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.

The Mitzvah of “Duchening” – Birchas Kohanim

The Mitzvah of “Duchening” – Birchas Kohanim

In Parshas Naso, the Torah teaches us about the beautiful mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim, wherein the kohanim are commanded to bless the people of Israel. This mitzvah is usually referred to by Ashkenazic Jews as “duchening” and by Sefardic Jews as Birchat Kohanim, or occasionally as Nesiyat Kapayim, which refers to the raising of the hands that the kohanim do in order to recite the blessings.

Why Is This Mitzvah Called Duchening?

Duchen is the Aramaic word for the platform that is in front of the Aron Kodesh. The duchen exists to remind us of the ulam, the antechamber that stood in front of the Kodesh and the Kodshei HaKodoshim, the holy chambers in the Beis HaMikdash. The Kodshei HaKodoshim was entered on only one day of the year, on Yom Kippur, and then only by the Kohen Gadol. The Kodesh was entered a few times daily but only to perform the mitzvos of the Menorah, the Golden Mizbayach (altar), and the Shulchan (the Holy Table that held the Lechem HaPanim). Before entering the Kodesh, one ascended into the Ulam as a sign of respect that one should not immediately enter the Kodesh.

Similarly, in our shuls the Aron Kodesh represents the Kodesh, since we are permitted to open it and to remove the sifrei torah when we need to. But before entering the Kodesh, one ascends the duchen as a sign of respect that one should not immediately each the Aron Kodesh.

 

The duchen also serves other functions, one of which is that the kohanim stand upon it when they recite the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. For this reason, this mitzvah is called duchening (duchenen in Yiddish). In the absence of a duchen, or if there are more kohanim in the shul than there is room for them on the duchen, the kohanimduchen” while standing on the floor in the front of the shul.

Basics of Duchening

There is a basic order to the duchening that occurs during the repetition of the shmoneh esray. When the chazan completes the brochah of modim and the congregation answers “amen” to his brocha, someone (either the chazan of a member of congregation, depending on minhag) then calls out “kohanim” to inform the kohanim that it is time for them to begin the brochah. The chazan then reads each word of the Birchas Kohanim that is recorded in the Torah (Bamidbar 6:24-26) for the kohanim to recite, and the kohanim respond. After each of the three brochahs are recited, the congregation responds “amen” to the brochah. Finally, after the last brochah of the birchas kohanim is completed by the kohanim, the chazan returns to the repetition of the shmoneh esray by reciting the brochah of sim shalom.

The Gemara and poskim teach us that at each of these stages, one must be careful not to recite one’s part before the previous step has been completed. Thus,

the person who calls out “kohanim,” must be careful not to do so before the congregation has finished answering “amen” to the chazan’s brochah; the kohanim should be careful not to recite the words of the brochah before the chazan has completed saying the word “kohanim”; the chazan may not call out “yivarechecha” before the congregation has completed saying “amen” to the brochah of the kohanim, etc. It is important to be mindful of these halachos and allow each stage to be completed before beginning the next. Unfortunately, even well-learned people are sometimes not sufficiently careful to wait until it is time for their part to be recited.

Wearing Shoes During Duchening

A kohen may not duchen while wearing shoes. The Gemara tells us that this was one of the nine takkanos that were instituted by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (Sotah 40a). Although there would seem to be an obvious association with the halacha that the kohanim performed the service in the Beis HaMikdash barefoot, the actual reason for this takkanah is more practical. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was concerned that a kohen’s shoelace would tear while he was on the way to the duchen. While stopping to retie his shoelace, the kohen would miss the duchening. However, people who saw that he missed the duchening would rumor that he is not a valid kohen and that is why he did not duchen! For this reason, chazal instituted that every kohen simply removes his shoes before duchening.

Wbat if the Chazan is a Kohen?

The mishnah states that when there is only one kohen in shul, and he is the chazan, then he may (and should) duchen (Berachos 34a). In this instance, the kohen will remove his shoes and wash his hands prior to beginning repetition of the shmoneh esray. There is a dispute among poskim whether a kohen may duchen when he is the chazan and there are other kohanim who will be duchening. Shulchan Aruch rules that he should not duchen under these circumstances, because of a concern that he will become confused where he is up to in the davening and have difficulty resuming his role as chazan (128:20). Chazal instituted this even when we are certain that the chazan will not become confused, such as today when he has a siddur in front of him (Mishneh Berurah 128:72).

However, the Pri Chodosh rules that he may duchen, and that the concern referred to by Shulchan Aruch was only when the chazan might become confused (such as he does not have a siddur to daven from). In most communities in Eretz Yisrael the custom is to follow the Pri Chodosh’s ruling allowing a kohen who is the chazan to duchen. However, in chutz la’aretz the practice is to follow the Shulchan Aruch and the chazan does not duchen (unless he is the only kohen).

In a situation where the chazan is the only kohen and there is a platform (the “duchen”) in front of the aron kodesh, there is a very interesting halacha that results. Since the duchening should take place on the platform, the kohen actually walks up in the middle of the shmoneh esray he is reciting as chazan in order to walk up to the duchen. After completing the duchening, he returns to his place as chazan and completes the repetition of the shmoneh esray.

The Minyan Disappeared

What do you do if you started davening with a minyan, but in the middle of davening some men left leaving you with less than a minyan? Can you still duchen?

If the minyan started the duchening with ten men or more, and then some men left in the middle of the duchening, they should complete the duchening (Biyur Halachah 128:1 s.v. bipachus).

What Happens if a Kohen Who Does Not Want to Duchen?

A kohen who does not want to duchen for some reason should stand outside the shul from before the time that the word “kohanim” is called out, until the duchening is completed.

The Days that We Duchen

The prevalent custom among sefardim and other edot hamizrach is to duchen every day. There are many Ashkenazic poskim who contend that Ashkenazim should also duchen every day. However, the standard practice in chutz la’aretz is that Ashkenazim duchen only on Yomim Tovim. In most of Eretz Yisroel, the prevalent practice is that Ashkenazim duchen every day. However, in Tzfas and much of the Galil the custom is that the kohanim duchen only on shabbos and Yom Tov.

Why do Ashkenazim duchen in Eretz Yisrael every day, and in Chutz La’Aretz only on Yom Tov?

Several reasons are cited to explain this practice. Rema explains that a person can only confer blessing when he is fully happy. Unfortunately, except for the Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are distracted from true happiness by the difficulties involved in obtaining basic daily needs. However, on Yomim Tovim the kohanim are in a mood of celebration. Thus, they forget their difficulties and can bless people with a complete heart (Rema 128:44; cf. Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Thus, only on Yom Tov do the kohanim duchen.

In Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to duchen daily because the Ashkenazim there followed the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. He contended that Ashkenazim everywhere should duchen every day.

Why do the kohanim in Tzfas duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

The reason for this custom is unclear. I was once told in the name of Rav Kaplan, the Rav of Tzfas for many decades, that since Tzfas had many tzoros over the years, including many serious earthquakes and frequent attacks by bandits, that the people living there did not have true simcha. However, they were able to achieve enough simcha on Shabbos to be able to duchen. This reason does not explain why the other communities in the Galil duchen only on Shabbos.

It should be noted that the Sefardim in Tzfas duchen every day, not only on Shabbos.

Taking off Shoes

Chazal instituted that a kohen should remove his shoes before duchening. Unfortunately, some kohanim leave their shoes lying around in the front of the shul when they go up to duchen. This practice is incorrect. The kohanim are required to place their shoes under the benches or in some other inconspicuous place when they go up to duchen. It shows a lack of kovod to leave the shoes lying about (Mishneh Berurah 128:15)

Washing Hands

In some shuls the Kohanim wash their hands in the front of the shul before they go up to duchen. What is the reason for this practice?

This custom has a source in Rishonim and Poskim and should definitely be encouraged  Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. kol) rules that one should wash one’s hands relatively near to the duchen. In Tosafos’ opinion, washing further from the duchen constitutes an interruption, a hefsek, similar to talking between washing netilas yodayim and making hamotzi on eating bread. (His actual ruling is that one should wash one’s hands within twenty-two amos of the duchen, which is a distance of less than forty feet.) Thus, according to Tosafos, we are required to place a sink within that distance of the duchen where the kohanim stand to duchen. Magen Avrohom rules like this Tosafos. Magen Avrohom adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzay, the chazan should recite the brochah of retzay speedily. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohen washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos (128:9). Thus, retzay must be recited in less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos. Biyur Halachah adds that the kohanim should not converse between the washing of their hands and the duchening because this also constitutes a hefsek.

Duchening and Dreams

A person who had a dream that requires interpretation, but does know whether the dream bodes well, should recite a prayer at the time of the duchening (Berachos 55b; Shulchan Aruch 130:1). It should be noted that the text of the prayer quoted by the Gemara is different from that quoted in the majority of siddurim. The Gemara cites the following text for this prayer:

“Master of the World, I am yours and my dreams are yours. I dreamed a dream that I do not know what it is- whether it is something I have dreamt about myself or it is something that my friends dreamt about me or whether it is something that I dreamt about them. If these dreams are indeed good, strengthen them like the dreams of Yosef. However, if the dreams need to be healed, heal them like Moshe healed the bitters waters of Marah and as Miriam was healed from her tzaraas and as Chizkiyahu was healed from his illness and as the waters on Yericho were healed by Elisha. Just as you changed the curse of Bilaam to a blessing, so to change all my dreams for goodness.” According to the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, this prayer should be recited at the end of all three blessings rather than reciting the “Yehi Ratzon” that is printed in most siddurim (Mishneh Berurah 130:5).

One should complete the prayer at the moment that the congregation answers Amen to the blessings of Birkas Kohanim. This prayer can be recited not only when one is uncertain of the interpretation of the dream but even when one knows that the dream bodes evil (Mishneh Berurah 130:4).

Among Ashkenazim in chutz la-aretz, where the practice is to duchen only on Yom

Tov, the custom is to recite this prayer every time one hears the duchening since there is a likelihood that since the last Yom Tov one had a dream that requires interpretation (Mishneh Berurah 130:1). This prayer is not recited on Shabbos unless one had a bad dream that night (Mishneh Berurah 130:4). In Eretz Yisrael, where the custom is to duchen daily, the practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the prayer for dreams at the last of the three berachos of the duchening at musaf on Yom Tov. The custom is that the kohanim chant the last word of the brochah on these days of on these days of Yom Tov to allow people sufficient time to recite these prayers.

In all places, the custom among Sefardim is not to recite the prayer unless the person had such a dream.

As a kohen myself, I find duchening to be the most beautiful of mitzvohs. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless the our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. The nusach of the bracha is also worth noting. “levarach es amo yisrael b’ahava”- to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohen must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

Proper Prayer Rejoinders, or To Brich or not to Brich

Yaakov, a relative newcomer to Yiddishkeit, visited a new community and davened each prayer at a different shul. He noticed that in each shul, the responses to Kaddish were different, which he found surprising. His rabbi explained to him the background.

When hearing Kaddish, we say “Amen” at several places in addition to saying the very important “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya”. (The poskim dispute whether one should also add “yisbarach to this sentence, the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 56:3] ruling that one should, and the Gr”a ruling that one should not.) In addition, Ashkenazim respond to the words, shmei dekudsha brich hu, His holy name, blessed is He, by repeating the Chazan’s words brich hu. (Nusach Sefard and Sefardim say Amen at this point.) However, most people do not realize how late this response of brich hu came into practice and also are not familiar with the halachos regarding it; many times one may not recite this response as it constitutes an interruption. The goal of this article is to explain both the historical background of brich hu, and when we should and should not recite it. We will also discuss when to respond to the other responses of the Kaddish.

The Gemara (Brachos 3a; Sotah 49a) mentions Kaddish and lays special emphasis on responding Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya with fervent feeling. The poskim accentuate the importance of not talking while someone is reciting Kaddish. One should pay careful attention to the recital of the Kaddish and know to which praise of Hashem one is responding (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 56:1).

CHRONICLE OF A RESPONSE

What exactly is brich hu?

The words brich hu, are Aramaic for “blessed be He,” and are a repetition of two of the words of the Kaddish just said by the chazzan at that point viyis’halal shmei dekudsha brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa ve’shirasa… da’amiran be’alma ve’imru amen, exalted be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He Who shall be praised… beyond all blessing and song… that are declared in the world. And respond: Amen.

When did responding brich hu become a standard part of davening? Surprising as this may seem, no early poskim mention a custom of responding with just these two words. The custom started about four hundred years ago when it was not unusual to find people responding at this point of Kaddish with a refrain similar to the one we recite. The Taz (Orach Chayim 56:3) reports a practice to accentuate the praise of Hashem by joining the Chazzan at the point when he reaches the words shmei dekudsha, His holy name, by accompanying him when he recites the three words brich hu li’eila, which means that the Congregation recited words that translate as Blessed is He above. The Taz condemns this practice harshly since these three words may imply an unintended blasphemous statement — that Hashem is blessed only above, but not below. Therefore, the Taz rules that one should continue by reciting the subsequent three words, thus resulting in the following praise, brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa, which translates as Blessed is He above all blessing. This clarifies one’s intent and removes any concern about blasphemy. However, contemporary Ashkenazic practice does not recite this elongated response, but instead reduces the response to the two words, brich hu, blessed be He, which also accomplishes praising Hashem with no hint of blasphemy. Some Hassidic circles indeed follow the advice of the Taz and recite brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa.

This explains the origin of the custom to recite brich hu to Kaddish. What we still do not know is when we may not recite it. Explaining these halachos requires some introduction.

BARUCH HU UVARUCH SHEMO

The response brich hu is similar to our response Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo, blessed is He and blessed is His name, which we recite upon hearing Hashem’s name articulated as part of a bracha. The first halachic authority to mention this practice is the Rosh about 800 years ago. The Tur (Orach Chayim 124) states, “I heard from my father [the Rosh] that every time he heard a bracha he would say Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo. He based this practice on the pasuk that states, “When I call Hashem’s name, bring forth greatness to our G-d” (Devorim 32:3), thus upon hearing Hashem’s name, one should add a praise of one’s own. The Rosh added another halachic source for this practice based on the following translation of the pasuk, “Remember a tzadik for blessing” (Mishlei 10:7). This verse teaches that even when mentioning the name of a righteous human being one should bless him; if so, one should certainly bless Hashem when mentioning His name.

Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 124:5) rules that one should respond Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo whenever one hears a bracha. Nevertheless, one may not answer this refrain during birchos keriyas shma or during pesukei dezimra (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishnah Berurah 124:21). Why not?

WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED WHILE RECITING THE BIRCHOS KERIYAS SHMA?

The part of davening following Borchu until the shmoneh esrei is called the birchos keriyas shma, because it consists of the brachos established by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah (the leaders of the Jewish people in the era of Ezra, Mordechai and Esther, during the period prior to and the beginning of the second Beis HaMikdash) before and after reciting Shma. The Mishnah (Brachos 13a) teaches that although usually one may not interrupt these brachos, certain circumstances warrant disrupting them. For example, one may greet an unfamiliar person if one suspects that the person may become angry if one does not welcome him (Bach and Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 66:2).

However, there is one place during this part of the davening that is so important that one should not interrupt unless it is a life-threatening emergency. This is while saying the pesukim of Shma Yisroel and Baruch shem kovod malchuso li’olam va’ed (Shulchan Aruch 66:1).

==It is not clear cut what the halacha is regarding responses to davening while one is davening. The Rishonim dispute whether one may respond to Borchu, to Kedusha, and Amen yehei shmei rabba to Kaddish during the birchos keriyas shma. The Rosh (Berachos 2:5) disputes with his rebbe, the Maharam Rotenberg, who prohibited this practice. Those who prohibited this practice contended that one may not interrupt the brachos of keriyas shma for the sake of a different praise, such as responding to Kaddish or Kedusha. Those who permitted held that responding appropriately to Hashem’s praises is no worse than responding to the greeting of a person, which is permitted under certain circumstances, as mentioned above.

The poskim conclude that one may answer the following responses while reciting the birchos keriyas shma:

A. “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya” in Kaddish.

B. “Amen” to the Chazzan’s da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, but not at the other places in Kaddish (Chayei Odom 20:4).

C. One answers “Boruch Hashem hamevorach la’olam va’ed” to Borchu, whether the Borchu before birchos keriyas shma or the one that precedes an aliyah (Magen Avraham 66:6).

D. “Kodosh kodosh…” and “Boruch kvod Hashem mimkomo” in Kedusha. However one should not respond to the other parts of Kedusha we traditionally say, even the sentence beginning Yimloch (Ateres Zekeinim).

E. “Amen” to the brachos of Ha’Keil Hakadosh and to Shma Koleinu (Rama 66:3).

F. The words “Modim anachnu Loch” recited in response to the Chazan’s saying Modim in the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 7b; Mishna Berurah 66:20).

HALLEL AND MEGILLAH

The Gemara (Brachos 14a) discusses whether the same rules that apply to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma also apply to the full Hallel and recital of the Megillah. The Gemara questions whether the rules governing the birchos keriyas shma should be stricter than those for Hallel and Megillah, since the requirement to recite keriyas shma is min haTorah, whereas the mitzvos of Hallel and Megillah are only rabbinic in origin. Alternatively, the Gemara suggests that since both Hallel and Megillah publicize miraculous events, perhaps the rules of interrupting them should be stricter. The Gemara concludes that we should treat the rules of birchos keriyas shma Hallel and Megillah the same. Thus, all the responses listed above are recited when one is in the middle of Birchos keriyas shma, Hallel, or hearing the Megillah.

The poskim debate whether someone holding in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma may respond amen when he hears someone recite the brachos before or after an aliyah. Magen Avraham (66:6) rules that one should recite Amen to these brachos, whereas the Pri Megadim questions this practice. The Mishna Berurah (66:18) concludes that he may recite amen if he is between two of the brachos, such as he has just completed “Yotzeir HaMeoros” or “HaMaariv Aravim.”

This dispute is based on an interesting story. Someone was once delayed in davening, and was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma when he was called up to the Torah for an aliyah. May he recite the brachos on the Torah even though it is an interruption in the middle of birchos keriyas shma?

The Sefer HaManhig ruled that he should accept the aliyah and recite the brachos (Tur 66). Not accepting an aliyah when one is called to the Torah is an insult to Hashem’s honor, and certainly Hashem deserves at least as much honor as the honored individual discussed earlier. Therefore reciting the brachos has the same status as greeting a person who deserves honor and may be recited during the birchos keriyas shma. The Magen Avraham apparently holds that answering amen to these brachos has the same halachic status as the Sefer HaManhig’s aliyah case and therefore one should recite this amen even in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. The Pri Megadim disputes with the Magen Avraham feeling that this amen is no different from amen to any other bracha.

However, the Rashba (Shu”t HaRashba 1:185) disagrees with the Sefer HaManhig’s conclusion, ruling that someone in the middle of this part of davening who is called to the Torah should not go up, but someone else should take his aliyah instead (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). The Shulchan Aruch (66:4) follows the latter opinion, whereas most other opinions rule that he should take the aliyah and recite the brachos, but be careful not to interrupt in any other way (Magen Avraham 66:8).

A THUNDERING BRACHA

The poskim also dispute whether he may recite the bracha on thunder while in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Magen Avraham 66:5 rules that one should, whereas the Bechor Shor (Brachos 13a) disagrees, contending that one should interrupt one praise of Hashem, the Shma, with another, the bracha on thunder. The Chayei Odom reaches a compromise, ruling that one should recite the bracha if he is between the brachos of keriyas shma, but not in the middle of a bracha. This last dispute remains unresolved (Mishna Berurah 66:19). Thus, if someone hears thunder while reciting Hallel or the birchos keriyas shma, or reading or hearing the Megillah, it is his choice whether to recite the bracha or not. He might want to ask his posek in advance what to do.

Although usually one should recite the bracha Asher Yatzar immediately after washing one’s hands when leaving the lavatory (see Shulchan Aruch 165:1), one should not recite it during birchos keriyas shma but should postpone its recital until after Shmoneh Esrei (Mishna Berurah 66:23). The same policy should follow during Hallel or Megillah; he should wait to recite Asher Yatzar until after Hallel and Megillah and their concluding brachos are completed.

The poskim dispute whether one may recite amen to a different bracha that one hears when he is between two brachos of birchos keriyas shma. Some contend that he may recite amen after hearing any bracha, since he is currently between brachos (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 66:7). Others contend that he may only recite amen to the bracha that he just recited, such as he heard the end of the bracha from the chazzan or from a different individual (Chayei Odom 20:4).

TALIS AND TEFILLIN

What if someone did not have talis and tefillin available before davening, and they become available during birchos keriyas shma? May he recite a bracha prior to donning them or does the bracha qualify as a hefsek during the brachos?

The Rishonim debate this issue. Rashi’s rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah indeed recited the bracha before donning both his talis and his tefillin, and brought proof to his actions from the Gemara (Brachos 14b):

The great Amora Rav once began reciting keriyas shma and its brachos without having tefillin. Immediately after he completed Shma, his messenger brought him the tefillin, so Rav immediately donned the tefillin prior to reciting Shmoneh Esrei, and presumably recited the bracha before putting on the tefillin even though he was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.

Similarly, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah reasoned that in a similar situation when he first received talis and tefillin immediately before Shmoneh Esrei he reasoned that he should recite the bracha before donning either one. Tosafos (ad loc.) however disagrees with Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah, reasoning that one is required to wear tefillin while davening and therefore donning them is a requirement of the tefillah. As such the bracha before also is not an interruption. However, one is not required to wear a talis during davening, and therefore the bracha before donning it should not preempt the laws of hefsek.

How do we conclude?

The Shulchan Aruch (66:2) rules like Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah that he should recite both the bracha on the talis and the bracha on the tefillin; this is the practice of the Sefardim. The Rama rules like Tosafos that he should only recite the bracha on the tefillin but not on the talis.

WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED DURING PESUKEI DEZIMRA?

The Anshei Keneses HaGedolah established that one should recite daily praises written by Dovid HaMelech at the beginning of davening (Zohar, Parshas Terumah). We introduce these passages of praise, Pesukei Dezimra, with the bracha of Baruch She’amar and conclude them with the bracha of Yishtabach. The bracha of Yishtabach does not begin with a bracha begins it is linked directly to the bracha of Baruch She’amar. Because these two brachos are linked, one may not interrupt between the two brachos for anything that is not part of the davening. For this reason, it is strictly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra (Tosafos, Brachos 46a s.v. kol; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4). Similarly, it is forbidden to answer Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo during this part of davening (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishna Berurah 124:21). Although it is appropriate to praise Hashem this way when His name is mentioned, one does not interrupt praising Him to do so.

Some poskim contend that interrupting Pesukei Dezimra is halachically equivalent to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma; according to this opinion, one who hears a bracha from someone else during Pesukei Dezimra may not answer Amen to the bracha (Mishkenos Yaakov #68). Other poskim contend that one may answer Amen to any bracha while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra, and even while in the middle of the bracha of Baruch She’amar (Magen Avraham 51:3). The consensus is that although it is clearly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra, answering Amen to any bracha is permitted. Furthermore if someone needs to recite Asher Yatzar, or to recite the bracha on thunder or lightning, one may do so during Pesukei Dezimra and one may certainly answer the responses listed above in Kaddish, Borchu and Kedusha during this part of davening (Mishna Berurah 51:8. Nevertheless, Chayei Odom [20:3] rules that one should not recite Asher Yatzar until after Shmoneh Esrei.). However, reciting brich hu during Pesukei Dezimra is similar to reciting Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo and constitutes an interruption during Pesukei Dezimra. Thus, although many people are unaware of this halacha, someone in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra when the chazzan begins reciting Kaddish may not answer brich hu to the Kaddish or to the amen at the beginning of Kaddish. On the other hand, although he should answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya and the amen at da’amiran be’alma. He may answer amen to the bracha of Yishtabach.

AFTER YISHTABACH

One may not interrupt between completing Yishtabach and beginning the next part of the tefillah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4), although if one needs to recite a bracha it is better to do so after completing Yishtabach before answering (or saying) Borchu then during the Pesukei Dezimra. For this reason, if someone did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, and they become available during davening (or if he must begin davening when it is too early to recite a bracha on them) he should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and then recite the brachos on them. Better to recite these brachos between Yishtabach and Borchu (or the beginning of the next bracha) then to do so afterwards.

WHEN MAY ONE NOT SAY BRICH HU

We have seen that although it is a mitzvah to recite baruch hu uvaruch shemo upon hearing Hashem’s name said as part of a bracha, one may only say it in a place where one may interrupt. One may not say these words when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not once he has begun the brachos after Borchu. Brich hu, which is of later origin, should be treated the same way. Therefore, one may not recite this refrain when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra or in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Thus someone who is lagging behind the tzibur and has not yet completed Yishtabach when the Chazan begins the Kaddish should answer Amen Yehei Shma Rabba..., and the amen at the completion of the Kaddish, but should not recite “Brich hu.” In addition, since the Amen at the end of “shmei rabba” (and in Nusach Sfard after “meshichei”) is only custom, he should not recite these either while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not while in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.

APPRECIATING KADDISH

For the many years Reb Zalman Estolin spent as a slave laborer in Soviet Siberia, he obviously had no minyan, nor any opportunity to answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba. Upon his redemption from the Soviet Union, he moved to Eretz Yisroel as an old, ill man. The very first morning in Eretz Yisroel, he arose early to walk to shul on his crutches, full with the excitement that he would be davening with a minyan for the first time in decades!

Two hours after davening should have been over, Reb Zalman had not yet returned to his host’s home. The concerned family sent someone to look for the older man, and discovered him sitting in the shul. When asked why he was still there, Reb Zalman answered, “When my minyan ended, another began. And then another. I just could not bear to miss the opportunity to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba one more time.” (Just One Word by Esther Stern.)

We should always be zocheh to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba with this type of enthusiasm!

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who often invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explaing that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have indeed been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice, certainly a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa] of this Gemaraattributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises over all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are also justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Gemara Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145 and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnamity. But could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great Nineteenth Century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man, he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’ it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are actually quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and therefore merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise, that halacha requires one to sing  it daily as if one personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still somehalachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later they were sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter 14). Thus, they are praises that are directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and at the same time they are beautiful praises that reflect on the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite them as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit it placing them closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether they are said as a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world are that man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this Ron replied : “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems from your description that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should be,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He had expected to receive an answer that he would not foresee; similar to Yosel’s other brilliant answers. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting hefound the rabbi more than accomodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag in all communities always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from most other members. His input as an “outsider” was happily accepted. And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also to Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.

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