chocolate, obviously making it non-kosher.)

How does cocoa grow?

The cocoa tree grows with large, colored fruits the size of melons or small pineapples that hang from the branches and trunk of the tree. Each huge fruit contains a sticky pulp that holds about 20-50 almond-shaped seeds, that are usually called cocoa beans. The growers separate the beans from the pulp, ferment the beans for about a week, dry them in the sun, and then ship the semi-processed cocoa beans to a chocolate maker.

How is chocolate made?

The chocolate maker roasts the beans to bring out the flavor, and then removes the shell from the bean, leaving the kernel. The kernel is ground and becomes a thick, viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The bean turns into a liquid when it is ground, because it contains over 50% fat.

The chocolate liquor I am describing contains no alcohol – that is simply the name for the ground, liquefied chocolate. Chocolate liquor is pure, bitter, unsweetened chocolate, similar to what the Aztecs drank in their time.

The chocolate maker now separates the cocoa liquor into its two main components: the fat, or cocoa butter (nothing to do with the butter that is made from milk), and cocoa bean solids. The solids are ground into cocoa powder. The chocolate we eat consists of a mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder, along with several other ingredients: notably sugar, and usually, milk. This product is ground fine in a machine called a “conch” to give it a smooth consistency and taste. The chocolate is then tempered, which means that it is heated slowly and then cooled slowly, to enable the chocolate to harden properly, and so that the cocoa butter does not separate from the chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is flavored and shaped into the final product.

Thus, before being ready to eat, chocolate has been separated, fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, ground, liquefied, separated again, ground again, mixed with milk and/or cocoa butter, ground yet again in a conch, tempered, flavored and shaped.

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and, sometimes, milk. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate, and that is how it maintains its light color. Some “white chocolate” products are, in reality, made of vegetable oil and chocolate flavoring instead of cocoa butter.

So, what beracha do we make on chocolate?

To this day, there is a dispute among the authorities as to whether the correct beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro. To comprehend this dispute, we need to understand the halachos of fruit and vegetable products that no longer have their original consistency. Is the correct beracha on these items borei pri ha’eitz (or borei pri ha’adamah in the case of some), or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro?

The Rishonim dispute this question, many contending that even fruit that is completely pureed is still borei pri ha’eitz, whereas a minority rule that the beracha on a fruit or vegetable that no longer has its original consistency is shehakol.

What do we conclude?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:7) rules that the beracha on date butter is ha’eitz, and this is the ruling followed by most Sefardim. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Rama, who contends that one should recite shehakol, because of the safek as to which opinion we should follow. In practice, Ashkenazim usually recite borei pri ha’eitz when eating a product that has some of the consistency of the original product, as is the case of jam containing recognizable fruit pieces or “chunky” applesauce, but recite shehakol before eating a completely smooth applesauce, or a smooth jam, where the fruit has completely lost its consistency (Mishnah Berurah 202:42).

However, since the reason we recite shehakol is because it is a safek, several halachic differences result. For example, someone having a snack of applesauce and a beverage should make sure to recite the shehakol on the applesauce rather than on the beverage. If he recites the shehakol on the beverage without specifically including the applesauce, he now has a safek whether he has fulfilled the obligation to make a beracha on the applesauce. This is because, according to the opinions that the beracha should be ha’eitz, one does not fulfill the beracha by reciting shehakol on something else.

Similarly, someone eating a fruit and applesauce at the same time who recited ha’eitz on the fruit should not recite shehakol (and certainly not ha’eitz) on the applesauce. This is because, according to the poskim who contend that applesauce is ha’eitz, he has already fulfilled his duty to recite a beracha by reciting ha’eitz on the other fruit. In this situation, he should first recite shehakol on the applesauce and then ha’eitz on the fruit (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas #16).

Some poskim are stricter, ruling that one should not eat an item that is definitely borei pri ha’eitz together with an item that is questionably borei pri ha’eitz, such as applesauce. This is because there isn’t any way to fulfill the need for reciting a beracha on both items without creating an unnecessary beracha. If you recite the beracha on the fruit first, then you have a safek as to whether you can recite a beracha on the safek item. On the other hand, if you recite the shehakol on the safek item first, then, according to the opinions that the beracha is ha’eitz, you have now recited an unnecessary beracha (Maamar Mordechai 203:3).

How does this discussion affect chocolate?

The average person looking at a chocolate bar does not recognize the cocoa beans, since they have been ground, liquefied, and reconstituted into a solid in the process. Can he still recite ha’eitz on the finished chocolate product, or does it become shehakol?

Many assume that the beracha on chocolate products is shehakol, based on the rulings of the Divrei Yosef and other authorities quoted by the Shaarei Teshuvah (Orach Chayim 202:19). However, since all these authorities lived at the time when chocolate was only drunk, it is difficult to base any halachic conclusion on what beracha to recite before eating chocolate, since we recite shehakol on all beverages, as mentioned above.

Among the more recent authorities who discuss which beracha one should recite before eating chocolate, two of the most respected authorities are Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, who reach diametrically opposite conclusions. In his Minchas Shelomoh, Rav Shelomoh Zalman suggests that one should recite ha’eitz before eating chocolate (Volume 1:91:2). He compares chocolate to a case of spices ground so fine that their source is no longer identifiable. The beracha recited on them is whatever would have been the appropriate beracha on the particular spice before grinding (usually ha’adamah), even if the spice is mixed with sugar, and even if it is mostly sugar (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 203:7). Let me explain this case with an example.

What beracha does one make on cinnamon sugar?

Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, and as such its beracha is borei pri ha’adamah (we do not recite borei pri ha’eitz, since we eat the bark and not the fruit). “Cinnamon sugar” is a blend of cinnamon and sugar, in which the cinnamon cannot always be identified by appearance, although it is clearly the more pronounced flavor. Based on the above-quoted ruling, one should recite ha’adamah before eating cinnamon sugar.

Why are spices different from finely ground fruit and vegetables, over which Ashkenazim recite shehakol?

Since this is considered the way that one “eats” spices, they do not lose their beracha, even though they can no longer be identified (Mishnah Berurah 203:12).

What beracha do we recite on sugar?

As I discussed in a different article (See Topical Tropical Plants — Papaya, Pineapple, and Palm Hearts), there is a thousand-year-old dispute concerning whether the correct beracha one should recite before eating cane sugar is borei pri ha’eitz, borei pri ha’adamah or shehakol. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:15) concludes that we recite shehakol on sugar; however, someone who recited either borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar should not recite a new beracha, since the correct beracha is disputed.

Originally, sugar was produced only from sugar cane. Today, a large percentage of the world’s sugar crop is extracted from the sweet white root of the sugar beet, and a much smaller amount is produced from corn (maize). However, mass cultivation and production of sugar beets did not begin until the 19th century and was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. When the British blockaded Napoleon’s Europe, one of the products that became unavailable was cane sugar, which does not grow in Europe’s cold climate. Out of concern that his subjects might revolt over the unavailability of imported sugar, Napoleon built sugar refineries throughout Europe. He even awarded a medal for perfecting the production of white sugar from the white root of the sugar beet, which thrives in cold climates.

Although Napoleon was not worried about it, some Rabbonim were concerned whether the beracha over the new type of sugar was also shehakol, just as the beracha over cane sugar. (The two types of sugar cannot be distinguished one from the other.) The Mishnah Berurah (202:76) rules that one should recite shehakol over beet sugar, although if someone recited borei pri ha’adamah, he should not make another beracha.

Thus, we see that there is a halachic difference between spices that are ground up and cannot be identified, whose beracha remains ha’adamah, and beet sugar, whose beracha is shehakol. We must now analyze the difference between these two foods and figure out where chocolate fits into the picture.

Beating a beet

After the sugar beets ripen, they are harvested, washed thoroughly, and sliced into thin chips. The beet chips are then soaked in hot water for about an hour, which extracts the sugar from them and creates a strong sugar solution. Chalk is added to the sugar solution, which causes the non-sugar parts of the solution to clump together, so that they can be filtered out. The sugar solution is then evaporated to concentrate the sugar. Eventually, the sugar concentration is great enough to form crystals, which are then removed from the solution.

An important fact affecting our halachic discussion is that, in the case of both cane and beet, the sugar is extracted, or removed, from the stem or root, rather than being simply processed.

Now our question is, do we compare chocolate to spices, which maintain their beracha even after they have been ground until they are no longer identifiable, or to sugar, which, we rule, loses its beracha and becomes shehakol?

Rav Shelomoh Zalman compares chocolate to the case of ground spices that maintain their original beracha, although they are no longer recognizable. (Dayan Gavriel Krausz, formerly the Av Beis Din of Manchester, devotes a lengthy essay to advocate this position in his sefer, Mekor Haberacha.) Apparently Rav Shelomoh Zalman felt that chocolate, which is refined from the cocoa bean, should not be compared to sugar, which is extracted from the cane or beet.

(In my opinion, those poskim who contend that the beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz should agree that the beracha on white chocolate is shehakol, since this product contains no cocoa solids. Cocoa butter should have the halacha of a liquid that is pressed out of a fruit, whose beracha is always shehakol.)

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, 3:31) clearly disagrees, contending that the beracha on all chocolate products is definitely shehakol. In a teshuvah discussing which beracha to recite before eating chocolate-covered raisins, he assumes that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol and does not entertain the possibility that its beracha might be a safek.

In Rav Moshe’s responsum, he addresses the following issue: When eating a food composed of items with different berachos, we must determine which food is the more important, the ikar, and this determines the beracha of the entire food. (I have written an extensive article on the topic of ikar and tafeil in berachos.) Rav Moshe deliberates whether the chocolate or the raisin is more important, in order to determine if the beracha on chocolate-covered raisins is ha’eitz, like the raisin,or shehakol, like the chocolate. Rav Moshe concludes that neither the chocolate nor the raisins can be considered of secondary importance (tafeil) to the other, and therefore, chocolate-covered raisins require two berachos, ha’eitz on the raisins and shehakol on the chocolate.

Rav Moshe then discusses which of the two berachos to recite first. Usually, one should recite the beracha of ha’eitz before reciting shehakol. However, Rav Moshe points out that one must eat the chocolate before reaching the raisin; thus, the beracha on the chocolate will have to be first. Rav Moshe concludes that the best thing to do is to recite ha’eitz on a regular raisin and then shehakol on the chocolate. (When this option does not exist, he rules that one should recite shehakol on the chocolate and then ha’eitz on the raisin. This would require biting off a bit of the chocolate first until he can reach the raisin.)

Clearly, Rav Moshe held that chocolate is definitely shehakol and not even questionably ha’eitz. I conjecture that he held so because chocolate undergoes so many changes and processes in its preparation, one should not consider the finished product a fruit at all. Alternatively, he may have held that since chocolate is liquefied and remains a liquid for most of its processing, it retains its status of being a liquid for hilchos berachos, and thus the correct beracha is shehakol. In any instance, the almost-universal custom is to recite shehakol before eating chocolate. (For other reasons why chocolate should be shehakol, see Shaarei Haberacha pg. 693 and Makor Haberacha pgs. 52-61.)

Notwithstanding that many authorities agree with Rav Moshe that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol, they disagree with his ruling that chocolate-covered raisins and nuts require two different berachos, contending that one should recite only one beracha. Among these poskim, there are two major approaches, those that hold that the beracha is always shehakol, since they consider the chocolate to be the ikar, and those who feel the beracha should be determined by whichever is greater in quantity (Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 3, pg 431; Vezos Haberacha pg. 97). I refer you to your own posek to decide which beracha you should recite before eating this delicacy.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, the Aztecs considered chocolate a royal food. By studying the halachos of the berachos on this food, we elevate it to being a true royal food – since we are determining which beracha the mamleches cohanim vegoy kodosh, the holy nation that is a kingdom of priests, recites on this food.

Did the Brothers have a Right to Sell Yosef?

Question #1:

How could the righteous brothers of Yosef want to murder him in cold blood?

Question #2:

If I saw someone do something wrong, what should I do about it?

Question #3:

May I inform a parent that I saw his/her child do something wrong, or is this loshon hora?

By properly understanding the story of Yosef’s sale, we will be able to answer these three seemingly unrelated questions.

Who are these brothers?

When studying the events leading to the kidnap and sale of Yosef, we must remember that all twelve of Yaakov’s sons were pure, tzadikim gemurim.[1] In light of their tremendous stature, this already incomprehensible story is that much more difficult to understand.

Had this story taken place in the most dysfunctional family imaginable, we would still be shocked by the unfolding of its events. After all, even if brothers feel that their indulged, nasty kid brother is challenging their father’s love for them, would they consider committing fratricide, or any other murder for that matter?

This would apply even to members of a poorly functioning family. How much more so when we are discussing great talmidei chachamim, who constantly evaluate the halachic ramifications of every action that they perform! How can we possibly understand what transpired? In other words, the Ten Brothers were far greater tzadikim than the Chafetz Chayim or Rav Aryeh Levin, greater talmidei chachamim than the Chazon Ish or Rav Moshe Feinstein (this comparison does not diminish the stature of any of these tzadikim; on the contrary, mentioning them in this context shows how much we venerate them). We cannot imagine any of these people hurting someone’s feelings intentionally, much less causing anyone even the slightest bodily harm. It is difficult to imagine any of these tzadikim swatting a fly! Thus, how can we imagine them swatting their brother, much less, doing anything that might cause long-term damage?

Since we cannot interpret this as an extreme case of sibling rivalry, we are left completely baffled by the actions of the ten saintly and scholarly brothers. How could these ten great tzadikim consider killing their brother? And, then, decide that selling him into slavery was more appropriate? As we see clearly, for the next twenty-two years, they assumed that their decision had been justified, although they acknowledged that they should possibly have given Yosef a “second chance.”

Yosef reports

Yosef was in the habit of reporting to his father dibasam ra’ah (usually interpreted as slander) – actions that he interpreted as infractions. Rashi quotes the Midrash that Yosef informed his father of whatever bad actions he observed in Leah’s six sons. Specifically, Yosef reported:

(1) They were consuming meat without killing the animal properly, a sin forbidden to all descendants of Noach.

(2) They were belittling their brothers Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher, by calling them slaves.

(3) He suspected them of violating the heinous sin of giluy arayos.

Others explain that Yosef accused the brothers of not caring properly for their father’s flock.[2] Although Rashi makes no mention of this accusation, it is clear from his comments that, in his opinion, had Yosef suspected them of this, he would certainly have noted it to his father.

Is dibasam ra’ah equivalent to slander?

We must be careful not to define dibasam ra’ah as slander, which usually intimates malice and falsehood, and would imply that Yosef’s intentions were to harm his brothers. Without a doubt, the righteous Yosef had no such intent. It is more accurate to translate dibasam ra’ah as evil report. Yosef did share his interpretations of his brothers’ actions with his father, but they were not fabrications, and defaming them was not his goal.

Why is Yosef tattling?

Without question, Yosef’s goal was the betterment of his brothers. He acted completely lishmah, with no evil intent, just as later, in Parshas Vayigash, he holds no grudge against his brothers, despite the indescribable suffering they caused him.

Indeed, Yosef’s motivation was his sincere concern for his brothers. He knew well the halachah that if you see someone sin, you must bring it to the offender’s attention, explaining to him that he will achieve a large share in Olam Haba by doing teshuvah.[3] A person giving tochacha must always have the interests of the sinner completely at heart, and consider how to educate the malefactor in a way that his words will be accepted.

Yosef knew, also, that whoever has the ability to protest sinful activity and fails to do so is liable for his lack of action. However, the Seforno comments that, due to Yosef’s youth, he did not realize what might result from hisreporting to his father about his brothers.

At this point, we can already answer one of the questions I raised above: If I saw someone do something wrong, what should I do about it?

Answer: I am obligated to bring to the person’s attention that it is in his or her best interest to do teshuvah and correct whatever he or she has done wrong. The admonition should be done in a gentle way, expressing concern, so that it can be received positively and thereby accomplish its purpose.

Why through Yaakov?

Without question, Yosef’s goal in sharing his concerns with his father was that his brothers correct their actions. If so, why didn’t Yosef admonish them directly?

Yosef wanted his father to take appropriate action to correct the brothers’ deeds and, thereby, bring them to do teshuvah. The halachic authorities disagree whether Yosef was guilty of speaking loshon hora by using this approach in this instance. The Chafetz Chayim contends that Yosef was guilty of speaking loshon hora, because he should have shared his concerns directly with his brothers, rather than first discussing them with his father.[4]

Maybe his brothers are right?

Yosef should have considered that his attempts at tochacha might be successful. The Chafetz Chayim also sees Yosef as having neglected the mitzvah of being dan lekaf zechus, judging people favorably. Since the brothers were great tzadikim, Yosef should have realized that they had a halachic consideration to permit their actions. Had he judged them favorably, he would have considered one of three possibilities:

(1) That his brothers had done nothing wrong – but he (Yosef) had misinterpreted what he had seen them do.

(2) Alternatively, his brothers might have justified their actions, explaining them in a way that he (Yosef) might have accepted what they did as correct or, at least, permitted.

(3) That although his brothers were not right, they had based themselves on some mistaken rationale. If their rationale was mistaken, Yosef should have entertained the possibility that he might successfully have convinced them that their approach was flawed. He should have discussed the matter with them directly, and either convinced them of their folly or gained an understanding of why they considered their actions as justified.

In any case, Yosef should not have assumed that the brothers sinned intentionally.

The Malbim’s approach

The Malbim disagrees with the Chafetz Chayim’s approach, contending that Yosef felt that his rebuking his brothers would be unheeded under any circumstances and possibly even counterproductive, and only his father’s reprimand would be successful. If you are certain that the sinner will not listen to you, but may listen to someone else, you may share the information with the person you feel will be more successful at giving rebuke. Yosef felt that, although his brothers would not listen to him, their father could successfully convince them of their errors; therefore, he reported the matters to his father.

In the same vein, a student who sees classmates act inappropriately and feels that they will not listen to his/her rebuke may share the information with someone who he/she feels will be more effective in accomplishing the Torah’s goal.

We are now in a position to answer the third question I raised at the beginning:

May I inform a parent that I saw his/her child do something wrong, or is this loshon hora?

If a parent is able to do something to improve a child’s behavior, one may notify the parent of the child’s conduct. Not only is it not loshon hora¸ it is the correct approach to use. However, if the circumstances are such that the parent will be unable to do anything to improve the child’s behavior, or if one can bring about change in the child’s behavior by contacting him directly, one may not inform the parents of the child’s misbehavior. 

Yaakov’s reaction

Yaakov, or more accurately Yisrael, reacted passively to Yosef’s tale bearing on his brothers. He did not rebuke the brothers for their misbehavior, which we will soon discuss; but, he also did not reprimand Yosef for speaking loshon hora, or for neglecting to be dan lekaf zechus. Indeed, he demonstrated his greater love for Yosef than for the others by producing with his own hands a special garment for Yosef. Yaakov, an affluent sheep raiser who preferred to spend his time studying Torah, took time from his own learning to hand-weave Yosef a beautiful coat. Indeed, Yaakov felt a special kinship to Yosef for several reasons, including Yosef’s astute Torah learning. All of this makes us wonder: why did Yaakov not rebuke Yosef for reporting his brothers?

Was Yosef wrong?

Yaakov agreed with Yosef’s assessment that his reporting was not loshon hora, although this does not necessarily mean that he felt the brothers were guilty. I will shortly rally evidence that implies that Yaakov was convinced the brothers were innocent. Nevertheless, Yaakov concurred that Yosef behaved correctly in bringing the matters to his (Yaakov’s) attention, rather than dealing with the brothers himself.

Yaakov agreed that the brothers would not accept Yosef’s admonition, because they did not understand his (Yosef’s) greatness. At the same time, Yaakov realized that Yosef had leadership and scholarship skills superior to those of his brothers. Yaakov therefore gave Yosef the kesones passim, to demonstrate his appointment as leader of the household.[5]

Why did Yaakov not admonish the brothers?

This, of course, leads to a new question. If Yaakov did not rebuke Yosef because he felt that his approach was correct, why do we find nowhere that he rebuked the brothers for their behavior? It appears that Yaakov realized that the brothers had not sinned, and that there was no reason to rebuke them. Shemiras Halashon rallies proof of this assertion, because the Torah teaches that Yaakov had a special love for Yosef only because of Yosef’s scholarship and not because of any concerns about the brothers’ behavior. (See the Sifsei Chachamim and other commentaries on Rashi, who explain why the brothers had done nothing wrong, and what Yosef misinterpreted.) Yaakov understood that the brothers had not sinned, and that Yosef had misinterpreted their actions. Apparently, Yosef was indeed guilty of not having judged them favorably (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch).

In fact, because of his mistaken accusation of the brothers, Yosef himself was later severely punished: he was sold into slavery, and for wrongly suspecting his brothers of violating arayos, he was suspected by all Egypt of a similar transgression, as a result of Mrs. Potifar’s fraudulent allegation (Shemiras Halashon). Thus, the problem of an innocent man being tried and convicted in the media is not a modern phenomenon – Yosef was punished for a crime he had not done.

Was Yaakov correct?

Was the kesones passim an appropriate gift for Yosef? Was Yaakov wrong in giving Yosef the kesones passim?

Even asking this question places us in an uncomfortable position: it implies that we might lay blame on the educational practices of one of our Avos. Notwithstanding our awesome appreciation of the greatness of Yaakov Avinu, the Gemara criticizes Yaakov’s deed: “A person should never treat one son differently from the others, for, because of two sela’im worth of fancy wool that Yaakov gave Yosef, favoring him over his brothers, the brothers were jealous of him, and the end result was that our forefathers descended to Egypt.”[6]

Yaakov did not act without calculation. Presumably, seeing Yosef’s high standard of learning, his refined personal attributes, and his concern for others’ behavior, Yaakov felt it important to demonstrate that Yosef was the most skilled of a very impressive group of sons. Yet Chazal tell us that this is an error.  One should never demonstrate favoritism among one’s sons, even when there appears to be appropriate reason for doing so.

Were the brothers justified?

At this point, we have presented Yaakov and Yosef’s positions on what happened, but we still do not know why the brothers wanted to kill Yosef.

Remember that the brothers were both righteous and talented talmidei chachamim. Clearly, they must have held that Yosef was a rodef, someone pursuing and attempting to bring bodily harm to another. No other halachic justification would permit their subsequent actions.

Seforno and others note that the brothers interpreted Yosef’s actions as a plot against them, to deprive them of being Yaakov’s descendants. Rav Hirsch demonstrates that the pasuk, vayisnaklu oso lehamiso, means they imagined him as one plotting against them so that he was deserving of death. The brothers assumed that Yosef’s goal was to vilify them in their father’s eyes, so that Yaakov would reject them – just as Yitzchak had rejected Eisav and Avraham had rejected Yishmael and the sons of Keturah (Malbim). After all, Yosef was falsely accusing them of highly serious misbehavior. The brothers interpreted Yaakov’s gift of the kesones passim to Yosef as proof that Yaakov had accepted Yosef’s loshon hora against them (Shemiras Halashon). The brothers needed to act quickly before he destroyed them; they were concerned that Yaakov would accept Yosef’s plot to discredit them and to rule over them. Therefore, they seized and imprisoned Yosef, and then sat down to eat a meal, while they were deciding what to do with him.

Not a free lunch

The brothers are strongly criticized for sitting down to eat a meal. Assuming that they were justified in killing Yosef, they should have spent an entire night debating their judgment. After all, when a beis din decides on capital matters, they postpone their decision until the next day, and spend the entire night debating the halachah in small groups, eating only a little while deliberating the serious matter.[7] Certainly, the brothers’ sitting down to eat immediately after incarcerating Yosef was wrong, and for this sin they were subsequently punished (Shemiras Halashon).

The brothers then realized that selling Yosef as a slave would accomplish what they needed, without bloodshed.

Later, in Egypt, they recognized that they should not have been so hard-hearted as to sell him – perhaps, his experience in the pit had taught him a sufficient lesson, and he was no longer a danger. Not until Yosef presented himself to them in Mitzrayim did they realize that Yosef was correct all along — he would indeed rule over them, and he had not intended to harm them.

Halachic conclusions

1. When you see someone doing something that appears wrong, figure out a positive way to tell the person what he or she can accomplish by doing teshuvah properly.

2. If you are convinced that you are unable to influence the wrongdoer, while someone else may be more successful, you may share the information with the person who might be able to deliver discreet and gentle admonishment.

3. The information should be shared with no one else, unless, otherwise, someone could get hurt.

4. Always figure out how to judge the person favorably. The entire sale of Yosef occurred because neither side judged the other favorably. Also, bear in mind that we are often highly biased in our evaluation, making it difficult for us to judge.

5. Do not demonstrate favoritism among children, even when there appear to be excellent reasons for doing so.

Concluding the story

To quote the Midrash: Prior to Yosef’s revealing himself in Mitzrayim, he asked them, “The brother whom you claim is dead is very much alive; I will call him.” Yosef then called out, “Yosef ben Yaakov, come here. Yosef ben Yaakov, come here.” The brothers searched under the furniture and checked all the corners of the room to see where Yosef was hiding.[8]

By this time, Yosef had already revealed that he knew the intimate details of their household. They knew that Yosef had been taken to Mitzrayim. They now have someone telling them that he knows that Yosef is in the same room, and there is no one in the room save themselves and Yosef. Nonetheless, they cannot accept that the man that they are facing is Yosef!

Contemplate how these giants of spirit were blinded by their own interests! Is it not sobering how convinced a person can be, despite facts to the contrary, that he is entirely right? We can stare truth in the face, and still not realize that it is Yosef standing before us.


[1] Ramban, Iggeres HaKodesh, Chapter 5

[2] Seforno

[3] Rambam, Hilchos Dei’yos 6:7

[4] Shemiras HaLashon Volume 2, Chapter 11 [Parshas Vayeisheiv]

[5] Seforno

[6] Shabbos 10b

[7] Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 12:3

[8] Bereishis Rabbah; Yalkut Shimoni

Do Clothes Make the Man?

Question #1: Robes?

“May I daven wearing a robe?”

Question #2: Tied Up

“Must I wear a necktie when I daven?”

“Is there a halachic basis for wearing a gartel?”

Question #3: Belted?

Answer:

Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses how Yitzchak and Rivkah davened for children, it provides an opportunity to discuss the laws of proper attire for prayer.

The Rambam lists five essential requirements for prayer and eight non-essential ones. An essential requirement is one that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may not daven, even if this means that one will miss davening as a result. A non-essential requirement is that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may and should daven anyway.

One of the non-essential requirements is to be attired properly when davening (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:5). A passage of Gemara (Shabbos 10a) that teaches this lesson quotes the verse, Hikon likras Elokecha Yisroel, Prepare to meet your G-d, Yisroel” (Amos 4:12), as a source for this law. As an example, the Gemara mentions that Rabbah, the son of Rav Huna, would put on fine boots before he prayed (Rashi). The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) notes that this implies that Rabbah usually wore simpler footgear. Rabbah knew that were he to meet dignitaries, he would not wear his usual, simpler footwear, and, therefore, wearing it in the presence of the King when he is davening would also be inappropriate. In a similar vein, a different passage of Gemara (Brochos 30b) records that Rav Yehudah would put on nice clothes before he davened. Since the Gemara cites the pasuk in Amos as a source for the requirement of dressing appropriately when one davens, this concept is sometimes referred to with the word of this pasuk, hikon.

Like a servant

The Gemara in Shabbos cited above also mentions another factor to determine how one dresses when davening — one should not overdress for tefillah. For example, Rav would remove his outer garment and fold his hands over his chest before he davened, explaining that one should daven as a servant appears before his master. (Apparently, the overgarment was not a dress jacket as we are familiar with, but something very fancy, perhaps similar to the gold-embroidered glima that the Rishon Letzion wears.)

Other amora’im decided what was considered overdressed, in accordance with the situation of the world at large. Rav Ashi reported that Rav Kahana prepared himself for prayer depending on whether matters in the world were “at peace” or not: “When there were difficulties in the world, he would throw off his outer garment and clasp his hands over his heart as a servant stands to beg from his master. When there was peace in the world, he would dress in fine clothes and pray.”

The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) explains that, although we see that some of the amora’im did not wear their fanciest garments when they davened, they certainly dressed with appropriate clothing.

Weekdays versus Shabbos

The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:2) notes that, in his day, there were those who did not wear the fancy outer garment for davening on weekdays, since the world was in a time of difficulty, but that they did wear it on Shabbos and Yom Tov. On these holy days, one should not even allude to difficulties, since doing so spoils the atmosphere and sanctity of the day.

Special clothes

At this point, we could ask a question: Since we realize that one should dress for davening as if he is standing before the King, should one not purchase special garments to be worn only when he davens? Someone honored with an audience before a human king would certainly acquire special garments for the occasion!

The point is well taken, and, indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 98:4) mentions a practice of special garments that are worn only for tefillah. It is worthwhile to quote him verbatim: “It is appropriate to have nice-looking garments designated for prayer, similar to the kohanim’s special garments. However, not every man can afford this expense.” Thus, his conclusion is that it is a nice idea to have special garments for davening, but it is not always possible for everyone.

All prayers?

Do the rules of hikon apply to all of our prayers?

One would think that, since in all our prayers and blessings we are talking directly to Hashem, we should fulfill the mitzvah of hikon whenever we recite any prayers, blessings or, perhaps, even while reciting Tehillim. However, the authorities prove from the Gemara that this is not halachically required.

The Mishnah (Shabbos 9b) states that if someone began eating a meal without having yet davened mincha, he is not required to interrupt his meal to daven (assuming that there will be sufficient time to daven afterwards). The Gemara asks, “At what point is it considered that he began his meal such that he is not required to interrupt it?” The Gemara answers that, once he unfastened his belt in order to be able to eat comfortably, it is considered that he began the meal, and he may delay davening until he completes eating. In this discussion, the Gemara mentions that hikon requires that one daven with a fastened belt. Yet, since he opens his belt in order to eat comfortably, we see that the brochos before eating were recited with an open belt, notwithstanding that this is considered inappropriate attire for davening. Thus, a distinction is made between davening, which requires a higher level of attire, and brochos, which do not (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 91). When davening shemoneh esrei one must stand as if one is in the presence of the King (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:1; Mishnah Berurah 74:24). Although we are always in His presence, we are not required to dress in such a proper way when reciting other prayers and blessings.

Belts

Based on this discussion, the early authorities discuss whether one is required to wear a belt and a hat while davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:1) explains that one should wear a nicer belt, which he calls an eizor, when davening. This is the source for those who put on a gartel, a special belt, prior to davening. The Magen Avraham qualifies this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, contending that one who does not usually wear a belt is not required to put one on in order to daven. Someone who usually wears a belt as part of his clothing is required to have his belt on and closed when he davens. The Mishnah Berurah (91:4) cites the approach of the Magen Avraham as the normative halacha, but he adds that it is, nevertheless, considered exemplary conduct to put on a belt when davening, even if someone does not usually wear one.

Head covering

Is one required to wear a hat when davening?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:5), followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:5), mention that Torah scholars and their disciples should have a full head covering when they daven. To quote the Rambam: “All chachamim and their disciples are careful not to pray without their head atufim,” a word meaning that their heads are covered in a respectful way. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:6) writes that, in his country, one may not daven without a hat, since no one walked in the street without one. It would seem that he would agree that in a place where it is common for people to walk in the street without a hat that one may daven wearing only a yarmulke or similar head covering.

Review

Thus, we have a general direction for appropriate davening attire. One should dress as one would be attired when meeting someone prominent. If times are peaceful, one should even consider “dressing up” for the davening; but when times aredifficult, one should dress appropriately, but not fancily. At this point, let us examine some specific halachic questions about proper attire.

Barefoot

Based on halachic sources, the rishonim discuss whether one may daven barefoot. Their conclusion is that one may not pray barefoot, except on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur (Tosafos, Shabbos op. cit.). The Bach adds that people should not daven wearing footwear that leaves their ankles exposed. One could argue that this depends on what is considered appropriate footwear in the place where you are living. This is based on a statement of the Aruch Hashulchan that if people do not wear respectable footgear, or walk barefoot in the place where you are, you are not required to don nice footgear in order to daven, but one should still not daven barefoot, even when that is common in your location (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:5).

Work Clothes

May one daven midday and midweek in the rough clothes required for the work that one does to earn a living?

Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach discusses a person who works wearing shorts or other garments that one would not wear when visiting a respected individual. He rules that one should not daven this way (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

One can actually find a Talmudic source for this ruling. In a different context, the Gemara (Shabbos 114a) states that one should not serve one’s master his meal while wearing the same clothes used while cooking his meals. The clothes used to cook are presumably food-stained and sweaty; a respected master expects to be served by a waiter or servant wearing clean and smart-looking clothes.

Pajamas and robes

May one daven wearing pajamas, bathrobes or similar attire?

Since it is inappropriate to appear in front of respected people wearing pajamas, one should not daven that way either. I note that in one contemporary source, I saw that he ruled that someone who is ill may daven wearing pajamas (Tefillah Kehilchasah Chapter 7, footnote 78). Personally, I would suggest putting on nicer clothing on top of the pajamas in order to daven, if not too ill or weak to do so.

As far as davening while wearing a robe, it would appear that this depends on the type of robe in question. If it is a bathrobe that you would only wear in the house, you should not daven attired this way (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:6). However, I see no problem davening while wearing a smoking jacket or a fancy robe.

Short sleeves

Is a man permitted to daven wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket over it?

I was once asked this question, when I was on a visit to the Miami area. I answered that this depends on whether an attorney would enter a courtroom dressed this way. At the time, I was told that in Dade County (where Miami is located), it is acceptable for an attorney to represent a client in court without wearing a jacket.

Subsequently, I found that this question is disputed by some late authorities. Rav Ovadyah Hadaya, in his Shu”t Yaskil Avdi, ruled that one may not daven wearing short sleeves, since this is not considered a respectable way to dress when meeting dignitaries. However, Rav Ovadya Yosef disagreed, ruling that one may daven this way (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 4:8).

Winter clothes

May one daven wearing winter clothes, which you would not usually wear in the presence of a respected person?

One may wear these garments when it is cold, since one would greet a respected person outdoors dressed this way (see Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18).

Gloves

May one daven wearing gloves?

The Bach writes that one should not daven while wearing gloves.  However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach explained that the Bach was referring to work gloves, since one would not greet a respected person without taking them off. If it is cold where you are, you may daven wearing winter gloves, since you would also greet a respected person this way (see Mishnah Berurah 91:12 and Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18, ftn 29).

Neckties

Is a man required to wear a necktie when he davens?

According to what we have seen, the rule is that the attire for davening should be the way people dress in your location when visiting a respected individual. If, in your place, this would not be done without wearing a necktie, one should wear one when davening. If this is not expected where you are, it is not required.

Dirty clothes

There are also early sources that imply that one’s clothes must be reasonably clean when one davens (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10; Rema, Orach Chayim 53:25). This is certainly a problem if the clothes have an objectionable odor.

One of the examples mentioned by the early halachic authorities is an interesting situation. In a certain town, the chazzan, who apparently led services during the week as well as on Shabbos, also worked as the town shocheit, a very common practice in earlier times. (There is even a term used for this position, a shovshatz, which stands for shocheit ubodeik, sheliach tzibur, referring to all the roles in which this individual served the community.)

In this particular town, the shocheit apparently had the habit of showing up to mincha and maariv wearing the same clothes he had worn to shecht earlier that day. The people complained both about the physical appearance of his clothing and the odor that emanated from them. The Kolbo, a rishon, ruled that the shovshatz should be advised to change his clothes to cleaner ones before he arrives in shul to lead the services. If, after being warned to do so, he ignores the admonition, this provides grounds for dismissal (quoted in Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10).

Wearing clothes respectfully

Not only should one wear respectable clothes when davening, but one should be careful to wear them in the proper way. For example, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach rules that someone should not daven with a jacket draped over his shoulders, since one does not speak to prominent people attired in that fashion (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Hands over heart

Proper davening requires more than just proper clothing. When the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) discusses these laws, he adds the following: “He should place his hands folded right over left on top of his heart and stand like a servant in front of his master in awe, fear and trepidation. He certainly should not place his hands on his hips because this appears haughty.” While davening, one should cast his eyes downward and think of the Might of Hashem and the lowliness of man. One should think: “How can I, poor and despised, come to approach the King of Kings?” (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 95:5).

Right over left

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the Rambam’s statement that the right hand should be bent over the left hand and both on his heart. Although the Rambam mentions placing one’s right hand over one’s left, there does not appear to be a Talmudic source for this. The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 95) explains that there is a kabbalistic reason for this practice, in that it alludes to the midas harachamim, symbolized by the right hand, being stronger than the midas hadin, symbolized by the left. Some authorities add that one should have one’s right thumb inside his left hand or a similar position whereby the fingers are coiled inside one another. Later authorities note that this particular position should be assumed only when it is a time of difficulty (Graz, Orach Chayim 91:6; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:7).

The Magen Avraham (95:2) comments that the hands over the heart and related positioning depend on how servants stand to supplicate in a particular place. Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should stand in the position that, in your location, a servant would assume when beseeching his master.

Versus tefillah betzibur

What is the halacha if changing into appropriate clothes for tefillah will cause him to miss davening together with the tzibur? Which takes priority, the mitzvah of hikon or tefillah betzibur?

If he can find a later minyan with which to daven, he should wait until he has a chance to change. However, if he will not be able to daven with a later minyan, the mitzvah of hikon does not override the mitzvah of davening with a minyan (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

The Kuzari notes that every day should have three, very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. When we recognize that tefillah is so valuable, we must certainly realize that it must be treated as a special time, and our attire when we daven should reflect this. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisroel!

When does Mincha Start?

Question #1: Why Mincha?

If the word mincha means a “gift” or sometimes, more particularly, “an offering made from flour,” why does this word refer exclusively to our afternoon prayer, rather than to any of our other prayers?”

Question #2: When Mincha?

“When is the optimal time to daven mincha?”

Question #3: What Mincha?

“What do the words mincha ketanah and mincha gedolah mean?”

Introduction

The Gemara in Brachos that I will cite shortly quotes a posuk from this week’s parsha as the source for our daily mincha prayer, providing an opportunity to discuss some of the laws concerning when one may begin davening mincha.

Why mincha?

But first, why do we call the prayer mincha? As our questioner noted, the word mincha means a gift, and the Torah uses the term mincha to refer to a grain offering, which could be offered at any time of the day. Some mincha offerings were voluntary, whereas others were required. Some were private offerings, such as the forty loaves that accompanied the korban todah, the thanksgiving offering. Others were korbanos tzibur, public offerings, such as the lechem hapanim that graced the shulchan in the Beis Hamikdash, the korban omer offered on the second day of Pesach,and the special shtei halechem that were offered on Shavuos.

Assuming that our daily afternoon prayer corresponds to the afternoon korban offered in the Beis Hamikdash (as we will soon discuss), that offering is called tamid shel bein ha’arbayim, the offering brought every afternoon. The term bein ha’arbayim means the afternoon, since it is after the sun begins its daily descent and beforesundown. The korban tamid was offered twice a day, in the morning, shacharis, and in the afternoon, bein ha’arbayim. Thus, since our morning prayer is called shacharis, shouldn’t we call the afternoon one bein ha’arbayim? And, even assuming that the prayer is called mincha because the tamid shel bein ha’arbayim was accompanied by a mincha offering, the morning tamid, also, was accompanied by a mincha offering, yet its corresponding prayer is called shacharis.

As you would imagine, I am not the first one to pose this question; about 800 years ago, it was raised by Tosafos (Pesachim 107a, s.v. Samuch), who provides two answers. Tosafos suggests that since korbanos mincha accompanied the two daily korbanos tamid, and the morning one is called shacharis, the afternoon korban was called mincha. Perhaps calling the afternoon prayer bein ha’arbayim was considered too unwieldy.

Tosafos presents a second approach, which is based on a Talmudic passage that refers to the prayer of Eliyahu on Mount Carmel as mincha. To quote the Gemara, “A person should always be careful concerning the mincha prayer, since Eliyahu was answered only with the mincha prayer” (Brachos 6b). Tosafos notes that Eliyahu prayed while the afternoon korban mincha was offered (see Melachim I 18:36), and therefore, the association of a successful prayer with the korban mincha was established– and the name stuck! Brachos

A different rishon, the Avudraham, suggests a third approach, which is based on the fact that Adam Harishon sinned in the afternoon – the same time of the day when we would be praying the mincha service. The Torah describes that Adam sinned leruach hayom, which Targum Onkelos calls manach yoma, the same word as mincha!

Thus, whereas according to both of Tosafos’ approaches the term mincha used for the afternoon prayer is borrowed from a different context, in Avudraham’s understanding, the word mincha does mean the afternoon.

Having answered the first of our opening questions, let us now begin an introduction that is needed to explain and answer the second question. “When is the optimal time to daven Mincha?”

Prayer origin

The Gemara (Brachos 26b) reports a dispute between amora’im regarding the origin of our three daily tefillos. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled that tefillos were established to commemorate the daily korbanos offered in the Beis Hamikdash, whereas Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina contended that they were established by the Avos. Specifically, Avraham Avinu established shacharis, Yitzchok Avinu created mincha, and Yaakov Avinu instituted maariv, each of which the Gemara derives from pesukim.

The Gemara then demonstrates that both Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s approach and that of Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina date back to the time of the tanna’im, and it concludes that both opinions are correct – the tefillos were established by our forefathers and, at the same time, our observance also includes a commemoration of the daily korbanos. This is evidenced by the halachic requirement to recite these tefillos at the times appropriate for offering their corresponding korbanos. In other words, the times governing when each tefillah should be recited match the time that the corresponding korbanos were offered in the Beis Hamikdash, and, before it was built, in the Mishkan.

Prayer deadline

The Mishnah (Brachos 26a) discusses the latest time that one may daven the various prayers, citing a dispute regarding the latest time for shacharis, the tanna kamma holding at midday and Rabbi Yehudah holding at one third of the day, two hours before midday. (This is the conclusion of the Gemara on 27a; the Gemara also concludes there that we paskin like Rabbi Yehudah.) Similarly, the Mishnah (Brachos 26a) cites a dispute as to the latest time that one can daven mincha.

However, the Mishnah does not mention when one may begin davening mincha. Instead, a beraisa quoted by the Gemara (26b) shares the following, seemingly incomplete, information: “When is mincha gedolah? After six and a half hours. And when is mincha ketanah? After nine and a half hours.” The Gemara does not explain what halachic significance these two terms, mincha gedolah and mincha ketanah, have. From the context, it appears that each of these two terms refers to a time in the day, but from what point are we measuring 6½ hours and 9½ hours, and how long is the hour we are using in our measure? And, what halachic ramifications do these two times have?

Different hours!

Whereas our contemporary clock uses hours that are all exactly sixty minutes long, and each minute is also of the same, exact duration, this method of calculating time, although extremely accurate from one perspective, does not take into consideration the major event that defines our day – the path of the sun around the earth, or the earth around the sun.

As we all well know, the length of time of daylight varies greatly throughout the year, and sunrise and sunset always vary slightly from one day to the next. Chazal use a calculation of time that involves dividing the daylight hours into 12 equal units. These hours, which vary in length from day to day, are called sha’os zemaniyos (singular, sha’ah zemanis). As we will soon mention, there are different opinions whether we calculate this from halachic dawn, called alos hashachar, until nightfall (tzeis hakochavim, when the stars are visible) or from sunrise to sunset. For our purposes, let us assume that we consider sunrise to be the beginning, or “zero-hour” of our day, and sunset as the end of the twelfth hour. We now divide our day into twelve equal hours, but the length of each hour will vary throughout the year.

When is noon?

Calculating this way, the end of the sixth hour is always exactly midday, the point in the day when the sun is at its highest point and closest to being directly overhead. (In reality, the sun is never directly overhead, unless one is located somewhere near the equator, between the two tropics. North of the tropics, the sun is always in the southern half of the sky, rather than directly overhead.) This time of the day is sometimes called “high noon,” which is the time of the day when the sun creates no shadow, and halacha calls it chatzos.

We should be careful not to confuse this with 12:00 noon on our clock. Twelve o’clock is rarely the actual time of chatzos; this is primarily because the creation of time zones caused the time on our clocks to diverge from the sun’s time. Standardized time zones were not formulated until the invention and common use of the railroad. Until that time, each city created its own time, based on sunrise and sunset in that city, and noon and high noon were identical. However, this system proved difficult to use when trains arrived on a schedule from a different city, where sunrise was earlier or later on a given day. In order that people could anticipate when the trains would arrive in their town, they created a system whereby people in different places would keep the same clock.

Mincha gedolah

Returning to the passage of Gemara in Brachos, the question is why the beraisa is telling us about two points of the day, called mincha ketanah and mincha gedolah.

The Rambam appears to have understood the beraisa to be explaining when is the earliest time to daven mincha, but provides two times. One, mincha gedolah, is the earliest possible time, whereas the other is the preferred time. In other words, the earliest time to daven mincha is at 6½ hours, although it is preferred for someone to wait until 9½ hours to daven mincha. This is because it is ideal to daven mincha later in the day and closer to sunset.

Other rishonim appear to have understood this passage somewhat differently from the Rambam (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 233, citing Rosh and Tur), although there is not a significant difference in halacha between the two approaches. The Aruch Hashulchan explains that, even according to the Rambam, waiting until mincha ketanah to daven is not required, but only preferred. If there is a reason to daven at mincha gedolah, such as if one would like to begin a seudah, one may. Certainly, the exigencies of travel or employment allow one to daven at mincha gedolah, even according to the Rambam.

Clocking minutes?

When, on my clock, have we reached mincha gedolah? Assuming that I know when chatzos is, do I add thirty minutes to determine when is mincha gedolah? Or must I know exactly how long each sha’ah zemanis is today and add half of that to chatzos, which will make mincha gedolah either somewhat earlier or somewhat later than it is according to the 30-minute method, depending on the part of the year?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 233:1) rules that we use the calculation of sha’os zemaniyos. Notwithstanding that the Mishnah Berurah (233:4) accepts this conclusion, in his own notes on his rulings (Shaar Hatziyun), he queries that perhaps this should be determined by thirty clock minutes. Why?

As we mentioned above, the time for each prayer is based on a corresponding korban in the Beis Hamikdash. In the case of tefillas mincha, the corresponding korban could have been offered immediately after chatzos (see Mishnah Pesachim 61a). We wait an additional half hour to make sure that no one errs and offers it too early. Since the extra half hour is to make sure that a person does not miscalculate, perhaps its time should be thirty minutes, not dependent on whether the day is longer or shorter (see Rashi, Pesachim 93b). Should the hedge factor to avoid error vary according to season?

Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah implies he is uncertain whether this half hour should be zemanis or not. Because of this, the minhag in Yerushalayim, for example, is to bestringent in both directions. In winter months, when a sha’ah zemanis is less than an hour, the practice is not to daven mincha until thirty minutes after chatzos. In the summer months, when a sha’ah zemanis is greater than an hour, mincha gedolah is calculated on the basis of 6½ sha’os zemaniyos.

Davened earlier

What is the halacha if someone davened mincha between halachic midday and mincha gedolah, which is too early to daven? Must he daven again?

Based on the words of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, the Magen Avraham concludes that he has not fulfilled the mitzvah and is required to daven again.

Rashi implies that he agrees with this position, when, in his comments explaining this beraisa in Brachos 26b, he writes: “If one would like to offer the afternoon tamid earlier than mincha gedolah, he may not, since the Torah says bein ha’arbayim, which means when there begin to be evening shadows, because the sun is now inclining to the western part of the sky. This is after 6½, since between 5½ and 6½, the sun is directly overhead.”

This leads to the following question: The Mishnah (Pesachim 61a) states that the korban Pesach cannot be offered before noon, but implies that, if offered immediately after halachic noon, it is kosher. Yet, the time for both the daily afternoon tamid and the korban Pesach is expressed in the Torah by the same term, bein ha’arbayim. Thus, if the korban Pesach is kosher when offered at halachic midday, a korban tamid offered at midday should also be kosher. Therefore, the daily mincha prayer, which corresponds to the afternoon tamid, should be “kosher” when prayed at midday – in other words, it should fulfill the mitzvah, at least bedei’evid (Pri Megadim).

Although there are approaches to resolve this question, the Pri Chodosh and other acharonim dispute the conclusion of the Magen Avraham, concluding that someone who davened mincha after chatzos but before mincha gedolah fulfilled the requirement and does not daven mincha again (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 232:1 and 233; Aruch Hachulchan; Mishnah Berurah 233:2, quoting Beis Yaakov and Magen Giborim).

Tashlumim

There is a halachic rule that someone who missed one of the daily prayers should make it up during the next tefillah slot by reciting a second shemoneh esrei, immediately after davening the correct, appropriate prayer. For example, if someone missed mincha, then, immediately after reciting shemoneh esrei of maariv, he should recite a second shemoneh esrei, to make up the missed mincha. This replacement prayer is called tefillas tashlumim.

The following question is germane to someone who davened mincha too early; that is, he davened after chatzos and before mincha gedolah, in which case, according to the Magen Avraham, he is required to daven mincha again. What if the person did not daven the mincha again that day, does the Magen Avraham require him to daven a tefillas tashlumim for the missed mincha? Some contend that, in this situation, the Magen Avraham does not require a tefillas tashlumim. Their reason is that tefillas tashlumim does not replace the lost mitzvah of tefillah bizmanah, the prayer recited in its correct time, since that cannot be replaced – rather, a tefillas tashlumim replaces only a missing tefillah. But, in our situation, this individual davened – although he recited his prayer before mincha gedolah. Although he may have missed mincha bizmanah, nothing is gained from having him daven a make-up because he has already davened (Tenuvas Sadeh).

Mincha ketanah

I mentioned earlier the Rambam’s opinion that the optimal time to daven mincha is after mincha ketanah, which the beraisa teaches is 9½ hours of the day. How do we calculate “9½ hours of the day”?

As discussed earlier, there are various opinions how to calculate this, some measuring the day from alos hashachar until tzeis hakochavim and others from sunrise to sunset. The most accepted approach is to calculate the 9½ hours as measured from sunrise to sunset. In fractions, this is 19/24 into the sunshine part of the day.

Conclusion

Often, we are in a rush – there is so much to do, I need to get to work – and we know, all too well, the yetzeir hora’s methods of encouraging us to rushthrough davening. We all realize that davening properly requires reading slowly and carefully, and that the power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them! Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points – the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos, together with those of Klal Yisrael!

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