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Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

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Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

Question:

The gabbai of a local minyan calls with the following question: “I do not remember what we did the last time that Pesach began on Shabbos, but I need to know whether at night we say Hallel first or the bracha Magen Avos?”

Answer:

No doubt, many of our readers will assume that the gabbai is making a mistake — that we do not recite the bracha Magen Avos, also known as the bracha mei’ein sheva, when the first night of Pesach falls on Shabbos. However, as we will soon see, our gabbai may be well informed about the minhag in his community. A quiz question for the detectives among our readership is to figure out which community this is.

Seder on Shabbos?

The first day of Pesach falls on Shabbos on three of the fourteen schedules that our calendar year follows. It happens this year, and again in the years 5776, 5778, 5779 and 5782. After 5782, there will be a break for seven years until our Seder returns to Shabbos, but it will occur again three times in the subsequent eight years. (Our calendar does not allow the second day of Pesach to fall on Shabbos because this would cause the succeeding Hoshanah Rabbah to fall on Shabbos.)

The question raised by our gabbai reflects two different practices:  reciting the bracha mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which is not a common practice today, and reciting Hallel in shul on Seder night, which is practiced by Sefardim, Chassidim, and is almost universally followed in Eretz Yisrael. Before answering his question as to which one should be recited first, we need to study the sources of both practices.

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The bracha mei’ein sheva, literally, an abbreviation of the seven brachos, is recited after we conclude the Friday night Shemoneh Esrei, immediately after the congregation recites together the pesukim of Vayechulu. (Although, technically, the term Shemoneh Esrei is an inaccurate description of the Shabbos davening, since it has only seven, and not eighteen, brachos, I will still use the common term Shemoneh Esrei.) This bracha is called mei’ein sheva because it is a synopsis of the seven brachos that comprise the Shabbos tefillah. The gabbai above referred to the bracha as Magen Avos, which is a common colloquial way of referring to this bracha, based on its opening words.

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

In ancient times, the shullen were often located outside the towns in which people lived, and walking home from shul alone at night was dangerous. Chazal, therefore, instituted this bracha after davening, so that someone who arrived late and was lagging behind the tzibur in davening would not be left to walk home unescorted (Rashi, Shabbos 24b). The recital of the extra bracha delayed everyone’s departure, thus allowing time for the latecomer to complete davening (Mordechai, Shabbos #407; Ran; Meiri).

According to an alternative approach, the bracha mei’ein sheva is a form of repetition of the prayer. The individual who arrived late could listen to the chazzan’s recital of this bracha and thereby fulfill his responsibility to pray, even though the chazzan recited only one bracha, and the regular Shabbos tefillah is seven (Rav Natrunai Gaon, as explained by Gra, Orach Chayim 269:13).

Although our shullen are no longer located outside our cities, once Chazal established this bracha, we continue with the practice, just as, in the time of the Gemara, the bracha was recited even in places where a person could safely walk home from shul unaccompanied (Meiri, Pesachim 100b; Ran [on Rif, Pesachim 20a]; Ohr Zarua, Hilchos Erev Shabbos #20; Kolbo #11, 35).

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

Yet another reason is presented why Chazal introduced mei’ein sheva. In ancient times, there were occasions when it was difficult to obtain wine, and mei’ein sheva was instituted as a substitute for reciting Kiddush Friday night over wine (Yerushalmi, Brachos 8:1 and Pesachim 10:2; this passage of Talmud Yerushalmi is quoted by Tosafos, Pesachim 106b s.v. Mekadeish).

Why do we not recite mei’ein sheva on weekdays?

If reciting mei’ein sheva was because of concern that returning from shul alone was unsafe, why did Chazal not introduce a similar prayer after weeknight maariv, so that a delayed individual was not placed in danger?

Some Rishonim explain that in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, someone who was delayed on a weekday would not have attended shul, but would have come home directly and davened there. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, he would not have wanted to miss the davening in shul. On the other hand, other Rishonim (Rosh, Berachos 1:5; Tur, Orach Chayim 236) explain that the bracha of Yiru Eineinu, recited during weekday Maariv by Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, was instituted so that someone delayed for maariv not be left alone in shul.

Do we recite mei’ein sheva on Yom Tov?

The Gemara states that the prayer mei’ein sheva was instituted only on Friday evening, and not on Yom Tov evenings that did not fall on Fridays (Shabbos 24b). Why was mei’ein sheva not said on Yom Tov?

In the writings of the Rishonim, I found several answers to this question. One approach is that although the concern that someone may be left behind may have equally existed on Yom Tov, since the more common situation was on Shabbos, Chazal did not include Yom Tov in the takkanah (see Meiri, Shabbos 24b).

Another approach is that on Yom Tov eve, people arrived punctually for davening, and there was no concern about individuals remaining alone (Mordechai, Pesachim #611).

Based on the Yerushalmi that the reason for mei’ein sheva was because of the inavailability of wine, some later commentaries present a third reason why the takkanah was established only for Shabbos and not for Yom Tov. Since most authorities hold that Kiddush on Yom Tov is not required min haTorah (Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Shabbos 29:18), Chazal did not create a takkanah to make sure that someone fulfill a mitzvah that is miderabbanan (Marei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

Do we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday? (This case actually happens at the end of this coming Yom Tov, since the Seventh Day of Pesach falls on Friday.) The reason for reciting mei’ein sheva on a regular Shabbos was because people would work late on Friday afternoon, and as a result would arrive late to shul Friday evening. However, when Friday was Yom Tov, there would be no reason for someone to be delayed. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we should recite mei’ein sheva, even when Yom Tov falls on Friday, notwithstanding that the reason for the takkanah does not apply (Kolbo #52).

Thirteenth century zeal

Actually, the question regarding recital of mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday resulted in a very heated dispute during the era of the Rishonim. In the time of the Rivash, Rabbi Amram ben Meroam, a frequent correspondent of the Rivash, wrote him the following shaylah:

Reuven was the chazzan for the Friday night davening on a Shabbos that immediately followed Yom Tov. He began reciting mei’ein sheva, when Shimon reprimanded him, contending that one should not recite this bracha when Shabbos follows Yom Tov — since no one was working on Friday, the reason for the takkanah did not apply. Levi then got involved, saying that it is accepted that one does recite mei’ein sheva on Friday night following a Yom Tov. The shul then burst into a cacophony of voices, with Shimon’s and Reuven’s backers screaming at one another. Finally, Shimon shouted that Reuven was desecrating Hashem’s holy Name, since he was willing to recite a bracha in vain, and that if he did, Shimon would declare him to be in cherem, excommunicated! Reuven did recite the bracha mei’ein sheva, and a day later, opened his door to find Shimon and twenty of his backers there to notify him that he had been excommunicated! The Rivash was asked to rule whether Reuven was indeed in cherem because of Shimon’s declaration that he recited a bracha in vain, or, perhaps, Shimon should be placed in cherem for excommunicating someone without proper cause.

The Rivash ruled that Shimon was mistaken, and that one should recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos follows Yom Tov. Therefore, he concluded that Reuven, who followed the correct halachah, could completely ignore the cherem placed on him. However, he also concluded that since Shimon thought he was acting correctly, we do not excommunicate Shimon for his actions (Shu’t HaRivash #34).

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

When Yom Tov falls on Shabbos and we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva on Friday night, do we mention Yom Tov in the bracha mei’ein sheva?

The Gemara rules that when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, the chazzan makes no mention of Yom Tov, since on Yom Tov we do not recite this bracha (Shabbos 24b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

Do we recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos falls on Yom Kippur? Logically, there is a strong reason that we should not, since no one arrives that late to shul on Kol Nidrei night, and, furthermore, the many piyutim recited allow for ample time for someone to finish davening and not be left behind. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we recite mei’ein sheva when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos (Kolbo #70).

Mei’ein Sheva and Seder night

What is the halachah regarding reciting mei’ein sheva when Seder night falls on Shabbos?

In the context of a different issue, the Gemara (Pesachim 109b) refers to Pesach night as leil shimurim, the night in which we are protected from harm (see Maharsha ad loc.). This is based on the pasuk that concludes: He [Hashem] will not permit the destroyer to enter your homes (Shemos 12:42). For this reason, many Rishonim rule that there is no reason to recite the mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since even in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, the individual who arrived late was not in any danger, since Hashem guards us this night (Tur, Orach Chayim 487, quoting Rabbeinu Nissim and the Baal HaItur; Shu’t HaRivash #34; Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 11b; Kolbo #35, 50; Meiri, Pesachim 109b and many others). (The Rabbeinu Nissim quoted here is Rabbeinu Nissim ben Yaakov of Kairouan, North Africa, who was a contemporary and correspondent of Rav Hai Gaon and is sometimes called Rav Nissim Gaon, and should not be confused with the much later Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven of Gerona and Barcelona, Spain, known predominantly as one of the main commentators on the Rif.)

The Tur cites no disputing opinion to this statement of Rabbeinu Nissim, although when the Beis Yosef discusses this halachah, he quotes the Abudraham, who cites a dispute about the practice and concludes that common practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. This is curious, because the Abudraham lived in Spain, whereas his contemporary, the Tur, who lived in Spain at the same time, mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Another early authority who reports that one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night is the Shibbolei HaLeket (#219).

Other reasons to omit mei’ein sheva

In addition to the reason mentioned by Rabbeinu Nissim to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, I also found several other reasons to explain why one should not recite it then:

(1) According to the opinion of the Yerushalmi that mei’ein sheva was instituted to guarantee that everyone fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush Friday night, some authorities note that on Seder night, everyone would have wine for Kiddush and the arba kosos, thus rendering the bracha unnececessary (Mar’ei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

(2) Since no one is permitted to work erev Pesach afternoon, there is no reason to assume that someone would come to shul late on Seder night.

(3) Everyone comes to shul early on Seder night so that they can get home early and begin the Seder in a timely fashion.

(4) The prayer is delayed anyway Seder night, because of Hallel. (I found all three of these last reasons in the anthology Sefer HaTodaah.)

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 487:1), mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which became the most common accepted practice. However, there are many places that do say mei’ein sheva on the first night of Pesach. For example, the old custom in many German communities was to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Similarly, the Kaf HaChayim (487:22) quotes several prominent Sefardic authorities, including the Rashash and Rav Chayim Palachi, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night. The Kaf HaChayim furthermore quotes that the Sefardic minhag in Yerushalayim follows the practice of the Arizal, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night, although I found other sources quoting the Arizal as holding that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night (Shiyurei Bracha, Orach Chayim 642; Chazon Ovadiah, Pesach pages 231 and 235). The Kaf HaChayim quotes the Rashash as contending that, since the Gemara does not mention that Pesach should be treated differently because it is leil shimurim, one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night.

The question raised by these authorities is that there are several other occasions when the reasons for reciting mei’ein sheva do not apply, such as when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, or when Yom Tov fell on Friday, and yet universal accepted practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on these occasions.

This last argument is countered by the Radbaz, who contends that when the original takkanah was made concerning mei’ein sheva, Chazal specifically exempted Seder night because it is leil shimurim, but they did not exempt any of the other dates mentioned (Shu’t HaRadbaz 4:16).

As a matter of practice, many congregations that follow the old German customs indeed recite the bracha of mei’ein sheva on Seder night, but other Ashkenazi communities do not. Among Sefardi authorities, Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2:OC:25; 4:OC:21; Chazon Ovadyah) feels very strongly that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, whereas Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul ruled that each congregation should follow its custom (Shu’t Or LaTzion, Volume 3 page 174).

Thus, we see that, although the prevalent practice is to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, there are communities that do recite it. Now let us explain the other part of the question: “Which comes first, Hallel or the bracha mei’ein sheva?

Hallel in shul on Seder night

In several places, Chazal mention reciting Hallel in shul on the first night of Pesach. Why recite Hallel in shul, if we are going to recite it anyway, as part of the Seder? Several explanations are presented for this practice:

(1) In Chazal’s times, there were no siddurim, and therefore the common people davened together with the chazzan or by listening to the chazzan’s prayer. (This is one reason why the chazzan is called a shaliach tzibur, which literally translates as the emissary of the community, since he indeed prayed on behalf of many individuals.) On the days that we are required to recite Hallel, these people listened and responded to the chazzan’s Hallel, thereby fulfilling their mitzvah. However, how could they fulfill the mitzvah of reciting Hallel on Seder night when they were home? They did so by reciting Hallel together with the chazzan in shul, before coming home (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

(2) A different approach contends that the community recited Hallel in shul the first night of Pesach in order to fulfill the mitzvah with a large group. Although one may recite Hallel by oneself, reciting it communally is a greater observance of the mitzvah.

Hallel in shul without a bracha

Neither of these two approaches necessarily assumes that Hallel on Seder night requires a bracha. Indeed, the Chazon Ish recited Hallel in shul Seder night without reciting a bracha beforehand, and there are congregations in Bnei Braq that follow this approach.

Hallel Seder night with a bracha

(3) A third approach contends that the primary reason for reciting Hallel in shul is to recite a bracha beforehand. These poskim contend that Hallel at the Seder would require a bracha, if it were not interrupted by the meal. To resolve this predicament, Hallel is recited twice, once in shul with a bracha and without interruption, and then a second time, during the Seder. This is the prevalent practice by Sefardim, Chassidim, and the most common approach followed in Eretz Yisrael today (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

Now, the quiz question: Of what type of community is our gabbai a member? One finds the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night only among two communities: some Sefardim and some German kehillos. The German kehillos do not recite Hallel in shul Seder night, but the Sefardim universally do. Thus, our gabbai‘s community is a Sefardic congregation that has the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night.

Halachic conclusion

Someone creating a new kehillah and establishing new customs should certainly not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since this is the opinion of most Rishonim, and is followed by the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and the vast majority of later authorities. In addition, the rules of safek bracha lehakeil imply not to recite a bracha when there is a question whether one should do so or not. Nevertheless, in a congregation or community where the practice is to recite mei’ein sheva Seder night, one should do so before Hallel.




Mizmor Lesodah, Parshas Tzav and Erev Pesach

 

Admin note: We apologize for the delay in sending out this article. We are having a small problem with our server. However, it is still relevant for the remainder of this week.

IFQuestion #1: Korban Todah or bensching Goimel?

“Which is the better way to thank Hashem for a personal salvation, by reciting birchas hagomeil, or by making a seudas hodaah?”

Question #2: Bringing home the bread!

“Why is the korban todah accompanied by so many loaves of bread and so much matzoh?”

Question #3: Mizmor Lesodah and Pesach

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Answer:

Although Chapter 100 of Tehillim is known by its opening words as Mizmor Lesodah, there actually are two different chapters of Tehillim, #100 and #107, that devote themselves to the thanksgiving acknowledgement of someone who has survived a major physical challenge. In Psalm 107, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments: traveling through the desert, traveling overseas, illness, and imprisonment, in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. When the person survives the travails and thanks Hashem, the following passage reflects this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, “they acknowledge thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind.” These words are repeated four times, once after each of the situations is described.

The Gemara cites this Psalm as the source for many of the laws of birchas hagomeil, the brocha we recite when surviving these calamities. Actually, someone who survived these predicaments should offer a korban todah, which is described in parshas Tzav. The birchas hagomeil is recited in place of the korban todah that we cannot bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin (Rosh, Brachos 9:3; Tur, Orach Chayim 219).

What are the unusual features of the korban todah?

The korban todah is a specialized variety of shelamim, whose name means, according to the Toras Kohanim, that it creates peace in the world, since the owner, the kohen and the mizbeiach (the altar) all share in consuming it (quoted by Rashi, Vayikra 3:1). A shelamim, which was perhaps the most common korban in the Beis Hamikdash, was offered to express the desire to draw closer to Hashem from a sense that one lacks nothing in his physical life (see Commentary of Rav Hirsch, Vayikra 3:1).

The korban todah is offered following the general procedures and rules of a shelamim; however, it has several unique features. The first is that the korban itself is accompanied by a huge amount of bread, called korbanos mincha (plural, menachos), a total of forty loaves. Thirty of these comprise ten loaves each of three varieties of matzoh. However, the remaining ten loaves are highly unusual: first of all they are chometz, and this is the only instance of a private korban that includes chometz. (There is only one other korban any time that is chometz, and that is the two loaves offered by the community on Shavuos.) As a result, the korban todah could not be offered on Erev Pesach or on Pesach itself.

The chometz loaves are unusual in another way, in that each of them is three times the volume of the matzoh loaves (see Menachos 76b). Thus, the ten chometz loaves were, together, of equal size to the thirty matzohs.

Of the four varieties of mincha that accompany the korban todah, one of each type of loaf is given to the kohen to take home and consume together with his family and friends. The other 36 loaves are given to the offerer of the korban.

There is another unusual facet of the korban todah offering. Whereas a korban shelamim may be eaten until nightfall of the next day after it is offered, the korban todah must be eaten before the morning after it was offered, a much shorter period of time. Chazal further shortened the time it may be eaten — permitting it to be eaten only until halachic midnight — to assure that no one eat the korban when it is forbidden.

Thus, there are two ways in which the korban todah is treated differently from an ordinary shelamim: The todah is accompanied by an absolutely huge amount of bread, made from a total of twenty isronim of flour, which is twenty times the amount of flour that requires one to separate challah. Half of this bread is chometz and half matzoh, and it must be consumed within a very short period of time.

Why would the Torah “impose” these additional requirements on the offerer of the korban? Well, let us figure out what is he going to do. He has a significant amount of holy meat that must be eaten by midnight, and a huge amount of accompanying bread with the same restrictions. What will he do?

Presumably, he invites a large crowd to join him in his feast and thereby explains to them the reason for his repast. Thus, we increase the appreciation of others for the thanksgiving that Hashem has provided him. This now leads us directly into our discussion of the chapter of Tehillim that begins with the words Mizmor Lesodah.

Mizmor Lesodah

Whereas the above-mentioned Chapter 107 of Tehillim describes the background behind korban todah and birchas hagomeil, the 100th chapter of Tehillim, Mizmor Lesodah, represents the actual praise that the saved person recites. Although only five verses long, this psalm, one of the eleven written by Moshe Rabbeinu (see Rashi ad locum), captivates the emotion of a person who has just survived a major ordeal. The first verse expresses the need for everyone on Earth to recognize Hashem, certainly something that conveys the emotions of someone very recently saved from a major tribulation. The second verse shares the same passion, since it calls upon everyone to serve Hashem in gladness and to appear before Him in jubilation. The third sentence continues this idea. In it, the thankful person who has been saved calls on everyone to recognize that Hashem is the personal G-d of every individual, and that we are His people and the sheep of his pasture. He then calls on all to enter into Hashem’s gates and His courts, so that we can thank and bless Him. We should note that the gates of the Beis Hamikdash were meant for all of mankind, not only the Jewish People, as specifically included in Shlomoh Hamelech’s  prayer while inaugurating it (Melachim I 8:41-43).

The closing sentence is also very significant: “For Hashem is good, His kindness is forever, and our trust should be placed in Him in every future generation.” (We should note that the word olam in Tanach means “forever” and never means “world,” which is a meaning given to this word by Chazal. The most common Tanach word for “world” is teiveil; see, for example, Tehillim 19:5; 33:8; and 90:2; all of which are recited during the pesukei dezimra of Shabbos and 96:10, 13; 97:4; 98:7, which are part of kabbalas Shabbos.) The celebrant calls upon those he has assembled to spread the message that Hashem is the only Source of all good, and that we should recognize this at all times, not only in the extraordinary situations where we see the manifestation of His presence!

We can now understand better why the Mizmor Lesodah chapter of Tehillim is structured as it is. It provides the beneficiary of Hashem’s miracle with a drosha to present at the seudas hodaah that he makes with all the bread and meat that he does not want to go to waste — complete with encouragement to others to internalize our thanks to Hashem.

Clearly, then, this psalm was meant to be recited by the thankful person, and this is his invitation to others to join him as he thanks Hashem. The Avudraham notes that Hashem’s name appears four times in the psalm, corresponding to the four people who need to thank Him for their salvation.

Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos

We find a dispute among early authorities whether one should recite Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos (Shibbolei Haleket, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Why should this be?

Since the korban todah is a voluntary offering, it cannot be offered on Shabbos. The Tur mentions that established custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos and Yom Tov, out of concern that when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, someone may mistakenly offer the korban todah on these days. On Shabbos, of course, it is prohibited to offer any korban other than the required daily tamid and the special Shabbos korbanos, whereas on Yom Tov one may offer only korbanos that are brought because of Yom Tov (Beitzah 19b).

The Tur does not agree that this is a valid reason to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah on these days, contending that we need not be concerned that people will mistakenly offer a korban todah on Shabbos or Yom Tov (Orach Chayim, Chapter 51 and Chapter 281). Others explain that we recite Mizmor Lesodah to remind us of the korban todah, and since it was not offered on these days, there is no point in reciting it (see Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 51:11). Perhaps this is done as an aspect of uneshalma parim sefaseinu (Hoshea 14:3), “may our lips replace the bulls (of offerings),” which is interpreted to mean that when we have no Beis Hamikdash, we recite passages that commemorate those offerings. For this reason, the custom developed among Ashkenazim to omit Mizmor Lesodah on days that the offering could not be brought in the Beis Hamikdash.

Mizmor Lesodah on Chol Hamoed Pesach

Since the korban todah contained chometz, it could not be offered on Pesach. Therefore,  Ashkenazim refrain from reciting Mizmor Lesodah is omitted on Chol Hamoed Pesach for the same reason that it is omitted on Shabbos.

Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Pesach

Ashkenazic custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur and on Erev Pesach. The korban todah and its breads can usually be eaten until the midnight after the day it was offered. However, were one to offer a korban todah early on Erev Yom Kippur or on Erev Pesach, its chometz may be eaten for only a few hours. Since one may not offer a korban whose time limit is curtailed, one may not offer korban todah on these days, and, following Ashkenazic practice, Mizmor Lesodah is omitted then, also. The common custom among Sefardim is to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, Erev Pesach and Chol Hamoed Pesach (Pri Chodosh 429:2; Kaf Hachayim 51:51-52).

With this background, I can now begin to address the third question raised above.

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Indeed, in this instance, the student is correct. Hopefully, the rebbe was not that badly embarrassed.

Mizmor Lesodah and our daily davening

In order to make sure that this thanks to Hashem takes place daily, the chapter of Mizmor Lesodah was introduced into our daily pesukei dezimra. We should remember that miracles happen to us daily, even when we do not realize it (quoted in name of Sefer Nehora; see also Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Although it was not part of the original structure of the daily prayers established by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, long before the time of the Rishonim it was already common practice to include it as part of the daily recital of pesukei dezimra and to say it almost at the beginning. The importance of reciting this psalm should not be underestimated. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 51:9), states: One should recite Mizmor Lesodah with song, since eventually all songs will cease except for Mizmor Lesodah. This statement of Chazal is explained by Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Psalm 100) in the following manner: One day in the future, everything on Earth will be so ideal that there will be no reason to supplicate Hashem for changes. Even then, prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving will still be appropriate.




What’s Being Served for Haftarah This Week?

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Question #1: What Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read on Shabbos Parshas Shemos?

Question #2: Why do we read this Haftarah?

Question #3: What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

Before providing the clues to answering these questions; let’s first understand some background.

The Word Haftarah

I remember, as a child, assuming that the word Haftarah was pronounced half-Torah, because it was always much shorter than the Torah reading. Unfortunately, I occasionally hear adults mispronounce the word this way, too.

Although there are several interpretations of the word Haftarah, it is usually understood to mean completing, as in “completing the reading of the Torah” (Levush, Orach Chayim 284:1).

What Should We Read?

Chazal established specific Haftaros for some Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim (Megillah 29b- 31b). During weeks when no specific Haftarah was instituted, we should recite a Haftarah appropriate to the parsha.

Sometimes, the Haftarah relates not to the parsha, but to the season, such as during the Three Weeks and on the seven consecutive Shabbosos following Tisha B’Av. We also find that some places had a custom on a Shabbos aufruf to read the Haftarah from Yeshayahu that concludes, “And as a chosson rejoices with his kallah, so shall Hashem rejoice with you” (Terumas Hadeshen #20).

On most Shabbosos, when there was no requirement to read a specific section of Navi, each community would choose a selection of Navi reminiscent of the parsha. Indeed, if one looks at old Chumashim and books of community minhagim, one finds many variant practices. In addition, several sefarim mention different customs, and the Encyclopedia Talmudis provides a very extensive listing. Particularly, Sephardic and Ashkenazic practices often vary from one another, especially regarding minor differences, such as exactly where to begin or end the Haftarah, or whether to skip certain verses.

However, our Chumashim usually mention only the most common selections of Navi that have become generally accepted, only mentioning the differences between Sefardic, Ashkenazic and occasionally Italian practices.

Every Three Years

Today, the universal practice is to complete the entire Torah reading every year. However, in the times of the Gemara and for many centuries afterward, some communities read much smaller sections of the Torah every week and completed the Torah reading only every three years. Those communities also divided the Haftarah into three-year cycles by reciting a Haftarah that corresponded to their shorter readings. I have seen photographs of old manuscript Haftarah books based on the three-year system, where each sub-parsha has the name of the first words of the week’s portion. In the selection I saw, Parshas Vaeschanan was divided into three parts named Parshas Vaeschanan, Parshas Az Yavdil Moshe, and Parshas Shema Yisroel.

How is Parshas Shemos Unique?

Now is the time to address the questions I raised above:

Which Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read this Shabbos?

Why do we read this Haftarah?

What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

There are many different customs regarding which Haftarah to read. On no other Shabbos am I aware of as many different customs as this Shabbos. I am aware of five completely different choices for the Haftarah reading for Parshas Shemos! On many weeks, Ashkenazim and Sefardim either begin or end in different places, or add or skip certain pesukim, but the basic reading is the same. The five selections I saw mentioned for this week’s Haftarah are all from Neviim Acharonim, but they are five completely different readings. The Abudraham, who lists different customs regarding what to read on each week’s Haftarah, cites three alternate haftaros for Parshas Shemos, each from a different one of the three major seforim of Nevi’im Acharonim: Yeshayahu, Yirmiyohu and Yechezkel. And yet, the standard Haftarah read in Ashkenazi communities for this Shabbos is not any of the three that Avudraham quotes, which is highly unusual.

What do Ashkenazim read?

To the best of my knowledge, all Ashkenazic communities nowadays read Haba’im Yashreish Yaakov, from the Book of Yeshayahu (27:6 – 28:23). There does not seem to be any obvious reason to associate this passage from Yeshayahu with parshas Shemos. Why do we read this Haftarah? Rashi, in his commentary to the first words of the Haftarah, notes that the first words mentioned by Yeshayahu refer to the Bnei Yisroel going down to Mitzrayim, similar to the first words of this week’s Torah reading. Thus, although the rest of the Haftarah has little connection to the parsha, the beginning allusion was sufficient to choose this particular Haftarah for this week.

What do Sephardim and Edot Hamizrah read?

Some oriental communities, particularly those originating from parts of Yemen or Iraq, read from Yechezkel: Ben Adom Hoda es Yerushalayim (Yechezkel 16:1- 14), which is one of the three selections mentioned by Abudraham. This portion is also mentioned by the Rambam as the Haftarah for this week, which is probably the source for the Yemenite communities. Reading these words of Yechezkel, one can readily see why this was chosen for this week’s Haftarah. It describes the bleak origins of the Jewish people. Some of its verses have found their way into the Hagadah that is recited on Pesach-night, for the same reason.

However, most Sephardic communities read the beginning of the book of Yirmiyohu, Divrei Yirmiyohu. This Haftarah is very familiar to Ashkenazim because it is read on the first of the Three Weeks, usually parshas Pinchas, but occasionally on Parshas Matos.

Since this Haftarah discusses the impending attack of the Babylonians on Israel, it seems extremely appropriate to the Three Weeks; but why do Sephardim read it on parshas Shemos? Some note that several analogies between Moshe and Yirmiyohu surface in the parsha and Haftarah. Both Yirmiyahu and Moshe are beginning their careers as prophets, reluctantly. Yirmiyahu says that he is unable to speak, as he is little more than a child, and Moshe claims that he cannot speak due to physical impediment.

However, I must admit that I am baffled why it has become more commonly accepted to read either of these two haftaros: Habaim Yashreish Yaakov or Divrei Yirmiyohu, rather than Yechezkel Chapter 20, whose relationship to our parsha is more obvious. This passage mentions that Hashem made Himself known to the Jewish people in Mitzrayim, and that the Jews should not assimilate and follow Egyptian idolatrous practices. Indeed, this Haftarah was read by many Yemenite communities, yet it failed to gain acceptance in most other communities, either Ashkenazi or Sephardi, and furthermore, is not one of the three haftaros mentioned for this parsha by the Avudraham. (I refer our readers to Rav Mendel Hirsch’s commentary on the haftaros, where he suggests a connection between our Haftarah and parshas Shemos.)

Thus, I find two very surprising factors about the Haftarah we read this week.

  1. There are, or probably more accurately now, were at least five different accepted customs followed in choosing the Haftarah for this week, more than I am aware of for any other Shabbos.
  2. The ones standardly read in accordance with most Ashkenazi or Sephardi customs are the least obvious choices – meaning they are choices where we must strain to understand why they were chosen rather than other, more obvious candidates.

Conclusion:

We thus see that recital of the weekly Haftarah is an ancient custom and should be treated with respect. We may wonder why certain passages were chosen to be read on any given week; and at times, cannot even say that these were the most appropriate choices. In any event, we should pay attention to the Haftarah reading. We can gain much from understanding the inspiring messages that the navi is teaching.

 




The Special Mitzvah of Reciting Hallel

 

814761_51961477Hallel is our unique praise to Hashem that is reserved for special occasions. Whenever the Jews survived a crisis, they responded by singing Hallel. Thus, we sang Hallel when we crossed the Yam Suf and again after the allied kings of Canaan were defeated in the days of Yehoshua. Hallel was sung when Devorah and Barak’s small force defeated the mighty army of Sisra and when the huge army of Sancheiriv fled from Yerushalayim. It was also sung when Chananyah, Mishoel, and Azaryah survived Nevuchadnetzar’s fiery furnace and when the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil decrees. After each of these events, Jews recited Hallel to thank Hashem for their miraculous salvation (Pesachim 117a, see Rashi; cf. Rashbam).

In the same vein, Chazal instituted the recital of Hallel to commemorate Yomim Tovim and days when miracles provided salvation for the Jewish people. The Gemara teaches that we recite the full Hallel eighteen days every year in Eretz Yisrael and twenty-one days in Chutz La’Aretz. These days include: The eight days of Sukkos/Simchas Torah (nine days in Chutz La’Aretz), the eight days of Chanukah, the first day(s) of Pesach and Shavuos (Arachin 10a). Each of these days is either a Yom Tov or commemorates a miracle. Full Hallel is not recited on Rosh Chodesh, because it is neither a full Yom Tov nor does it commemorate a miracle (Arachin 10b). (We will soon discuss the partial Hallel that we recite on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach.)

Hallel includes Chapters 113-118 of Tehillim, with some of the verses repeated.

WHY DO WE RECITE THESE SPECIFIC VERSES?

The Gemara (Pesachim 118a) says that these chapters of Tehillim were chosen for Hallel because they mention five unique events: (1) The Exodus from Egypt, (2) The Splitting of the Yam Suf, (3) The Receiving of the Torah, (4) The Resurrection of the Dead, and (5) The Travails of the Coming of Moshiach.

  • The Exodus from Mitzrayim is explicitly mentioned in the pasuk, “Be’tzeis Yisrael Mi’mitzrayim,” “when Yisrael left Egypt.”
  • The Splitting of the Yam Suf is implied in the pasuk, “Hayom ra’ah vayanos,” “The Sea saw and fled.”
  • Receiving the Torah is alluded to by the pasuk, “He’harim rakdu ch’eilim,” “The mountains danced liked rams.” This refers to the mountains that danced in excitement when the Jewish people received the Torah.

(4)        The Resurrection of the Dead is implied by the pasuk, “Es’haleich lifnei Hashem be’artzos hachayim,” “I will walk before Hashem in the land of the living,” thus alluding to a future time when the deceased will return to life.

(5)        The Travails of the Coming of Moshiach is implied by the pasuk, “Lo lanu Hashem,” “Not for our sake, Hashem.” This pasuk alludes to several calamitous events that will transpire in the era preceding Moshiach’s arrival.

WHY ARE PARTS OF THE HALLEL REPEATED?

The practice of repeating some pesukim of Hallel is already mentioned in the Mishnah (Sukkah 38a). Many interpretations are suggested for this custom. Rashi explains the reason for this custom as follows: From the words “Hodu Lashem ki tov” until “Pischu li shaarei tzedek,” every theme mentioned is repeated. After “Pischu li,” this style ceases. However, in order to make the rest of the Hallel continue this poetic style, the custom is to repeat these last pesukim.

WHY DO WE SPLIT A PASUK IN HALF?

During Hallel, we divide the pasuk “Ana Hashem Hoshia Na, Ana Hashem Hatzliacha Na” in half and recite it as two different pesukim. This practice is already mentioned in the Gemara (Sukkah 38b). Normally, it is forbidden to divide a pasuk, except to teach schoolchildren, who may find it too difficult to learn the explanation of an entire pasuk at one time (Megillah 22a). Why are we permitted to divide this pasuk during Hallel?

Tosafos (Sukkah 38b) explains that this pasuk is different, because it was originally recited as part of a conversation between Dovid HaMelech and his family. Dovid’s brothers declared “Ana Hashem Hoshia Na” and Dovid responded “Ana Hashem Hatzlicha Na” (Pesachim 119a). Therefore, even though it was subsequently written down as one pasuk, it is treated as two separate statements during Hallel.

WHY IS HALLEL RECITED STANDING THE WHOLE YEAR, BUT SITTING AT THE SEDER?

Most mitzvos are performed while standing, and there are additional reasons why Hallel should be recited standing. Hallel testifies to Hashem’s miracles and wondrous deeds, and testimony must be made while standing (Mishnah Berurah 422:28). Furthermore, the pasuk in Hallel declares, “Sing praise, servants of Hashem who are standing,” implying that this is the proper way to give praise (Shibbolei Leket).

On the other hand, at the Seder Hallel is recited sitting, because this demonstrates that we are freemen (Shibbolei Leket).

Someone who recited Hallel while sitting need not repeat it (Mishnah Berurah 422:28, quoting Pri Megadim).

WHEN SHOULD ONE RECITE HALLEL?

Chazal derive from the verse of Hallel, “From when the sun rises in the east until it sets shall Hashem’s Name be praised,” that Hallel should be recited by day and not by night (Megillah 20b). Although the day begins when the eastern horizon lights up (amud hashachar), Chazal ruled that Hallel should not be said until after sunrise.

One should preferably recite Hallel immediately after Shacharis. However, if one failed to do so, one can recite Hallel the entire day.

The exception to this rule is when we recite Hallel on Pesach night as part of the Haggadah, since the miracle took place at night. Many communities have the custom of reciting Hallel in shul, also, that night.

MAY ONE LEAN WHILE RECITING HALLEL?

Resting one’s weight on a table or shtender in such a way that one would fall if the support was removed is considered the same as sitting. Therefore, many poskim contend that one may not lean while reciting Hallel (Magen Avraham 422:11). However, some poskim (Beis Meir; Biur Halacha) maintain that it is acceptable to rest one’s weight on a stand or table while reciting Hallel.

WHY IS HALLEL ON SUKKOS DIFFERENT FROM HALLEL ON PESACH?

Why do we recite the full Hallel every day of Sukkos, but only on the first day of Pesach?

The Gemara gives a surprising answer. On Sukkos, we recite full Hallel daily, since each day of Sukkos has a different korban in the Beis HaMikdash, while on Pesach, we do not recite full Hallel every day, because the same korban was offered every day. Thus, we see that Yom Tov is not a sufficient reason to recite Hallel. There must also be something novel about the day.

In a similar vein, we recite Hallel every day of Chanukah, because the miracle became greater every day as the oil miraculously continued burning. Therefore, each day is considered a new Yom Tov (Tosafos, Taanis 28b s.v. veyom).

The Midrash provides a different reason why the full Hallel is not recited on Pesach — we should not recite Hallel at the time when our enemies suffered (quoted by Shibbolei Leket #174).

There is no Hallel on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, because one should not sing on days when judgment is being rendered (Arachin 10b). Rambam explains that these are not days of total simcha, and that Hallel must be recited only on days of complete simcha (Hilchos Chanukah 3:6).

HALLEL ON PURIM?

Why we do not recite Hallel on Purim? After all, we do celebrate the tremendous miracle that transpired by saying the prayer Al HaNisim and performing many mitzvos. The Gemara provides three answers.

(1) Because the miracle of Purim occurred outside Eretz Yisrael.

(2) Because reading the Megillah is a form of Hallel.

(3) Because in Hallel we say, “Praise Him, servants of Hashem,” and we are still servants of Achashveirosh (Arachin 10b).

There is a practical difference between these opinions. According to the second opinion, someone who has no Megillah to read on Purim would be required to recite Hallel! Indeed, Rambam appears to rule according to this opinion (Hilchos Chanukah 3:6).

“HALF HALLEL”

Why do we say only a partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the latter days of Pesach? Reciting the partial Hallel on these days originated as a minhag and not as a takanah of Chazal. Reciting partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh as a custom is mentioned in a puzzling story.

The Gemara relates that the Amora, Rav, went to Bavel. [It is unclear whether this meant the country of Bavel in the environs of present day Iraq, or the city of Bavel (Babylon).] Rav was perturbed when the congregation began reciting Hallel after the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei and was about to interrupt them. But when he noticed that they were skipping parts of the Hallel, presumably similar to what we do, he chose not to interrupt them, saying, “I see that they are observing a custom of their fathers” (Taanis 28b).

Rav’s reactions seem very enigmatic. Why was he so concerned about their reciting Hallel that he was prepared to interrupt them in the middle? Furthermore, why did the fact that they omitted something make him change his mind? And, finally, why did he justify their practice on the basis that it was a custom of their fathers?

To understand what happened, we need to understand what is wrong with reciting Hallel on days not included in Chazal’s takanah.

The Gemara teaches us that someone who recites Hallel every day is a blasphemer (Shabbos 118b). What? A blasphemer! What’s so terrible about what he did?

The Maharal explains as follows: Non-believers sometimes ask that if Hashem is all-powerful, why does He allow evil to exist? Why aren’t all evildoers immediately destroyed? But to believers, this is not a question at all, because they understand that Hashem allows the world to exist naturally, without His interference. If Hashem destroyed evildoers, His existence would be so obvious that there would be no reward for those who do His will. Therefore, Hashem allows the world to function without His obvious involvement.

However, occasionally the need arises for Hashem to perform a miracle. When this happens, Hashem demonstrates His presence, and the world temporarily switches into “miraculous mode.” We commemorate these special occasions by reciting Hallel and celebrating the revelation of Hashem’s presence.

But, reciting Hallel on an ordinary weekday implies that Hashem’s control over the world should always be obvious. This leads to blasphemy, because if Hashem’s control is obvious, non-believers can ask why evildoers continue to exist without Hashem destroying them. Thus, the non-believer interprets saying Hallel every day as proof that Hashem is powerless to stop the forces of evil. This is, of course, terrible blasphemy (Gevuros Hashem #61). This is why Rav was so disturbed when he noticed the people of Bavel reciting Hallel on a day that is neither Yom Tov nor a day when a miracle occurred.

WHY DID RAV, INDEED, NOT STOP THE RECITAL OF HALLEL?

Why did Rav change his mind when he realized that the people were omitting parts of Hallel?

Although Rishonim record variant customs as to which parts of Hallel are omitted on Rosh Chodesh, every custom I have seen, as well as the usual practice today, omits the passages that include the words “Lo lanu” and “Ahavti” (see Rashi, Taanis 28b s.v. de’midalgi; Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:7). These omissions delete two of the five essential components that make the Hallel a unique praise. By skipping these passages, what is left is, indeed, a beautiful praise, but it is not a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Hallel.

Only when one recites the full Hallel on a weekday is it considered blasphemy. Therefore, the custom of the community of Bavel was to recite a partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, thus praising Hashem for his wondrous deeds, without performing an act that could, G-d forbid, imply blasphemy. This is why Rav saw no reason to interrupt them.

DO WE RECITE A BRACHA ON “HALF-HALLEL”?

As we mentioned, Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is a custom and not a takanah of Chazal. Do we recite a bracha before reciting this partial Hallel, since reciting it is, technically, not a mitzvah but a custom? This question is disputed by the Rishonim. Rambam rules that one does not recite a bracha before doing a custom (Hilchos Chanukah 3:7). This approach is the prevalent practice among the Sefardim and Edot HaMizrach in Eretz Yisrael, who do not recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 422:2). Tosafos (Taanis 28b), however, rules that one may recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach, and this is the universal practice among Ashkenazim (Rema).

DOES ONE RECITE “HALF-HALLEL” WHEN DAVENING IN PRIVATE?

The Gemara rules that an individual need not recite partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, but that once he began reciting Hallel, he should complete the partial Hallel (Taanis 28b). The custom among Ashkenazim is to recite partial Hallel with a bracha, even when davening alone. However, one should make an effort to recite the Hallel together with the tzibur, in order to avoid any shaylah. For this reason, if someone arrives late in shul, he should recite Hallel with the tzibur and daven afterwards. If he is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra when the tzibur begins Hallel, he should recite the Hallel with the tzibur, as if it is part of Pesukei Dezimra (Mishnah Berurah 422:16).

ORDERLY HALLEL

Hallel, like Shmoneh Esrei, is one of the prayers that must be recited in its proper order (Megillah 17a). If someone misses a word or sentence, he must return to the place he omitted (Rema, Orach Chayim 422:6).

I was once in shul on Chanukah, and the chazan inadvertently skipped Lo Lanu and recited the subsequent paragraph, Hashem Zecharanu. The chazan was a talmid chacham, and, upon realizing his error, he recited Lo Lanu and then repeated Hashem Zecharanu. Although the lay people in the shul did not understand why the chazan had repeated the paragraph, he had, indeed, followed the correct procedure.

WOMEN AND HALLEL

Are women required to recite Hallel?

The mishnah implies that women are exempt from reciting Hallel (Sukkah 38a). This is because Hallel is a time-bound mitzvah, from which women are absolved.

However, some poskim rule that women are obligated to recite Hallel on Chanukah and Pesach, since it is recited in regard to miracles that benefited women. According to these poskim, women are absolved from Hallel on Sukkos and Shavuos, since it is recited only because of Yom Tov and not because of a miracle (see Tosafos, Sukkah 38a s.v. Mi; Toras Refael, Orach Chayim #75).

The logical basis for this distinction is that women are required to observe mitzvos established because of miracles that benefited them. This is why they they are required to kindle Chanukah lights, to hear Megillah on Purim and to drink the four cups of wine at the Seder (Megillah 4a, Shabbos 23a; Pesachim 108b).

To the Jew who yearns to make Hashem’s presence an integral part of his life, nothing is more distressing than when Hashem hides His presence. Yet, in today’s world, not only is Hashem’s presence hidden, but much of modern society ignores His existence altogether. How can we safeguard ourselves from this influence?
Reciting Hallel with tremendous emotion and reliving Hashem’s miracles rekindles the cognizance of Hashem’s presence. The moments that we recite Hallel can encapsulate the most fervent experience of His closeness.

In the merit of joyously reciting Hallel, may we see the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim and the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, speedily in our days.




What Is the Bracha Magen Avos and Should We Recite It on Yom Kippur?

Question #1: Where?

Where is the bracha of Magen Avos first mentioned?

Question #2: What?

What is the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

Question #3: When?

On what occasions do we omit reciting the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

Answer:

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The bracha Mei’ein Sheva is recited by the chazzan after we conclude the Friday night Shemoneh Esrei, immediately after the congregation recites together the pesukim of Vayechulu. (Although the term Shemoneh Esrei is technically an inaccurate description of the Shabbos davening since it has only seven, and not eighteen, brachos, I will refer to it as Shemoneh Esrei, since that is what it is usually called.) This bracha is called Mei’ein Sheva, literally, an abbreviation of the seven brachos, because it is a synopsis of the seven brachos that comprise the Shabbos tefillah. Some people refer to the bracha as Magen Avos; since this phrase appears at its beginning, it is a common colloquial way of referring to this bracha.

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

In ancient times, the shullen were often located outside the towns in which people lived, and walking home from shul alone at night was dangerous. Chazal therefore instituted this bracha after Shemoneh Esrei, thereby delaying the end of davening so that someone who arrived late would be able to complete his davening and return with everyone else and not be left to walk home alone (Rashi, Shabbos 24b; Mordechai, Shabbos #407; Ran; Meiri).

According to an alternative approach, the bracha Mei’ein Sheva is a form of repetition of the prayer. The individual who arrived late could listen to the chazzan’s recital of this bracha and thereby fulfill his responsibility, even though the chazzan recited only one bracha and the regular Shabbos tefillah is seven (Rav Natrunai Gaon, as explained by Gra, Orach Chayim 269:13).

Although our shullen are no longer located outside the cities, once Chazal established the recital of bracha Mei’ein Sheva, we continue with this practice. Even in the time of the Gemara, it was practiced in places where the shullen were located inside the cities, notwithstanding that there was no danger to walk home from shul alone (Meiri, Pesachim 100b; Ran [on Rif, Pesachim 20a]; Or Zarua, Hilchos Erev Shabbos #20; Kolbo #11, 35).

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

Yet another reason is presented why Chazal introduced Mei’ein Sheva. In ancient times, there were occasions when it was difficult to obtain wine for Kiddush Friday night, and Mei’ein Sheva was instituted as a substitute for reciting Kiddush (Yerushalmi, Brachos 8:1 and Pesachim 10:2. This passage of Talmud Yerushalmi is quoted by Tosafos, Pesachim 106b s.v. Mekadeish).

Why do we not recite Mei’ein Sheva on weekdays?

If the reason for reciting Mei’ein Sheva was out of concern that someone delayed might be placed in danger because he would need to return home by himself, why did Chazal not introduce a similar prayer after weeknight maariv, in order to make sure that this delayed individual would not be placed in danger?

The Rishonim raise this question, explaining that in the era when Mei’ein Sheva was established, someone who realized that he was delayed would not have gone outside the city to the shul on a weekday, but would have come home directly and davened at home. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, he would not have wanted to miss the davening in shul.

Do we recite Mei’ein Sheva on Yom Tov?

The Gemara rules that the prayer Mei’ein Sheva was instituted only on Friday evening, and not on Yom Tov evenings that did not fall on Fridays (Shabbos 24b). Why was Mei’ein Sheva not said on Yom Tov? Was there no concern of someone arriving late to shul on Yom Tov eve?

In the writings of the Rishonim, I found several answers to this question. One approach is that, although the concern that someone may be left behind may have equally existed on Yom Tov, since the more common situation was on Shabbos, Chazal did not include Yom Tov in the takkanah (see Meiri, Shabbos 24b).

Another approach is that, on Yom Tov eve, people were careful to arrive on time for davening, and there was no concern about individuals arriving late for shul and remaining alone (Mordechai, Pesachim #611).

Yet a third approach is that there are kabbalistic reasons why this danger was a concern only on Shabbos, even when it falls on Yom Tov, but not on a weekday Yom Tov (Kolbo #35).

Based on a statement of the Talmud Yerushalmi that the reason for Mei’ein Sheva was not because of the dangers of walking home alone, but because wine was not always available, some later commentaries present yet a fourth reason why the takkanah was established only for Shabbos and not for Yom Tov. Since most authorities hold that Kiddush on Yom Tov is not required min haTorah (Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Shabbos 29:18), Chazal did not create a takkanah whose only reason would be to make sure that one fulfills a mitzvah that is miderabbanan (Marei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

Do we recite the bracha Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday? The reason for reciting Mei’ein Sheva on a regular Shabbos was because people would work late on Friday afternoon, and therefore arrive late to shul Friday evening. However, when Friday was Yom Tov, there would be no reason for someone to be delayed. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we should recite Mei’ein Sheva even when Yom Tov falls on Friday, notwithstanding the fact that the reason for the takkanah does not apply (Kolbo #52).

Thirteenth century zeal

Actually, the question regarding recital of Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday resulted in a very heated dispute during the era of the Rishonim. In the time of the Rivash, Rabbi Amram ben Meroam, a frequent correspondent of the Rivash, sent him the following shaylah:

Reuven was the chazzan for the Friday night davening on a Shabbos that immediately followed Yom Tov. He began reciting Mei’ein Sheva, when Shimon reprimanded him, contending that one should not recite this bracha when Shabbos follows Yom Tov; since no one was working on Friday, the reason for the takkanah did not apply. Levi then got involved, saying that it is accepted that one does recite Mei’ein Sheva on Friday night following a Yom Tov. The shul then burst into a cacophony of voices, with Shimon’s and Reuven’s backers screaming at one another. Finally, Shimon shouted that Reuven was desecrating Hashem’s holy Name since he was willing to recite a bracha in vain, and that if he did, Shimon would declare him to be in cherem, excommunicated! Reuven did recite the bracha Mei’ein Sheva and a day later opened his door to find Shimon and twenty of his backers there to notify him that he had been excommunicated! The Rivash was asked to rule on whether Reuven was indeed in cherem because of Shimon’s declaration that he had recited a bracha in vain, or, perhaps, Shimon should be placed in cherem for excommunicating someone without proper cause.

The Rivash ruled that Shimon was mistaken and that one should recite Mei’ein Sheva when Shabbos follows Yom Tov. Therefore, he concluded that Reuven, who followed the correct halachah, could completely ignore the cherem placed on him. However, he also concluded that since Shimon thought he was acting correctly, it is inappropriate to excommunicate him for his actions (Shu’t HaRivash #34).

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

When Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, do we mention Yom Tov in the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The Gemara rules that when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, the chazzan makes no mention of Yom Tov since on Yom Tov we do not recite this bracha (Shabbos 24b).

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

Do we recite Mei’ein Sheva when Shabbos falls on Yom Kippur? Logically, there is a strong reason that we should not, since no one arrives that late to shul on Kol Nidrei night. Furthermore, the many piyutim recited allow ample time for someone to finish davening and not be left behind. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we recite Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos (Kolbo #70).

Conclusion

The entire law of the bracha Magen Avos teaches a lesson of paramount importance in the powers of our traditions and the respect we show Chazal. The establishment of this bracha takes us back to a period of time thousands of years ago, and a set of circumstances when shullen were all located outside a town’s boundaries. Yet, we continue to observe this mitzvah every Friday night, notwithstanding the fact that the reason for its establishment no longer exists and especially in a world where change has become a constant phenomenon, and opinions become obsolete almost more quickly than they come into style. Chazal’s wisdom is timeless and eternal, giving the Jewish people a stability that the nations, as a whole, and every individual crave.  One way of fulfilling our mission to be “a light unto the nations” is through following the words of Chazal, knowing that they are relevant in all times and all places.




Holding the Torah Upright

According to some rishonim, the mitzvah to raise the Torah (hagbahah) is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo.

Question #1: Holy Roller

“I was in a shul, and when they took out the sefer Torah, they opened it and carried it all around the shul, showing everyone with a yad where the beginning of the keri’ah is. I had never seen this before, and was wondering if this is a common practice. Is it mentioned in halachic sources, or does it simply manifest someone’s enthusiasm?”

Question #2: Reversing the Trend

Is there any halachic basis for the custom on Simchas Torah of reversing the sefer Torah so that the writing faces away from the magbiah?

Answer: Needing a Lift

The mitzvah of hagbahah is to raise the sefer Torah and show it, so that everyone in the shul can see the writing of the sefer Torah. The prevalent, but not exclusive, tradition among Ashkenazim is that this mitzvah is performed after each sefer Torah is read, whereas the exclusive practice among edot hamizrach (Jews of Middle Eastern and Sefardic descent) is that this lifting is performed prior to reading from the Torah. Among the edot hamizrach, some open the sefer Torah and lift it up immediately upon removing it from the Aron Kodesh, whereas others first bring the sefer Torah to the shulchan and then perform hagbahah, prior to calling up the kohen for the first aliyah (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). Some even perform hagbahah both before and after the reading (ibid.; Kaf Hachayim 134:17) As a matter of curiosity, it is interesting to mention that some Chassidim and Perushim in Eretz Yisrael observe the practice of the Sefardim and perform hagbahah before the Torah is read. When following this procedure, the magbiah does not sit down with the sefer Torah after he has completed his job, but places it down on the shulchan from which it is read.

As we will soon see, both customs – performing hagbahah before the reading and performing it after the reading – can be traced back to antiquity.

The earliest description of hagbahah

The earliest extant description of the procedure of hagbahas haTorah is found in Masechta Sofrim, as follows:

“One must raise the sefer Torah when reciting the words Shema Yisrael… and then raise it again upon reciting Echad Elokeinu Gadol Adoneinu Kadosh Shemo… Immediately, [the person performing the mitzvah] opens the sefer Torah to a width of three columns and lifts the sefer Torah — showing the writing to all the people standing to his right and his left. Then he moves the sefer Torah in a circular motion before him and behind him — because it is a mitzvah incumbent on all the men and women to see the text of the sefer Torah, to bow, and to say Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael” (Masechta Sofrim 14:11-14).

What are the sources for the divergent customs?

As noted by the Beis Yosef and the Gra, the Masechta Sofrim describes performing hagbahah before keri’as haTorah. Nevertheless, the venerated practice of the Bnei Ashkenaz is to do hagbahah after we read the Torah (see Darkei Moshe 147:4; the practice is quoted at least as early as the Sefer HaItur, who lived over eight hundred years ago). This custom is based on the Gemara (Megillah 32a) that states, “After ten people read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll up the Torah,” which refers to hagbahah and implies that it is performed after the Torah has been read. Similarly, a different passage of Gemara (Sotah 39b) mentions that the person reading the haftarah should be careful not to begin until the rolling of the Torah is complete. This implies that the hagbahah and subsequent rolling closed of the Torah is performed immediately prior to the haftarah, and not before the Torah is read.

Two places in Shulchan Aruch

This difference in practice resulted in an anomalous situation. Because the Tur was an Ashkenazi, he included the laws of hagbahas haTorah after the reading of the Torah, in Chapter 147 of Orach Chayim. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch, who follows Sefardic practice, mentions hagbahas haTorah before the rules of the reading of the Torah in Chapter 134:2, yet he also discusses the laws of hagbahas HaTorah where the Tur placed the halachah in Chapter 147. As a result, the halachos of hagbahas haTorah are located in two different places in Shulchan Aruch, some in Chapter 134, others in Chapter 147, with the laws of keri’as haTorah sandwiched between.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbahah afterwards?

Logically, it would seem that we should display the text of the sefer Torah prior to reading the Torah, so that people observe the section that is about to be read, as, indeed, the Sefardim do. Why do Ashkenazim delay displaying the words of the Torah until after the reading is concluded?

The authorities present the following basis for what seems to be an anomalous practice: In earlier generations, there were unlettered people who mistakenly assumed that it was more important to see the words of the Torah during the hagbahah than it was to hear the reading of the Torah. As a result, many of these people would leave shul immediately after the hagbahah and miss the reading. Therefore, the practice was introduced to postpone the hagbahah until after the reading was concluded — which now caused these people to stay in shul and hear the reading of the Torah (Shiyarei Keneses Hagedolah 134:2, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 134:17).

Are there any other ramifications to this dispute?

Indeed, there is another interesting ramification that results from the Ashkenazic practice of delaying the hagbahah until after the reading is concluded. Should one notice a pesul in the sefer Torah that does not require taking out another sefer Torah, but precludes reading from this sefer Torah until it is repaired, one should not recite the words Vezos HaTorah and Toras Hashem temimah when being magbiah the sefer Torah (Kaf Hachayim 134:17, quoting Shu’t Adnei Paz #13).

What is the proper way to do hagbahah?

A sefer Torah is written on sections of parchment that are stitched together. The person who is performing hagbahah should make sure that the stitching is in front of him before he lifts the Torah, so that if the sefer Torah tears from the stress of the lifting, the stitching, which is easy to repair, will tear and not, G-d forbid, the parchment itself (Megillah 32a, as explained by the Tur; see esp. Aruch HaShulchan 147:13; cf., however, how Rashi explains the Gemara).

“Reading” the Torah

When the sefer Torah is raised, each person in shul should try to actually read the letters of the sefer Torah. This causes a bright, spiritual light of the Torah to reach him (Arizal, quoted by Magen Avraham 134:3). Some have the practice of looking for a word in the sefer Torah that begins with the same letter as their name (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). In most Sefardic communities, someone points to the beginning of the day’s reading while the sefer Torah is held aloft for all to see. Some congregations consider this a great honor that is given to the rav or another scholar (Kaf Hachayim 134:13). This may be the origin of the custom that some people have of pointing at the sefer Torah during hagbahah (cf. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Parshas Ki Savo, 27:26).

In order to make sure that everyone sees the text of the sefer Torah, some Sefardic congregations have the magbiah carry the open sefer Torah around the shul to display its holy words to every attendee (Kaf Hachayim 134:13).

In which direction is the Torah held?

The usual Ashkenazic practice is that the magbiah holds the sefer Torah with its writing facing him. Some congregations have the practice that, on Simchas Torah, the sefer Torah is lifted in the reverse way, so that the writing is away from the magbiah. Most people think that this is a “shtick” as part of the Simchas Torah celebration, but this is not halachically accurate.

The Bach (147) contends that the original approach was to hold the sefer Torah with the writing visible to the people — as we do on Simchas Torah. This is because when the magbiah lifts the sefer Torah the way we usually do, his body blocks the view, and for this reason, the Maharam and other great Torah leaders held the Torah with its text away from them when they performed hagbahah. Presumably, the reason this practice was abandoned is because it is much more difficult to do hagbahah this way, and there is concern that someone might, G-d forbid, drop the sefer Torah while doing it. Nevertheless, in places where the custom is to perform hagbahah this way on Simchas Torah, the reason is to show that on this joyous occasion we want to perform hagbahah in the optimal way.

The more the merrier!!

The above-quoted Masechta Sofrim requires that the magbiah open the sefer Torah three columns wide. The authorities dispute whether the magbiah may open the sefer Torah more than three columns. In other words, does Masechta Sofrim mean that one should open the sefer Torah exactly three columns, or does it mean that one should open it at least three columns, so that everyone can see the words of the Torah, but that someone may open it wider, should he choose? The Magen Avraham (134:3) suggests that one should open it exactly three columns, although he provides no reason why one should not open the sefer Torah more, whereas the Mishnah Berurah says that it depends on the strength of the magbiah — implying that if he can open it more, it is even better. It is possible that the Magen Avraham was concerned that opening the sefer Torah wider might cause people to show off their prowess and cause the important mitzvah of hagbahas haTorah to become a source of inappropriate pride — the exact opposite of the humility people should have when performing mitzvos.

Lift and roll!?

Most people who perform the mitzvah of hagbahah roll open the sefer Torah to the requisite width and then lift it, whereas others unroll it while they are lifting it. Which of these approaches is preferred?

The Shaar Efrayim discusses this issue, and implies that there is no preference between the two approaches, whereas the standard wording of Masechta Sofrim is that one should unroll the sefer Torah first.

Reciting Vezos HaTorah

When the sefer Torah is elevated, everyone should bow and recite the pasuk Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael (Masechta Sofrim 14:14). Indeed, the Chida cites sources who hold that since Chazal mention saying Vezos HaTorah, it has the status of a davar shebekedushah and can be said even if one is in the middle of birchos keri’as shema (Kenesses Hagedolah, quoted by Birkei Yosef 134:4). Subsequently, the Chida wrote a lengthy responsum in which he concluded that reciting Vezos HaTorah does not have the status of a davar shebekedushah, and therefore should not be said in a place where it interrupts one’s davening (Shu’t Chayim She’al 1:68).

Vezos HaTorah should be said only while facing the words of the sefer Torah (Be’er Heiteiv 134:6, quoting several earlier sources). If one began reciting Vezos HaTorah while facing the writing of the sefer Torah, one may complete the pasuk after the text of the sefer Torah has been rotated away from one’s view (Shaar Efrayim).

In many siddurim, after the sentence Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael, five words are added: Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe (Bamidbar 9:23), as if this is the continuation of the verse. Many halachic authorities question adding the words Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe, since these words are from a different passage of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan 134:3). Others are concerned for a different reason, because these last five words are not an entire verse and they question the practice of reciting partial verses of the Torah. Indeed, many old siddurim do not quote this addition, and many halachic authorities contend that one should not recite it.

Who should be honored with hagbahah?

The Gemara (Megillah 32a) states “Ten people who read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll the Torah,” which refers to the mitzvah of hagbahah, since the magbiah rolls the Torah both prior to displaying it, and when he closes it, afterwards. The Baal HaItur quotes two opinions as to whom the “ten people” refers. Does it mean the attendees of the current minyan, and that the greatest of this group should be the one who is honored with the mitzvah of lifting and displaying the Torah? Or, does it means according the honor of lifting and displaying the Torah to the greatest of the ten people who were involved in that day’s reading (the seven who had aliyos, the maftir, the baal keriyah, and the person who recited the Targum after each pasuk was read, which was standard procedure at the time of the Gemara).

The halachic authorities rule according to the first approach, that one should honor the greatest person in the shul (Gra; Mishnah Berurah 147:6). They also refer to another practice, which was to auction off the mitzvah of hagbahah to the highest bidder (Tur; Shulchan Aruch). However, where the hagbahah is not auctioned, one should provide the honor to the greatest Torah scholar in attendance (Machatzis Hashekel). The prevalent practice of not necessarily offering hagbahah to the greatest scholar is in order to avoid any machlokes (Shaar Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah). Nevertheless, in a situation where no machlokes will develop, one should certainly accord the mitzvah to the greatest talmid chacham who can properly perform hagbahah. Whatever the situation may be, the gabbai is responsible to give hagbahah only to someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of performing the mitzvah properly.

The importance of performing hagbahah correctly

The Ramban, in his commentary on the verse, Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah (Devarim 27:26), explains that this curse includes someone who, when performing hagbahah, does not raise the sefer Torah in a way that everyone in the shul can see it properly. Apparently, there were places that did not perform the mitzvah of hagbahah at all out of concern that someone will be cursed for not performing hagbahah properly (Birkei Yosef, Shiyurei Brachah 134:2; Kaf Hachayim 134:15; Encyclopedia Talmudis, quoting Orchos Chayim). Although I certainly do not advocate eliminating the mitzvah of hagbahah, a person who knows that he cannot perform the mitzvah correctly should defer the honor, and the gabbai should offer the honor only to someone who fulfills the mitzvah properly.




Mizmor Lesodah and Pesach

Question #1: Mizmor Lesodah and Pesach

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Question #2: Why at the Very Beginning?

“I am curious why Mizmor Lesodah is located at the beginning of pesukei dezimra. Isn’t Ashrei and the five chapters of Tehillim that follow it the essence of pesukei dezimra?”

Question #3: Standing Room Only

“My father always told me that one should stand when saying Mizmor Lesodah, but I cannot find this halachah in the Mishnah Berurah. Where is it located?”

Answer

There are two different chapters of Tehillim, #100 and #107, that devote themselves to the thanksgiving acknowledgement of someone who has survived a major physical challenge. In Psalm 107, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments — traveling through the desert, traveling overseas, illness, and imprisonment — in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. When the person survives the travails and thanks Hashem, the passage reflects this thanks: Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, “they acknowledge thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind.”

The Gemara cites this Psalm as the source for many of the laws of birchas hagomeil, the brocha we recite when surviving these calamities. To quote the Gemara: Four people need to acknowledge thanks to Hashem.

Mizmor Lesodah

Whereas Chapter 107 of Tehillim describes the background behind korban todah and birchas hagomeil, the 100th chapter of Tehillim, Mizmor Lesodah, represents the actual praise that the saved person recites. Although only five verses long, this psalm, one of the eleven written by Moshe Rabbeinu (see Rashi ad locum), captivates the emotion of a person who has just survived a major ordeal. The first verse expresses the need for everyone on Earth to recognize Hashem, certainly conveying the emotions of someone very recently saved from a major tribulation. The second verse shares the same passion, since it calls upon everyone to serve Hashem in gladness and to appear before Him in jubilation. The third sentence continues this idea. In it, the thankful person who has been saved calls on everyone to recognize that Hashem is the personal G-d of every individual, and that we are His people and the sheep of his pasture. He then calls on all to enter into Hashem’s gates and His courts, so that we can thank and bless Him. We should note that the Gates of the Beis Hamikdash were meant for all of mankind, not only the Jewish People, as specifically included in Shlomoh Hamelech’s prayer while inaugurating it (Melachim I 8:41-43).

The closing sentence is also very significant: “For Hashem is good, His kindness is forever, and our trust should be placed in Him in every future generation.” (We should note that the word olam in Tanach means “forever” and never means “world,” which is a meaning given to this word by Chazal. The most common Tanach word for “world” is teiveil; see, for example, Tehillim 19:5; 33:8; and 90:2, all of which are recited during the pesukei dezimra of Shabbos, and 96:10, 13; 97:4; 98:7, which are part of kabbalas Shabbos.) The celebrant calls upon those he has assembled to spread the message that Hashem is the only Source of all good, and that we should recognize this at all times, not only in the extraordinary situations where we see the manifestation of His presence!

We can now understand better why the Mizmor Lesodah chapter of Tehillim is structured as it is. It provides the beneficiary of Hashem’s miracle with a drosha to present at the seudas hodaah that he makes with all the bread and meat of the korban todah — complete with encouragement to others to internalize our thanks to Hashem.

Clearly, then, this psalm was meant to be recited by the thankful person prior to offering his korban, and this is his invitation to others to join him as he thanks Hashem. The Avudraham notes that Hashem’s name appears four times in the psalm, corresponding to the four people who need to thank Him for their salvation.

Mizmor Lesodah and Our Daily Davening

In order to make sure that this thanks to Hashem takes place daily, the chapter of Mizmor Lesodah was introduced into our daily pesukei dezimra. We should remember that miracles happen to us daily, even when we do not realize it (quoted in name of Sefer Nehora; see also Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Although Mizmor Lesodah was not part of the original structure of the daily prayers established by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, it apparently was already common practice in ancient times, long before the time of the Rishonim, to recite it at or near the beginning of pesukei dezimra. The importance of reciting this psalm should not be underestimated. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 51:9) states: One should recite Mizmor Lesodah with song, since eventually all songs will cease except for Mizmor Lesodah. This statement of Chazal is explained by Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Psalm 100) in the following manner: One day in the future, everything on Earth will be so ideal that there will be no reason to supplicate Hashem for changes. Even then, prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving will still be appropriate.

Why Start at the Very Beginning?

In nusach and minhag Sfard, Mizmor Lesodah is the first psalm recited in pesukei dezimra, and in all versions it is recited before the essential parts of pesukei dezimra, which are Ashrei and the five chapters of Tehillim that follow it. Why do we recite Mizmor Lesodah towards the beginning of pesukei dezimra?

The Avudraham explains that Mizmor Lesodah is in its place because it corresponds to the second statement of Creation – yehi or, “Let there be Light,” since all of mankind needs to thank Hashem for providing light and for our existence.

One could perhaps suggest another reason. Since Mizmor Lesodah was written by Moshe Rabbeinu, it predates the other parts of Tehillim we say in our daily pesukei dezimra, and therefore is recited first.

At this point, we can answer one of the questions raised above. “I am curious why Mizmor Lesodah is located at the beginning of pesukei dezimra. Isn’t Ashrei and the five chapters of Tehillim that follow it the essence of pesukei dezimra?”

Indeed, the questioner is correct that the original and most vital part of pesukei dezimra is Ashrei and the five psalms that follow it. Nevertheless, since Mizmor Lesodah serves such an important function, and it also corresponds to the second of the ten statements of Creation, it was placed earlier in our davening.

“No Thanks”

We find a dispute among early authorities whether one should recite Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos (Shibbolei Haleket, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Why should this be?

Since the korban todah is a voluntary offering, it cannot be offered on Shabbos. The Tur mentions that established custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos and Yom Tov, out of concern that when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, someone may mistakenly offer the korban todah on these days. On Shabbos, of course, it is prohibited to offer any korban other than the required daily tamid and the special Shabbos korbanos, whereas on Yom Tov one may offer only voluntary korbanos that are because of the Yom Tov (Beitzah 19b).

The Tur does not agree that this is a valid reason to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah on these days, contending that we need not be concerned that people will mistakenly offer a korban todah on Shabbos or Yom Tov (Orach Chayim, Chapter 51 and Chapter 281). Others explain that we recite Mizmor Lesodah to remind us of the korban todah, and since it was not offered on these days, there is no point in reciting it (see Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 51:11). Perhaps this is done as an aspect of uneshalma parim sefaseinu (Hoshea 14:3), “may our lips replace the bulls (of offerings),” which is interpreted to mean that when we have no Beis Hamikdash, we recite passages that commemorate those offerings. For this reason, the custom developed among Ashkenazim to omit Mizmor Lesodah on days that the offering could not be brought in the Beis Hamikdash.

Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

There are places where the custom was to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because of the words hari’u lashem kol ha’aretz, which calls on the entire Earth to sing praise to Hashem (Magen Avraham 51:10, quoting Kenesses Hagadol). Kaf Hachayim (51:50) notes that the most common custom among Sefardim was to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah, but not on Yom Kippur, although some places omitted it on Rosh Hashanah, similar to the Ashkenazic practice. Pri Megadim, an Ashkenazi, mentions that he was unaware of any community that did recite Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah.

Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur

Ashkenazic custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, and for a very interesting reason: One may not offer a korban in a way that curtails the amount of time that the Torah permitted one to consume the parts of the korban that are eaten (Zevachim 75b). Were a todah offered on Erev Yom Kippur, one would be permitted to eat it and its bread only until sunset, whereas the time limit for a todah is usually until midnight. Thus, one cannot offer the korban todah on Erev Yom Kippur, and the custom is to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah.

Mizmor Lesodah on Chol Hamoed Pesach

For the same reason that Mizmor Lesodah is omitted on Shabbos, Ashkenazim omit reciting it on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Since the korban todah contained chometz, it could not be offered on Pesach.

Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Pesach

For the same reason that Ashkenazim omit recital of Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, they omit it on Erev Pesach. The korban todah and its breads can usually be eaten until the midnight after the day it was offered. However, were one to offer a korban todah early on Erev Pesach, one would be restricted to eating its chometz for only a few hours. Since one may not offer a korban whose time limit is curtailed, one may not offer korban todah on Erev Pesach, and, following Ashkenazic practice, Mizmor Lesodah is omitted then, also. The common custom among Sefardim is to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, Erev Pesach and Chol Hamoed Pesach (Pri Chodosh 429:2; Kaf Hachayim 51:51-52).

With this background, I can now begin to answer the first question raised above.

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Indeed, in this instance, the student is correct. Hopefully, the rebbe was not that badly embarrassed.

Mizmor Lesodah on Tisha B’av

Apparently, there were places where the custom was to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah on Tisha B’av and on Erev Tisha B’av (Magen Avraham 51:11, quoting Hagahos Maimoniyos). Shu”t Maharshal (#64) writes that this is a gross error, because when the Beis Hamikdash stood and when it will be rebuilt, Tisha B’av was and will not be a fast day, and there is no reason why one could not offer a korban todah then.

Standing Only

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 10:8) requires that a person stand up when he recites birchas hagomeil. The Bach (Orach Chayim 219) feels that there is an allusion to this practice in Tehillim 107, whereas the Elyah Rabbah (219:3) presents a different reason why one should stand, explaining that birchas hagomeil is a form of Hallel, which must be recited standing. Others explain that since birchas hagomeil substitutes for the korban todah, it bears similarity to shmoneh esrei, which is similarly bimkom korban and is recited standing (Nahar Shalom 219:1). According to all of these opinions, we can understand why a custom developed to stand when reciting Mizmor Lesodah (see Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 14:4, and sources quoted by Kaf Hachayim 51:48). However, the Kaf Hachayim quotes the Arizal that one should deliberately sit while reciting Mizmor Lesodah, and he (the Kaf Hachayim) concludes that this is the preferred practice. The Mishnah Berurah does not mention anything about either practice.

We can now answer the last question raised above: “My father always told me that one should stand when saying Mizmor Lesodah, but I cannot find this halachah in the Mishnah Berurah. Where is it located?”

The answer is that although there are some halachic authorities who record this custom, it is not universally accepted. As a point in fact, the Mishnah Berurah does not discuss this particular question.

Conclusion

Why is korban todah the only private offering that includes chometz and the only offering that includes both chometz and matzoh? Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Vayikra 7:14) explains that the three types of matzoh represent different degrees of prosperity, but using matzoh conveys the idea that it is obvious that everything I have is dependent on Hashem. Chometz, however, implies that a person is living more independently – his need for Hashem’s regular involvement is not nearly as obvious.

The person who has survived one of the four ordeals requiring a korban todah now recognizes that only the outside world views him as independent. He himself understands that everything he has is dependent on Hashem. Similarly, on Pesach, we all need to acknowledge our salvation and creation as a Nation by Hashem.




Hallel in Shul on Seder Night

Question #1: When I visit Eretz Yisroel, I notice that even Nusach Ashkenaz shullen recite Hallel on the first night of Pesach. Should I be reciting Hallel with them when my family custom is not to?

Question #2: Should a woman whose husband recites Hallel in shul on Seder night recite Hallel with a bracha before the Seder?

Question #3: When I was in Eretz Yisroel for Pesach, I davened maariv the second day of Pesach with a chutz la’aretz Nusach Ashkenaz minyan, but none of us knew whether to recite Hallel. What should we have done?

Hallel is our unique praise to Hashem that is reserved for special occasions. Whenever the Jews survived a crisis, they responded by singing Hallel. Thus we sang Hallel after crossing the Yam Suf and again after Yehoshua defeated the allied kings of Canaan. Devorah and Barak sang Hallel when their small force defeated the mighty army of Sisra; the Jews sang this praise when the huge army of Sancheiriv fled from Yerushalayim and when Hashem saved them from Haman’s evil decrees. Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah sang Hallel after surviving Nevuchadnetzar’s fiery furnace. After each of these events, Jews recited Hallel to thank Hashem for their miraculous salvation (Pesachim 117a, as explained by Rashi; cf. Rashbam ad loc.).

Before addressing the above questions, let us clarify the five different ways we recite Hallel during Pesach.

THE FIVE TYPES OF PESACH HALLEL

I. Thanking Hashem while performing mitzvos

In the Beis HaMikdash, the Jews sang Hallel while offering the korban pesach on Erev Pesach (Mishnah Pesachim 64a, 95a; Gemara 117a) and then again during the festive meal when they ate it that night. To quote the immortal words of the Gemara, “Could it possibly be that the Jews would offer their korban pesach without reciting Hallel?”

The Jews sang Hallel at the Seder with such fervor that a new expression was coined, “The kezayis of Pesach and the Hallel split the roof.” It is unlikely that people needed to hire roofers to repair the damage after Pesach; this statement reflects the zeal of the experience. As Chazal teach, we should sing every Hallel with ecstatic feeling and melody (Mesechta Sofrim 20:9).

The Hallel recited while offering and consuming the korban pesach is inspired by the fervor of the event. Similarly, some have the custom of reciting Hallel while baking matzos on Erev Pesach to remember the arousing passion of singing Hallel while offering korban pesach. Unfortunately, as we have no korban pesach with which to ignite this enthusiasm, we substitute the experience of baking the matzos.

II. Part of the evening davening

In the times of Chazal (Mesechta Sofrim 20:9; Yerushalmi Berachos 1:5), the Jews recited Hallel immediately after maariv in shul on Seder night, a practice continued by Nusach Sefard and in Eretz Yisroel. I will soon discuss the different reasons for this practice.

III. During the Seder

We sing Hallel as part of the Seder. This Hallel is different from the regular Hallel in the following ways:

We divide this Hallel into two parts, separating the two parts with the festive Yom Tov meal. We sing the first part as the conclusion of the Maggid part of the Seder, as we describe the ecstasy of the Exodus while holding a cup of wine in celebration. The bracha, Asher Ga’alanu, is recited after these preliminary paragraphs of the Hallel, immediately followed by a bracha upon the second cup of wine. (Sefardim do not recite a bracha on this cup of wine.)

Following the birchas hamazon after the meal, which concludes with the third cup of wine, we pour a fourth cup of wine and hold it while reciting the rest of Hallel. Upon completing Hallel, we recite Chapter 136 of Tehillim, Nishmas, a bracha to conclude the Hallel (there are different opinions which bracha to recite), a bracha upon the wine (Sefardim do not recite a bracha on this cup of wine either), and then drink the cup of wine as the last of the four kosos.

Another difference between Hallel on Seder night and Hallel during the year is that we sit for Hallel at the Seder. Halacha requires that one give testimony standing, and when we recite Hallel we testify that Hashem performed wonders for us. Furthermore, the pasuk in Hallel declares, “Sing praise, servants of Hashem who are standing” (Tehillim 135:1-2), implying that this is the appropriate way to praise. However, at the Seder we sit because the Hallel is part of the meal and is recited while holding a cup of wine, which is not conducive to standing; furthermore, sitting demonstrates that we are free from bondage (Shibbolei HaLeket #173).

Reciting Hallel during the Seder commemorates singing Hallel while eating the korban pesach (Mishnah Pesachim 95a). Unfortunately, we have no korban pesach, so we must substitute the Yom Tov meal and the matzos.

IV. After Shacharis on the first day(s) of Pesach

We recite the full Hallel immediately following shmoneh esrei on the first day(s) of Pesach to fulfill the mitzvah of reciting Hallel on days that are either Yom Tov or commemorate a miracle. These days include Chanukah, Sukkos, Shavuos, and the first day(s) of Pesach (Arachin 10a). This Hallel can only be recited during daytime hours, which the Gemara (Megillah 20b) derives from the verse, from the rising of the sun until it sets, Hashem’s name shall be praised (Tehillim 113:3).

V. After Shacharis on the other days of Pesach

We recite Hallel with parts deleted (colloquially referred to as half Hallel) immediately following shmoneh esrei on the other days of Pesach. This reading is not part of the original takanah to recite Hallel on Yomim Tovim, but is a custom introduced later, similar to the recitation of Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. Thus the poskim dispute whether one recites a bracha prior to reciting this Hallel. Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 3:7) rules that one does not recite a bracha, and this is the prevalent custom among the Sefardim and Edot HaMizrach in Eretz Yisrael (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 422:2). Tosafos (Taanis 28b), however, rules that one may recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach, and this is the universal practice among Ashkenazim.

Why do we recite the full Hallel every day of Sukkos, bur only on the first day of Pesach? The Gemara gives a surprising answer to this question. We recite full Hallel every day of Sukkos since each has different korban requirements in the Beis HaMikdash; on Pesach, we do not recite full Hallel every day because the same korban was offered every day. The fact that a day is Yom Tov is insufficient reason to recite Hallel; there must also be something original about that particular day’s celebration. Thus, although the Seventh (and Eighth) day of Pesach is Yom Tov, full Hallel is omitted.

The Midrash presents a different explanation why full Hallel is not recited on Pesach — we should not recite it at a time that commemorates human suffering, even of the evil, since this was the day that the Egyptians drowned in the Yam Suf (quoted by Shibbolei HaLeket #174).

Now that we have a basic background to the five types of Hallel, we can now discuss the Hallel we recite at the Seder. The Gemara’s list of dates that we recite Hallel only mentions reciting Hallel in the daytime. However, other sources in Chazal (Mesechta Sofrim 20:9; Tosefta Sukkah 3:2; Yerushalmi Sukkah 4:5) include Hallel of Seder night when mentioning the different days when we are required to recite Hallel. This leads us to an obvious question:

DO WE RECITE A BRACHA ON HALLEL AT THE SEDER?

Since we recite Hallel at the Seder, should we not introduce it with a bracha? Although the universal practice today is to not recite a bracha before this Hallel, whether one recites a bracha on this Hallel is actually disputed. Here are three opinions:

1. One should recite a bracha twice; once before reciting the first part of Hallel before the meal and once before resuming Hallel after bensching (Tur Orach Chayim 473, quoting Ritzba and several others).

2. One should recite a bracha before beginning the first part of Hallel, notwithstanding the interruption in the middle of Hallel (Ran; Maharal).

3. One should not recite any bracha on Hallel at the Seder (Shu’t Ri MiGash #44; Rama; Bach).

Of course, this last opinion presents us with an interesting difficulty: If Chazal instituted reciting Hallel on Seder night, why does it not require a bracha beforehand?

I found three very different approaches to answer this question:

A. Some contend that, despite inferences to the contrary, Hallel on Seder night is not a mitzvah but only expresses our rejoicing (Shu’t Ri MiGash #44).

B. Alternatively, although there is a mitzvah Seder night to praise Hashem, this praise could be spontaneous and unstructured which would not technically require reciting the structured Hallel. Since no specific song or praise is required, Chazal did not require a bracha before singing Hallel (see Rav Hai Gaon’s opinion, as quoted by Ran, Pesachim Chapter 10).

C. Although Hallel Seder night should require a bracha, we cannot do so because we interrupt the recital of the Hallel with the meal (Tur Orach Chayim 473). This approach leads us to our next discussion:

HALLEL SEDER NIGHT IN SHUL

In several places Chazal mention reciting Hallel in shul on the first night of Pesach. Why recite Hallel in shul, if we are going to recite it anyway as part of the Seder?

The Rishonim present us with several approaches to explain this practice.

A. In Chazal’s times, there were no siddurim and therefore the common people davened together with the chazzan or by listening to the chazzan’s prayer. (This is why the chazzan is called a shaliach tzibur, the emissary of the community, since he indeed prayed on behalf of many individuals.) On the days that we are required to recite Hallel, these people listened to the chazzan’s Hallel and responded appropriately and thereby fulfilled their mitzvah. However, how could they recite Hallel Seder night? They did so by reciting Hallel together with the chazzan in shul before coming home (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

B. A different approach contends that the community recited Hallel in shul the first night of Pesach in order to fulfill the mitzvah with a large group. Although one may recite Hallel by oneself, reciting it communally is a greater observance of the mitzvah.

Neither of these two approaches necessarily assumes that Hallel on Seder night requires a bracha. Indeed, the Chazon Ish recited Hallel in shul Seder night without reciting a bracha beforehand. There are congregations in Bnei Braq that follow this approach.

C. A third approach contends that the primary reason for reciting Hallel in shul is to recite a bracha beforehand. These poskim contend that Hallel at the Seder would require a bracha if it was not interrupted by the meal; to resolve this, Hallel is recited twice, once in shul with a bracha without interruption, and then a second time during the Seder. According to this opinion, Hallel Seder night fulfills two different purposes:

(1) We sing Hallel to Hashem as we do on all Yomim Tovim because of his miracles; on Seder night we sing Hallel at night because that is when we were redeemed.

(2) We praise Hashem while performing the mitzvos of Seder night – haggadah, matzah etc.

Although one could fulfill both of these mitzvos by reciting Hallel one time during the Seder, one would miss making a bracha. Therefore, Hallel is recited during davening so that it can be introduced with a bracha, and is sung again during the Seder so that it surrounds the mitzvos of the night. This is the prevalent practice of Sefardim, Chassidim, and the most common approach followed in Eretz Yisroel today (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

At this point, we can begin to discuss the questions we raised above:

Question #1: When I visit Eretz Yisroel, I notice that even the Nusach Ashkenaz shullen recite Hallel on the first night of Pesach. Should I be reciting Hallel with them when my family custom it not to?

Your custom follows the poskim that reciting Hallel Seder night does not require a bracha. You should preferably follow your own practice and not recite a bracha on the Hallel, but there is no reason why you cannot recite Hallel with them. Since you do not lose anything, have in mind to fulfill the bracha by listening to the chazzan’s bracha.

However, there is another halachic issue, which is that one should not do things in a way that could cause strife. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:94) discusses a situation of someone in chutz la’aretz who does not recite Hallel in shul on Seder night, but davens in a Nusach Ashkenaz shul that does. The person asking the shaylah, a certain Reb Yitzchak, was apparently upset that his shul recited Hallel with a bracha on Seder night and wanted to create a commotion to change the practice. Rav Moshe forbids this and emphasizes that one should follow a path of shalom. Rav Moshe further demonstrates that if it is noticeable that Reb Yitzchak is omitting the bracha on Hallel, he must recite the bracha with them so that no machlokes results.

Question #2: Should a woman whose husband recites a bracha on Hallel in shul Seder night recite Hallel with a bracha before the Seder?

This takes us to a new question. Assuming that one’s husband recites Hallel with a bracha on the night of Pesach, should his wife also recite Hallel before the Seder with a bracha?

WOMEN AND HALLEL

Are women required to recite Hallel?

Although Hallel is usually a time-bound mitzvah from which women are absolved (Mishnah Sukkah 38a), some poskim rule that women are obligated to recite Hallel on Chanukah and Pesach since this Hallel is recited because of miracles that benefited women (see Tosafos, Sukkah 38a s.v. Mi; Toras Refael, Orach Chayim #75). All agree that women are required to recite Hallel Seder night because women were also redeemed from Mitzrayim. Rav Ovadiah Yosef reasons that the wife or daughter of someone who recites a bracha before Hallel in shul on Seder night should also recite Hallel with a bracha before the Seder (Shu’t Yechavah Daas 5:34). However, the prevalent custom is not to.

Question #3: When I was in Eretz Yisroel for Pesach, I davened the second day of Pesach with a chutz la’aretz Nusach Ashkenaz minyan, but none of us knew whether we should recite Hallel. What should we have done?

Assuming that this minyan consisted of people who do not usually recite Hallel in shul on Pesach night, they did not need to recite Hallel, and certainly not a bracha on Hallel, in their minyan. Since they are only visiting Israel, and have not yet assumed residence there, they follow their own custom in their own minyan, and their custom is to not recite a bracha on Hallel Seder night.

Reciting Hallel with tremendous emotion and reliving Hashem’s miracles rekindles the cognizance of Hashem’s presence. The moments that we recite Hallel can encapsulate the most fervent experience of His closeness.

In the merit of joyously reciting Hallel, may we see the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim and the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, speedily in our days.




Is It Time for Maariv?

sunset

Question #1:

When is the correct time to daven maariv?

Question #2:

Why is there no repetition of shmoneh esrei for maariv?

Question #3:

Must women daven maariv?

Introduction:

In citing the source for our three daily prayers, the Gemara quotes two approaches. Rabbi Yosi ben Chanina explains that our three daily prayers were founded by our forefathers: Avraham instituting shacharis, Yitzchak mincha, and Yaakov maariv. The source that Yaakov introduced maariv is in the second verse of parshas Vayeitzei, where it says vayifga bamakom and the Gemara explains the word vayifga to mean he prayed. The Gemara also cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement that shacharis and mincha were established by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah (the great leaders of Klal Yisrael who lived during the time of the building and the beginning of the Second Beis Hamikdash) to correspond to the offerings that were brought every morning and afternoon in the Beis Hamikdash (see Bamidbar 28:1-8), whereas maariv corresponds to the burning of the remaining parts of these offerings that transpired at night (Brachos 26b).

What we call “maariv” actually fulfills three different mitzvos, and the above-quoted Gemara is referring to only one of these mitzvos, the part called the tefillah, which are the prayers we recite as shmoneh esrei. (The avos did not establish the shmoneh esrei, but the concept that one should daven three times a day. The text of the shmoneh esrei was written by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah.)

The other two mitzvos that we fulfill when we pray maariv are kriyas shma, whose recital is required min haTorah every morning and night (Brachos 2a), and the birchos kriyas shma, which Chazal instituted to surround the shma with brachos (Mishnah Brachos 11a). These brachos together with the shma constitute the part of the davening between borchu and the shmoneh esrei. (Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz also add another bracha that begins with the words Baruch Hashem LeOlam between the birchos kriyas shma and the kaddish that precedes the shmoneh esrei.)

Although we are very familiar with how we recite the order of the different parts of maariv, we should be aware that, at the time of the Gemara, this order was a topic of dispute between Rabbi Yochanan, whose opinion we follow, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who contended that the shmoneh esrei of maariv should be recited before shma and the birchos kriyas shma, so that one recites shma closer to the time one retires (Brachos 4b).

Why is there no maariv repetition?

As a preamble to answering this question, let us examine a famous event that occurred shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, after the main Sanhedrin and its associated yeshiva had been forced to evacuate Yerushalayim and reestablish itself in the city of Yavneh. To understand this anecdote properly, we must realize the historical context that the Beis Hamikdash, which had been the central focus of all organized Torah life, had been recently destroyed, and there was concern whether an organized Jewish community could maintain itself without the Beis Hamikdash.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, then a young student in the yeshiva, posed the following query: Is maariv (referring to the tefillah part) reshus, usually translated as “optional,” or is it required? First he brought his inquiry to the great scholar Rabbi Yehoshua, the rebbe of Rabbi Akiva, who ruled that tefillas arvis reshus. Afterwards, Rabbi Shimon shared his question with Rabban Gamliel, who was the rosh yeshiva and the head of the Sanhedrin, who responded tefillas arvis chovah, the maariv prayer is required.

Rabbi Shimon noted that he had previously heard Rabbi Yehoshua’s opinion to the contrary, to which Rabban Gamliel responded that Rabbi Shimon should wait until all the scholars had arrived in the Beis Hamedrash. After the students entered the Beis Hamedrash, Rabbi Shimon repeated his inquiry, and Rabban Gamliel immediately answered tefillas arvis chovah. Rabban Gamliel then asked whether anyone disputed this, to which Rabbi Yehoshua responded in the negative. Rabban Gamliel challenged Rabbi Yehoshua, announcing that it had been reported that Rabbi Yehoshua had ruled that tefillas arvis reshus. Rabban Gamliel then ordered Rabbi Yehoshua to arise so that they could hear the testimony that he had indeed ruled maariv to be only reshus. Rabbi Yehoshua acknowledged that he had indeed ruled this way. Rabban Gamliel then continued the lecture, without granting Rabbi Yehoshua permission to sit down.

This continued for a short while, until the students objected to Rabban Gamliel’s highhanded treatment of Rabbi Yehoshua. The lecture was stopped, and the decision was reached to remove Rabban Gamliel from his position as rosh yeshiva and as head of the Sanhedrin, and to install Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah in his stead. Eventually, all understood that although the consensus was that Rabban Gamliel was wrong for his strong tactics, his motives were completely sincere. He had been ruling with an iron fist to maintain a central authority for Torah in Klal Yisrael, out of concern that in the absence of such strong authority, the centrality of Torah leadership over Klal Yisrael may dissipate. Eventually, Rabban Gamliel was returned to his position with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah serving as rosh yeshiva and the head of the Sanhedrin one week in four (Brachos 27b- 28a).

Is Maariv Optional?

Ultimately, the halachic conclusion is that maariv is a reshus. Is maariv really optional? Can one decide every night if he wants to skip maariv?

The Rishonim already note a ruling that appears to contravene the statement that maariv is optional. Someone who missed maariv must recite a makeup prayer, called a tefillas tashlumim, after the next morning’s shacharis. However, this ruling appears to contradict the statement that tefillas arvis reshus. If maariv is optional, why must one make up the missed prayer?

In response to this question, Tosafos explains that when the Gemara states that maariv is reshus, it does not mean that it is optional, but that it is less obligatory than other requirements. For example, should one need to choose between fulfilling two different mitzvos in a situation where one cannot fulfill both of them, maariv is pushed aside (Tosafos, Brachos 26a s.v. Ta’ah). In all other circumstances, one is obligated to recite maariv.

The Rif answers the question in a different way. He explains that indeed maariv is technically not obligatory. However, someone who decided to recite maariv makes it obligatory on himself and must pray correctly, even if he needs to pray a makeup.

Must a Woman Daven Maariv?

Does any other halachic distinction result from this difference of opinion between Tosafos and the Rif? It seems that a difference results regarding whether, according to those authorities who rule that women are obligated to daven shacharis and mincha daily, a woman must also daven maariv daily. According to Tosafos, who contends that maariv is obligatory, a woman should be required to daven maariv daily. This ruling is stated by the Aruch Hashulchan (106:7). However, other authorities rule that women are not obligated to daven maariv since they never accepted it as a responsibility (Graz 106:2; Mishnah Berurah 106:4; cf. Magen Avraham 299:16). This approach reflects the opinion of the Rif that although maariv was originally reshus, since men daven maariv regularly, they must continue to do so, but women, who for the most part do not regularly daven maariv, are exempt from doing so (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 375:14).

Why should Yaakov lose out?

This previous discussion should arouse a question in every one of our readers. Since Yaakov Avinu introduced tefillas maariv, why is it treated “second rate” – why is maariv reshus, and only the tefillos founded by Avraham and Yitzchak are obligatory?

Why is Maariv Different?

To answer this question, let us revert to our previous discussion – where I noted that there were two approaches, one contending that the daily prayers were instituted by our forefathers, and the other maintaining that the prayers were created to correspond to the daily offerings. According to both of these approaches, we can explain why maariv is treated somewhat differently from shacharis and mincha.

According to the interpretation that the forefathers instituted the daily prayers, although Yaakov was the first to daven maariv, he had not intended to daven so late in the day, but Hashem caused the sun to set suddenly, giving Yaakov no choice but to daven after nightfall. Since this davening was performed not as Yaakov’s first choice, but because he had no other option, the prayer instituted this way is reshus (Pnei Yehoshua, Brachos 26b s.v. Mihu).

According to the approach that our prayers correspond to the daily offerings, shacharis and mincha each represent the daily korban tamid that was offered in the Beis Hamikdash. Maariv represents the remaining parts of the daily tamid that were burnt the following night on the mizbei’ach. As such, since this step in the processing of the korban is non-essential, the prayer is also not required (Rashi to Shabbos 9b s.v. Lemaan).

Repetition of Maariv

With this background, we can now answer the question we raised above: Why does maariv not include a chazzan‘s repetition of shmoneh esrei, as is done for both shacharis and mincha. The answer is that although today maariv is obligatory, it is not the same level of requirement as are shacharis and mincha. Since everyone is required to daven shacharis and mincha, Chazal were concerned that unlettered individuals would be unable to fulfill the mitzvah. Chazal therefore instituted the repetition of the tefillah so that those unable to daven otherwise can fulfill their requirement by listening to the chazzan‘s prayer. However, since maariv is reshus, Chazal were less concerned that the unlettered would be unable to fulfill this responsibility and therefore they did not institute a repetition.

When Do We Daven Maariv?

Having established that maariv is indeed obligatory, our next question is: When is the earliest time that one may begin maariv? Indeed, although the Mishnah establishes times for the other prayers, it leaves the time for maariv fairly vague. The accepted halachah is that once the time for davening mincha is over, one may daven maariv (Tosafos, Brachos 2a).

So now we need to resolve: Until when can one daven mincha?

The Mishnah records a dispute between the Tana’im regarding this question. According to the Sages, one is allowed to daven mincha until “the evening,” while according to Rabbi Yehudah, the last time for mincha is “plag hamincha,” which I will soon explain. The dispute between them is dependent on how late one may offer the afternoon korban tamid. According to Rabbi Yehudah, one may offer it only until plag hamincha; whereas according to the Sages, one may offer it until evening (Brachos 26b).

So we now know. According to Rabbi Yehudah, one may daven mincha until plag hamincha, and maariv after plag hamincha, whereas the Sages contend that one may daven mincha until “evening,” and maariv afterwards.

When is Evening?

Of course, now we need to find out when is “evening,” when is plag hamincha, and whether we rule like the Sages or like Rabbi Yehudah.

The authorities dispute whether “evening” here means shortly before tzeis hakochavim, nightfall (see Rama 233:1 and Mishnah Berurah #14) or whether it means sunset (Rabbeinu Yonah; authorities cited by Shaarei Tziyun 233:18). According to the first approach, the Sages hold that one may daven mincha until nightfall but one may not daven maariv until after nightfall. According to the second approach, one may not daven mincha after sunset but one may daven maariv then.

When is Plag Hamincha?

Rabbi Yehudah ruled that the latest time to daven mincha is a point in time called plag hamincha. When is plag hamincha? According to the most commonly accepted interpretation, plag hamincha is calculated by dividing the time between sunrise and sunset into 48 “quarter-hour” segments. The point of time that is five of those segments prior to sunset is plag hamincha. Obviously, each segment will not be exactly fifteen minutes, but will vary according to the length of the day. An easier way to express this is to say that plag hamincha is 1 1/4 “halachic hours” (in Hebrew, sha’os zemaniyos) before sunset, where a “halachic hour” is defined as a twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset. (There are other authorities who calculate the halachic hours and plag hamincha from halachic dawn, alos hashachar, until nightfall, tzeis hakochavim. In their opinion, plag hamincha is considerably later in the day than it is according to the first opinion quoted.)

Do We Rule like the Sages or like Rabbi Yehudah?

Now that we have discussed the dispute between the Sages and Rabbi Yehudah, we need to know how we rule so that we can determine when is the latest time for mincha and the earliest time for maariv. Most disputes in the Gemara are resolved either by the Gemara itself or by the early halachic authorities. However, in regard to this dispute, the Gemara states something unusual — that one can choose which opinion he wants to follow (Brachos 27a). One wishing to daven maariv after plag hamincha, following the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, may do so, and one who would rather recite mincha after plag hamincha may follow the opinion of the Sages and do so.

Now our question is:

How consistent must I be? May I follow Rabbi Yehudah’s approach one day and the Sages approach on a different day? What about on the same day – may I daven mincha after plag hamincha following the Sages, and then daven maariv before sunset following Rabbi Yehudah?

Most Rishonim rule that one must consistently follow one of these two opinions. In other words, if one decides to daven maariv before sunset following Rabbi Yehudah, then he must be consistent and always daven mincha before plag. Once he follows Rabbi Yehudah’s ruling in this matter, he may no longer daven mincha after plag — to do so is contradictory (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 18b, s.v. D’avad; Rosh, Brachos 4:3; Tur, Beis Yosef, and Shulchan Aruch 233). Being inconsistent is referred to as following a path that is tarti desasri ahadadi, two approaches that contradict one another, since neither Rabbi Yehudah nor the Sages approve of what he is doing, albeit for different reasons.

Some authorities permit one to follow Rabbi Yehudah on one day and the Sages on a different day, providing one is consistent on the same day by davening mincha after plag and maariv before sunset (Hashlamah and Mordechai, both quoted by Beis Yosef 233).

Notwithstanding this discussion, the frequent practice was to daven mincha and maariv together after plag hamincha, which appears to be inconsistent according to all opinions. Nevertheless, the poskim acknowledge that this was commonly done and suggest different reasons why this practice was accepted, or at least tolerated. Some explain that if this approach was not accepted, many communities would be unable to consistently have a regular minyan, or people would not daven maariv since they would not wait in shul until the later time to daven maariv. As a result, for the sake of tefillah betzibur many authorities allowed the tarti desasri but ruled that someone who davened mincha after plag and is davening maariv privately (beyechidus) must wait until nightfall to daven maariv (Magen Avraham 233:7).

We should note that, according to the accepted halachah, one who davens maariv before nightfall, should recite the full shma over again after nightfall (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 235:1). This is for two different reasons. Firstly, although Rabbi Yehudah ruled that the cutoff time between mincha and maariv is plag hamincha, this is only germane to the shmoneh esrei parts of our davening, whose timing is dependent on the daily tamid offerings as mentioned above. However, the mitzvah of reading shma must be fulfilled at the time people retire for the evening, as the Torah says beshachbecha, and few people retire for the evening before it gets dark. Since the time for reciting the evening shma is when most people might consider it bedtime, one cannot not fulfill this mitzvah until nightfall according to most opinions. (However, see Rabbeinu Tam, quoted by Tosafos, Brachos 2a.)

Secondly, the requirements of davening at a specific time and reciting the birchos kriyas shma are rabbinic in nature rather than Torah mandated, which allows some leniency. However, regarding the Torah requirement of reading the shma, we should follow the stricter approach and recite it again after it is definitely nightfall.

I’ll share one anecdote to show how far we should be concerned that one recites shma after it is dark. One gadol I knew from the previous generation, who established his community in America, was concerned that baalei batim would not recite shma after dark, and thus not fulfill the mitzvah min haTorah properly. He also knew that if the break between mincha and maariv was too long, many would not attend shul regularly. He thus established in his community that they began mincha after sunset, followed by a fifteen minute shiur and then maariv so that people would daven maariv in its correct time. In other words, he decided that the entire community should daven mincha at a time that he himself considered non-optimal according to some poskim, in order to guarantee that everyone recite shma properly in its proper time! Although this approach is certainly not the most accepted, we should all be aware of the many considerations

Contemporarily, most communities have many minyanim scheduled both for mincha and for maariv. An individual can, therefore, with a small amount of planning, daven in a way that he avoids any question of davening tarti desasri.




The Significance of Vehu Rachum

Question #1:

“I was once told that there are places in the long Vehu Rachum prayer where one should stop and wait to hear keriyas haTorah. What are they, and why?”

Question #2:

“Why is the prayer Vehu Rachum recited only on Monday and Thursday?”

Question #3:

“In some shullen that I attend, there is often a bang on a shtender with an announcement that today is the yahrzeit of some great rebbe, and therefore we will skip Tachanun. What is the source of this practice?”

 

Answer:

This week, since we begin reading about the Mishkan, the forerunner of the Beis Hamikdash, of which it says ki beisi beis tefillah yi’karei, I am sending an article about the special prayer that we say on Mondays and Thursdays that begins with the words Vehu Rachum. The original article was written many years ago for parshas Shemos, and I am including the original introduction.

Our parsha mentions that when the king of Mitzrayim died, vayei’anchu bnei Yisrael min ha’avodah, vayiz’aku, vataal shav’asam el haElokim, that the Jewish people sighed and cried out, and that their cry for help (shav’a) rose to Hashem. Three different terms for prayer are mentioned in this verse. Indeed, the Hebrew language has almost twenty words to describe different types of prayer. This week is a good time to study a special prayer of ours – one that represents a different type of prayer.

What is the significance of the special prayer that begins with the words Vehu Rachum?

Vehu Rachum is the lengthy prayer recited on Monday and Thursday mornings on days when we say Tachanun (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 134:1). There is a very moving story concerning the origin of this prayer. After the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, a boatload of fleeing Jews was captured by a cruel, anti-Semitic ruler. Discovering that they were Jews, he decreed that he would throw them into a fiery furnace, just as Nevuchadnezzar had cast Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols.

The unfortunate Jews requested thirty days to prepare themselves for their fate. During those days, one of the older Jews dreamt of a pasuk that mentions the word “ki” twice and the word “lo” three times, but he could not remember it. A wise elder realized that the pasuk was Ki sa’avor bamayim itcha ani, uvaneharos lo yishtefucha. Ki seileich bemo eish lo sikaveh, velehavah lo siv’ar boch, “I will be with you when you pass through water; the rivers will not overcome you. When you pass through fire, you will not be singed, and flame will not burn you” (Yeshayah 43:2). The elder declared that this was clearly a sign from Hashem that just as they had been saved from the sea, so they would be saved from the conflagration.

After thirty days, the wicked ruler ordered that a huge fire be lit, and the old man entered it first. The fire separated into three sections, and three tzaddikim appeared. The first began to recite a prayer to Hashem beginning with the words Vehu Rachum, ending with the words melech chanun verachum attah. (In most printed editions that I have seen, these are the first three paragraphs of the prayer.) The second tzaddik added an additional prayer, beginning with the words Anna melech, chanun verachum, again ending with the words melech chanun verachum attah. (In the siddurim, these are the next two paragraphs of the prayer.) The third tzaddik completed the prayer. The fire remained split in three and no Jews were harmed. The prayers recited by all these three tzaddikim is the Vehu Rachum prayer that we recite on Mondays and Thursdays (Kolbo #18).

We can now answer one of the questions asked above:

“I was once told that there are places in the long Vehu Rachum prayer that one should stop and wait to hear keriyas haTorah. What are they, and why?”

Presumably, it is preferable to stop, if possible, at a place which is the end of one of the original three tefillos.

Why is this prayer recited on Mondays and Thursdays?

What sets apart these days from the rest of the week?

Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai to receive the second set of luchos on a Thursday, and returned with them forty days later on a Monday. Hashem’s decision to give Moshe these luchos clearly implied that the Jewish people were forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf. As a result, Monday and Thursday became etched into the calendar as days of repentance and divine favor for the Jewish people. This is why these days are chosen for fasting and special prayers in times of need, such as during a drought or during Bahab, the three fast days observed a few weeks after Pesach and Sukkos.

What is the order after Shemoneh Esrei?

Ashkenazim recite Chapter 6 of Tehillim while “falling Tachanun.” After this, they say the prayer Shomer Yisrael, while still sitting, and then they begin the prayer Va’anachnu lo neida. The first three words, Va’anachnu lo neida, are recited sitting, after which one stands up to recite the rest of the prayer. On Monday and Thursday mornings, Vehu Rachum is recited while standing before Tachanun is begun.

 

According to Sefardic (Edot HaMizrach) custom, Shemoneh Esrei is followed by Viduy (confession) and then by the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem’s mercy (Hashem, Hashem, Keil, Rachum…). These are both said standing, and then one sits down to recite Chapter 25 of Tehillim, which is the primary part of Tachanun. On Monday and Thursday mornings, the Vehu Rachum prayer is recited after the Tachanun.

In nusach Sefard (the custom of those descended from Eastern European Jewry based on Hassidic influence), Shemoneh Esrei is followed by Viduy and by the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem’s mercy. These are both said standing, after which one sits down to recite Chapter 6 of Tehillim while “falling Tachanun.” This is followed by the prayer Shomer Yisrael, which is said while still sitting, and then by the prayer Va’anachnu lo neida. On Monday and Thursday mornings, the Vehu Rachum is recited between the Thirteen Attributes and Tachanun.

 

Is it more important to say Vehu Rachum or to say Tachanun?

What happens if there is insufficient time to recite both Vehu Rachum and the rest of the Tachanun together with the tzibur?

It seems that one should recite Tachanun with the tzibur and “Vehu Rachum” after davening.

It should be noted that the commentaries dispute what is included in the takanah of reciting Vehu Rachum. Some contend that the takanah is to say Vehu Rachum, and to say it while standing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 134:1), whereas others explain that the takanah included only reciting Vehu Rachum, but did not require one to stand (Levush). (They all agree, however, that one should recite Vehu Rachum while standing.)

Vehu Rachum should be treated with the kedusha of the Shemoneh Esrei (Magen Avraham). Therefore, there are those who contend that it should be said quietly (Rama 134:1). However, the Beis Yosef rules that one may say Vehu Rachum aloud, as is the custom of many people.

When do we omit saying Vehu Rachum?

Vehu Rachum is omitted on days that we do not say Tachanun, which include Yomim Tovim and minor festivals.

The Gemara mentions that Tachanun is not recited on Rosh Chodesh (Bava Metzia 59b), because it is considered a minor Yom Tov (see Shibbolei HaLeket).

Why is Tachanun omitted on Yomim Tovim and minor festivals?

Apparently, since Tachanun is a very serious prayer, and a person may become overcome with emotion while reciting it, it was felt that reciting it on these occasions would detract from the day’s celebration.

Numerous customs are recorded concerning when Tachanun is omitted. Records of this topic go back over a thousand years. In the time of the Geonim, Rav Amram Gaon’s yeshivah recited Tachanun even on Chanukah and Purim, whereas in Rav Hai Gaon’s yeshivah, they did not (Shu’t Rivash #412). There were places in Bavel where the custom was to recite Tachanun on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shabbos Shuvah (Shu’t Rivash #412), something that we would find extremely unusual. Every community should follow its custom.

We omit Tachanun between Yom Kippur and Sukkos because the Beis HaMikdash was completed during these days, and there was great celebration (Beis Yosef, quoting Shibbolei HaLeket).

Some communities have adopted the practice of omitting Tachanun on the yahrzeit of a great tzaddik. However, virtually all poskim frown on this practice (Shu’t Shoel Umeishiv 5:39; Shu’t Yabia Omer 3:11; see Chayei Moshe 131:4:4, quoting the Rebbes of Ger, Satmar and Munkach).

It is an accepted practice not to say Tachanun when a chosson is in attendance during the entire week after his wedding. The Magen Avraham (131:12) rules that we omit Tachanun until exactly a week after the moment of the wedding. Some contend that the chosson should not deprive people from saying Tachanun, and therefore rule that a chosson should not come to shul the entire sheva berachos week (Taz 131:10)! This is the way the Mishnah Berurah rules (131:26).

There is also a dispute as to whether we recite Tachanun when a chosson is present on the day ofhis wedding. The Magen Avraham contends that Tachanun is not said, while the Taz holds that it is. Each community should follow its custom or the psak of its rav.

There are many other dates or special occasions when the accepted practice is to omit Tachanun. However, space does not allow us to explain the reasons for each of these customs.

Conclusion

Now that we are aware of the origin of the tefillah Vehu Rachum, we can recite the words with far deeper and greater feeling, knowing how grateful we must be for not having to contend with such intense and trying tests. Let us use the spiritual steps that those tzaddikim built for us to make an effort to internalize the message.