The Twentieth of Sivan

Question:

“I noticed that the back of my siddur contains a large section devoted to selichos for the 20th of Sivan, yet I have never davened in a shul that observed this day. What does this date commemorate?”

Answer:

The Twentieth of Sivan was established in Ashkenazi communities as a day of fasting and teshuvah to remember two major tragedies of Jewish history. First, let us discuss the halachic basis for the observance of commemorative fasts.

Biblical Source

When the two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, died, the Torah says, “And Moshe said to Aharon and to Elazar and Isamar, his sons, ‘You shall not allow your heads to remain unshorn, nor shall you rend your clothes — so you shall not die and cause that He become angry with the entire community. Rather, your brethren, the household of Israel, will weep for the inferno that Hashem ignited’” (Vayikra 10:6). From this description, we see that the entire Jewish community bears the responsibility to mourn the loss of great tzadikim.

Communal Teshuvah Observances

The Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3) explains: “It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and to blow the trumpets whenever any danger afflicts a Jewish community, as the Torah says, ‘When someone creates troubles for you, you shall blow the trumpets (Bamidbar 10:9).’ On any matter that afflicts you, such as food shortages, plague, locusts, or anything similar, you should cry out in prayer and blow the trumpets. This is part of the procedure of doing teshuvah, for when difficulties occur and people come to pray, they realize that these happenings befell them because of their misdeeds, and doing teshuvah will remove the troubles.

“However, if they do not pray, but instead attribute the difficulties to normal worldly cycles — this is a cruel approach to life that causes people to maintain their evil ways.”

In a future essay, I hope to discuss why we no longer blow trumpets on fast days.

The Creation of Fast Days

To continue our quotation of the Rambam, “Furthermore, the Sages required a fast on every menace that afflicts the community until Heaven has mercy” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:4). “There are days on which calamities occurred that all Israel fasts in order to arouse people to teshuvah” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 5:1). The Rambam then proceeds to mention the fasts that are part of our regular calendar year: Tzom Gedalyah, Asarah beTeiveis, Shiva Asar BeTamuz, Tisha B’Av and Taanis Esther.

The History of the 20th of Sivan

This date is associated with two major tragedies that befell European Jewry. The earlier catastrophe, which occurred in the 12th Century, was recorded in a contemporary chronicle entitled Emek Habacha, and also in a selicha entitled Emunei Shelumei Yisrael, from which I have drawn most of the information regarding this tragic event.

One night in the city of Blois, which is in central France, a Jew watering his horse happened upon a murder scene in which a gentile adult had drowned a gentile child. The murderer, not wanting to be executed for his crime, fled to the local ruler, telling him that he had just caught a Jew murdering a child!

The tyrant arrested 31 Jewish leaders, men and women, including some of the baalei Tosafos who were disciples of the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson. The tyrant accused his prisoners, several of whom are mentioned by name in Emunei Shelumei Yisroel, of killing the gentile child to obtain blood for producing matzah.

After locking his captives in a tower, the despot insisted that they be baptized, whereby he would forgive them, telling them that he would execute them in a painful way should they refuse baptism. None of them considered turning traitor to Hashem’s Torah. On the 20th of Sivan, 4931 (1171), they were tied up and placed on a pyre to be burned alive. At the fateful moment, the Jews sang aleinu in unison: Aleinu leshabayach la’adon hakol, “It is incumbent upon us to praise the Lord of all.”

The fires did not consume them! The undeterred tyrant commanded his troops to beat them to death and then burn their bodies. However, the fires were still unable to consume their bodies, which remained intact!

Banishment from France

This libel was a major factor in the banishing of the Jews from France that occurred ten years later. (Although the King of France declared that they must be exiled from the country, he did not, in fact, have sufficient control to force them out completely. This transpired only a century later.)

As a commemoration for the sacrifice of these great Jews and as a day of teshuvah, Rabbeinu Tam and the other gedolei Baalei Tosafos of France declared the 20th of Sivan a fast day. Special selichos and piyutim were composed to memorialize the incident, and a seder selichos was compiled that included selichos written by earlier paytanim, most notably Rav Shlomoh (ben Yehudah) Habavli, Rabbeinu Gershom, and Rabbi Meir ben Rabbi Yitzchak, the author of the Akdamus poem that we recite on Shevuos. Each of these gedolim lived in Europe well before the time of Rashi. Since most people know little about the earliest of this trio, Rav Shlomoh Habavli, I will devote a paragraph to what is known about this talmid chacham who lived in Europe at the time of the Geonim.

Rav Shlomoh Habavli, who lived around the year 4750 (about 990), was descended from a family that originated in Bavel, today Iraq (hence he is called Habavli after his ancestral homeland, similar to the way people have the family name Ashkenazi or Pollack, although they themselves were born in Brooklyn). He lived in Italy, probably in Rome, and authored piyutim for the Yomim Tovim, particularly for Yom Kippur and Shevuos, and many selichos, about twenty of which have survived to this day. The rishonim refer to him and his writings with great veneration, and the Rosh (Yoma 8:19) quotes reverently from the piyut for the seder avodah in musaf of Yom Kippur written by “Rabbeinu Shlomoh Habavli.” The Maharshal says that Rabbeinu Gershom, the teacher of Rashi’s rabbei’im and the rebbe of all Ashkenazic Jewry, learned Torah and received his mesorah on Torah and Yiddishkeit from Rav Shlomoh Habavli (Shu’t Maharshal #29). Rav Shlomoh Habavli’s works are sometimes confused with a more famous Spanish talmid chacham and poet who was also “Shlomoh ben Yehudah,” Rav Shlomoh ibn Gabirol, who lived shortly after Rav Shlomoh Habavli.

Instituting the Fast

When Rabbeinu Tam instituted the fast of the 20th of Sivan, the selichos recited on that day included one that was written specifically to commemorate the tragedy of Blois. The selicha that begins with the words Emunei Shelomei Yisroel actually mentions the date of the 20th of Sivan 4931 in the selicha and describes the tragedy.

The Crusades

Since this tragedy took place during the general period of the Crusades, the 20th of Sivan was often viewed as the mourning day for the murders and other excesses that happened during that era, since each of the early Crusades resulted in the horrible destruction of hundreds of communities in central and western Europe and the killing of thousands of Jews. In actuality, the blood libel of Blois occurred between the Second Crusade, which occurred in 4907-9/1147-1149 and the Third Crusade, which was forty years later, in 4949/1189.

Gezeiros Tach veTat

The fast of the 20th of Sivan also memorializes an additional Jewish calamity. Almost five hundred years later, most of the Jewish communities of eastern Europe suffered the horrible massacres that are referred to as the Gezeiros Tach veTat, which refer to the years of 5408 (Tach) and 5409 (Tat), corresponding to the secular years 1648 and 1649. Although this title implies that these excesses lasted for a period of at most two years, the calamities of this period actually raged on sporadically for the next twelve years.

First, the historical background: Bogdan Chmielnitzky was a charismatic, capable, and nefariously anti-Semitic Cossack leader in the Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Kingdom of Poland. Chmielnitzky led a rebellion of the Ukrainian population against their Polish overlords. Aside from nationalistic and economic reasons for the Ukrainians revolting against Polish rule, there were also religious reasons, since the Ukrainians were Greek Orthodox whereas the Poles were Roman Catholic. Chmielnitzky led the Ukrainians through a succession of alliances, first by creating an alliance with the Crimean Tatars against the Polish King. The Cossacks’ stated goal was to wipe out the Polish aristocracy and the Jews.

When the Tatars turned against Chmielnitzky, he allied himself with the Swedes, and eventually with the Czar of Russia, which enabled the Ukrainians to revolt successfully against Polish rule.

The Cossack hordes swarmed throughout Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania in the course of a series of wars, wreaking havoc in their path and putting entire Jewish communities to the sword. Hundreds of Jewish communities in Poland and Ukraine were destroyed by the massacres. The Cossacks murdered unknown thousands of Jews, including instances in which they buried people alive, cut them to pieces, and perpetrated far more horrible cruelties. In sheer cruelty, many of their heinous deeds surpassed even those performed later by the Nazis.

These events were chronicled in several Torah works, including the Shach’s Megillas Eifa, and Rav Nosson Nota Hanover’s Yevein Metzulah. The title, Yevein Metzulah, is a play on words. These are words quoted from Tehillim 69:3, where the passage reads, tavati biyevein metzulah, “I am drowning in the mire of the depths,” which certainly conveys the emotion of living in such a turbulent era. In addition, the author was using these words to refer to Yavan, Greece, referring to the Greek Orthodox religion of the Cossack murderers.

Chmielnitzky, the National Hero

By the way, although Chmielnitzky was a bloodthirsty murderer and as nefarious an anti-Semite as Adolf Hitler, to this day he is a national hero in the Ukraine, held with respect similar to that accorded George Washington in the United States. The Ukrainians revere him as the Father of Ukrainian nationalist aspirations, notwithstanding the fact that he was a mass murderer.

The cataclysmic effect on Jewish life caused by the gezeiros tach vetat was completely unparalleled in Jewish history. Before the Cossacks, Poland and its neighboring areas had become the citadel of Ashkenazic Jewish life. As a result of the Cossack excesses, not only were the Jewish communities destroyed, with the Jews fleeing en mass from place to place, but virtually all the gedolei Yisrael were on the run during this horrifying era of Jewish history. Such great Torah leaders as the Shach, the Taz, the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Kikayon Deyonah, the Magen Avraham, the Nachalas Shivah, and the Be’er Hagolah were all in almost constant flight to avoid the Cossack hordes.

Among the many gedolei Yisrael who were murdered during these excesses were two sons of the Taz, the father of the Magen Avraham, Rav Yechiel Michel of Nemirov and Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia.

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia was a great talmid chacham, mekubal and writer of many seforim, whose Torah ideas are quoted by such respected thinkers as the Ramchal and the Bnei Yisasschar. It was said that he was so holy that he was regularly visited by an angel, a magid, who would study the deep ideas of kabbalah with him. (Whether one accepts this as having actually happened or not, it is definitely indicative of the level of holiness that his contemporaries attributed to him.)

Rav Nosson Nota Hanover writes in Yevein Metzulah that, during the bleak days of the Cossack uprising, the magid who studied with Rav Shimshon forewarned him of the impending disaster that was to befall klal Yisrael. When the Cossacks laid siege to the city, Rav Shimshon went with 300 chachamim, all of them dressed in tachrichim, burial shrouds, and their taleisim to the nearby shul to pray that Hashem save the Jewish people. While they were in the midst of their prayers, the Cossacks entered the city and slaughtered them all.

Rules of the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos

After this tragic period passed and the Jewish communities began the tremendous work of rebuilding, the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos, which at the time was the halachic and legislative body of all Polish and Lithuanian Jewry, banned certain types of entertainment. Strict limits were set on the types of entertainment allowed at weddings, similar to the takanos that the Gemara reports were established after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash. Selichos were composed by the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Shach, and other gedolim to commemorate the tragedies.

The Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos further declared that the 20th of Sivan should be established forever as a fast day (Shaarei Teshuvah, 580:9). The fast was declared binding on all males over the age of 18 and females over the age of 15. (I have not seen any explanation for the disparity in age.)

Why the 20th of Sivan?

Why was this date chosen to commemorate the atrocities of the era? On the 20th of Sivan, the Jewish community of Nemirov, Ukraine, which was populated by many thousands of Jews, was destroyed by the Cossacks. The rav of the city, Rav Yechiel Michel, passionately implored the people to keep their faith and die Al Kiddush Hashem.  The Shach reports that, for three days, the Cossacks rampaged through the town, murdering thousands of Jews, including Rav Yechiel Michel.  The shul was destroyed and all the Sifrei Torah were torn to pieces and trampled. Their parchment was used for shoes and clothing.

Merely five years before, the community of Nemirov had been proud to have as its rav the gadol hador of the time, the Tosafos Yom Tov, who had previously served as rav of Nikolsburg, Vienna and Prague. At the time of the Gezeiros Tach veTat, the Tosafos Yom Tov was the rav and rosh yeshivah of Cracow, having succeeded the Bach as rav and the Meginei Shlomoh as rosh yeshivah after they passed away.

An Additional Reason

The Shaarei Teshuvah 580:9 quotes the Shach as citing an additional reason why the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos established the day of commemoration for the gezeiros Tach veTat on the 20th of Sivan: this date never falls on Shabbos and therefore would be observed every year.

The Selichos

The style of the selichos prayers recited on the 20th of Sivan resembles that of the selichos recited by Eastern European Jewry for the fasts of Tzom Gedalyah, Asarah beTeiveis, Shiva Asar BeTamuz (these three fasts are actually all mentioned in Tanach), Taanis Esther and Behab (the three days of selichos and fasting observed on Mondays and Thursdays during the months of Marcheshvan and Iyar). The selichos begin with the recital of selach lanu avinu, and the prayer Keil erech apayim leads into the first time that the thirteen midos of Hashem are recited. This sequence is the standard structure of our selichos.

However, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan are actually lengthier than those of the other fast days. Whereas on the other fast days (including behab) there are four selichos, each followed by a recitation of the thirteen midos of Hashem, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan consist of seven passages and seven recitations of the thirteen midos of Hashem, which is comparable to what we do at neilah on Yom Kippur. Thus, in some aspects, the 20th of Sivan was treated with more reverence than were the fast days that are mentioned in Tanach!

In addition, one of the selichos recited on the 20th of Sivan is of the style called akeidah, recalling the akeidah of Yitzchak. The inclusion of the akeidah is significant, since these selichos were included to commemorate the martyrdom of Jews who sacrificed their lives rather than agreeing to be baptized. To the best of my knowledge, these selichos are recited only on the 20th of Sivan, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

The liturgy for the recreated 20th of Sivan used the original selichos procedure, created to commemorate the martyrs of Blois almost five hundred years previously (Siddur Otzar Ha’tefillos, Volume II, Section II, page 65).

The Prayers for 20th of Sivan

During the repetition of shemoneh esrei at both shacharis and mincha, the aneinu prayer was recited, as is the practice on any public fast day. For Shacharis, selichos were recited, Avinu Malkeinu and tachanun were said, and then a sefer Torah was taken out and the passage of Vayechal Moshe that we read on fast days was read (Shaarei Teshuvah, 580:9).

At mincha, a sefer Torah was taken out and Vayechal Moshe was read again. Each individual who was fasting recited aneinu in his quiet shemoneh esrei.

Bris on the 20th of Sivan

The halachic authorities discuss how to celebrate a bris that falls on the 20th of Sivan. The Magen Avraham (568:10) concludes that the seudah should be held at night, after the fast is over, so that it does not conflict with the fast. Thus, we see how seriously this fast was viewed.

Why don’t we observe this?

“It is customary in the entire Kingdom of Poland to fast on the 20th of Sivan.” These are the words of the Magen Avraham (580:9). I do not know when the custom to observe this fast ended, but the Mishnah Berurah quotes it as common practice in Poland in his day (580:16). Perhaps, it was assumed that the custom was required only as long as there were communities in Poland, but that their descendants, who moved elsewhere, were not required to observe it. Most contemporary siddurim do not include the selichos for the 20th of Sivan, which implies that it is already some time since it was observed by most communities.

Notwithstanding this, I have been told that in some communities that no longer observe the 20th of Sivan as a day of selichos and fasting, still have a custom not to schedule weddings on this day. Personally, I would advise people to avoid scheduling the wedding this day, but to instead make the chuppah either before sunset on the 19th, or to wait until after dark, thus pushing off the chupah to the 21st of the month.

Conclusion

We now understand both the halachic basis for why and how we commemorate such sad events in Jewish history, and why we no longer observe the 20th day of Sivan. May Hakadosh Baruch Hu save us and all of klal Yisrael from all further difficulties!

Ata Yatzarta – An Unusual Beracha

 Question #1: An Unusual Bessing

“Why does Shabbos Rosh Chodesh have a completely different middle beracha rather than simply having a Rosh Chodesh insert in the Shabbos davening or vice versa?”

Question #2: Missing my Chatas

“Why is no korban chatas offered on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Shortchanged Yom Tov

“Why is Rosh Chodesh the only special day mentioned in the Torah that is not a Yom Tov?”

Answer:

When a holiday falls on Shabbos, the tefillah that we recite is usually the regular prayer either of the holiday or of Shabbos, with an addition or additions to include mention of the other special day. For example, when the major Yomim Tovim (Sukkos, Pesach, Shevuos, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) fall on Shabbos, we recite the regular Yom Tov prayer, with added mention of Shabbos in the middle beracha. On the lesser holidays (Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim), for most tefillos we recite the customary Shabbos prayer and add an extra paragraph, either Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, at its appropriate place, to reflect the sanctity of the holiday. On Musaf of Shabbos Chol Hamoed, we recite the Musaf of Yom Tov with added mention of Shabbos in the middle beracha.

Ata Yatzarta — A Special Prayer

The one exception to this rule is the Musaf that we recite when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos. On Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, the middle beracha of the Musaf is an entirely new beracha that does not simply combine the elements of the Shabbos Musaf and that of the weekday Rosh Chodesh Musaf. Rather, it includes aspects of the Musaf of Yom Tov, and the prayer includes a unique introduction that appears is in no other prayer. Thus, the sum is greater than its parts – the combination of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh creates a greater kedusha than either has on its own. Explaining this phenomenon is the thrust of this week’s essay, but first I need to explain certain themes more thoroughly.

Background to Musaf

To understand the tefillah of Ata Yatzarta better, we first need to understand why Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and the Yomim Tovim are embellished with a tefillah called Musaf. Each of our three daily tefillos, Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv corresponds to a part of the service that was performed daily in the Beis Hamikdash (Berachos 26b). Musaf corresponds to the special korbanos described in parshas Pinchas that were offered in the Beis Hamikdash on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.

A Review of Rosh Chodesh Musaf

With this background, we can now examine the unique text of the Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Musaf. As I mentioned above, the central beracha of this tefillah is unusual in that it contains aspects of four different themes. The beracha begins with a declaration, Ata Yatzarta Olamcha Mikkedem, “You fashioned Your world from the very beginning,” a declaration that certainly reflects the inherent concepts of both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh; yet, this declaration appears in none of the four regular Shabbos tefillos nor in the weekday Rosh Chodesh Musaf. This is highly unusual, particularly when we realize that, on all other occasions when Shabbos coincides with another special day, the wording of the prayers always reflects the exact text of either Shabbos or Yom Tov, and never a new version.

The special Musaf beracha then proceeds: Ahavta osanu veratzisa banu, “You loved us and desired us,” a text that appears in the Musaf of Yom Tov. Again, this is unusual, since this wording never appears either in the usual Shabbos or in the usual Rosh Chodesh prayers. How does a theme unique to Yom Tov find its way into Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which is not a Yom Tov?

The next sentence, beginning with the words Vehi ratzon, is a text that is common to both the Shabbos and the Yom Tov Musaf prayers, and this passage then introduces the actual korbanos of both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. From this point onward, the prayer continues along predictable patterns, blending together the Musaf of a common Shabbos and a weekday Rosh Chodesh into one beracha commemorative of both occasions.

Yismechu Bemalchuscha

Included in the Ata Yatzarta prayer is the passage, Yismechu bemalchuscha shomrei Shabbos, “Those who observe the Shabbos shall celebrate Your kingship,” a special prayer that the Jewish people enjoy their celebration of Shabbos as they recognize Hashem’s dominion and beneficence. In Nusach Ashkenaz, this prayer is recited every Shabbos Musaf, even when Shabbos coincides with Yom Tov or Rosh Chodesh. Nusach Sfard includes this passage also in Maariv and Shacharis of Shabbos. (The Avudraham records a custom in some communities not to recite Yismechu bemalchuscha in regular Shabbos Musaf and to recite it only on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. The Avudraham himself disapproves of this practice, and I am unaware of any community that follows this custom today.)

Closing the Beracha

Returning to Ata Yatzarta, we close this beracha with a text that is standard for the central beracha of all Shabbos and Yom Tov prayers. The conclusion of the middle beracha of Musaf always notes the special features of the day we are celebrating.

Why Ata Yatzarta?

At this point, we can address the original question we posed: “Why does Shabbos Rosh Chodesh merit its own special Musaf prayer, rather than simply having a Rosh Chodesh insert in the Shabbos davening, or vice versa?”

To explain why we recite the unique beracha of Ata Yatzarta, we need first to understand that each korban Musaf reflects something special about that day. An obvious example is the offering of bulls that is incorporated in the korbanos Musaf of the seven days of Sukkos. Over the seven days of Sukkos, we offer seventy bulls as part of the Musaf in a particular order, beginning with thirteen on the first day and decreasing by one each day until we offer seven on Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of Sukkos. These seventy bulls correspond to the seventy nations of the Earth who descended from Noah. Thus, one theme of Sukkos is that our korbanos service is to benefit not only the Jewish People, but for the sake of the world and its entire population.

One unusual goat

The vast majority of korbanos offered as part of the Musaf are korbanos olah, which, Rav Hirsch explains, are to assist in our developing greater alacrity in observing Hashem’s commandments (Commentary to Shemos 27:8). In addition to the many korbanos olah offered as part of the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh and of all Yomim Tovim, there is also always one goat offered as a korban chatas. A chatas is usually translated as a “sin offering” and, indeed, in most instances its purpose is to atone for specific misdeeds. The offering of a korban chatas on every Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh provides specific atonement on that day that we cannot accomplish on an ordinary weekday (see Mishnah, Shevuos 2a; also see Vayikra 17:10 and Rashi ad loc.).

The Shabbos Musaf

However, the Musaf offering for Shabbos contains no korban chatas. As a matter of fact, Shabbos is the only special day mentioned by the Torah on which a korban chatas is not offered. Clearly, the purpose of Shabbos is not to atone, but to commemorate the fact that Hashem created the entire world in the six days of Creation and then stepped back. Thus, observing Shabbos is our acknowledgement of Hashem as Creator of the Universe, but the discussion of sin and its atonement is not part of the role of Shabbos.

Uniqueness of Rosh Chodesh

The celebration and role of Rosh Chodesh in our calendar is different from Shabbos or any of the Yomim Tovim, since the monthly waning and waxing of the moon that Rosh Chodesh commemorates symbolizes that people occasionally wane and wax in their service of Hashem (Rav Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 12:1-2). Although we sometimes falter or are not as devoted to serving Hashem as we should be, we always can and do return to serve Him. Rosh Chodesh is celebrated at the first glimmer after the disappearance of the moon, after one might lose all hope. The reappearance of the first sliver of the new moon brings hope that, just as the moon renews itself, so, too, we can renew our relationship with Hashem. The chatas offering of Rosh Chodesh, therefore, allows atonement for our shortcomings of the past month, and, at the same time, reminds us to focus on our mission as Hashem’s Chosen People.

Uniqueness of the Rosh Chodesh Korban Musaf

The Musaf of each of the Yomim Tovim also includes a korban chatas, and each Yom Tov therefore includes a concept of judgment and atonement (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 16a; Mishnah, Shevuos 2a). However, the Torah’s description of the korban chatas of Rosh Chodesh differs from its description of the korbanos chatas that are offered on the other Yomim Tovim. The chata’os of the other Yomim Tovim are always mentioned immediately after the other Musaf offerings of the day. However, when the Torah teaches about the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh, the Torah first lists the other Musaf offerings, then sums up with the statement, Zos olas chodesh bechodsho lechodshei hashanah, “these are the olah offerings of Rosh Chodesh for all the months of the year,” as if it has completed the discussion of the Musaf for Rosh Chodesh. Only then does the Torah mention the chatas offering, implying that the chatas of Rosh Chodesh fulfills a unique purpose – almost as if it stands alone.

More significantly, the wording of the chatas of Rosh Chodesh is different from that of the other chatas offerings. Whereas in reference to all the chata’os of Yom Tov the Torah simply says that one should offer a chatas, on Rosh Chodesh the Torah says that one should offer a chatas to Hashem (Rav Hirsch’s Commentary to Bamidbar 28).

The Gemara itself notes this last question and provides a very anomalous answer: Hashem said, this goat is atonement for My decreasing the size of the moon (Shevuos 9a). From here, Chazal derive that the sun and moon were originally created equal in size, and that later Hashem decreased the size of the moon.

This statement sounds sacrilegious – how can one imply that something Hashem did requires atonement?

Indeed, I have seen commentaries say that the explanation of this Gemara is kabbalistic and should be left for those who understand these ideas.

Others explain that the korban that the Jews offer on Rosh Chodesh appeases the moon for its stature being decreased (Ritva, Shevuos 9a). What does this mean?

Man’s Relationship with G-d

This could be understood in the following way: Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Bamidbar 28) explains that the “atonement for decreasing the moon” means that Hashem created Man with the ability to sin, and thereby he can create evil and darkness. For, after all, sins committed by human beings are the only evil in the world. Thus, someone might “accuse” Hashem of creating evil, by creating Man with the ability to sin. This can be called “decreasing the size of the moon,” since the moon’s waning and waxing carries with it the meaning of the waning and waxing of the relationship of Man to Hashem.

However, the message of the chatas of Rosh Chodesh is that Man can return to serve Hashem, and that, on the contrary, this was the entire purpose of Creation. In error, someone might have accused Hashem of having brought sin into the world, and therefore decreasing the moon. In reality, Man’s serving Hashem is the only true praise to Him. The offering of the korban chatas on Rosh Chodesh demonstrates this. Indeed, man is fallible, but when fallible man serves Hashem this demonstrates the truest praise in the world for Him.

Why Rosh Chodesh is not Yom Tov

According to a Midrash, prior to the debacle of the Jews worshipping the Golden Calf, the eigel hazahav, Rosh Chodesh was to have been made into a Yom Tov. Unfortunately, when the Jews worshipped the eigel hazahav, this Yom Tov was taken from them and presented exclusively to the women, who had not worshipped the eigel (Tur, Orach Chayim 417, and Mahalnach commentary ad loc.). The sin of the eigel hazahav demonstrates how low Man can fall. This is symbolically represented by the decrease of the moon. As a result of this sin, Rosh Chodesh could not become a Yom Tov, but had to remain a workday.

However, when Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh coincide, no melacha is performed on Rosh Chodesh, so that it can now achieve what it would have accomplished as a Yom Tov. This is the goal of a Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, and for this reason, we include a Yom Tov aspect to our davening.

And not only does Shabbos increase the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh, but Rosh Chodesh increases the sanctity of Shabbos. The Gemara conveys this idea by declaring that the korban Musaf of Shabbos has more sanctity when Shabbos falls on Rosh Chodesh (Zevachim 91a).

Conclusion

Shabbos is our acknowledgement of Hashem as Creator of the Universe, whereas Rosh Chodesh demonstrates the role of mankind as the purpose of the Creation of this world. Since Man is the only creation capable of sinning, he is the only one able to make a conscious choice to serve his Maker.

Based on this, we can understand why the coming of Shabbos, which demonstrates the Creation of the universe, together with Rosh Chodesh, which demonstrates Man’s role in Creation warrant a special beracha and a special declaration Ata Yatzarta, You created the world.

May I Daven in English?

Question #1:

I received the following e-mail question from Verna Acular*:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur in Hebrew provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew even though I cannot comprehend it, yet other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Question #2:

Bella, a middle-aged, new immigrant from Central Europe, struggles to ask the rabbi:

I became frum in Hungary and Hungarian is the only language that I can read and understand. Someone told me that now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so? I am really too old to learn to read a new language.

Question #3:

Bracha Acharona asked me the following:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating, one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not know a word of Japanese; yet, if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between a bracha before eating and one afterwards?

Introduction:

The Gemara discusses whether a kohen who knows no Hebrew may duchen in translation. Since this mitzvah is in the current week’s reading, we have an opportunity to discuss whether mitzvos that require speaking must be recited in Hebrew, or if they may be recited in translation.

Those That Can and Those Than Cannot

The Mishnah (Sotah 32a) supplies a rather long list both of mitzvos that are fulfilled only when recited in Hebrew and of those that are fulfilled when recited in any language. For example, one cannot fulfill the requirements of chalitzah (see Devarim 25:7-10), duchening (see Bamidbar 6:24-26), and the narration that accompanies bikkurim (see Devarim 26:5-11), unless one recites the exact Hebrew words that the Torah cites. On the other hand, other mitzvos, including the reciting of shma, prayer, and birkas hamazon (bensching) can be fulfilled by translating the relevant passages into a language with which one is familiar. Indeed the Gemara (Brachos 40b) records an instance in which an individual named Binyomin the Shepherd bensched in Aramaic, and Rav ruled that he had fulfilled his requirement. The Gemara explains the reason for which some mitzvos may be fulfilled in translation, but not others, on the basis of several intricate interpretations from various verses.

Which is preferable?

Having established that one may pray in a vernacular, the first question on which we will focus is whether it is preferable for someone who does not understand Hebrew to pray in a language that he understands, or whether it is preferred to pray in Hebrew, even though it is not understood.

Tosafos’ opinion

From Tosafos (Sotah op. cit.) we see that someone who does not understand Hebrew and recites a prayer, shma, or bensching in Hebrew does not fulfill the mitzvah. Tosafos asks why the Mishnah omits hearing Megillah from its list of mitzvos that may be fulfilled in any language. Tosafos answers that the mitzvah of Megillah is qualitatively different from all the other mitzvos mentioned in this Mishnah, because one who does not understand Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah of Megillah in Hebrew. Tosafos clearly understands that someone who prays, bensches or reads shma in a language he does not understand does not fulfill the mitzvah, even if the language is Hebrew, and the Mishnah is listing mitzvos that one will fulfill only in the vernacular. Thus, according to Tosafos‘ opinion, Verna should be reciting her prayers in English, and Bella should recite them in Hungarian.

Hebrew for the Hungarians

Although Tosafos holds this way, later authorities reject this conclusion. The Keren Orah notes that, according to Tosafos, someone who does not understand Hebrew will be unable to fulfill the mitzvos of bensching and davening if he does not have a siddur handy with a translation in a language that they understand. He cites other early authorities who answered Tosafos‘ question (from the Gemara in Megillah) in a different way and concludes that one who prayed, bensched or read shma in Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah, even if he does not understand Hebrew, providing that he knew that he was about to fulfill the mitzvah.

Quoting other earlier authorities, the Mishnah Berurah (62:2) extends this concept, ruling that it is preferable to daven, bensch and recite shma in Hebrew, rather than to use a different language, even when one does not understand Hebrew.

What does veshinantam mean?

The Mishnah Berurah adds an additional reason why one should recite shma in Hebrew. This is because there are several words in shma that are difficult to translate, or whose meaning is unclear. For example, the word veshinantam may often be translated as teach them, but this translation does not express the full meaning of the word. The word for teach them in Hebrew is velimadtem, which is the word used in the second parsha of shma, Vehayah im shomo’a. The word veshinantam includes teaching students until they know the Torah thoroughly, and simply translating this word as and you shall teach them does not adequately relay the intended meaning.

By the way, this difference in meaning is reflected in the Targum Onkeles Aramaic translation, where velimadtem is translated vesalfun, whereas veshinantam is translated u’sesaninun, which comes from the Aramaic root that is equivalent to the Hebrew veshinantam. Thus, Aramaic possesses two different verbs, one of which means to teach and the other meaning to teach until known thoroughly, whereas English lacks a short way of expressing the latter idea.

I have heard it suggested that one may alleviate this problem in English by translating the word veshinantam with the entire clause you shall teach it to your sons until they know it thoroughly. This approach should seemingly resolve the concern raised by the Mishnah Berurah, although I am unaware of an English translation that renders the word veshinantam in this way.

Other hard translations

Whether or not one can translate veshinantam accurately, the Mishnah Berurah questions how one will translate the word es, since it has no equivalent in most languages. He further notes that the word totafos, which refers to the tefillin worn on the head, is also difficult to translate. However, when we recite these words in Hebrew, we avoid the need to know the exact translation, since we are using the words the Torah itself used. The Mishnah Berurah feels that for the same reasons, someone who can read but does not understand Hebrew should recite Kiddush, bensching, davening and his other brachos in Hebrew.

Although the Mishnah Berurah does not mention this predicament, a problem similar to the one he raises concerns the translation of the Name of G-d. When reciting a bracha or any of the above-mentioned requirements in a different language, one must be careful to translate this Name accurately (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:40:27). Rav Moshe Feinstein notes this problem in the context of the anecdote I mentioned above about Binyomin the Shepherd, who bensched in Aramaic. The Gemara records that Binyomin the Shepherd referred to G-d as Rachmana. In a teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe notes that although the word Rachmana obviously derives from the same source as the word rachum, mercy, one would not fulfill the requirement of reciting a bracha by substituting the word rachum for Hashem‘s Name. Thus, Rav Moshe asks, how could Binyomin the Shepherd have fulfilled his bracha by reciting the translation of the word rachum? Rav Moshe answers that although the source of the word Rachmana and the word rachum are the same, Rachmana is the translation of G-d’s Name in Aramaic, and therefore it is used in Aramaic prayers and blessings. However, rachum is not a translation of G-d, but an attribute of G-d, and its recital in a bracha is not adequate.

We thus realize that someone translating Hashem’s Name into any language must be meticulously careful to translate it with complete accuracy.

Is “G-d” Correct?

I have seen two common ways of translating the Name of Hashem into English, one as Lord and the other as G-d. Translating His Name as Lord is based on the meaning of the Name Adnus as Adon hakol, the Lord of all, which is the basic understanding one is required to have when reciting His Name. However, I have noticed that some recent translations now transliterate the Name in English as Hashem. This is not an accurate translation, and a person reciting the bracha this way will not fulfill his responsibility. I strongly suggest that the publishers not do this, since they are performing a disservice for people using their translation.

The Position of the Sefer Chassidim

Notwithstanding the Mishnah Berurah’s conclusion that it is preferred that one recite davening, bensching, and shma in Hebrew, even if he does not understand them, in an early Rishon we find a compromise position between Tosafos, who holds that one does not fulfill the mitzvos if he does not understand the language, and the Mishnah Berurah’s approach. The Sefer Chassidim (#588) advises, “If a G-d fearing man or woman who does not understand Hebrew comes to you, tell them to learn the prayers in the language that they understand, because prayer can only be recited with understanding of the heart, and if the heart does not understand what the mouth expresses, it does not accomplish anything. For this reason, it is best to pray in a language one understands.

He states this even more clearly in a different passage (#785).

It is better for a person to pray and recite Shma and brachos in a language that he comprehends, rather than pray in Hebrew and not understand… It is for this reason that the Talmud, both in Bavel and in Eretz Yisrael, was written in Aramaic, so that even the unlettered can understand the mitzvos.

We should ask: Why did the Sefer Chassidim reserve his comments for someone who is G-d fearing? Clearly, he holds that one fulfills the mitzvos whether one recites these prayers in Hebrew that he does not understand or a translation that he does (similar to the Mishnah Berurah’s position), but the Sefer Chassidim rules that it is preferable to recite these prayers in a language he understands (unlike the Mishnah Berurah’s position). The Sefer Chassidim’s position is subsequently quoted by the Magen Avraham (101:5), who also cites this approach in the name of the Asarah Maamaros of the Rama miFanu.

The Yad Efrayim’s approach

The Yad Efrayim quotes the Magen Avraham (who ruled as the Sefer Chassidim), but feels very strongly that one should recite the tefillah in Hebrew. To quote him: In our days, when there is no one who can translate the Hebrew accurately, one should rebuke anyone who follows a lenient route and prays in the vernacular. Rather, one should not separate himself from the community to read the prayer in Hebrew and one fulfills his mitzvah even if he does not understand. Someone concerned about the issues raised by Sefer Chassidim should learn the basic understanding of the Hebrew enough to know what he is asking. Although he will not understand each word, we are not concerned about this… If he does not want to learn the Hebrew, then he should pray in Hebrew with the community, and then, afterwards, he can read the prayer in translation.

Thus, we see that the Yad Efrayim is a strong advocate of one’s praying only in Hebrew, and he presumably was one of the authorities upon whom the Mishnah Berurah based his ruling.

At this point, we can return to Verna’s question:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew, even though I cannot comprehend it; yet, other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Verna has been told to follow the ruling of the Yad Efrayim and the Mishnah Berurah, which is the most commonly-followed approach today. We encourage anyone who can read the words in Hebrew to recite the prayers and brachos in Hebrew. However, assuming that the “other people” can read Hebrew, they were instructed by someone who followed the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Sefer Chassidim. It is also possible that the “other people” cannot read Hebrew properly. Someone who cannot read Hebrew has no choice but to recite prayers in the best translation that he/she can find.

Is this the Language of the Country?

At this point, I would like to address Bella’s predicament.

I became frum in Hungary and Hungarian is the only language that I can read and understand. Someone told me that now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so?

What is the halacha if someone does not understand the language of the country in which he/she lives? Can one fulfill the mitzvos of shma, brachos and davening by reciting these prayers in his native language, notwithstanding the fact that few people in his new country comprehend this language?

Although this may seem surprising, the Bi’ur Halacha rules that one fulfills the mitzvos in a vernacular only when this is the language that is commonly understood in the country in which one is currently located. Following this approach, one who recites a bracha in America in a language that most Americans do not understand is required to recite the bracha again. Bella was indeed told the position of the Bi’ur Halacha that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of praying in the United States in Hungarian or any other language that is not commonly understood, other than Hebrew.

The Bi’ur Halacha based his ruling on a statement of the Ritva (in the beginning of his notes to the Rif on Nedarim), who implies that halacha recognizes something as a language only in the time and place that a people has chosen to make this into their spoken vernacular.

Rav Gustman’s position

Some later authorities disputed the Bi’ur Halacha’s conclusion, demonstrating that this concern of the Ritva refers only to a slang or code, but not to a proper language (Kuntrisei Shiurim of Rav Gustman, Nedarim page 11; and others). This means that if someone prayed or recited a bracha in something that is not considered a true language, he would not fulfill his mitzvah and would be required to recite the prayer or bracha again. However, although most Americans do not understand Hungarian, since this is considered a bona fide language, Bella fulfills the mitzvah by davening in Hungarian. Rav Gustman writes that he told many Russian baalei teshuvah that they could pray in Russian when they were living in Israel or the United States, even though Russian is not understood by most people in either country. He acknowledges that, according to the Bi’ur Halacha, this would not fulfill the mitzvah.

Must one understand the foreign language?

At this point, we will address Bracha’s brachos question:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not know a word of Japanese; yet if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between a bracha before eating and one afterwards?

According to Tosafos, someone can fulfill reciting the brachos before eating and Hallel and Kiddush even in a secular language that one does not understand. Tosafos contends that although one fulfills the mitzvos of bensching, davening and shma only in a language that one understands, there is a difference between them and brachos before eating, Hallel and Kiddush, where one fulfills the mitzvah without understanding the language.

Do We Follow Tosafos’ Opinion?

Although the Magen Avraham (introduction to Orach Chayim 62) rules in accordance with this Tosafos, most later commentaries do not (Keren Orah and Rav Elazar Landau on Sotah ad loc.; Bi’ur Halacha 62 s.v. Yachol; Aruch Hashulchan 62:3). Several authorities state that they do not understand Tosafos‘ position that there is a difference between shma, shemoneh esrei and birkas hamazon, which can only be recited in a language one understands, and Kiddush, Hallel, birkas hamitzvos and brachos before eating, which Tosafos rules one may recite even in a language that one does not comprehend.

The answer is: the drasha of Chazal states that one fulfills shma only in a language that one understands. This is logical, because shma is accepting the yoke of Heaven, and how can one do this without comprehending the words? The same idea applies to the shemoneh esrei — how can one be praying if one does not understand what one is saying? Birkas hamazon is also a very high level of thanks, and what type of acknowledgement is it, if one does not know the meaning of the words he is saying? However, one can praise in a language that one does not understand, as evidenced by the fact that chazzanim or choirs may sing beautiful praise, although they do not necessarily comprehend every word. Similarly, as long as one knows that the Kiddush is sanctifying Shabbos, one fulfills the mitzvah, even if one does not understand the words.

The Keren Orah answers Tosafos‘ question in a different way, arguing that although the Mishnah omits these four cases, each should be included in one of the cases mentioned by the Mishnah. Both Hallel and Kiddush are part of davening, and therefore are included when the Mishnah says that tefillah may be recited in any language, and it is implied that brachos on mitzvos and before eating food would be included in the statement of the Mishnah that one may bensch in any language.

Conclusion

Some people, who cannot read Hebrew at all, have no choice but to pray in the language that they can read and understand. However, anyone who can should accept the challenge of studying the prayers a bit at a time, gradually thereby developing both fluency and comprehension. In the interim, they can read the translation of each paragraph first, and then read the Hebrew, which will help them develop a full understanding of the prayers as Chazal wrote and organized them.

*All names have been changed to protect privacy.

Saying Amen to My Own Beracha

The beracha of Ga’al Yisrael, which commemorates our Exodus from Egypt, is one of the blessings whose laws are discussed in this article, and therefore this topic is very appropriate for parshas Bo.

Question #1:

“Why do Ashkenazim recite “amen” after the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after any other beracha that we recite?”

Question #2:

“Why do Sephardim follow a different practice? And, why do they appear to be inconsistent?”

Question #3:

“Someone once told me that some authorities rule that one may recite “amen” after reciting the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael right before Shemoneh Esrei, and that this does not constitute an interruption. Can this possibly be true?”

Answer:

The Gemara (Berachos 45b) quotes two apparently contradictory statements whether one should recite “amen” after one’s own beracha; one Beraisa stating that it is meritorious to do so, and the other frowning on the practice. To quote the Gemara:

“It was taught in one source, ‘Someone who responds “Amen” after his own blessings is praiseworthy,’ whereas another source states it is shameful to do this.” The Gemara explains that the two statements do not conflict, but refer to two different situations. The Beraisa that declares that it is praiseworthy to recite amen after one’s own blessing is referring to reciting amen after reciting the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim in bensching, whereas the Beraisa that asserts that reciting amen after one’s own beracha is shameful refers to someone reciting amen after any other beracha. The halacha concludes that one who completes a beracha at the same time as the chazzan or anyone else may not recite amen to the other person’s beracha, since, in doing so, he recites amen to his own beracha. For example, when reciting Baruch She’amar, if one completes the beracha at the same moment as the chazzan, one may not recite amen (Elyah Rabbah 51:2).

Why Bonei Yerushalayim?

What is unique about the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that one may recite “amen” after one’s own beracha?

The Rishonim note that it is not the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that makes its law special; rather, it is its location, as the last of the three main berachos of birchas hamazon. (Although there is still another beracha afterwards, this last beracha is not part of the series, since it was added later. The fourth beracha of birchas hamazon, which Chazal call Hatov vehameitiv, was added hundreds of years after the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah wrote the rest of the birchas hamazon as a commemorative to the burial of those who had fallen in the destruction of Beitar. This is a topic that I will leave for a different time.

Because it is not part of the series, it begins with a full berachaBaruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, whereas berachos that are part of a series do not begin with these words [Pesachim 104b].) Reciting amen after Bonei Yerushalayim demonstrates the completion of a series of berachos (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18). On the other hand, reciting amen after one’s own beracha any other time implies that one has completed a unit, which is not true (Rabbeinu Yonah). We find a similar idea that upon completing the pesukei dezimra where we repeat the last pasuk (both at the end of Chapter 150 and at the end of Az Yashir) to demonstrate that this section has now been concluded (see Tur, Orach Chayim Chapter 51).

Is Bonei Yerushalayim unique or simply an example of the last beracha of a sequence? If the latter is true, are there other instances when it is praiseworthy to recite amen to your own beracha at the closing of a sequence?

Rashi, in his comments to the above Gemara, indeed mentions that one concludes “amen” after reciting the last beracha of the birchos kerias shema, those berachos that surround the daily kerias shema that we recite every morning and evening. These two “concluding” berachosGa’al Yisrael in the morning, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad in the evening — would then both be followed by the word “amen” to indicate the end of the series. (The beracha that begins with the words Baruch Hashem Le’olam, recited after Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad on weekdays by Nusach Ashkenaz outside Eretz Yisrael, is a later addition added in the times of the Geonim, and technically not part of the birchos kerias shema.) Many other Rishonim advise reciting amen at the end of any sequence of berachos, adding to Rashi’s list also Yishtabach, considered to be the end of a “sequence” of two berachos that begins with Baruch She’amar; and the closing beracha of Hallel, considered the sequel to the beracha beginning Hallel (quoted by the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). Rabbeinu Hai Gaon goes even further, advising the recital of amen after every “after blessing,” considering it the end of a series begun with the beracha recited before (cited by Rabbeinu Yonah).

Ashkenazim all realize that there is something more to the story. Whereas Ashkenazim always complete the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim with amen, we do not follow this procedure for any of the other berachos mentioned. This specific practice is very old and is already mentioned by Tosafos.

To explain this practice, we will first see what other Rishonim have to say about it. For example, although accepting the premise that we may recite amen following the last beracha of a series, the Rambam appears to dispute what we have quoted above as to what is considered a succession. He appears to hold that if anything interrupts in the middle, the berachos are no longer considered a series – thus, Yishtabach, the latter beracha of Hallel and the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael are not considered the ends of series, although the berachos immediately before kerias shema are (see Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18, as explained by Beis Yosef). The pesukim recited in the middle break up the succession, and therefore one should not recite amen. Those who dispute with the Rambam contend that both Yishtabach and the ending beracha of Hallel are considered the end of a series, since they connect back to the original beracha.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch, reflecting Sefardic halachic practice, rules a compromise position; contending that after Yishtabach one may add amen after his own beracha, but one is not required to do so (Orach Chayim 51:3). It is curious to note that in another place (Orach Chayim 215:1), the Shulchan Aruch mentions that Sefardic custom is to recite amen after Yishtabach and the last beracha of Hallel, and the Rama there notes that, according to the Shulchah Aruch’s conclusion, one should also recite amen after concluding the beracha Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, the last beracha of the evening kerias shema series.

Although Ashkenazim agree that one may recite amen after these berachos, we usually do not do so. However, if one hears the closing of someone else’s beracha when completing one of these berachos, one answers amen to the other person’s beracha (Elyah Rabbah 51:2). Thus, we see that there is a qualitative difference between berachos that complete a sequence and those that do not. After the first group, one may recite amen after his own beracha, whereas after the second group, one may not.

However, we have still not answered the original question: Why single out the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? If, indeed, one may recite amen after the last beracha of any series to signify that the series is completed, why does the Gemara mention this halacha only regarding the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? And, furthermore, why is the prevalent Ashkenazic custom to recite amen, almost as if it is part of the beracha, only after the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after other closing berachos?

Both of these questions can be answered by studying a different passage of Gemara (Berachos 45b), which cites a dispute between Abayei and Rav Ashi as to whether the word amen recited following Bonei Yerushalayim should be said aloud. Abayei used to recite this amen aloud, in order to let everyone know that he had completed the first three berachos of birchas hamazon. He did so in order to remind workers employed by other people that it was time for them to return diligently to work. That is, although Chazal had instituted a fourth beracha to birchas hamazon, they specifically exempted those working for others from reciting this beracha, thereby emphasizing the responsibility of an employee to his employer to observe a full day of work. (In today’s environment, where it is assumed that workers take off for coffee and rest breaks during the workday, an employee is required to recite the fourth beracha of birchas hamazon.) Abayei recited “amen” aloud at the end of the third beracha so that everyone would realize that the fourth beracha is not part of the series and is treated differently.

Rav Ashi, on the other hand, deliberately recited amen softly, so that people would not treat the fourth beracha with disrespect. It appears that the practice of reciting amen after the third beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim is a carryover of Abayei’s practice – that is, we choose to emphasize that the fourth beracha is not min haTorah.

At this point, we understand the laws applicable to whether one recites amen after Bonei Yerushalayim, Yishtabach, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, and the end of Hallel. Sefardim recite amen after all these berachos. Ashkenazim hold that this is permitted, but do so only when reciting amen to someone else’s beracha at the same time.

However, the Beis Yosef and other early Sefardic authorities note what appears to be an inconsistency in Sefardic practice: whereas they recite amen after the above-mentioned list of berachos, they do not do so after other series of berachos, such as the morning berachos, or sheva berachos. The answer is that a series for our purposes means a group of berachos connected into a unit in a way that it is forbidden to interrupt between them. Thus, although morning berachos, and the berachos of sheva berachos are recited as a group, they are technically not a unit. The designation of a group of berachos as a unit is limited to cases where one may not interrupt between the berachos, such as in Hallel, pesukei dezimra, birchos kerias shema and birchos hamazon.

How Are Tefillin Manufactured? (Part II)

What does one look for when purchasing a pair of tefillin? In my earlier article, I presented some of the basics of tefillin manufacture. The four parshios in which the Torah mentions mitzvas tefillin: “Kadeish li kol bechor” and “V’hayah ki y’viacha” in Parshas Bo, “Shema” in Parshas Va’eschanan, and “V’hayah im shamo’a” in Parsha Eikev are handwritten by a sofer. Each parsha of the tefillin shel rosh is written on a separate piece of parchment and placed in a separate compartment, whereas those of the shel yad are written on one parchment and placed in a single large compartment.

We also discussed certain problems that can occur while the parshios are written, the importance of using a skilled, knowledgeable, and G-d fearing sofer, and that the completed parshios should be checked carefully, preferably by two trained examiners and by computer.

As explained in the previous article, the batim consist of three parts: (a) the box part, called the ketzitzah, in which the parshios are placed, (b) the titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests, and (c) the ma’avarta, through which the straps (retzuos) are inserted. The width of both the ketzitzah and the titura must be exactly the same as the corresponding length so that they are perfectly square, and there should be no nicks, dents, or bulges that ruin their perfect square-ness or the evenness of their sides. Someone concerned about the mitzvah should therefore purchase batim made from gasos, which means the hide of a mature animal. Gasos batim last much longer, have many hiddurim in halacha, and can be repaired if they become damaged.

We also discussed two halachic disputes regarding the manufacture of the shel rosh. One shaylah concerned gluing the compartments of the shel rosh together, and another concerned whether the shin on the outside must be pulled out manually before it is molded.

As explained in the first article, most stages of tefillin production, from tanning to painting and sewing, must be performed “lishmah.” Therefore, each stage is begun by an observant Jew who declares that his work is for the sake of kedushas tefillin.

Several steps of tefillin manufacture were not described in the first article, including painting, making the retzuos, and placing the parshios in the bayis and sealing it. We will resume our narration and guide at this point, beginning with the manufacture and laws of the titura, the wide base upon which the ketzitzah holding the parshios rests.

The titura consists of two parts, the widening at the bottom of the ketzitzah (upper titura) and the flap that closes and seals the parshios inside (lower titura). In gasos tefillin, the titura is formed out of the same piece of leather as the ketzitzah. The lower titura is bent 180 degrees until it is directly beneath the upper titura. The gap between the two is then filled with pieces of leather, and then the hide is shaved until it is perfectly square.

At one point in time, ordinary scrap leather was often used as filler, but this is rarely done today. Although these batim are kosher, it is preferable that the filler be hide that was tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1). This is standard contemporary practice.

Some poskim contend that it is acceptable to fill small nicks in the side of the titura with glue. Others feel that it is not kosher l’chatchila to do this but that nicks should be patched with hide or parchment tanned lishmah  (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1; Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 3:2; 9:4).

When the titura is completed and perfectly square, twelve holes are punched through it so that it can later be stitched closed. It is vital that these holes form a perfect square and that they are not too large (which may cause the stitching not to be square).

PAINTING

The batim are painted jet-black using paint containing only kosher ingredients (Shulchan Aruch 32:40). Because there is little space between the compartments of the shel rosh, it often happens that after the painting one can no longer see the separation between the compartments. Since the individual compartments must be visible, the batim macher carefully separates the compartments from one another with a razor.

On inferior batim, non-scrupulous batim machers may merely scratch the outside of the bayis to make it appear where the four compartments actually are. This is an invalid method of marking the batim. The actual, separate compartments must be visible from the outside. Alternatively, sometimes a deep groove is mistakenly scratched in the wrong place and does not demonstrate the actual separation between the compartments. This is also invalid. Therefore, to prevent this, a responsible batim macher cuts between the compartments to guarantee that they are indeed fully separate even after the painting.

Now that we have excellent parshios and batim for our tefillin, we will investigate what constitutes excellent retzuos.

IS THERE A HALACHIC PREFERENCE TO HANDMADE RETZUOS?

The contemporary process of tanning retzuos is similar to the method used to tan leather for mundane uses, such as belts and handbags. However, retzuos must be tanned lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 33:3). After the tanning of the retzuos is complete, the retzuos are painted black in order to fulfill a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai (Menachos 35a). The painting of the retzuos must also be performed lishmah (Mishnah Berurah 33:18).

In earlier days, tanning retzuos involved salting the hide and then soaking it in lime wash. Today, although both salt and lime are used in the tanning process, most of the tanning of retzuos is usually accomplished by the gradual, automatic adding of other chemicals to the soaking leather after the salt and lime have been rinsed out. Thus, although early poskim ruled that placing the lime into the water lishmah is sufficient to make retzuos lishmah, this may not be true today. For this reason, most contemporary poskim rule that one should use “avodas yad” retzuos, meaning that the extra chemicals added to the water were done lishmah by a Torah-observant person (Zichron Eliyahu). However, most retzuos sold for tefillin are not avodas yad.

According to my information, most retzuos are painted by transporting them on a conveyor belt through a large, electrically powered paint sprayer. This provides an additional reason to use only avodas yad retzuos. Most Torah-observant Jews use hand matzos for the seder because of concern that machine matzos are not considered lishmah. (I am not suggesting that machine matzohs are a problem for Seder use. Many great poskim contend that they are fine.) In all likelihood, the manufacture and painting of machine-made retzuos has greater halachic concerns than the shaylos involved in machine matzos. When one realizes that the mitzvah of eating matzah is only once a year, whereas the tefillin will IY”H be worn daily for decades, I believe the choice is obvious.

Some poskim contend that one should also request that the parchment used for the parshios be only avodas yad. If one chooses to order avodas yad parchment, ask for extra thin parchment. This special parchment is less likely to crack when rolled and inserted into the batim, and thus there is less likelihood that the letters will eventually crack. It is also easier to fit the thin parchment properly into the batim. The difference in cost for this parchment is fairly small relative to the overall cost of the investment in the pair of tefillin.

It is important to check periodically that the retzuos are still completely black. Many authorities contend that the entire length of the retzua must always be black (Biur Halacha 33:3 s.v. retzuos). If the paint peels off, fades or cracks, one must blacken the retzuos with kosher black retzuos paint. Before painting the retzuos, one must state that he is doing it l’sheim kedushas tefillin

The reverse side of the retzua that lies on the skin need not be dyed at all. There is an opinion that the edges of the retzuos should also be painted black (Keses HaSofer 23:2). However, this opinion is not accepted in halachic practice (see for example, Mishnah Berurah 33:24 quoting Pri Megadim in Eishel Avraham 33:7).

ROLLING UP THE PARSHIOS

All the components of the tefillin are now complete, and it is time to insert the parshios into the bayis. Before being placed into the ketzitzah, each parsha is rolled from left to right, and then tied with a bovine tail hair (Elyah Rabbah 32:43). These hairs should preferably be from a calf to remind us of the sin of the eigel hazahav, the golden calf (Beis Yosef, quoting Shimusha Rabba). The parsha is then wrapped with a blank piece of parchment, and this parchment is then tied with another bovine hair. (According to Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1, these last two steps are both halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai.) After each parsha is placed inside its appropriate bayis, one or more of these hairs are pulled through the left hole in front of the bayis that will be used to stitch the titura closed. Thus, the hair used to tie the parsha closed is visible on the outside of the tefillin (Zohar).

According to Rashi’s opinion, which is the halacha, the parshios are now inserted according to the order that they appear in the Torah. Thus, the first parsha, Kadeish li kol bechor (Shmos 13:1-10), fills the leftmost compartment (from the perspective of the wearer), with V’hayah ki y’viacha  (Shmos 13:11-16) next to it. Shma (Devarim 6:4-9) is placed next to it; and V’hayah im shamo’a  (Devarim 11:13-21) is inserted inside the rightmost compartment. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two parshios are reversed, with Shma in the right-most compartment and V’hayah im shamo’a next to it. (There are also at least two other opinions on this question.)

Although we fulfill the mitzvah with Rashi tefillin, the Shulchan Aruch states that a G-d fearing person should wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin in addition to wearing Rashi tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:2). However, the Shulchan Aruch qualifies this ruling by stating that only a person known to observe beyond the requirements of halacha is permitted to wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:3). This is because of the prohibition against being pretentious in one’s Yiddishkeit. Ashkenazim follow the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. However, the practice among many Sefardim and chassidim is that all married men wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. In their opinion once many people follow a certain practice, it is no longer ostentatious for an individual to observe it.

OTHER HALACHOS RELEVANT TO ASSEMBLING THE TEFILLIN

The parsha should fit completely inside its compartment. Sometimes the shel yad parsha is too tall to fit properly in the ketzitzah and the bottom of the parsha protrudes into the titura, a situation that should be avoided (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 3:3; Shu”t Yabia Omer 1:2:5). If the person who orders the tefillin coordinates the correct size with the sofer and the batim macher, this problem can be avoided.

After the parshios are placed into their appropriate compartments, the titura is sewn closed. There is a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that this stitching must be made with sinews (giddin; singular gid) of a kosher animal (Shabbos 108a). There is another halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that these stitches must form a perfect square (Menachos 35a). This is something that a person can readily check on his own tefillin. I have often seen tefillin where the stitching or the punching of the holes is sloppy, making the stitching not square. This makes the entire pair of tefillin posul!

The tefillin should be stitched with a single length thread of sinew (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:51). Although there are lenient opinions that one can tie two pieces of gid together, insist that your tefillin be stitched with a single gid.

Some batim machers glue the top and bottom titura together, in addition to the stitching, to help the titura stay closed. Some poskim contend that this practice invalidates the tefillin since the halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai is that the titura should be closed only by stitching with giddin and with no other materials (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 11:10). One should consult with his rav whether to request that the titura not be glued.

The retzuos should be about ½ inch wide. When purchasing new retzuos, they should be wider so that they remain the proper width even after they become stretched out.

WHERE SHOULD I BUY MY TEFILLIN?

The individual selling tefillin should be a halachically reliable person and preferably a talmid chacham. Furthermore, he should be fully familiar not only with the halachos of tefillin, but also with the details of tefillin manufacture. From my personal experience, it is not uncommon that a person selling tefillin, although extremely ehrlich, is totally unfamiliar with the halachic issues and concerns involved. Unfortunately, many sofrim and rabbanim lack sufficient training in the practical details of tefillin manufacture.

Assuming that one is purchasing tefillin from someone familiar with the halachos and practical aspects of tefillin manufacture, be specific what level of tefillin kashrus you are looking for. If you don’t tell him that you want tefillin that are kosher l’chatchila (in the preferred way), you might receive tefillin that only meet the very minimum standards of kashrus. A person who discriminately buys food with high kashrus standards should not settle for less when purchasing tefillin. Such a person should order “kosher mehudar tefillin,” or “kosher tefillin with extra hiddurim.” These descriptions may also affect other questions that we have not discussed, such as the quality of the writing or the source of the batim.

THE PRICE OF TEFILLIN

Considering how much time, labor and trained skill are required to produce a kosher pair of tefillin, it amazes me how inexpensive tefillin are. Imagine purchasing an item that requires tens of hours of skilled expert workmanship! What would you expect to pay for such an item? Probably thousands of dollars! And note that one wears tefillin every weekday of one’s life, without exception. The tefillin are certainly hundreds of times more valuable than a top quality suit! Remember that a top quality pair of tefillin should last many decades. A pair of tefillin that costs $1000 and lasts for forty years are worn approximately 300 times a year or a total of 12,000 times. Thus, this pair of tefillin cost about 8 ½ cents a day. Compare this to how much value one gets per wearing from a nice suit!

WHAT TO ASK WHEN ORDERING TEFILLIN?

When ordering a pair of tefillin, one is entitled to ask as many questions about the tefillin as one chooses. After all, one is making a major purchase. In addition, asking these questions informs the seller that one wants tefillin that are mehadrin and are not simply minimally kosher.

Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to ask whether the seller knows the sofer personally or at least by reputation. Why did he choose this sofer? Is the sofer licensed by an organization that tests him periodically on the relevant halachos? One should definitely request that the sofer be instructed to write parshios that are kosher l’mehadrin, and not simply kosher or even kosher lichatchila.

Request that the parshios be checked by two different examiners and also by computer. Also insist that the examiner be instructed that the parshios should be kosher l’mehadrin. Usually, the examiners are only checking to see if the parshios are minimally kosher.

From which manufacturer are the batim being ordered? Why did the seller choose this batim macher? Do the batim carry a hechsher? Order batim that are kosher l’mehadrin.

Order batim where no glue is added to the titura. Clarify that the batim macher cuts between the compartments after painting to guarantee that they are properly separated. Specify that the seller should make sure that the parshios, both shel yad and shel rosh, fit completely inside the ketzitzah.

Of course, one needs to verify that the tefillin are set up for someone left-handed or right- handed, and whether the ksav (the script) and the knots are for nusach Ashkenaz, Sfard or Edot HaMizrah. Clarify in advance how large the batim of the tefillin will be. If the bar- mitzvah bochur is small, one may have a shaylah whether the tefillin are too large to fit on his arm correctly. Clarify this issue in advance with your tefillin seller and with your rav.

None of the items above should cost anything extra and therefore one should always ask for them even if one’s budget is limited.
WHAT EXTRA ITEMS SHOULD I ASK FOR WHEN ORDERING TEFILLIN?

There are several other hiddurim one can order when purchasing new tefillin. Bear in mind that each of these items will add to the price of your tefillin and may require more advance time to order your tefillin.

1. Ask your rav whether you should order tefillin that were manufactured originally “perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei,” literally, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura. This means that the batim were manufactured without any glue between the compartments of the batim.

When ordering tefillin that are perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei, ask for batim that were made originally this way from the beginning of their manufacture. Sometimes a batim macher receiving an order for “perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei” will take a knife and attempt to cut through the compartments of the bayis in order to separate them. You do not want these batim. Firstly, the cutting could damage the batim. Furthermore, the batim macher may not have succeeded in separating all the glue.

Although all poskim agree that it is halachically preferable to have batim that are constructed without any glue between the compartments, there is a risk that these batim could separate with time and thus no longer be properly square. For this reason, if the person wearing the tefillin will not be checking periodically to ensure that his tefillin are still properly square, it may be preferable to have the compartments glued together. Your rav should be consulted.

2. Order parshios and retzuos that are avodas yad. If ordering parshios that are avodas yad, instruct the sofer that they should be written on extra thin parchment.

3. Order tefillin where the shin was pulled out by hand and the mold was used only to enhance an existing shin. (See part one article for the explanation.)

WHAT SHOULD I CHECK WHEN THE TEFILLIN ARRIVE?

The big day arrives. Your local sefarim store, sofer, or rav tells you that your tefillin have arrived!  Is there anything you should check on the tefillin?

Check if the batim, titura and stitching are all properly square. You do not need to have a trained eye to check. Look if they appear perfectly square to you. Pay special attention that the titura area that faces the ma’avarta is smooth. It is not unusual that this area is not finished to the extent that it should be.

WHAT SHOULD I BE CHECKING ON MY OWN TEFILLIN?

Just as a car owner knows that he must check the level of the motor oil every fill-up or two, the tefillin owner should know to periodically check certain things on his tefillin.

First, check that the retzuos and batim are completely black and are not rubbed out, cracked or faded. Are the retzuos black all the way to their tip? Be particular to check that they are black near where the knot is tightened, because at that point the paint often rubs out. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough near the knot. If they are not fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint. (Everyone who wears tefillin should have access to kosher tefillin paint or markers.) If someone’s retzuos are cracking in several places, perhaps he should consider replacing them.

The knot of the shel yad should be connected that it touches the ketzitzah of the tefillin.

Check that the batim, titura, and stitches are still perfectly square. This means that the width and the length appear to be the same length to the naked eye, and that there are no dents, nicks, or projections along the sides or in the corners of the bayis. The back corners of the batim often become rounded because of hats or taleisim that are constantly rubbing them.

If the stitch of the titura is not taut or it loops in the middle, it is not kosher and you should contact your batim expert. With time or damage, the stitches often loosen or move, or the batim get banged or nicked and are no longer properly square. Your local batim expert has the equipment and know-how to repair them.

Know a batim macher or batim repair expert. Every major Jewish community should have at least one person who is trained and has the equipment to repair batim. Just as the community has shatnez testers, a mohel, a butcher, a mikvah for dishes, sefarim stores, and talmidei chachamim who are trained to check mezuzos, a community must have a talmid chacham who is trained properly in the repair of batim.

HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR TEFILLIN PROPERLY

Maintaining your tefillin is fairly easy. Never leave your tefillin in direct sunlight, in a very hot place, or inside your car during the daytime. As much as possible, your hair should be dry while wearing your tefillin. Protect corners by leaving the cover on the shel yad. (It should be noted that some poskim contend that one should not place these covers on the shel yad while one is wearing them or while making the bracha. However, since most poskim permit leaving these covers on, one may be lenient.)

Tefillin are one of the special signs that Hashem gave the Jewish people, and we should certainly excel in treating this mitzvah with the appropriate dignity. When Yidden request that their tefillin be only mehadrin, they demonstrate their reverence for the sign that bonds us to Hashem.

How Are Tefillin Manufactured?

A Tefillin Shopper’s Guide

clip_image002Question: I am in the process of purchasing tefillin for my son. This is a major purchase, since I hope that he will use these tefillin for many, many years to come, and tefillin are such an important mitzvah. Therefore, I have been making a lot of inquiries as to what to look for. Unfortunately, the more questions I ask, the more confused I become. Rather than gaining clarity, I am hearing many unfamiliar terms such as avodas yad (handmade), devek bein habatim (glue between the compartments of the tefillin shel rosh), perudos (separated), and gasos batim (hide of a mature animal). Could you please explain what I should be looking for in my search for mehudar tefillin?

Answer: Your questions are all very valid, and I am very glad that you have provided me the opportunity to explain these issues. Your quest is also complicated by the fact that, because most tefillin are made in Eretz Yisroel, it is sometimes difficult for someone in chutz la’aretz to find out all the details about their manufacture, especially since many rabbanim have never seen a pair of tefillin made! However, I hope to present you with enough halachic and practical basics to assist you in your search.

First, we need to understand the basics of tefillin manufacture.

As we will see, many details of the halachos of tefillin are halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai, meaning that they were taught to Moshe Rabbeinu directly by Hashem, even though there is no reference or even allusion to these halachos in the written Torah. The Rambam counts ten such examples (Hilchos Tefillin 3:1).

There are four places in the Torah where the mitzvah of tefillin is mentioned, twice in Parshas Bo, a third time in Parshas Va’eschanan and a fourth time in Parshas Eikev. Handwritten copies of these four sections of the Torah are placed inside specially made cases which comprise the tefillin worn on the arm and the head.

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin have three major components:

1.            The Parshiyos (singular, parsha). These are the parchments on which the sofer painstakingly and carefully writes the four sections of the Torah mentioned above. For the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin), all four parshiyos are written on one piece of parchment, whereas for the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), each parsha is written on a separate piece of parchment.

2.            The Batim (singular bayis). These are the housing of the parshiyos. The bayis itself has three subcomponents. (a) The Ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshiyos are placed. (b) The Titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests. (c) The Ma’avarta (Aramaic for “bridge”), the extension of the titura through which the straps are inserted. In good quality tefillin, the entire bayis, that is the ketzitzah, titura, and ma’avarta, are all made from one piece of hide.

3.            The Retzuos, the straps.

MANUFACTURE OF THE HIDE

Every pair of tefillin contains parts made of three different types of animal hide: the parchment on which the parshiyos are written; the thick hide from which the batim are manufactured; and the softer leather used for the retzuos.

The parchment, the hide and the leather used for making tefillin as well as other devarim she’bi’kedusha (holy items) must come from a kosher species, although not necessarily from an animal that was slaughtered in a kosher way (Shabbos 108a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:12).

Tefillin must be manufactured “lishma,” for the sake of the mitzvah. Practically speaking, this means that the beginning of each process should be performed by an observant Jew who declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:8).

Modern tanning of hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process. For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew lishma. Because of this, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide. This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. hand-made parchment and retzuos, which I will discuss later.

WRITING THE PARSHIYOS

Before starting to write, the sofer must state that he is writing these parshiyos for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (see Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Ch. 2; Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32). In addition, every time he writes any of the names of Hashem, he must first state that he is writing the name for kedushas Hashem. If he did not make these statements verbally, it is questionable whether the tefillin are kosher (see Rama, Orach Chaim 32:19; Rabbi Akiva Eiger comments on Shulchan Aruch 32:8).

The parshiyos must be written with meticulous care, since an error that affects the kashrus of a single letter invalidates the entire tefillin (Menachos 28a). Thus, if only one letter is missing or written incorrectly, the tefillin are posul and the person who wears these tefillin has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:23). Furthermore, all the brachos he recites on the tefillin are in vain.

Here are some examples of mistakes that can occur while writing tefillin:

If two letters touch one another, the tefillin are posul (Menachos 34a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:4).

The same thing is true if the sofer intended to write one letter and instead wrote something that looks like a different letter or does not meet the halachic requirements of how the letter must be written. For example, if a sofer intended to write the letter “zayin” and made it so long that it could be read as a “nun sofis,” the tefillin are invalid. Similarly, if the sofer intended to write the letter “reish” that is supposed to have a rounded upper right corner, and instead wrote it with a square corner, the tefillin are invalid.

Sometimes the letters of the parshiyos may seem perfect, and yet the tefillin are absolutely posul. For example, the letters written in tefillin (as well as sifrei Torah and mezuzos) must be written or formed directly. A letter cannot be formed indirectly by scratching off ink around the letter until only the letter remains. This halacha is called “chok tochos,” which literally means, “he hollowed out the inside.”

(The origin of this expression is from a case in the Gemara where a get was written by carving a piece of wood until the letters projected. This get is invalid since the letters of the get were not written but formed indirectly by removing the area around them. This does not fulfill the Torah’s requirement that a get be written [Gittin 20a]. “Writing” requires that the letters must be formed and not created indirectly.)

Similarly, if a sofer wrote the letter “dalet” instead of a “reish,” it is halachically invalid to erase the sharp corner of the “dalet” and form a “reish” (Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32, quoting Sefer HaTerumos). If someone did this, he has not written a “reish” but rather he formed a “reish” indirectly, and this is not considered “writing.” Any tefillin, sefer Torah or mezuzah made this way will be invalid (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:18).

If a sefer Torah was written through “chok tochos,” the letter can be erased and rewritten. However, if this problem occurs in tefillin or mezuzos, the parsha will usually be irreparable (Taz 32:16), and the parsha will have to be put into sheimos (genizah).

WHY CAN’T THIS MISTAKE BE CORRECTED?

Halacha requires that the parshiyos of tefillin and mezuzos be written in the order in which the words appear in the Torah (Rishonim, quoting Mechilta, end of Parshas Bo). This requirement is referred to as being written “kesidran,” in their proper sequence. For this reason, if a letter was skipped and filled in afterwards, the tefillin or mezuza is posul and cannot be corrected. Similarly, if a “reish” was mistakenly written as a “dalet,” and the problem was discovered after more letters were written, the parsha is posul, unless one erases all the letters written after the invalid “reish.”

The law of kesidran (in their proper sequence) applies only to tefillin and mezuzos. Sifrei Torah, megillos, and other holy writings do not have this rule; their letters may be written out of order. Therefore if some of their letters become posul, they can be corrected.

Thus, we see that when one purchases tefillin or mezuzos, one is dependent completely on the integrity of the sofer.

Here is another case where the buyer is completely dependent on the integrity of the sofer. After investing many hours writing a beautiful parsha, a sofer checks the parsha and discovers that one of its letters was written incorrectly in a way that might invalidate the parsha. He takes the parsha to his rav, who paskins that the parsha is indeed posul and cannot be rectified. If the sofer lacks integrity, what is to stop him from fixing the invalid letter so that it now appears a hundred percent kosher?

Fortunately, tefillin and mezuzos purchased from reputable sources should not have problems of dishonest practices like those just described. However, one should still try to find out about the sofer whose tefillin one’s son will be wearing. Although it is a difficult matter to check , one should at least attempt to ascertain whether the sofer appears to be a yarei Shamayim.

Furthermore, the sofer must be thoroughly familiar with the halachos of writing tefillin, or he will certainly produce posul tefillin. There are literally hundreds of ways that a non-knowledgeable sofer can write tefillin that will be invalid. Thus, when purchasing tefillin one should insist that the sofer who wrote them is knowledgeable in the halachos of safrus, and that he has up-to-date certification from a recognized organization or posek to be a sofer. Some of these organizations insist that the sofrim they certify take periodic, continuing examinations to ascertain that they are still competent in the halachos required for their profession.

When parents of a soon-to-be Bar-Mitzvah bochur begin researching purchasing tefillin for their son, they should be aware that looking for a “bargain” will sacrifice quality. Tefillin should be viewed as a long-term investment, since a good pair should last many decades. That means that buying a more mehudar pair of tefillin that costs perhaps $400 more than a minimally kosher pair will translate into spending approximately a nickel a day, if the tefillin are worn for the next thirty years. What other investment costs only a nickel a day?

A MODERN INNOVATION IN HALACHA

After the sofer finishes writing the tefillin parshiyos, he reads them over several times, and then they are checked by a specially trained examiner, or even better, by two trained examiners. In our era, the checking process has been tremendously enhanced by a modern innovation – computer-checking. The written parshiyos are scanned into a computer that has a program comparing the written parshiyos with the computer’s version. The computer checks for missing and extra letters and words, for poorly and mistakenly formed letters, for connected or cracked letters and for other errors.

Experience has proven that computers have an infinite attention span and never get distracted by boredom or exhaustion. (Of course, the computer’s proper performance depends on an alert operator.) It is common for computers to catch mistakes that humans overlook. There is a recorded instance of a pair of tefillin that was checked nine different times without discovering that a word was missing, until it underwent a computer check! When purchasing tefillin, one should insist that the parshiyos be computer checked.

However, one may not rely only on a computer check of the tefillin since, at present, computers cannot check for certain items such as proper spacing between letters and words.

It should be noted that neither the examiner nor the computer can detect certain problems that occur, such as letters written out of order and letters formed through “chok tochos” (scratching out or erasing to create letters, instead of writing). This is why the sofer’s yiras shamayim and his halachic knowledge are absolutely indispensable.

MANUFACTURE OF THE BATIM

Until now we have discussed the preparation of the parshiyos that go inside the batim of the tefillin. Now we will investigate the complicated process of making proper tefillin batim. The manufacturer of batim is generally referred to by the Yiddish term “batim macher.”

Several basic types of tefillin batim are manufactured. The highest quality batim are called “gasos,” large ones, because they are made out of the hide of mature (large) cattle. Their leather is high-quality and very durable. From the buyer’s perspective, these batim are well worth the higher cost. In addition to their superior durability, gasos batim have halachic advantages. Furthermore, they can be repaired easily if the tefillin are damaged. These are the type of batim purchased by people concerned about doing mitzvos properly.

ANOTHER MODERN INNOVATION

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively new development, made possible through the invention of the modern hydraulic press. Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the intricate shapes required for tefillin. Only today can tons of pressure be applied to the leather with a hydraulic press to produce the finest tefillin from the thick hide of gasos animals.

Gasos batim take several months to manufacture. Since the hide is very strong and tough, each step requires moistening it to make it malleable, forming it with the assistance of molds and a hydraulic press, and then allowing several weeks for the hide to dry.

Forming the separate sections of the tefillin shel rosh into four compartments is a delicate task. The hide must be bent and squeezed into separate compartments without tearing it. Although one internal tear does not invalidate the batim, more than one tear can render the bayis posul. For this and other reasons, one must be confident in the expertise, halachic knowledge and yiras shamayim of the batim macher.

THE SHIN OF THE SHEL ROSH

There is a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that the tefillin shel rosh must have the letter “shin” on each side, a normal three-headed shin on the right side of the wearer, and an unusual four-headed shin on the left side (Tosafos, Menachos 35a, quoting Shimusha Rabba; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). The commentaries cite many reasons why the left side of the tefillin must have a four-headed shin (see Smag, Smak, Beis Yosef, Bach). Some say that the four-headed shin is reminiscent of the letter shin as it appeared in the luchos. =Since the letters were carved through the stones of the luchos, the letter shin appeared to have four legs and heads (Taz 32:35).

There is a dispute among early poskim whether the shin on the tefillin can be made completely by molding it. According to the lenient opinions, one can simply take a mold, soften the leather, push the mold onto the bayis and press out the shin on the tefillin shel rosh (Or Zarua, quoted by Darkei Moshe 32:18; Beis Yosef). However, the accepted practice is to be machmir and form the letter in a direct way first (many Rishonim quoted by Beis Yosef; Magen Avraham 32:57). This is done by painstakingly picking and pulling the leather until a kosher shin has been directly formed by hand. Only after the shin has been formed to the point that it is a halachically kosher letter is the mold applied to enhance and beautify it. This is permitted, since the minimum halachic requirements of the letter “shin” have been already created manually and directly. It is worthwhile to clarify how the shin of the tefillin one purchases was manufactured.

The dispute whether the shin may be molded takes us back to a previous discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. As mentioned before, letters written for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get are invalid when written as chok tochos. If so, why do so many poskim rule that the shin of the side of the shel rosh may be created through a mold?

The answer is that the Torah never states that one must “write” a shin on the side of the tefillin. The halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai merely states that there must be a shin on the side of the tefillin, without specifying that the shin must be written there. Therefore, the lenient opinions contend that there is no requirement to “write” a shin on the tefillin, and it is sufficient for the shin to be made in any way, even through “chok tochos.” As mentioned above, the accepted practice is to form the shin first directly.

THE TEFILLIN MUST BE SQUARE

There is another halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that the tefillin must be perfectly square (Menachos 35a). The Rishonim dispute whether min haTorah both the bayis and the titura must be square, or only one of them. Since this matter is a controversy, and furthermore, since some opinions require that they must both be square, we rule that both the bayis and the titura must be perfectly square.

The width of the bayis must be the exact same measurement as its length, and there may be no nicks, indentations, or bulges that ruin its perfect squareness. The height of the tefillin does not need to be the same as the width and length (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1).

Similarly, the titura is shaped so that its length and width are equal.

In order to get the four compartments of the shel rosh to form a perfect square, many batim machers paste the sections of the bayis to one another to help them hold together. Although there is much halachic controversy about gluing the compartments together, many prominent poskim in earlier generations permitted it (such as Yeshuas Yaakov 32:24; Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim #5 [however cf. Vol. 6 #68]; Shu”t Beis Yitzchok, Orach Chaim 7:6; Daas Torah 32:40).

Other poskim permit gluing the compartments only if the paste is applied to less than half the height of the wall of the compartment and is not applied along the outside edges. However, since there are poskim who disapprove of using any paste, it is certainly a hiddur not to use any at all (Chayei Odom 14:4). These batim are referred to as “perudos ad hatefer ligamri,” which literally means, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura (which will be explained later).

Germane to this discussion is a well-known response from Rav Chaim Volozhiner. When asked whether pasting the compartments of the shel rosh together is permitted, he responded that he would not permit it, because the two gedolei hador of the previous generation, the Vilna Gaon and the Shaagas Aryeh, both contended that pasting the compartments invalidates the tefillin.

In earlier generations, when tefillin batim were made from much softer calf leather or even flimsier parchment, it was very difficult to make tefillin that would remain square if the compartments were not pasted together. However, today’s gasos batim are kept square through the stiffness of the hide and the pressure of the hydraulic press. Since the gasos batim are not dependent on paste to hold their shape, many contemporary poskim contend that one should refrain from placing any paste in the batim.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH GLUING THE COMPARTMENTS TOGETHER?

The problem is that the shel rosh is required to have four separate compartments, one for each parsha. The poskim who prohibit pasting the compartments contend that this makes them into one connected compartment, thus invalidating the tefillin. Those who are lenient contend that pasting the compartments together does not halachically make them into one compartment.

The compromise position contends that the compartments are considered separate if they are pasted less than half way up and the outside edge is clearly not connected. This makes the batim noticeably separate, which, they contend, is all that is required. One should ask his rav whether to request batim in which no paste was used at all.

At this point, the batim are almost ready; they still need painting, and need to have the parshiyos inserted. We have not yet discussed the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. These subjects can be found in part II of this article.

For What May I Pray?

Question #1:

“Rabbi, this is a very unfortunate and painful question. My grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and no longer recognizes us. Should we continue to pray that he recover?”

Question #2:

I received this question as an e-mail:

“Dear Rav: I have an extended family member who is, unfortunately, involved in spreading non-Torah ideas. Recently, he was diagnosed with cancer. May I pray for his recovery, knowing that if he recovers he will probably continue to influence people away from Torah?”

Question #3:

“I am a baal teshuvah. May I pray that my non-observant family members find their way to Torah?”

Introduction:

All three questions above revolve around the same halachic issue: The Mishnah (Brachos 54a) and the Gemara (Brachos 60a) rule that one may not recite a prayer in vain. The Mishnah rules that, for this reason, one may not pray for something that has already happened. The Mishnah’s example is that someone who hears of a tragedy occurring in a place where he has family should not pray that this tragedy did not affect them.

What else is included under the heading of a prayer in vain? Does praying for someone to recover from a medical condition that appears to be non-reversible qualify as praying in vain? Am I permitted to pray that something miraculous occur? Analyzing the issues involved not only provides a clear halachic perspective on our daily mitzvah to pray to Hashem, but also clarifies some important hashkafah issues.

The Sefer Chassidim

The earliest source that analyzes the questions I mentioned above is the Sefer Chassidim (#794):

“A person may not pray for something that is impossible under normal circumstances, for, although the Holy One, Blessed is He, could make it happen, one is not permitted to request something that is beyond the natural order of the world. It is therefore forbidden to pray that Hashem perform a miracle that changes the way the world normally functions.”

We see that we are not permitted to pray that Hashem perform miracles in order to influence and intervene in human matters. (We should note that some authorities contend that a person who has reached an elevated level of faith is permitted to pray for a miracle, but this subject is beyond the scope of this article.) It would seem to me that praying for the recovery of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s to the extent that he does not recognize his closest family members would qualify, according to the Sefer Chassidim, as a tefillas shav. Similarly, I have been told by highly reliable sources that the Chafetz Chayim did not pray for a refuah sheleimah for those smitten by cancer, since in his day the disease was incurable. (Today, when faced with an “incurable” cancer, one may pray that the researchers discover a cure quickly.) I know of great tzaddikim who, when asked to pray for people with incurable ailments, pray that Hashem treat the patient with mercy. One may also pray that the person’s condition not get worse (see Tosafos, Bechoros 38b s.v. Vesimaneich).

We will now examine a different case to see if it is considered a prayer in vain.

Chizkiyahu’s Prayer

Chizkiyahu, who was one of the most righteous and scholarly kings of all time, was severely ill and racked by pain when Yeshayahu the Prophet visited him. Yeshayahu had been commanded by Hashem to notify Chizkiyahu that he (Chizkiyahu) should inform his household of his final wishes, and that, furthermore, he would not merit Olam Haba. When Chizkiyahu asked why he was being punished so severely, Yeshayahu answered him, “Because you did not marry.”

To this, Chizkiyahu responded that he had not married because he knew through ruach hakodesh that he would have a son who would be very evil and cause many others to sin. His decision to remain single was completely for the sake of heaven — it was a tremendous personal sacrifice, made expressly to decrease the number of evildoers in the world. Notwithstanding his intention to increase Hashem’s honor, Yeshayahu told Chizkiyahu that he had no right to overrule the Torah’s commandment (Nefesh HaChayim 1:22). Yeshayahu explained that it is not our place to get involved in the secret ways in which Hashem runs His world – our job is merely to obey and fulfill His commandments, and Hashem does what He sees fit.

At this point, Chizkiyahu asked to marry Yeshayahu’s daughter, hoping that their combined merits might overturn the Divine decree that Chizkiyahu’s child would be evil. To this request, Yeshayahu responded: “It is too late. There is already a Divine decree that you will die.”

Chizkiyahu retorted: “Close up your prophecy and be gone! I have a mesorah from my grandfather, David HaMelech, that even if a sharp sword rests upon your neck, it is still not too late to pray” (Brachos 10a).

At this point, Chizkiyahu turned to the wall in prayer, and his prayers were heard. He was granted fifteen more years of life (Melachim II 20:1-6).

Analysis of the Dispute

We see that there was a halachic dispute between Yeshayahu and Chizkiyahu as to whether praying that a prophecy not be fulfilled is considered a prayer in vain. Yeshayahu may have held that since he had already received a prophetic verdict regarding Chizkiyahu’s prognosis, praying for a different outcome constituted a prayer in vain (see Tosafos, Moed Katan, 21a s.v. De’i). Alternatively, he may have held that this prophecy had the status of a gzar din she’yeish imo shavua, a heavenly decree accompanied by a heavenly oath, which can only be annulled by a prayer of the public (Rosh Hashanah 18a). Chizkiyahu held that the prophecy did not preclude the possibility that his prayer could be successful. Indeed, his prayer was answered. Thus, we see that although one may not pray for something that is clearly miraculous, one may pray for something that defies a prophecy, particularly if the prophecy is about a punishment, and the person has done teshuvah for the evil for which he was to be punished (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:4).

Praying for Sinners

At this point, I would like to address the second of our opening questions: May I pray for the recovery of someone who influences people to turn away from Torah? Although this may not seem as if it qualifies as a tefillas shav, we will soon see that it indeed may be.

Again, to answer this question, I will turn to a ruling of the Sefer Chassidim (#688):

“One should not pray for the recovery of someone who caused people to sin and is now ill. The same approach should be followed regarding someone who prevents the community from performing mitzvos. In addition, one should not pray that someone who caused many others to sin do teshuvah, if some of those people [those that he caused to sin] have already died, because the prayer will not help.”

The last part of this ruling seems a bit unusual. Why is the halachah whether I may pray for him dependent on whether some of the people that he influenced are dead?

The commentaries explain that this ruling of the Sefer Chassidim is based on the following Gemara:

Kol hamachati es harabim, ein maspikin beyado laasos teshuvah, whoever causes the public to sin is not given any opportunity to do teshuvah (Yoma 87a).

The Gemara explains that it is intolerable that the one who caused others to sin reach gan eden, while those whom he led into transgression languish in gehennom. To avoid this happening, Hashem will not assist someone to do teshuvah if the person caused the public to transgress.

The Sefer Chassidim rules that as long as all the misguided followers live, Hashem will assist their leader to do teshuvah, since his followers might join him on the proper path. Once some of his followers have died and have arrived in gehennom, Hashem will not assist him to teshuvah. It is therefore inappropriate at this point to pray that he find his way to Torah, since praying is asking Hashem to help, and Hashem will not help in this situation. However, the Sefer Chassidim adds: “One may pray that he stop causing others to sin.”

Only if he qualifies as an Intentional Sinner

Although the Sefer Chassidim prohibits praying that this evil leader do teshuvah, he attaches an important factor to this decision: “If he is influencing them because he is a shogeig [someone who violates the Torah because of ignorance, error or negligence – that is, he does not realize how grievous a sin he is committing], then one may pray that he recover from his illness.” The example that the Sefer Chassidim chooses for someone who is deemed to be shogeig is someone who has no tzadik, no righteous individual, near him to influence him as to how to return to Torah. “However, if he was reproved appropriately by a tzadik and ignored the reproof, he is considered to be someone who violates halachah intentionally.”

Based on the Sefer Chassidim, we can answer the second question raised above: “I have an extended family member, who is, unfortunately, involved in spreading non-Torah ideas. Recently, he was diagnosed with cancer. May I pray for his recovery, knowing that if he recovers, he will continue to influence people away from Torah?”

The answer is: if the family member qualifies as a shogeig, I can pray that he recover. If he qualifies as a meizid, one who is sinning intentionally, not only should I not pray that he recover, but, if some of those whom he influenced have died, I may not pray that he do teshuvah, according to the Sefer Chassidim, although this may be permitted according to others. In all instances, I can pray that he stop influencing people in a harmful way.

An Alternative Reading of the Text

It is important to note that our editions quote the Gemara (Yoma 87a) that is the basis of the Sefer Chassidim’s ruling with a slight textual variation that has profound halachic significance. Our version reads kol hamachati es harabim, kimat ein maspikin beyado laasos teshuvah, which translates as whoever causes the public to sin will be given almost no opportunity to do teshuvah. The text quoted by the Sefer Chassidim omits the word “kimat.” According to our text, it should be perfectly fine to pray that this evildoer do teshuvah, even though some of his followers have already died. Although Hashem will not provide him with the usual measure of assistance that He gives to help people do teshuvah, the person may still merit some assistance in his endeavors.

Praying that my Friend do Teshuvah

Rav Yonah Landsofer, a great halachic authority and kabbalist of early Seventeenth Century Prague, was asked the following question: A Jewish resident of Izmir, Turkey, had left the Jewish community and converted to a different religion, taking with him his young son. Could they pray that this apostate do teshuvah and return to Judaism? In his volume of responsa called Shu”t Me’il Tzedakah (#7), Rav Landsofer addresses this issue, first asking whether such a prayer qualifies as a tefillah in vain.

All is from Heaven, except…

The Me’il Tzedakah notes that Hashem declared that everything is under His control except for yiras shamayim, fear of Heaven, which He deliberately chose not to control so that people could earn reward – otherwise, there would be no reward and punishment in the world. To quote the Gemara:

“It is declared before each child is born whether it will be strong or weak, wise or foolish, wealthy or poor. But, it is not declared whether it will be evil or righteous, because everything is in Hashem’s hands, except for an individual’s fear of Heaven (Niddah 16b).”

Thus, the possibility exists that praying for a sinner to repent qualifies as a prayer in vain, since Hashem already decided that He would not interfere in man’s decisions.

So, we need to decide whether requesting that Hashem influence someone do to teshuvah means asking Hashem to do something that He has chosen not to do, which is the definition of a prayer in vain.

Removing one’s Free Choice

Notwithstanding the Gemara’s statement that it is not predetermined what direction in life a person will choose, the Me’il Tzedakah notes that Hashem may, and indeed does, take away free choice from people when He feels it is necessary. Among the several proofs he rallies to this conclusion is the verse in Mishlei (21:1), “The heart of a king is in the hands of Hashem,” which means that a king loses some of his free choice, although he does not realize it. (Isn’t it amazing how many people are eager to become president of the United States, although it means that they will lose some of their free choice!) Thus, praying that Hashem influence someone to do teshuvah does not qualify as a prayer in vain, even if I were to be praying that Hashem take away the person’s free choice in the process. Certainly, praying that he be exposed to positive influences that would encourage his involvement and return to Judaism does not constitute a tefillas shav. However, this might involve a different halachic issue:

A Second Reason

Based on this background, the Me’il Tzedakah asks whether praying that someone do teshuvah may not be correct for a different reason: Hashem has chosen to allow man to decide whether he should do good or evil, and my praying for someone to do teshuvah may be interfering with Hashem’s realm. He questions whether a person should ask Hashem for matters that do not affect him personally, since this may be getting involved in “the secrets of Hashem.” In other words, one should pray for things that affect one’s self, but whether someone else merits honoring Hashem is Hashem’s domain, and not a place for prayer.

For sure, a person should pray that Hashem help him keep the mitzvos — we have many such prayers. But, may one pray that someone else do teshuvah?

Rabbi Meir and Beruria

The Me’il Tzedakah notes that this discussion will depend on how we understand the famous dispute between Rabbi Meir and his wife, Beruria.

There was a group of troublemakers in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who were causing him great distress, and Rabbi Meir wanted to pray that they die. His wife, Beruria, said to him: “Why do you feel this way? Because the verse [Tehillim 104:35] says that chata’im should cease from the world? However [noted Beruria], the verse does not say chote’im, which clearly means sinners, but says chata’im, which can be interpreted to mean that which causes sin (that is, their yetzer hora). Furthermore (proceeded Beruria with her lesson), the continuing part of the verse reads, uresha’im od einam, and the evildoers no longer exist — if the sinners are destroyed, then there is no need for the verse to repeat itself and say that there are no evildoers. Instead, you should pray that they do teshuvah.” Indeed, Rabbi Meir prayed for them to do teshuvah, and they repented (Brachos 10a).

The Me’il Tzedakah contends that the troublemakers disturbing Rabbi Meir did so because they did not know Torah; had they known Torah, they would have behaved differently. In other words, they were not inherently evil, but misinformed, and it was, therefore, appropriate to pray that they discover the proper approach to Yiddishkeit, which would help them keep mitzvos. This is not considered a prayer in vain, since the people were inherently sincere, and would have sought to be yirei shamayim, had they known what that was.

The Me’il Tzedakah also offers another possibility for praying that Rabbi Meir’s adversaries do teshuvah, the fact that this takes away their free choice notwithstanding: because he was praying to help himself – after all, he was suffering from them, and therefore, he was entitled to pray that they do teshuvah to relieve his own suffering. This is not considered mixing into Hashem’s affairs, but praying for something that affects me.

In the context of this discussion, I think it is important to note that Rav Hirsch, in his commentary to Tehillim, explains the difference between chote’im and chata’im differently. Chote’im means people who sin occasionally, and this is something that will always be. Chata’im means those for whom sinning is part of their character. Dovid HaMelech is declaring that there should be no more people who sin, not as an occasional error or temptation, but as part of their lifestyle or temperament.

Chazon Ish’s approach

At this point, I should like to note that the Chazon Ish appears to disagree with the way the Me’il Tzedakah explains that Hashem does not decree whether someone do teshuvah. The Chazon Ish writes that, indeed, Hashem does not influence whether a person becomes a yarei shamayim or whether he does teshuvah unless someone prays on his or her behalf. However, when one person prays for another that another person do teshuvah, Hashem will help (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim page 256). Therefore, when one prays for another person whose behavior affects an innocent party, such as a sinful adult caring for an innocent child, Hashem will help in the child’s merit.

Praying for the Apostate

At this point, the Me’il Tzedakah returns to his original question: may one pray that someone who has chosen to live an evil life return to the Jewish fold? The Me’il Tzedakah presents two reasons why one may.

1. A parent may daven for his child to do teshuvah, because the parent suffers greatly; therefore, the parent is davening to Hashem, asking Him to alleviate his own suffering, which is permitted. Therefore, this apostate’s parents could pray for his return.

2. In the case at hand, the apostate had taken his son with him — a young child who would be raised bereft of contact with the Jewish community. One who feels anguish for the Shechinah because this young child will be raised outside of Yiddishkeit could pray for the child’s return. And if the most obvious way to return this child to Yiddishkeit would be through his father’s return, then one may pray that Hashem bring the father back to Yiddishkeit. This is not a prayer in vain, since sometimes Hashem will force someone to do teshuvah — as explained above.

The Eye of a Needle

The Me’il Tzedakah then quotes a prayer that he found, which he says was written with tremendous accuracy.  The prayer is for a chazzan to say privately prior to leading services on a fast day, similar to the prayers that our chazzanim recite prior to musaf on Yomim Nora’im. In these prayers, the chazzan notes that even the most stubborn evildoers occasionally feel remorse or doubt about what they are doing. The chazzan then asks Hashem to accept this sense of remorse as if these people are attempting the first steps toward teshuvah. If they are attempting to do teshuvah, then they will merit tremendous Divine assistance to repent, as we are aware of from the following, frequently-quoted Midrash.

“Hashem said to Israel: ‘My sons, merely open for me an opening to do teshuvah as large as the eye of a needle, and I will expand for you openings wide enough that wagons can drive through'” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:2).

The Me’il Tzedakah rallies proof that this is an acceptable prayer from the following Midrash:

“A person who sees a place where an idol was destroyed should recite the brocha: ‘She’akar avodas kochavim mei’artzeinu.’ He should then add: May it be Your will, Hashem Elokeinu, that you uproot it (idolatry) from all places, and bring back the hearts of those who worship it to serve You with a full heart.'”

The Midrash then asks: “Is this not considered praying on behalf of evildoers?” Rabbi Yochanan answered, “There is hope for the greatest sinners.”

The Me’il Tzedakah explains this Midrash to mean that even the greatest sinners may be returned to service of Hashem, and that it is always appropriate to pray that someone find his way back to Hashem. (He notes that his approach seems to disagree somewhat with that of the Sefer Chassidim.) Even the apostate who left the Jewish community of Izmir occasionally doubts the correctness of his new path, and one can pray that Hashem view this as a desire to do teshuvah and open the gates for him, helping him in his return.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, we see that both the Sefer Chassidim and the Me’il Tzedakah conclude that, under most circumstances, someone who feels tremendous grief over the evildoing of certain individuals may pray that Hashem do whatever is necessary to bring them to teshuvah.

Praying for a Rainy Day when Traveling to or from Eretz Yisroel in November

Whereas in chutz la’aretz ve’sein tal umatar (the prayer for rain added to the beracha of Boreich Aleinu in the weekday shmoneh esrei) is not recited until the evening of December Fifth (this year — the exact date varies), people in Eretz Yisroel began reciting this prayer on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, last Thursday night. This difference in practice leads to many interesting shaylos. Here are some examples: 

Question #1:

Yankel, who lives in New York, is in aveilos l”a for his father and tries to lead services at every opportunity. He will be visiting Eretz Yisroel during the month of November. Does he recite the prayer according to the Eretz Yisroel practice while there? Which version does he recite in his quiet shmoneh esrei? Perhaps he should not even lead services while he is there?

 

Question #2:

Does someone from chutz la’aretz who is currently attending Yeshiva or seminary in Eretz Yisroel recite ve’sein tal umatar according to the custom of Eretz Yisroel or according to the chutz la’aretz practice?

 

Question #3:

Reuven lives in Eretz Yisroel but is in chutz la’aretz on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Does he begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar while in chutz la’aretz, does he begin reciting it upon returning to Eretz Yisroel or does he wait until those in chutz la’aretz begin reciting it?

 

In order to explain the halachic issues involved in answering these shaylos, we must first explain why we begin requesting rain on different dates in Eretz Yisroel than we do in chutz la’aretz.

 

The Gemara (Taanis 10a) concludes that in Eretz Yisroel one begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas in Bavel one begins reciting it on the sixtieth day after the autumnal equinox. (The Gemara’s method for calculating the autumnal equinox is not based on the solar year but on a different calculation. The reason for this is beyond the scope of this article.) Someone who recites ve’sein tal umatar during the summer months in Eretz Yisroel must repeat the Shemoneh Esrei, since this request in the summer is inappropriate (Gemara Taanis 3b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 117:3).

 

WHY ARE THERE TWO DIFFERENT “RAIN DATES?”

 

Since Eretz Yisroel requires rain earlier than Bavel, Chazal instituted that the Jews in Eretz Yisroel begin requesting rain shortly after Sukkos. In Bavel, where it was better if it began raining later, reciting ve’sein tal umatar was delayed until later. This practice is followed in all of chutz la’aretz, even in places where rain is not seasonal, or where rain is needed earlier — although the precise reason why all of chutz la’aretz follows the practice of Bavel is uncertain (see Rashi and Rosh to Taanis 10a; Shu”t Rosh 4:10; Tur and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 117).

 

LOCAL CONDITIONS

 

If a certain city needs rain at a different time in the year, can they, or should they recite ve’sein tal umatar then? The Gemara (Taanis 14b) raises this question and cites the following story:

 

“The people of the city of Nineveh (in contemporary Iraq) sent the following shaylah to Rebbe: In our city we need rain even in the middle of the summer. Should we be treated like individuals, and request rain in the beracha of Shma Koleinu, or like a community and recite ve’sein tal umatar during the beracha of Boreich Aleinu? Rebbe responded that they are considered individuals and should request rain during the beracha of Shma Koleinu.”

This means that an individual or a city that needs rain during a different part of the year should recite ve’sein tal umatar during the beracha of Shma Koleinu, but not as part of Boreich Aleinu.

 

NATIONAL CONDITIONS

 

Is a country different from a city? In other words, if an entire country or a large region requires rain at a different time of the year, should its residents recite ve’sein tal umatar during the beracha of Boreich Aleinu? The Rosh raises this question and contends, at least in theory, that a country should recite ve’sein tal umatar in Boreich Aleinu. In his opinion, most of North America and Europe should recite ve’sein tal umatar during the summer months. Although we do not follow this approach, someone who recites ve’sein tal umatar at a time when his country requires rain should not repeat the Shmoneh Esrei, but should rely retroactively on the opinion of the Rosh (Shulchan Aruch and Rama 117:2). Similarly, someone who recited ve’sein tal umatar as part of Boreich Aleinu in error after the Seventh of MarCheshvan should not repeat Shmoneh Esrei afterwards, unless he lives in a country where rain is not necessary at this time (Birkei Yosef 117:3; cf. Shu”t Ohalei Yaakov #87 of Maharikash  who disagrees.). 

 

With this introduction, we can now begin to discuss the questions at hand. What should someone do if he lives in Eretz Yisroel, but is in chutz la’aretz, or vice versa, during the weeks when there is a difference in practice between the two places? As one can imagine, much halachic literature discusses this shaylah, although I am surprised to report that I found no discussion concerning this question dating back to the Rishonim. I found three early opinions, which I quote in chronological order:

 

Opinion #1.

The earliest opinion I found, that of the Maharikash (Shu”t Ohalei Yaakov #87) and the Radbaz (Shu”t #2055), discusses specifically an Eretz Yisroel resident who left his wife and children behind while traveling to chutz la’aretz. (In earlier generations, it was common that emissaries from the Eretz Yisroel communities traveled to chutz la’aretz for long periods of time to solicit funds. These poskim ruled that if the traveler left his family in Eretz Yisroel, he should begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, following the practice of Eretz Yisroel, regardless of whether he himself was then in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz. However, if he is single, or alternatively, if he is traveling with his family, then when he begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar depends on whether he will be gone for the entire rainy season. If he leaves Eretz Yisroel before the Seventh of MarCheshvan and intends to be gone until Pesach or later, then he recites ve’sein tal umatar according to the practice of chutz la’aretz. If he intends to return before Pesach, then he recites ve’sein tal umatar beginning on the Seventh of MarCheshvan even though he is in chutz la’aretz.

 

The key question here is, what is the criterion for determining when someone recites ve’sein tal umatar? These poskim contend that it depends on his personal need. If his immediate family is in Eretz Yisroel and therefore requires rain already on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, he begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar then, even though he himself is in chutz la’aretz. This is considered that he has a personal need for rain (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:102).

 

Opinion #2.

The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 117) quotes the previous opinion (of the Maharikash and the Radbaz) and disputes with them, contending that only one factor determines when the traveler begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar – how long he plans to stay abroad. If he left Eretz Yisroel intending to be away for at least a year, he should consider himself a resident of chutz la’aretz (for this purpose) and begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar in December. If he intends to stay less than a year, he should begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Furthermore, the Pri Chodosh states that whether one leaves one’s immediate family behind or not does not affect this halacha.

 

These two approaches disagree what determines when an individual recites ve’sein tal umatar. According to Opinion #1 (the Maharikash and the Radbaz), the main criterion is whether one has a personal need for rain as early as the Seventh of MarCheshvan. According to Opinion #2 (the Pri Chodosh), the issue is whether one is considered a resident of Eretz Yisroel or of chutz la’aretz.

 

According to this analysis of Opinion #2, a resident of chutz la’aretz who intends to spend a year in Eretz Yisroel begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas, if he intends to stay less than a year, he follows the practice of chutz la’aretz (Pri Megadim; Mishnah Berurah; cf. however Halichos Shelomoh Volume 1 8:28 pg. 107). However according to Opinion #1, he would being reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan if he or his family intend to spend any time during the rainy season in Eretz Yisroel. Thus, we already know some background to Question #2 above, concerning a yeshiva bachur or seminary student in Eretz Yisroel. According to Opinion #1, they should follow the Eretz Yisroel practice, whereas according to Opinion #2, they should follow the chutz la’aretz practice if they intend to stay for less than a year.

 

Opinion #3.

The Birkei Yosef quotes the two above-mentioned opinions and also other early poskim who follow a third approach, that the determining factor is where you are on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. (See also Shu”t Dvar Shmuel #323.) This approach implies that someone who is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan should begin praying for rain even though he intends to return to chutz la’aretz shortly, and that someone who is in chutz la’aretz on that date should not, even though he left his family in Eretz Yisroel.

 

Dvar Shmuel and Birkei Yosef explain that someone needs rain where he is, and it is not dependent on his residence. Birkei Yosef points out that if there is a severe drought where he is located, it does not make any difference whether he lives elsewhere; he will be a casualty of the lack of water. This was certainly true in earlier generations, when water supply was dependent on local wells. Even today, when water is supplied via piping from large reservoirs, this opinion would still rule that the halacha is determined by one’s current location, and not one’s permanent residence.

 

Opinion #3 (the Birkei Yosef’s approach) is fairly similar to that of Opinion #1 (the Maharikash and the Radbaz) in that both approaches see the determining factor to be temporary need and not permanent residency. However, these two opinions dispute several details, including what is the ruling of someone in chutz la’aretz whose family remains in Eretz Yisroel. According to Opinion #1, this person begins ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas Opinion #3 contends that he begins only when the other bnei chutz la’aretz do.

 

Why does Opinion #3 disregard his family being in Eretz Yisroel as a factor, whereas Opinion #1 is concerned with this fact? Birkei Yosef explains that praying for rain for one’s family when one is in chutz la’aretz is praying for an individual need, which one does in Shma Koleinu, not in Boreich Aleinu, since the rest of the community there has no need for rain. Opinion #1 presumably holds that praying for Eretz Yisroel when I am in chutz la’aretz is not considered praying for an individual, even though my reason to pray for rain in Eretz Yisroel is personal.

 

After analyzing these three conflicting opinions, how do we rule? Although the later poskim, such as the Mishnah Berurah, refer to these earlier sources, it is unclear how they conclude halachically. (See Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 6:38, which contains a careful analysis of the words of the Mishnah Berurah on this subject.) Thus, an individual should ask his Rav what to do in each case.

 

TRAVELING AND RETURNING

 

What does one do if he travels and returns within these days? Assuming that he began to recite ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan because he was in Eretz Yisroel (and he followed those opinions that rule this way, or he changed his plans), does he now stop reciting it upon his return to chutz la’aretz?

 

This question is raised by the Birkei Yosef (117:6), who rules that he continues reciting ve’sein tal umatar when he returns to chutz la’aretz.

 

What does one do if he is reciting ve’sein tal umatar, and the community is not, or vice versa — and he would like to lead the services? Birkei Yosef rules that he should not lead the communal services; however, if he forgot and did so, he should follow his own version in the quiet Shmoneh Esrei and the community’s version in the repetition (Birkei Yosef 117:8). However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach permitted him to lead the services, ruling that he follows the community’s practice in his public prayer, and his own in his private one (Halichos Shelomoh 5:21; note that according to Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:23, 29; 4:33 he should not lead the services.).

 

Let us now examine some of the shaylos we raised above:

 

Question #1:

Yankel, who lives in New York, would like to lead services when visiting Eretz Yisroel during the month of November.

 

According to all of the opinions involved, when davening privately Yankel should not recite ve’sein tal umatar until it is recited in chutz la’aretz, since he does not live in Eretz Yisroel, does not have immediate family living there, and was not there on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. As explained above, according to most opinions, he should not lead the services, since he is not reciting ve’sein tal umatar and the congregation is, whereas according to Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, he may lead the services. According to Birkei Yosef, if he is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, he should begin to recite ve’sein tal umatar then, since he now has a need for rain; he should continue to recite this prayer even when he returns to chutz la’aretz. However, in this case, when returning to chutz la’aretz, he should not lead services, according to most opinions, since he is reciting ve’sein tal umatar and they are not. If he forgot and led the services, he should recite ve’sein tal umatar in the quiet Shmoneh Esrei but not in the repetition.

 

According to the Pri Chodosh (Opinion #2 above), if he is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, he should not recite ve’sein tal umatar, since he lives in chutz la’aretz. Following this approach, he should not lead services when in Eretz Yisroel, but he may resume when he returns to chutz la’aretz.

 

Question #2:

Does someone attending Yeshiva or seminary in Eretz Yisroel, recite ve’sein tal umatar according to the custom of Eretz Yisroel or according to the chutz la’aretz practice?

 

The answer to this question will depend upon which of the above-quoted authorities one follows. According to Opinion #1 (the Maharikash, the Radbaz) and Opinion #3 (the Birkei Yosef), they should follow the practice of Eretz Yisroel, since they need the rain, while in Eretz Yisroel, even though they are not permanent Israeli residents. According to Opinion #2 (the Pri Chodosh), if they are staying for less than a year, they follow the practice of chutz la’aretz, whereas if they are staying longer they should begin reciting it from the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Several people have told me that Rav Elyashiv, shlit”a, rules that they should recite ve’sein tal umatar while they are in Eretz Yisroel, unless they intend to return before the end of the rainy season.

 

Question #3:

Reuven lives in Eretz Yisroel but is in chutz la’aretz on the Seventh of MarCheshvan (the day that in Eretz Yisroel they begin praying for rain). Does he begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar while in chutz la’aretz, does he wait until he returns to Eretz Yisroel, or does he follow the practice of those who live in chutz la’aretz?

 

According to Opinions # 1 and #2, he should follow the practice of those living in Eretz Yisroel, but for different reasons. According to Opinion #1, the reason is because he knows that he will return to Eretz Yisroel during the rainy season and therefore follows this approach. According to Opinion #2, since he left Eretz Yisroel for less than a year he is considered an Eretz Yisroel resident.

 

Although it would seem that the Birkei Yosef would hold that he should not recite ve’sein tal umatar until the bnei chutz la’aretz do, it is not absolutely clear that he would disagree with the other poskim in this case. One could explain that he only ruled that one follows the bnei chutz la’aretz if he is there for an extended trip, but not if he is there for only a few weeks that happen to coincide with the Seventh of MarCheshvan. For this reason, when someone recently asked me this shaylah, I ruled that he should follow the practice of those dwelling in Eretz Yisroel. Subsequently, I found this exact shaylah in Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer, (6:38) and was very happy to find that he ruled the same way I had. (However, Halichos Shelomoh 8:19 rules that he should recite ve’sein tal umatar in Shma Koleinu and not in Boreich Aleinu.)

 

CONCLUSION

 

Rashi (Breishis 2:5) points out that until Adam HaRishon appeared, there was no rain in the world. Rain fell and grasses sprouted only after Adam was created, understood that rain was necessary for the world, and prayed to Hashem for rain.  Whenever we pray for rain, we must always remember that the essence of prayer is drawing ourselves closer to Hashem.

 

 

Who Knows Thirteen? – Slichos

Question: What is the basis for the Selichos we recite before Rosh Hashanah and during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah?

 

Answer:

From the beginning of Selichos, continuing with the closing sentences of the haftarah we recite on Shabbos Shuva, and then again after Maftir Yonah, and climaxing with the Selichos we recite in ne’ilah, we repeatedly enumerate the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s kindness.

Why is the recital of the thirteen midos of Hashem’s mercy so important? Allow me to quote the relevant Talmudic passage:

Rabbi Yochanan said: “Were it not for the fact that the Torah itself wrote this, it would be impossible to say this. The Torah teaches that Hashem wrapped Himself in a talis like a chazzan and demonstrated to Moshe the order of prayer. Hashem told Moshe: ‘Whenever the Jews sin, they should perform this order and I will forgive them”‘ (Rosh Hashanah 17b).

Rabbi Yochanan noted that the anthropomorphism of his own statement is rather shocking, and without scriptural proof we would refrain from saying it. Nevertheless, the Torah compelled us to say that Hashem revealed to Moshe a means whereby we can be pardoned for our iniquities. According to the Maharal, Moshe asked Hashem to elucidate, to the extent that a human can comprehend, how Hashem deals with the world in mercy. Hashem did indeed enlighten Moshe, and this enabled him to implore that the Jewish people be forgiven, and taught him how to lead the Jews in their prayers (Chiddushei Agados, Rosh Hashanah 17b s.v. Melameid).

 

Source for Selichos

This, then, is the basis for Selichos. Indeed, it is not a takanah, but a custom; yet who would not avail himself of the opportunity to prepare early for this chance? To quote the Leket Yosher: Someone who goes to daven on the High Holidays and did not say Selichos in preparation can be compared to an individual who desires to approach the king with an urgent request, and manages to acquire the key to the king’s inner sanctum, but fails to arrange how he will enter the outer office. All his efforts are therefore completely in vain, because he failed to prepare himself adequately. This can be compared to someone moving to an unsettled area who installs a modern kitchen, expecting to be able to turn on the tap and produce water when there are no connecting water pipes!

 

A Word about Attributes

What exactly are the thirteen attributes? For that matter, can we attribute personality characteristics to Hashem?

Humans are not capable of understanding who Hashem is. The Torah requires that we understand that Hashem does not have moods (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:11). When we describe Hashem’s different attributes, we are explaining Hashem in a way that we as human beings will be able to comprehend Him, since we cannot comprehend Him in any other way (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:9). Thus, providing thirteen different attributes of Hashem’s mercy is simply a human way for us to appreciate more specifically and in a greater way what Hashem does and has done for us, and what is our responsibility to fulfill the mitzvah of being like Hashem, which I will explain shortly.

To quote Rabbeinu Bachyei: Although we no longer know how to beseech nor do we properly understand the power of the thirteen attributes, and how they connect to Hashem’s mercy, we still know that the attributes of mercy plead on our behalf, since this is what Hashem promised. Today when we are without a kohein gadol to atone for our sins and without a mizbei’ach on which to offer korbanos and no Beis Hamikdash in which to pray, we have left only our prayers and these thirteen attributes (Kad Hakemach, Kippurim 2).

 

Who Knows Thirteen?

To quote the Haggadah, I know thirteen! Thirteen are the attributes.

What are the thirteen midos?

The Torah says: Hashem, Hashem, Who is a merciful and gracious G-d, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. He preserves kindness for thousands of generations by forgiving sins whether they are intentional, rebellious or negligent; and He exonerates (Shemos 34:6-7).

There are many opinions among the halachic authorities exactly how to calculate the thirteen merciful attributes of Hashem. The most commonly quoted approach is that of Rabbeinu Tam, who includes each of the names of Hashem at the beginning as a separate attribute.

 

What do I do?

At this point, I want to return to the above-quoted Talmudic source of the Selichos and note an important point.

Hashem told Moshe: “Whenever the Jews sin, they should perform this order and I will forgive them.” The Hebrew word that I have translated as should perform this order is yaasu, which means that the Jews must do something, definitely more than just reciting the words. If all that is required is to read these words, the Gemara should have said simply: They should read these words. Obviously, action, which always speaks louder than words, is required to fulfill these instructions and accomplish automatic atonement.

What did the Gemara mean?

 

Emulate Hashem

To answer this question, we need to realize that the most important of the 613 mitzvos is the commandment to emulate Hashem. To quote the Gemara: Just as Hashem is gracious and merciful, so you should become gracious and merciful (Shabbos 133b). When Hashem told Moshe: Whenever the Jews perform this order I will forgive them, He meant that when we act towards one another with the same qualities of rachamim that Hashem does, He forgives us. Reciting the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s mercy is the first step towards making ourselves merciful people who emulate Hashem’s ways. Yaasu means learning to internalize these attributes by doing them, and thereby making ourselves G-dly people. “Doing” the thirteen attributes means not only understanding the absolutely incredible amount of tolerance that Hashem manifests, but also includes realizing how accepting we must be of people who annoy and harm us!

This sounds great in theory. What does it mean in practice?

Here are several examples, all taken from the sefer Tomer Devorah, to help us comprehend what our job is:

1. Whenever someone does something wrong, Hashem is always at that very moment providing all the needs of the offender. This is a tremendous amount of forbearance that Hashem demonstrates. Our mitzvah is to train ourselves to be this accepting of those who annoy and wrong us.

2. We should appreciate the extent to which Hashem considers the Jews to be His people; we should identify with the needs of each Jew on a corresponding level.

3. Hashem waits with infinite patience for the sinner to do teshuvah, always being confident in this person’s ability to repent and change, and continues to provide the sinner with all his needs. Similarly, we should not stand on ceremony to wait for someone who wronged us to apologize.

4. Hashem emphasizes the kindnesses that a person does, and continues to shower the person with good, while, in the interim, overlooking the sins a person has performed. Similarly, when I know that someone wronged me, but at the same time I have received chesed from him or her, I should ignore the fact that they wronged me – after all they have also helped me. The Tomer Devorah emphasizes specifically the chesed that one receives from one’s spouse, which should, without question, supplant any criticisms one has of him or her.

5. When a person does teshuva after sinning, Hashem loves him more than He loved him before he sinned. As the Gemara states: In a place where baalei teshuvah stand, full tzadikim are unable to stand. The parallel responsibility incumbent on a person to someone who wronged him is that when he sees that the person wants to makes amends, he should befriend and accept him at a greater level than he had previously.

 

Conclusion

We see that the recital of the thirteen attributes serves not only to help us appreciate all that Hashem does for us but also as a training ground to teach how we should constantly treat our fellowman.

 

Praying for a Rainy Day

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Whereas those living  in chutz la’aretz do not recite ve’sein tal umatar (the prayer for rain added to the bracha of Boreich Aleinu in the weekday shmoneh esrei) until the beginning of December, those living in Eretz Yisroel begin reciting this prayer on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. This difference in practice leads to many interesting shaylos:

Question #1:

Yankel, who lives in New York, is in aveilos l”a for his father and tries to lead services (colloquially often called “davening before the amud”) at every opportunity. He will be visiting Eretz Yisroel during the month of November. Does he recite the prayer according to the Eretz Yisroel practice while there? Which version does he recite in his quiet shmoneh esrei? Perhaps he should not even lead services while he is there?

Question #2:

Does someone attending Yeshiva or seminary in Eretz Yisroel recite ve’sein tal umatar according to the custom of Eretz Yisroel or according to the chutz la’aretz practice?

Question #3:

Reuven lives in Eretz Yisroel but is in chutz la’aretz on the Seventh of MarCheshvan (the day that in Eretz Yisroel they begin praying for rain). Does he begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar while in chutz la’aretz, does he wait until he returns to Eretz Yisroel to begin reciting it, or does he follow the practice of those who live in chutz la’aretz and not recite it until December?

In order to explain the halachic issues involved in answering these shaylos, we must first explain why we begin requesting rain on different dates in Eretz Yisroel than we do in chutz la’aretz.

The Gemara (Taanis 10a) concludes that in Eretz Yisroel one begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas in Bavel (where there was a large concentration of Jews) one begins reciting it on the sixtieth day after the autumnal equinox. (The Gemara’s method for calculating the autumnal equinox is based on what is called a sidereal year and differs from our familiar calculation, which is based on the solar year. The reason for this is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article.) Someone who recites ve’sein tal umatar during the summer months in Eretz Yisroel must repeat the Shemoneh Esrei since this request in the summer is inappropriate (Gemara Taanis 3b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 117:3).

WHY ARE THERE TWO DIFFERENT “RAIN DATES?”

Since Eretz Yisroel requires rain earlier than Bavel, Chazal instituted that the Jews there begin requesting rain shortly after Sukkos. In Bavel, where it was better if it began raining later, reciting ve’sein tal umatar was delayed until later. This practice is followed in all of chutz la’aretz, even in places where rain is not seasonal or where it is necessary to rain earlier — although the precise reason why all of chutz la’aretz follows the practice of Bavel is uncertain (see Rashi and Rosh to Taanis 10a; Shu”t Rosh 4:10; Tur and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 117).

LOCAL CONDITIONS

If a city’s residents need rain at a different time in the year, can they or should they recite ve’sein tal umatar then or not? The Gemara (Taanis 14b) raises this question and cites the following story:

“The people of the city of Nineveh (in contemporary Iraq) sent the following shaylah to Rebbe: In our city we need rain even in the middle of the summer. Should we be treated like individuals and request rain in the bracha of Shma Koleinu or like a community and recite ve’sein tal umatar during the bracha of Boreich Aleinu? Rebbe responded that they are considered individuals and should request rain during the bracha of Shma Koleinu.”

This means that an individual or a city that needs rain during a different part of the year should recite ve’sein tal umatar during the bracha of Shma Koleinu, but not as part of Boreich Aleinu.

NATIONAL CONDITIONS

Is a country different from a city? In other words, if an entire country or a large region requires rain at a different time of the year, should its residents recite ve’sein tal umatar during the bracha of Boreich Aleinu? The Rosh raises this question and contends, at least in theory, that residents of a country should recite ve’sein tal umatar in Boreich Aleinu during the season that it requires rain. In his opinion, most of North America and Europe should recite ve’sein tal umatar during the summer months. Although we do not follow this approach, someone who recites ve’sein tal umatar at a time when his country requires rain should not repeat the Shmoneh Esrei but should rely retroactively on the opinion of the Rosh (Shulchan Aruch and Rama 117:2). Similarly, someone who recited ve’sein tal umatar as part of Boreich Aleinu in error after the Seventh of MarCheshvan should not repeat Shmoneh Esrei afterwards unless he lives in a country where rain is not necessary at this time (Birkei Yosef 117:3; cf. Shu”t Ohalei Yaakov #87 of Maharikash who disagrees.).

With this introduction, we can now begin to analyze the questions at hand. What should someone do if he lives in Eretz Yisroel but is in chutz la’aretz, or vice versa, during the weeks when there is a difference in practice between the two places? As one can imagine, much halachic literature discusses this shaylah. I found three early opinions, which I quote in chronological order:

Opinion #1. The earliest opinion I found, that of the Maharikash (Shu”t Ohalei Yaakov #87) and the Radbaz (Shu”t #2055), discusses specifically an Eretz Yisroel resident who left his wife and children behind while traveling to chutz la’aretz. (In earlier generations, it was common that emissaries from the Eretz Yisroel communities traveled to chutz la’aretz to solicit funds.) These poskim ruled that if the traveler left his family in Eretz Yisroel, he should begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, following the practice of Eretz Yisroel, regardless of whether he himself was then in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz. If he is single, or alternatively, if he is traveling with his family, then when he begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar depends on whether he will be gone for the entire rainy season. If he leaves Eretz Yisroel before the Seventh of MarCheshvan and intends to be gone until Pesach or later, then he recites ve’sein tal umatar according to the practice of chutz la’aretz. If he intends to return before Pesach, then he recites ve’sein tal umatar beginning on the Seventh of MarCheshvan even though he is in chutz la’aretz.

The key question here is, what is the criterion for determining when someone recites ve’sein tal umatar? These poskim contend that it depends on his personal need. If his immediate family is in Eretz Yisroel and therefore requires rain already on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, he begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar then even though he himself is in chutz la’aretz. This is considered that he has a personal need for rain (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:102).

Opinion #2. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 117) quotes the previous opinion (of the Maharikash and the Radbaz) and disputes with them, contending that only one factor determines when the traveler begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar – how long he plans to stay abroad. If he left Eretz Yisroel intending to be away for at least a year, he should consider himself a resident of chutz la’aretz (for this purpose) and begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar in December. If he intends to stay less than a year, he should begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Furthermore, the Pri Chodosh states that whether one leaves one’s immediate family behind or not does not affect this halacha.

These two approaches disagree what determines when an individual recites ve’sein tal umatar. According to Opinion #1 (the Maharikash and the Radbaz), the main criterion is whether one has a personal need for rain as early as the Seventh of MarCheshvan. According to the Opinion #2 (the Pri Chodosh), the issue is whether one is considered a resident of Eretz Yisroel or of chutz la’aretz.

According to this analysis of Opinion #2, a resident of chutz la’aretz who intends to spend a year in Eretz Yisroel begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan whereas if he intends to stay less than a year he follows the practice of chutz la’aretz (Pri Megadim; Mishnah Berurah; cf. however Halichos Shelomoh 8:28 pg. 107). However according to Opinion #1, he would being reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan if he or his family intend to spend any time during the rainy season in Eretz Yisroel. Thus, we already know some background to Question #2 above concerning a yeshiva bachur or seminary student in Eretz Yisroel. According to Opinion #1, they should follow the Eretz Yisroel practice, whereas according to Opinion #2, they should follow the chutz la’aretz practice if they intend to stay for less than a year.

Opinion #3. The Birkei Yosef quotes the two above-mentioned opinions and also other early poskim who follow a third approach, that the determining factor is where you are on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. (See also Shu”t Dvar Shmuel #323.) This approach implies that someone who is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan should begin praying for rain even though he intends to return to chutz la’aretz shortly, and that someone who is in chutz la’aretz on that date should not, even though he left his family in Eretz Yisroel.

Dvar Shmuel and Birkei Yosef explain that someone needs rain where he is, and it is not dependent on his residence. Birkei Yosef points out that if there is a severe drought where he is located it does not make any difference whether he lives elsewhere; he will be a casualty of the lack of water. This was certainly true in earlier generations where water supply was dependent on local wells. Even today, when water is supplied via piping from large reservoirs, this opinion would seemingly still rule that the halacha is determined by where one is located, and not one’s residence.

Opinion #3 (the Birkei Yosef’s approach) is fairly similar to that of Opinion #1 (the Maharikash and the Radbaz) in that both approaches see the determining factor to be temporary need and not permanent residency. However, these two opinions dispute concerning several details, including what is the ruling of someone in chutz la’aretz whose family remains in Eretz Yisroel. According to Opinion #1, this person begins ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas Opinion #3 contends that he begins only when the other bnei chutz la’aretz do.

Why does Opinion #3 disregard his family being in Eretz Yisroel as a factor, whereas Opinion #1 is concerned? Birkei Yosef explains that praying for rain for one’s family when one is in chutz la’aretz is praying for an individual need, which is done in shma koleinu and not earlier in the shemoneh esrei since the rest of the community there has no need for rain. Opinion #1 presumably holds that praying for Eretz Yisroel when I am in chutz la’aretz is not considered praying for an individual even though my reason to pray for rain in Eretz Yisroel is personal.

After analyzing these three conflicting opinions, how do we rule? Although the later poskim, such as the Mishnah Berurah, refer to these earlier sources, it is unclear how they conclude halachically. (See Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 6:38, which contains a careful analysis of the words of the Mishnah Berurah on this subject.) Thus, an individual should ask his Rav what to do in each case.

TRAVELING AND RETURNING

What does one do if he travels and returns within these days? Assuming that he began to recite ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan because he was in Eretz Yisroel (and he followed those opinions that rule this way or he changed his plans), does he now stop reciting it upon his return to chutz la’aretz?

This question is raised by the Birkei Yosef (117:6), who rules that he continues reciting ve’sein tal umatar when he returns to chutz la’aretz.

What does one do if he is reciting ve’sein tal umatar and the community is not, or vice versa — and he would like to lead the services (“daven before the amud”)? Birkei Yosef rules that he should not lead the communal services; however, if he forgot and did so, he should follow his own version in the quiet Shmoneh Esrei and the community’s version in the repetition (Birkei Yosef 117:8). However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach permitted him to lead the services (Halichos Shelomoh 5:21; note that according to Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:23, 29; 4:33 he should not lead the services.).

Let us now examine some of the shaylos we raised above:

Question #1:

Yankel, who lives in New York, is in aveilos l”a for his father and tries to lead services (colloquially but inaccurately usually called “davening before the amud”) at every opportunity. He will be visiting Eretz Yisroel during the month of November. Does he recite the prayer according to the Eretz Yisroel practice while there? Which version does he recite in his quiet shmoneh esrei? Is he even permitted to lead services while he is there?

According to all of the opinions involved, when davening privately Yankel should not recite ve’sein tal umatar until it is recited in chutz la’aretz since he does not live in Eretz Yisroel, does not have immediate family living there, and was not there on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. As explained above, according to most opinions, he should not lead the services since he is not reciting ve’sein tal umatar and the congregation is, whereas according to Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach he may lead the services. According to Birkei Yosef, if he is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan he should begin to recite ve’sein tal umatar then since he now has a need for rain; he should continue to recite this prayer even when he returns to chutz la’aretz. However, in this case, when returning to chutz la’aretz he should not lead services according to most opinions since he is reciting ve’sein tal umatar and they are not. If he forgot and led the services, he should recite ve’sein tal umatar in the quiet Shmoneh Esrei but not in the repetition.

According to the Pri Chodosh (Opinion #2 above), if he is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan he should not recite ve’sein tal umatar since he lives in chutz la’aretz. Following this approach, he should not lead services when in Eretz Yisroel, but he may resume when he returns to chutz la’aretz.

Question #2:

Does someone attending Yeshiva or seminary in Eretz Yisroel who observes two days of Yom Tov recite ve’sein tal umatar according to the custom of Eretz Yisroel or according to the chutz la’aretz practice?

The answer to this question will depend on which of the above-quoted authorities one follows. According to Opinion #1 (the Maharikash, the Radbaz) and Opinion #3 (the Birkei Yosef), they should follow the practice of Eretz Yisroel since they need the rain while here even though they are not (yet) permanent Israeli residents. According to Opinion #2 (the Pri Chodosh), if they are staying for less than a year, they follow the practice of chutz la’aretz, whereas if they are staying longer they should begin reciting it from the Seventh of MarCheshvan.

Question #3:

Reuven lives in Eretz Yisroel but is in chutz la’aretz on the Seventh of MarCheshvan (the day that in Eretz Yisroel they begin praying for rain). Does he begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar while in chutz la’aretz, does he wait until he returns to Eretz Yisroel, or does he follow the practice of those who live in chutz la’aretz?

According to Opinions # 1 and #2, he should follow the practice of those living in Eretz Yisroel, but for different reasons. According to Opinion #1, the reason is because he knows that he will return to Eretz Yisroel during the rainy season and therefore follows this approach. According to Opinion #2, since he left Eretz Yisroel for less than a year he is considered an Eretz Yisroel resident.

Although it would seem that the Birkei Yosef would hold that he should not recite ve’sein tal umatar until the bnei chutz la’aretz do, it is not absolutely clear that he would disagree with the other poskim in this case. One could explain that he only ruled that one follows the bnei chutz la’aretz if he is there for an extended trip but not if he is there for only a few weeks that happen to coincide with the Seventh of MarCheshvan. For this reason, when someone recently asked me this shaylah, I ruled that he should follow the practice of those dwelling in Eretz Yisroel. Subsequently, I found this exact shaylah in Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (6:38) and was very happy to find that he ruled the same way I had. (However, Halichos Shelomoh 8:19 rules that he should recite ve’sein tal umatar in Shma Koleinu and not in Boreich Aleinu.)

Rashi (Breishis 2:5) points out that until Adam HaRishon appeared, there was no rain in the world. Rain fell and grasses sprouted only after Adam was created, understood that rain was necessary for the world, and prayed to Hashem for rain.  Whenever we pray for rain, we must always remember that the essence of prayer, and indeed the purpose for rain, is drawing ourselves closer to Hashem.

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