Is Swift the Way to Go?

newborn baby boyQuestion: The Early Birds

Avraham and Sorah Adler* are celebrating the bris of their firstborn son! Avraham knows that one should perform a bris as early in the morning as possible, and, therefore, he would like to schedule it for immediately after the “neitz” minyan, which begins the Shacharis Shemoneh Esrei exactly at sunrise. Sarah feels that she will have no difficulty having herself and the baby ready in time. However, the new grandparents feel that the bris should be scheduled later, so that more guests will arrive. Who is correct halachically?

Answer:

There is a principle of the Torah, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, that one should perform a mitzvah as soon as the opportunity arrives. To quote the Gemara: One may perform a bris milah any time during the day, but one should try to perform the mitzvah as soon as possible (Pesachim 4a). Thus, since the earliest time to make a bris milah is at sunrise, one should perform it as soon as one can.

As a source for the law of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara mentions that when Avraham Avinu was commanded to bring his son, Yitzchak, to the Akeidah, the Torah emphasizes that Avraham got up early in the morning to fulfill his mitzvah. We also find another Biblical source in which Dovid Hamelech lauds those who perform mitzvos at the first opportunity; I hurried and did not delay fulfilling Your commandments (Tehillim 119:60).

Our enthusiasm to carry out Hashem‘s commandments should manifest itself in a desire to perform mitzvos as immediately as possible. We should bear this in mind for every opportunity that presents itself, whether it be to perform a chesed or to fulfill one of the laws that we do not necessarily understand. As an example of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara requires one to check for chometz as soon as the evening of Erev Pesach begins, and not wait until later that night.

In a different article, we discussed whether it is more important halachically to perform a mitzvah in a more exemplary fashion, hiddur mitzvah, than to perform it earlier. Briefly put, most authorities contend that it is of greater importance to perform a mitzvah in a more exemplary fashion than to perform it earlier, whereas the Gra contends that performing the mitzvah earlier is preferable.

Berov Am Hadras Melech

We can now analyze the issues involved in our question: When should one schedule a bris? Should one schedule the bris at the first possible moment, because of the mitzvah of zerizus, or should one delay the bris in order to have a larger crowd attend, which is itself a halachic preference, called berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King. The question is whether berov am hadras melech is similar to performing a mitzvah in a mehudar way, and therefore is a reason to delay the bris so that more people can attend (according to the majority opinion that hiddur mitzvah is preferable to zerizus), or is it preferred to perform the mitzvah at the first opportunity?

Why should there be a difference?

Hiddur mitzvah means that there is an improvement in the quality of performance of this specific mitzvah, such as using a nicer sefer Torah, purchasing a more beautifully written mezuzah, or davening with greater concentration. Most opinions contend that it is preferable to perform a mitzvah in a more proper fashion than it is to fulfill observing the mitzvah earlier. However, berov am hadras melech does not change the quality of the actual mitzvah performed. The Bris Milah is not performed in a more meticulous fashion because more people attended. Having more people in attendance is a halachic preference, but it does not make the bris into a more mehudar mitzvah.

Zerizim Versus Berov Am Hadras Melech

Can we prove that one should delay performing a mitzvah in order to accomplish berov am hadras melech? It appears that we can.

The Mishnah teaches that Hallel is always recited immediately following Shacharis, whereas shofar blowing is performed before and during the Musaf davening. The Gemara asks why we make sure to recite Hallel early, yet we delay blowing shofar. The Gemara suggests that the reason that the shofar is blown during Musaf, and not during Shacharis, is because more people attend Musaf than Shacharis (sigh — I guess times have not changed) – thus, there is greater berov am hadras melech to blow shofar at Musaf than at Shacharis. The Gemara, however, counters that were this logic true and berov am hadras melech supersedes zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, why is it that Hallel is recited after Shacharis? Should not its correct place be after Musaf so that more people participate? Thus, the two rulings appear to contradict one another, the practice of Hallel implying that zerizim is preferred, and the practice of shofar implying that berov am hadras melech is. Obviously, this cannot possibly be! There must be a method whereby we resolve this contradiction.

The Gemara responds that the shofar is not blown until Musaf for a completely different, historical reason. At a certain point in history, the government prohibited the blowing of shofar and posted guards in the shuls during Shacharis; at that time, the point in davening when shofar was blown. The guards dispersed when they noted that the Jews were no longer blowing shofar in Shacharis. The Sages then instituted blowing shofar at Musaf, because by that time the government guards were gone (Rosh Hashanah 32b). Thus, the practice of blowing shofar around Musaf is because of exceptional circumstances unique to shofar that should not be applied elsewhere; otherwise, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos supersedes berov am hadras melech, not the other way around.

Review of the Rules

Based on all these points, we should prioritize our mitzvah performance in the following way:

  1. According to most authorities, hiddur mitzvah is the first choice. When one is certain that one will be able to perform the mitzvah later in a more mehudar fashion, one should delay in order to do so. An example of this is delaying kiddush levanah until motza’ei Shabbos. (According to the Gra, one should perform kiddush levanah at one’s first opportunity.)
  2. When delaying may result in missing the mitzvah altogether, one performs the mitzvah as soon as possible. The same is true if delaying the mitzvah for the hiddur may result in a long delay – we perform the mitzvah as soon as possible.
  3. Although having many people in attendance enhances the observance of the mitzvah, the idea of berov am hadras melech does not take precedence over performing the mitzvah earlier, and certainly is less important than performing the mitzvah in a more mehudar fashion.

When Should I Schedule the Bris?

We can now address the Adlers’ question. The authorities indeed conclude that one should not delay a bris in order to enable more people to attend. The preferred practice is to carry out a bris at the end of Shacharis. The original and favored practice is to perform it immediately after uva letziyon and before aleinu, such that all those who attended shul present for the bris, accomplishing both zerizin makdimim lemitzvos and berov am hadras melech (Shach, Yoreh Deah 265:24).

In this context, I want to share the words of the Aruch Hashulchan, who notes that when the Mishnah lists mitzvos that can be performed all day long, it omits mention of bris milah. To quote the Aruch Hashulchan:

It appears to me that this omission is intentional. The reason being that although other mitzvos should be performed as soon as possible, there is not as much concern about delaying the mitzvah slightly as there is in regard to mitzvas milah, which is the seal of the holy covenant. Since through this mitzvah the child enters sanctity, there is major concern not to delay…. We should therefore reprimand those who delay performing the mitzvah for several hours for inane reasons such as not all the invited guests have arrived…. Delaying the bris until the afternoon is very sinful (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 262:8).

The Aruch Hashulchan then proceeds to ask why we wait until after davening to perform the bris milah, to which he answers that davening includes several mitzvos, and since there are several mitzvos involved, davening should precede the bris milah.

Thus, Avraham and Sorah are correct that they should follow the precedent of their namesakes and perform their son’s bris as early in the day as they can. Although their parents are correct that, in general, one should try to perform a mitzvah in a way that many people can participate, this does not, however, preempt performing the mitzvah as swiftly as possible.

A Busy Mohel

Sometimes the bris needs to be delayed because the mohel one has chosen is not available earlier, due to other brisim he has to perform. I will leave it for a different time to discuss whether this provides sufficient reason to choose a different mohel, who is available as early as one wants to schedule the bris.

I would like to note that some yeshivos have rules when brisim can be scheduled, because the roshei yeshivah are concerned that the frequency with which brisim occur can result in many disruptions to the regular seder hayeshivah. It is certainly within the rosh hayeshivah’s prerogative to make such a rule. In my opinion, the bris should be immediately after Shacharis (in actuality immediately before Aleinu at the end of Shacharis), but the seudah should be scheduled for later in the day, when it is less disruptive to the sidrei hayeshivah.

In Conclusion

Our entire discussion revolves around whether and when it is important to perform a mitzvah without delay or if there are other mitzvah calculations that supersede the early performance of the mitzvah. The main point is that our attitude towards the performance of mitzvos should be one of enthusiasm – we are overjoyed with the opportunity to fulfill Hashem‘s commandments and therefore rush to perform His mitzvos as soon as we possibly can. This zeal must sometimes be tempered with a different type of passion — the desire to perform the mitzvah in an optimal way. It is wonderful that Jews share these two enthusiastic emotions and try to seek balance between them.

*The story is real, although the names have been changed to protect privacy.

 

The Special Mitzvah of Reciting Hallel

 

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

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

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

WHY DO WE RECITE THESE SPECIFIC VERSES?

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

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

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

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

WHY ARE PARTS OF THE HALLEL REPEATED?

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

WHY DO WE SPLIT A PASUK IN HALF?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN SHOULD ONE RECITE HALLEL?

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

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

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

MAY ONE LEAN WHILE RECITING HALLEL?

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

WHY IS HALLEL ON SUKKOS DIFFERENT FROM HALLEL ON PESACH?

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

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

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

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

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

HALLEL ON PURIM?

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

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

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

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

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

“HALF HALLEL”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORDERLY HALLEL

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

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

WOMEN AND HALLEL

Are women required to recite Hallel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question #1: Where?

Where is the bracha of Magen Avos first mentioned?

Question #2: What?

What is the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

Question #3: When?

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

Answer:

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

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

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

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

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

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

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

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

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

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

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

Do we recite Mei’ein Sheva on Yom Tov?

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

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

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

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

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

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

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

Thirteenth century zeal

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

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

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

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

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

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

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

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

Conclusion

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

The Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah

 

Reb Hershel, the chazan of the shul, decided to ask Rav Goldberg for a “chavrusah” to study the tefilos of Yomim Nora’im in greater depth.

“I understand the basic translation of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ‘Shemoneh Esrei’,” began Rav Hershel. “But, I would like to have a deeper comprehension of the tefilos and piyutim of the Yomim Nora’im davening.”

“Let us begin with the basic themes of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf,” began Rav Goldberg. “As you know, Rosh Hashanah is the only time we have a Shemoneh Esrei of nine berachos. Shabbos or Yom Tov Shemoneh Esrei has seven berachos: the three introductory berachos which are praises of Hashem, the middle beracha in which we mention the special sanctity of the day (kedushas hayom), and the regular, final three berachos. These final berachos are “Retzei,” which is a request that our prayers (and the offerings in the Beis Hamikdash) be accepted, Modim, in which we acknowledge the kindness Hashem performs for us daily, and the beracha for peace (Sim Shalom or Shalom Rav)

“On Rosh Hashanah we add four inserts to the three introductory berachos: Zachreinu is inserted in the first beracha, Mi chomocha av horachamim in the second, and we make two changes to the third beracha. We insert a lengthy prayer ‘U’vechein tein pachdecha’, and we close the berachaHamelech Hakodosh’ rather than ‘Ha’keil Hakodosh’. With the exception of Hamelech Hakodosh, none of the other changes is mentioned in the Gemara (Berachos 12b). This makes a difference in halacha.”

“I believe that one who omitted Hamelech Hakodosh must repeat Shemoneh Esrei,” observed Reb Hershel, “whereas someone who omitted any of the other inserts does not” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 582:1,5).

“Precisely. We paskin that any addition to the tefila not mentioned in the Gemara does not require repeating the tefila if it is omitted. Of these four additions, only Hamelech Hakodosh is mentioned in the Gemara (see also Mishnah Berurah 582:17). For the same reason, one does not repeat Shemoneh Esrei if he omitted U’chesov or Besefer that are added to the last berachos of the Shemoneh Esrei. You should know that there are Rishonim who paskin differently, contending that one must repeat Shemoneh Esrei when omitting any of these additions (R’I quoted by Tur). However, the accepted psak is as you mentioned.”

“There is much discussion among early poskim about adding Zachreinu to the first beracha,” continued Rav Goldberg. “Some of the Geonim were opposed to adding it to the davening (see Tur 582).”

“But what could be wrong with adding it?” asked Reb Hershel. “It’s a beautiful prayer, asking Hashem to grant a year of good life and write us into the Sefer HaChayim (the Book of Life).”

“The first three berachos of Shemoneh Esrei are intended to be praise of Hashem to set the tone for the rest of the davening. There are no requests of any type in the first three berachos. For this reason, Behag and other Geonim took issue with inserting any prayer into these berachos.”

“So why do we include it?” inquired Reb Hershel.

“Rav Hai Gaon and other Geonim contend that a prayer request that is for a public need may be recited during the first berachos. Therefore, they ruled that we recite Zachreinu in the first beracha and U’chesov and Besefer in the last berachos. Furthermore, a source for the practice is found in the following statement of Chazal: ‘Just as the conclusion of the (middle) beracha of Shemoneh Esrei is different on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so to the tefila itself is different. One does not mention (supplications) in the first three and the last three berachos of Shemoneh Esrei except on the two days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. Even on these days, it was permitted only with difficulty’ (Maseches Sofrim 19:8).

“Could you explain why we add such a lengthy insert to the third beracha, a beracha that rarely has anything added?” requested Reb Hershel.

“Yes,” replied the rav. “According to our minhag, this special insert, u’vechein tein pachdecha, is added to all the tefilos on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Indeed, some opinions contend that one should recite it even on the weekdays of the Aseres Yemei Teshuva (Tur 582). Of course, we do not follow this approach, and we recite it only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I personally feel a very close connection to this prayer, based on Klal Yisrael’s current situation.”

“Why is that?” asked Reb Hershel.

“Let us study the prayer. The prayer begins with three paragraphs, with an obvious progression. First, we ask Hashem to place His awe upon all the nations. The result is that all the peoples of the world will live in trepidation of Hashem’s existence and power. This is indeed somewhat unusual. We, the Jews, are asking Hashem to make all the nations of the world yirei Hashem — G-d fearing. We ask Him that they form a United Nations, whose sole purpose is to serve Hashem.”

“Why should we be concerned about whether the non-Jews are G-d fearing?”

“The purpose of the world is that Hashem’s presence should be so obvious that everyone fears Him. Anytime that this is not the case, Hashem’s presence is in Galus. We should feel tremendous loss as long as Hashem’s presence remains hidden. The seforim hakedoshim (holy writings) state that one should recite the words “galei kevod malchuscha,” “Reveal the glory of Your kingdom” with much emotion, ideally, bringing oneself to tears (Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avoda). This is because we realize how the world should appear, and how far it is from that point now.”

Rav Goldberg continued. “In the next paragraph, u’vechein tein kovod, we add to our previous request. Now that the entire world is completely united in Hashem’s service, we ask Him that His people and leaders be given a special place of honor. This would be the equivalent of the United Nations resolving that Jewish people have a special unique mission, and that the only true leaders are the Gedolei Yisrael. This is exactly what will happen when Moshiach comes and all the nations of the world voluntarily accept his authority.”

“I never thought of it that way,’ admitted Reb Hershel. “In light of current events, the possibility of this becoming the purpose of the organization sounds almost humorous.”

“Only because we fail to accept that Hashem’s salvation can come with the blink of an eye,” explained Rav Goldberg. “As evil as the nations of the world are, Hashem could bring them to teshuva in a moment. The nations would realize the error of their ways, and they would recognize that the Torah and the Jews represent the only goals that one should strive for. This is the first part of this prayer.”

“I can see why you identify so closely with this prayer,” responded Reb Hershel. “When we see how the Jews are treated so shabbily by the nations of the Earth, how Jewish blood has no value in the eyes of the world, and they have the chutzpah to judge us without any basis in human decency!”

“And all this can change in an instant,” replied the Rav. “In actuality, they are making the job easier for Hashem,”

“What do you mean?” asked Reb Hershel.

“The Gemara teaches that in the days of Moshiach, the nations of the world will claim that they have committed no evil and that all the good they did was for the benefit of the Jews. Hashem will prove them wrong and they will accept His judgment (Avodah Zarah 2b). But, based on their current activities, all that is necessary is to open the records and minutes of the United Nations. I can’t imagine what kind of defense they will offer!”

Rav Goldberg continued his explanation. “In the third paragraph, we pray that the tzadikim will celebrate the fact that Hashem’s presence in this world is so obvious, and that all evil will dissipate like smoke.”

“This theme repeats itself in the prayer of Aleinu,” continued the rav, “which we say daily, but figures significantly in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh Hashanah. We coronate Hashem and emphasize how different we are from the nations of the earth.”

“Is this why we ‘fall korim’ and kneel when reciting Aleinu on Rosh Hashanah, but not the rest of the year?” interjected Reb Hershel.

“Precisely,” replied the rav. “However, I want to point out that according to many poskim, there is a difference in custom between ‘falling korim’ at Aleinu on Rosh Hashanah and falling korim on Yom Kippur as part of the ‘Seder Avodah.’ When we ‘fall korim’ at Aleinu, we should place our knees on the floor and bow our heads, but not completely prostrate ourselves. Only on Yom Kippur do we prostrate ourselves completely, when we emulate what was done in the Beis Hamikdash. However, on Rosh Hashanah it is sufficient to demonstrate our total subservience to Hashem by kneeling and bowing. Other authorities contend that on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur one should bow completely prostrate.” (Each community should follow the psak of its rav or custom.)

“In the second part of Aleinu, Al kein Nekaveh,” continued the rav, “we express our hope that the entire world will also reach this recognition — similar to the message of u’vechein tein pachdecha.”

“But, Aleinu is part of Malchiyos, the fourth beracha of Musaf, whereas u’vechein tein pachdecha is part of Kedusha, the third beracha,” asked Reb Hershel. “Shouldn’t the entire theme be expressed in one place?”

“That is a very good question,” responded Rav Goldberg. “Let me explain. The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 32a) quotes a dispute whether Malchiyos is included in the beracha of kedusha (the third beracha) or the fourth beracha which emphasizes the sanctity of the day. Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri contends that Malchiyos is included in kedusha, because Hashem’s sanctity is manifest in His unique dominion (Aruch Laneir). Therefore, the appropriate place to discuss Malchiyos is together with kedusha. Rabbi Akiva rules that Malchiyos should be included with kedushas hayom, since it is the major theme of the day. Although we paskin that Malchiyos is included in the fourth beracha, this is not because we reject Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s concepts. We accept the idea that Hashem’s unique monarchy is a manifestation of his Kedusha. Therefore, we add u’vechein tein pachdecha to the beracha of Kedusha.”

The rav continued, “Returning to the insertion of the prayer of uvechein, the word uvechein reminds us of the words spoken by Esther as she entered King Achashveirosh’s inner chamber (Tur Orach Chayim 582). In the words of Megilas Esther, ‘u’vechein avo el hamelech asher lo kadas,’ – ‘And, with this I will approach the king, which is against the law.’ When we daven, there is an element of ‘lo kadas,’ against the law. If we were to measure our sinfulness, we would not be permitted to daven. We do not approach Hashem to pray on the basis of our own merit, because we are deficient. Rather, we pray only on the basis of Hashem’s kindness.

“Thus we compare our request to Esther’s statement, ‘And, with this I will approach the king, which is against the law.’ Esther acknowledged that she had no ‘right’ to pray. Yet, she did so, anyway. In the same vein, we ask Hashem to accept our tefilos, even though we have no claim that He should.”

“You mentioned the theme of Malchiyos and the three special berachos recited in Rosh Hashanah Musaf,” Reb Hershel began to ask. “What is the origin of this triple theme?”

The rav replied, “The Gemara states ‘Said the Holy One, blessed is He, ‘Recite before me on Rosh Hashanah Malchiyos, so that you will coronate me; Remembrances, so that you will be remembered before me for good; and with what? With the Shofar!’ (Rosh Hashanah 16a). Based on this source, Chazal established three special berachos in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei to observe these themes. In each berocha, we recite ten pesukim, three from Chumash, three from Kesuvim, three from Nevi’im and then a final concluding pasuk from Chumash. The ten pesukim recited as part of Malchiyos all reflect Hashem’s dominion, the ten of Zichronos all mention that He remembers and is concerned about what we do, and the ten of Shofaros all refer to the shofar. As one reads the pesukim of Malchiyos, one should think, ‘With these words I coronate Hashem as King.’ While reciting Zichronos one should acknowledge that all one’s deeds are recorded and reviewed by Hashem’s besdin (Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avodah). When reading the pesukim of Shofaros, one should think through all the wondrous events that have happened in Jewish history that were punctuated by the blowing of the shofar, including Akeidas Yitzchok, Matan Torah, the conquest of Yericho. We should yearn to hear the blowing of Shofar that will accompany the arrival of Moshiach. ‘Vehayah bayom hahu yitaka beshofar gadol,’ ‘And it will be, on that day, that the great shofar will be sounded.’”

“But, the last pasuk of Malchiyos is Shma Yisrael, which makes no mention of Hashem as king?” queried Reb Hershel.

Shma Yisrael is the ultimate coronation of Hashem as king. Parshas Shma is referred to by Chazal as the passage whereby one accepts kabalas ol malchus Shamayim, the yoke of the Kingship of Heaven (Mishnah, Berachos 13a). In the same vein, the Gemara states that one who has in mind that Hashem is King over everything above and below and all four directions of the world has satisfied the requirements of kavanah (Berachos 13b).

“I have a question,” asked Reb Hershel, “the specific tefilos that we say on Shabbos or Yom Tov are not required min haTorah. Even the poskim who rule that davening is a mitzvah min haTorah contend that only one tefila a day is min haTorah, and that the details of the requirements are only mi’derabanan. So, how can the Gemara state that Hashem said that we are to recite three themes of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, when the details of our tefilos are required only mi’derabanan?”

“You are raising a very important question,” replied the rav, “that was asked many hundreds of years ago. The Ritva (Rosh Hashanah 16a) asks why the Gemara says that ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said,’ when there is no commandment of the Torah to say Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.”

The rav continued, “Indeed, although there is no direct commandment in the Torah about Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, there is an indirect reference. Rashi (Bamidbar 10:10) derives from the verse, ‘And you shall blow the trumpets… and they will be for you a remembrance before your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d’ a reference to Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros. These references are called ‘asmachta,’ meaning that there is a hint in the pasuk, although it is not a mitzvah.”

The rav proceeded to explain, “Ritva explains that it is inaccurate to explain ‘asmachta’ as using a pasuk to remember a ruling Chazal introduced. Asmachta is a source for a practice that Hashem wants us to perform, although he did not require it. My Mashgiach, Rav Dovid Kronglas, zt”l, used to explain the difference between asmachta and mitzvah in the following way:

“A man is thirsty and wants his son to bring him a cup of water. There are two ways the man can convey this message to his son. He can ask him, ‘Please bring me a cup of water’ or he can tell him, ‘I am thirsty.’ In both instances, the son knows that he should bring his father a cup of water. In the first instance, the son was commanded to bring his father water, and, in the second instance, he was not. However, in both instances, a decent person brings a cup of water.

“Similarly, a mitzvah is similar to the first scenario described above, while an asmachta is similar to the second. The asmachta means that Hashem showed us in His Torah that He wants us to mention Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, and to internalize these messages. However, Hashem did not command us to do it. Chazal commanded us to recite these pesukim. Thus, although one who recites the Musaf is technically fulfilling a mitzvah mi’derabbanan, he is carrying out Hashem’s desires.”

“Therefore,” pointed out Reb Hershel, “one who davens the prayers of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros with proper emotion is fulfilling a very high level of Hashem’s mission for us on Rosh Hashanah.

“Thank you very much for your time, Rav Goldberg. I know that my tefilos will have more of a focus, based on a deeper understanding of the themes of the various parts of the tefila. I can only hope that I am a worthy representative for the congregation, and that our tefilos are accepted.”

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