Pas Yisroel and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

Question #1: Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

“Must I use pas Yisroel during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah?”

Question #2: Friendly Baker

“A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are getting together to make a surprise birthday party for one of the non-Jewish people on the block who has been incredibly helpful to us all. Since there are some frum people on the block, the party will be strictly kosher. One of the non-Jewish neighbors is a baker by trade and will be baking everything in one of the kosher houses. Is there any problem with his doing this, when the frum people are supplying all the ingredients?”

Question #3: Why Now?

Why are we discussing this topic before Rosh Hashanah?

Background

Pas Yisroel means bread baked by a Jew or with Jewish participation. The Mishnah teaches: The following items of a non-Jew are forbidden to be eaten, but are permitted for benefit: milk milked by a non-Jew without a Jew supervising; their bread and their oil, although Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil; and cooked items (Avodah Zarah 35b). Thus, we see that Chazal prohibited consumption of bread made by gentiles. This bread, commonly called pas akum, means bread made by a non-Jew, without Jewish involvement. Yet, we will soon see that there are many unusual and confusing rules governing when this bread is prohibited and when not. Aside from our need to know how to apply these laws, understanding the reasons will allow us to appreciate several other areas of both halachah and hashkafah, including how a takanas Chazal is made. Furthermore, we need to know how to apply these laws during the aseres yemei teshuvah, when they have special significance. So, let us roll up our sleeves to get deep into this doughy topic!

Takanas Chachamim

When Chazal implement a takanah prohibiting an item or activity, it is binding on all Jews and remains so, permanently. This means that, as a general rule, a takanah cannot later be annulled. However, there are some limited instances in which something prohibited because of a takanah can later be permitted.

There are two ways that a takanas chachamim may be rescinded, both of which require the decision of a major beis din of klal Yisroel with the power of the Sanhedrin. One instance is when the rescinding beis din consists of greater Torah scholars who have a larger following of disciples than did the original beis din that created the takanah. However, even this method of rescinding an earlier takanah does not apply to a list of takanos created by the disciples of Hillel and Shammai. To quote the Gemara, no later beis din could rescind these takanos, which are called The Eighteen Matters. (The details of this topic we will leave for a different time.)

The second situation in which a takanas chachamim may be rescinded is when the original takanah had not been accepted – meaning that it was not kept properly by the Jewish people. In the latter situation, since the takanah was not observed, the major beis din of klal Yisroel has the ability to withdraw the original takanah.

Basic background

With this initial background, we can now examine the history and the halachah of the takanah of pas akum. In the days of the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, when the Second Beis Hamikdash still stood, Chazal forbade eating pas akum – even when there are no kashrus concerns about the ingredients or the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). The reason for this enactment was to discourage social interaction that can lead to intermarriage.

We find a dispute among the rishonim whether the prohibition was limited to bread that gentiles baked or whether it included even dough prepared by a gentile that was then baked by a Jew. According to the Ran and the Tur, the prohibition of pas akum includes even when a non-Jew mixed or otherwise prepared dough that was then baked by a Jew. The logic is that the reason for the takanah could apply equally to bread in which the dough was prepared by a gentile, and furthermore, the Mishnah does not limit the prohibition to bread baked by a gentile, but states simply their bread.

Resolving this dispute directly impacts the second of our opening questions:

“A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are getting together to make a surprise birthday party for one of the non-Jewish people on the block who has been incredibly helpful to us all. Since there are some frum people on the block, the party will be strictly kosher. One of the non-Jewish neighbors is a baker by trade and will be baking everything in one of the kosher houses. Is there any problem with his doing this when the frum people are supplying all the ingredients?”

According to the Ran and the Tur, this bread would be prohibited, because it was prepared by a gentile, regardless of who baked it. However, notwithstanding their opinion, most authorities rule that pas akum is limited to bread baked by a gentile. Thus, as long as this bread is baked by a Jew, it will be kosher, regardless as to who mixed the dough and the ingredients. However, if the gentile neighbor baked the bread in a Jewish house without any Jewish participation, it is prohibited according to most authorities, even when all the ingredients are kosher.

Sometimes permitted?

We have seen that the Mishnah lists the prohibition of pas akum, and does not imply that this ban has any exceptions. Yet, we find passages in both the Talmud Bavli and in the Talmud Yerushalmi implying that the prohibition was not observed universally. Apparently, this was because bread is such a staple and, Jews often found themselves living in a place where there were no Jewish commercial bakeries; baking all one’s bread at home was impractical.

In the Bavli (Avodah Zarah 35b), we find the following:

Rav Kahana, quoting Rav Yochanan, said: “The prohibition of pas akum was not rescinded by beis din.” This statement implies that someone held that it was, and that Rabbi Yochanan, one of the greatest amora’im, is rejecting that approach. The Gemara then explains that, indeed, some people had, in error, understood that the prohibition of pas akum no longer applies.

To explain what happened, the Gemara shares with us some history: One time, while Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, the author of the Mishnah) was traveling, a non-Jewish person brought him a large, nice loaf of bread. Subsequently, Rebbe was heard to exclaim: “What a nice loaf of bread this is! What did Chazal see to prohibit it?”

Based on this comment, some people understood Rebbe’s comment to mean that the takanah of pas akum indeed no longer applied. Although more than a hundred years before Rebbe the disciples of Hillel and Shammai had prohibited it, they understood that Rebbe had rescinded the takanah, and, therefore, he mused why Chazal had once declared this bread to be prohibited. The Gemara concludes that the understanding of these people was erroneous. Rebbe’s comment was whimsical; he never intended to permit pas akum (Avodah Zarah 35b).

Yerushalmi versus Bavli

The just-quoted passage of Gemara Bavli implies that there is no heter to use pas akum. On the other hand, a passage in the Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 2:8) disputes this. There, it quotes an early statement to the effect that the laws concerning the prohibition of pas akum appear to be inconsistent. The Yerushalmi then suggests several possibilities to explain what inconsistency exists regarding the laws of pas akum. The Yerushalmi concludes that this is the inconsistency: In a place where pas Yisroel is available, one would assume that one is not permitted to use pas akum, yet one may.

It thus appears that we have discovered a dispute between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi, in which the Bavli ruled that pas akum is prohibited and the Yerushalmi ruled that it is permitted. If this is true, then we should rule according to the Bavli and prohibit all forms of pas akum.

Yet, the Rif, the major early halachic authority, cites both the passage of the Bavli and that of the Yerushalmi, implying that there is no disagreement between them.

Resolving the Rif

To explain how one early authority, the Rashba, resolves this difficulty, I will follow Jewish tradition by answering a question with a question. Although the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35b) ultimately rejects this conclusion, it had entertained the possibility that Rebbe rescinded the takanah of pas akum. Upon what halachic basis could Rebbe have been able been able to rescind a takanah? Since this takanah was created by the disciples of Hillel and Shamai, it cannot be abrogated by a later beis din. The only other possibility is that the takanah of pas akum had not been properly observed. Therefore, a later beis din could rescind the takanah. Thus, the conclusion of the Bavli implies that, although Rebbe didn’t rescind the takanah of pas akum, he could have, since it was not properly established.

At this point, we can explain what the Rif meant. There is no contradiction between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. The Bavli teaches two things:

  1. That the takanah of pas akum could have been rescinded.
  2. That Rebbe was not the one who did so, and that it was still valid in his time.

The Yerushalmi teaches that at some point after Rebbe, someone did, indeed, rescind the takanah to a certain degree (Rashba, quoted by Ran). The Ran himself explains that even the Bavli can be read in a way that it implies that the prohibition was rescinded.

To what extent?

Based on the Rif, we know that there was some rescinding of the takanah. Our next question is: To what extent was the prohibition rescinded?

Among the rishonim, we find various approaches defining to what extent the prohibition of pas akum was relaxed. Some contend that this depends on location – in some places the takanah was not initially accepted, and in these places Chazal relaxed the takanah to a greater extent than they did elsewhere.

However, even in places where the custom was to be lenient, not all pas akum was permitted. In all places, bread baked by a gentile for personal use and not for sale is prohibited. This bread is called pas baalei batim.

The dispute whether and to what extent one may be lenient concerns only bread baked for sale. This bread is called pas paltur, literally, bread baked for a merchant, and is sometimes permitted. To what extend it is permitted is the subject of a controversy that we will discuss shortly.

Invitation to the White House

The next case might be an application of this law: Someone receives an invitation to a meal at the White House that will be supervised, so that all the ingredients are kosher and the equipment is all brand new, special for the event. If the mashgiach did not participate in the baking of the breads, they might be prohibited because of pas baalei batim. (See a dispute about this matter in Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:2, 3, 6). This is because the bread was not baked for sale, but for the “personal use” of the residents of the White House and their guests.

When is pas paltur permitted?

Returning to our discussion, what conditions need to be met for pas paltur to be permitted? There is a wide range of opinion among halachic authorities. According to the Shulchan Aruch, one may use pas paltur whenever no Jewish bakery is available, even in a city with a sizable Jewish community. If pas Yisroel becomes available, then the pas paltur should not be used until the pas Yisroel is no longer available, even if the pas paltur has already been baked (Yoreh Deah 112:4).

Less tasty

The authorities disagree whether one may eat pas paltur even when there is a Jewish bakery, but the pas Yisroel is less tasty than the bread of the gentile (Tur). The Shulchan Aruch rules leniently that if the pas paltur is of better quality or is of a variety that is not available from a Yisroel, one may use it (Yoreh Deah 112:5).

A more lenient approach

The Rema is more lenient than either the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch, concluding that, where the custom is to permit pas paltur, one may consume it, even when pas Yisroel is available (Yoreh Deah 112:2). The Bach and the Gra follow the opinion of the Rema, whereas other opinions agree with the Shulchan Aruch and permit pas paltur only when pas Yisroel is not available and in a place where the custom is to be lenient (Shach). All of the above opinions agree that it is prohibited to use pas baalei batim, bread baked by a gentile for personal use (Yoreh Deah 112:7).

The prevalent approach among most hechsherim in North America is to follow the opinion of the Rema and permit pas paltur. As a rule of thumb, most Mehadrin hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel are strict and do not permit pas paltur.

When was it baked?

What is the defining factor determining whether bread is pas paltur or pas baalei batim? Is this determined by what was intended when the bread was baked, or what ultimately happens with the bread? For example, if a gentile baked bread to sell, but found no customer for it, and therefore kept it for himself, may a Jew eat this bread? Indeed, this is the subject of an early dispute, most halachic authorities contending that the defining factor is what was intended when the bread is baked. According to this approach, bread baked by a gentile for his own use who then decided to sell it is prohibited. On the other hand, if he baked the bread intending to sell it and then brought it home for his own use, it may be consumed (Toras Habayis 3:7). However, most authorities seem to conclude that when a gentile invited someone over to eat, it is forbidden to break bread with him, regardless as to whether it was originally baked for sale or not (Shach; Pri Toar).

Friendly baker

Here is an interesting ramification of our current discussion, slightly modified from one of our opening questions: “A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are making a strictly kosher party. One of the non-Jewish neighbors owns and operates a bakery that has a hechsher, but it is not pas Yisroel. Can he bring bread that was baked at his bakery for the party?”

According to most opinions, this bread is forbidden, since it was not baked for sale.

Jewish participation

The entire issue of whether and under what circumstances a Jew can eat bread baked by a non-Jew is problematic only when the entire baking procedure is done without any participation of a Jew. However, if a Jew increases the heat of the oven in any way, even by merely symbolically adding a splinter to the fire, the bread baked is considered pas Yisroel. The Rema furthermore states that if a Jew increased the fire once, and the oven was not turned off for twenty-four consecutive hours, then all the bread is considered pas Yisroel.

In a large, modern, industrial bakery, it is usually very easy to arrange that everything baked there should be pas Yisroel. Since these bakeries operate seven days a week, whenever the mashgiach visits, he needs simply to adjust upward the thermostat or dial until he sees that he has added fuel to the fire, and then return the dial to its setting. This will make the bread pas Yisroel for the foreseeable future. I have done this personally numerous times and so have many others.

The reason why this is not usually done is very simple: The consumer is not clamoring for it to be done, and the hechsherim follow the approach that pas paltur is permitted. If consumers would demand that the bread under hechsher be pas Yisroel, it all would be.

Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

We can now answer Questions #1 and #3 which we posed earlier. Notwithstanding the conclusion that, at least under certain circumstances, pas akum is permitted, several rishonim record that one should be stringent during the Ten Days of Repentance to use only pas Yisroel, even in a place where the custom is to be lenient and use pas paltur (for example, Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:14, at very end; Tur, Orach Chayim 603). This approach is quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 603) and all the later authorities. Those who rule leniently in allowing the use of pas paltur during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah rely on the opinions that in a large, commercial bakery, where the consumer does not know any of the workers, there is no halachic concern of pas akum. One should be aware that this heter is not mentioned by most authorities, and it is disputed by many who quote it (see Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:9). Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 3:26:6 rules that one may combine this heter with another heter that would be insufficient on its own.

In conclusion, according to predominant opinion, if a Jew participated in the heating of the oven, the bread is considered pas Yisroel. If no Jew participated in heating the oven, the pas paltur bread baked by a non-Jew may be used, according to the Shulchan Aruch, when there is no pas Yisroel of equal quality available. According to the Rema, in a place where the custom is to be lenient, one may use pas paltur, even if pas Yisroel is available, except during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding this particular prohibition, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins.

 

 

Who Knows Thirteen?

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 Shuvah, and then again after Maftir Yonah, and climaxing with the Selichos we recite in ne’ilah, we repeatedly enumerate or allude to the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s kindness. The words mi keil kamochaalso allude to 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 to a greater extent 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 commentaries and 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 (Tosafos, Rosh Hashanah 17b).

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 reading the 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 atonement. What does 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 should you 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 includes, also, 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 toward Hashem, at that very moment He provides all the needs of the offender. This is a tremendous amount of forbearance that Hashem demonstrates. Our mitzvah is to train ourselves to be accepting, to this great extent, 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 positive acts that a person does and continues to shower the person with good, while, in the interim, He overlooks 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 teshuvah after sinning, Hashem loves him more than He loved him before he sinned. As the Gemara states: In a place where baalei teshuvah stand, complete 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.

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.

Conclusion

My rosh yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Ruderman zt”l, asked, Why do Ashkenazim not begin reciting Selichos until at most eight days before Rosh Hashanah? The custom of the Sefardim, who begin reciting selichos at the beginning of Elul, seems to make more sense. After all, the entire month is specially designated for doing teshuvah.

His answer was that proper prayer requires hachanah, proper preparation. We need the beginning of Elul to get prepared for properly reciting the Selichos (Sichos Avodas Halevi pg. 264). Now that we understand how much of a responsibility we are assuming when we recite the thirteen midos of Hashem, we can appreciate better why we need several weeks of preparation before we begin reciting the Selichos.

 

Keeping My Feet Together

Many articles on various Rosh Hashanah topics are available for reading or downloading under the headings “Rosh Hashanah,” “Shofar” or “Tashlich.”

Keeping My Feet Together

Question #1: Proper posture

“The Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Hashanah is very long. Is it sufficient that I stand with my heels touching, or must my feet be side-by-side touching their entire length?”

Question #2: Standing straight

“Why do we keep our feet together during kedushah but not when responding to kaddish?”

Question #3: Kaddish together

“Is it required to have one’s feet together when reciting kaddish?”

Answer:

Fulfilling the mitzvah of davening requires that we observe many halachic details. The Rambam organizes these laws under two headings: essential and non-essential components. In Chapter 4 of Hilchos Tefillah, he lists five essential components of prayer, meaning the Shemoneh Esrei. These are:

1) Cleansing one’s hands before prayer

2) Having one’s body properly covered

3) Praying must be in a place that is clean and without inappropriate odor

4) Not davening when one senses bodily needs

5) Having basic, proper intent and focus

The Rambam calls these five requirements “essential,” which means that a prayer missing any of these qualities does not fulfill the mitzvah and one is required to recite it again. Someone who cannot meet these requirements is exempt from praying until he can meet them. Therefore, it is preferred that someone unable to fulfill the basics of these requirements miss the prayer rather than recite a tefillah that violates these laws. Many of these topics are available for reading or downloading on RabbiKaganoff.com

Non-essentials

In Chapter 5 of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam lists eight non-essential components of prayer, meaning that these are important aspects, but one fulfills the mitzvah to pray even if they are entirely missing. These eight aspects are:

  1. Standing during prayer
  2. Facing the Beis Hamikdash
  3. Correct positioning
  4. Appropriate attire
  5. Proper location
  6. Volume
  7. Bowing
  8. Prostrating

The Rambam notes that these requirements are not essential, and that, therefore, someone who failed or was unable to do them has fulfilled the mitzvah to daven. Furthermore, one who is unable to fulfill any of these aspects should daven anyway. Therefore, although davening while properly attired is very important, one who will be unable to dress appropriately should daven and observes this law only to the extent that he can under the circumstances.

Correct positioning

One article cannot cover all the laws of these rules, so here we will discuss one aspect of the requirement to position one’s body in a certain way. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) states the following aspects of positioning one’s body:

When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one’s feet should be together and alongside one another.

One’s eyes should be facing downward, yet his heart should be directed upward, as if he is standing in heaven.

One’s hands should be resting on one’s heart, with the right hand atop the left, standing in fear and awe like a servant before his master.

One should not place his hands on his hips.

As I mentioned above, although these factors are important components of proper prayer, they are not essential, and one who neglected to do them has fulfilled the requirement to pray (see Mishnah Berurah 95:1; Kaf Hachayim 95:2). Therefore, someone who cannot put his feet together should daven without his feet together, rather than not daven at all (Kaf Hachayim 95:3).

Feet together

The Rambam states: “When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one’s feet should be together and alongside one another.” The basis for this ruling is the Gemara (Brachos 10b) which mentions this requirement based on the following. In Yechezkel’s opening prophecy, he shares with us a vision of the heavenly courts, describing the feet of the angels as veragleihem regel yesharah, literally, “their feet were a straight foot” (Yechezkel 1:7). According to Targum and one interpretation of Rashi, the verse means that the angels stood in a way that their feet lay one alongside the other. The Gemara explains that when we daven we should also have our feet aligned, which Rashi explains to mean that one foot should be alongside the other so that they appear as one “foot.”

This passage of Gemara leaves one puzzled. Indeed, Yechezkel reports to us that the angels stood with their feet together. But why is a person who is praying required to emulate the position of the angels? Are we also required to pray while flying, as the angels sometimes do?

A simple approach

On a simple level, one could explain that standing with one’s feet together makes one feel somewhat vulnerable and therefore humble, and that this position allows one to fulfill davening with trepidation and humility (Levush, Orach Chayim 95:1). However, although this approach seems to supply a good reason for us to have our feet together when we pray, it does not seem to explain what the Gemara was saying since this has nothing to do with the fact that the angels stand this way.

The latter question is discussed by an early commentator, the Rashba (in his commentary to the Gemara Brachos), who writes the following:

“I was asked by someone who is an enemy of our people [probably someone trying to proselytize among the Jewish people]: Why do we keep our feet together when we pray, and what proof is being brought from the holy bearers of the divine chariot to someone praying?

“I responded as follows: ‘There are two major reasons for this. The first reason is that man’s body was created with limbs — his hands and legs — whose purpose is to enable him to reach and acquire what he wants and to distance himself from harm. The hands bring him items of pleasure, push away from him harmful items, and are what he uses against his enemy in warfare. His feet move him great distances in a very short time, and enable him to escape from harm.

“It is essential to prayer that a person realize that none of these abilities are man’s own activities and they will not save him without G-d’s help. Everything is dependent on G-d’s will. In order to entrench this idea in one’s soul, one must place one’s feet together when praying, to symbolize that his feet are completely bound and paralyzed. They are without any ability to flee from danger. This forces man to realize that all his abilities of locomotion are only because G-d helps him.” This reason is quoted by the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 95 in the name of a much later authority, the Mahari Abohav.

The Rashba continues: “The same is true with one’s hands. The Gemara teaches that in times of difficulty, Rava would fold his arms when he prayed… This position demonstrates that it is as if one’s arms are bound and one is without help except for Hashem.”

The Rashba then adds: “There is another reason why we assume the position of the angels when we pray: The human species, whose purpose is to recognize the Creator and to praise He who created man from nothing, has a specific responsibility to serve G-d and to keep His commandments. Man is an angel, an emissary, placed on earth, just as the celestial angels serve and recognize their Creator. Mankind can therefore be called malach” (as he is in Malachi 2:7), which means G-d’s messenger. Thus, the Rashba explains that placing one’s feet together, whether performed by man or by angels, demonstrates a lack of ability, thereby recognizing that all our strength at all times comes from Hashem. We are also showing that we are, indeed, comparable to angels, since we are fulfilling G-d’s mission on Earth. To quote the Zohar (parshas Pinchas #229), “The Holy One, blessed is He, said: Those who pray with their feet together like the angels, I will open the gates of the Sanctuary for them to enter.”

There is yet another reason why we pray with our feet touching, side-by-side, which is that when we are talking to Hashem, it is essential that we be fully and exclusively focused. This places us on the levels of the angels who are always focused exclusively on their Divine mission.

Is regel a foot?

After explaining why we pray in a position similar to that of the angels, the Rashba adds: “You should realize that the word regel has a double meaning, for it means not only the foot but it also means cause (as in Bereishis 33:14 and 30:30). According to this interpretation, the verse in Yechezkel 1:7, veragleihem regel yesharah, should be translated as their cause is a straight cause, meaning that the angels consistently follow the path of truth.

“In this manner, someone standing and praying before Hashem must abandon thoughts of himself, and focus completely on the prayer he is reciting. Concentrating all his energies on this goal develops him such that everything he does, all the time, should be only for the purpose of strengthening his body in order to serve Hashem. Placing his legs together demonstrates having a straightforward cause directed toward the purpose for which he was created — to serve G-d. For this reason, man can be compared to the chariot that bears Hashem’s presence into the world.”

Should the front of the toes be separated?

Having established the basis for the practice that one’s feet should be together when reciting shemoneh esrei, we find a discussion in the rishonim whether the feet should be slightly separated in front. Rabbeinu Yonah quotes some who hold that the tips of both feet should not touch, so that it appears like a calf’s foot with its split hooves. Rabbeinu Yonah disputes this, saying that the requirement is only that the feet be together like one foot — there is no mention of making one’s feet look like a split hoof.

Nevertheless, we still find a dispute among early acharonim whether one should lechatchilah stand with a slight split at the front of one’s toes or not. The Olas Tamid writes that this is preferred. However, the Yeshuos Yaakov disagrees, contending that one should not have one’s feet slightly separate. He notes that the angels cover their feet that look like those of a calf so as not to be reminiscent of the eigel hazahav, the Golden Calf. Therefore, we should deliberately not have our feet look like this, reasons the Yeshuos Yaakov.

The Yerushalmi

Having quoted the passage of the Talmud Bavli that explains how we should stand when we pray, we should be aware that there is also a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) regarding this issue. There, the Yerushalmi quotes a dispute between Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Simon, one of whom held the same opinion as the Bavli that one should daven with one’s feet pressed together and the other holding that, when davening, one should assume the position that the kohanim did when walking in the Beis Hamikdash. There, the kohanim took very small steps such that the big toe of one foot was next to the heel of the other when they walked.

Since in a dispute between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi we rule according to the Bavli, it would appear that the dispute recorded by the Yerushalmi is halachically irrelevant. The commentaries are thus surprised to note that the Tur quotes the Yerushalmi, leading the Beis Yosef and the other commentaries to question why the Tur does so. Many answers are proposed to explain the Tur’s position. I will quote here two of them, whose answers yield halachic ramifications.

The Bach explains as follows: In his opinion, halachah requires that one daven with one’s feet in one of the two positions advocated by the Yerushalmi. The Bach contends that if one’s feet are in neither of these positions one has not fulfilled the requirements of prayer. The Tur agrees that it is preferable to place one’s feet alongside one another, since we rule as the Bavli does. However, he quotes the Yerushalmi because someone who failed to position his feet in either of these positions is required to daven again. Furthermore, someone who cannot align his feet alongside one another should position them so that the toe of one foot is alongside the heel of the other. Thus, although we follow the ruling of the Bavli that one should daven with the two feet alongside one another, it is also important to know the conclusion of the Yerushalmi, which is why the Tur included this information.

Several authorities note that, according to this approach, the Tur’s interpretation of the topic has him in dispute with the Rambam’s ruling, quoted above, that positioning is never essential to prayer, and that one fulfills the mitzvah of davening with one’s feet in any position. Since they see no evidence that such a dispute exists, they are reticent to create one on this basis and instead suggest other approaches to resolve why the Tur quoted the Yerushalmi. Notwithstanding this conclusion, some authorities opine that someone who davened with his feet apart should daven a voluntary prayer (called a tefilas nedavah), to make certain that he fulfilled the mitzvah (Olas Tamid). Later authorities reject this approach and rule that one should assume that he fulfilled the mitzvah (Kaf Hachayim).

Another approach

The Aruch Hashulchan suggests a different explanation why the Tur presented the Yerushalmi’s discussion. He explains that the Tur wants us to realize that someone who is unable to have his feet together for whatever reason, but who can assume the alternative position of having his toe touching his heel, should daven in the latter position. According to this approach, everyone accepts that these rules are all only lechatchilah and that one who davened with his feet in a completely different position has fulfilled the mitzvah, bedi’evid, after the fact.

Sitting with your feet together?

Is someone who must pray from a sitting position, either because of health reasons or because of travel, required to daven with his feet together? The Pri Megadim rules that he should still keep his feet together while davening. He further explains that someone who must daven while sitting should not lean backwards or to the sides while praying, and should also be careful not to stretch or cross his legs while davening, because these positions all convey an air of conceit.

All or nothing?

At this point, let us refer to the first question with which I opened our article: “The Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Hashanah is very long. Is it sufficient that I stand with my heels touching, or must my feet be side-by-side touching their entire length?”

From what we have seen, it is clear that the proper position for davening is to have one’s feet side-by-side and touching their entire length.

Kedushah

At this point, let us address the remaining of our opening questions:

“Why do we stand with our feet together during kedushah but not when responding to kaddish?”

“Is it required to have one’s feet together when reciting kaddish?”

By way of introduction, let me quote a discussion from a late rishon, the Terumas Hadeshen (#28). He quotes the following question:

“Should an individual align his feet when he responds to the chazzan’s kedushah?”

To which he answers, “It appears to me that he should, since the prayer states, We shall sanctify his name just as they sanctify His Name in the highest heavens, and in the heavens they recite the kedushah with a ‘straight foot,’ as the verse reads ‘their feet were a straight foot.’ We should attempt to act like the angels to the best of our ability; there is neither conceit nor foolishness in our doing so. Indeed, this is the proper way to act.” This answer of the Terumas Hadeshen is quoted subsequently by all the authorities, and is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 95:4).

Borchu

Although none of the reasons mentioned above applies to reciting Borchu, that is, we are not trying to compare ourselves to angels, nor is it the ultimate prayer; nevertheless, the custom is that Borchu is recited with one’s feet together. This custom is recorded by some late authorities (Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, one should align one’s feet when reciting Borchu. However, since there is no halachic source that requires reciting Borchu with one’s feet together, one should not admonish someone who recites Borchu with his feet apart.

Kaddish

I have found no early source that requires one to have one’s feet together while reciting kaddish. Although it is standard practice that people recite kaddish with their feet together, since there does not appear to be an early halachic source for this practice, one should not admonish someone who fails to do so.

Conclusion

Understanding how much Chazal were concerned about the relatively minor aspects of davening, such as how we position our feet, should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven, and from these three prayers we gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day.

 

How to Eat before Hearing Shofar

There are several articles on the website germane to different of our observances of Rosh Hashanah, which can be located there under the search words Shofar, Rosh Hashanah or Tashlich. Wishing everyone a kesivah vachasimah tovah, and a happy and healthy year to you and your loved ones.

 

Question:

slice of cake“I find it extremely difficult not to eat until the completion of Rosh Hashanah davening, and I understand that many Yeshivos make kiddush before blowing shofar. May I introduce this practice in my shul?”

Answer:

Before we discuss whether one may eat before hearing the shofar blowing, we must first analyze the issue of eating before performing any other mitzvah.

Regarding someone who returns home after a long day at work, the Gemara states: Our Sages built a fence to protect their words, so that a person should not return from the field in the evening and say, ‘I’ll eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little, and then recite kerias shma and pray,’ because we are concerned that sleep will overtake him, resulting in his sleeping the entire night without fulfilling his mitzvos. Instead, someone returning in the evening from the field should enter the Beis HaKenesses. If he usually studies Tanach, he should do so. If he usually studies Mishnah, he should do so. Then he should read kerias shma and pray.” (Nowadays, we refer to “reading kerias shma and praying” as “davening maariv.”) Only then should he go home to eat supper (Brachos 4b).

It would appear that Chazal prohibited eating, drinking and sleeping before performing the mitzvos one is obliged to fulfill. To determine whether this is relevant to the mitzvah of shofar, we need to resolve a few questions:

All or nothing?

The Taz asks: The Gemara says that he should not say, “I’ll eat a little, drink a little and sleep a little,” before first davening maariv. Did our Sages prohibit only performing all three, or did they prohibit any one of the three? If they, indeed, prohibited only all three, the prohibition reported by this Gemara would not apply unless someone planned to nap, eat and drink before hearing the shofar. On the other hand, if they prohibited any of the three, one may not eat or even drink before davening maariv, and we will need to discuss the ramifications  of the prohibition to eat or drink before hearing the shofar.

The Taz concludes that the Gemara prohibited doing any one of these three activities before fulfilling the mitzvah. His reasoning is that one may certainly not sleep for even a few minutes without first davening maariv, lest he fall asleep for the night and not fulfill his mitzvos. Thus, sleeping even “a little” must be prohibited before reciting shma and davening. If so, this implies that it is also prohibited to “eat a little” even if one does not drink or sleep, or to “drink a little” even if one does not eat or sleep (Taz, Orach Chayim 235:3).

Furthermore, based on another discussion that is beyond the scope of this article, the Shulchan Aruch rules that one may not begin eating even a half hour before the time for davening maariv begins. If it is already a half hour before the time for davening maariv, one must wait until the time of maariv arrives, then daven, and only then is it permitted to eat (Orach Chayim 235:2). Although the Taz disagrees, the consensus of late authorities accepts the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Mishnah Berurah 235:18.)

Despite the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion that one may not eat prior to davening maariv, many authorities permit this, if one always davens maariv at a specific minyan or if someone is available to remind him to daven (see Magen Avraham 235:4; Mishnah Berurah 235:18). Others permit eating before davening maariv if one sets an alarm clock as a reminder.

Time for a good snack?

In a situation when one may not eat or drink before davening maariv, what eating or drinking is prohibited? Does this prohibition include even eating a snack, or does it only apply to a meal?

The wording of the Gemara, “a person should not return in the evening and say, ‘I’ll eat a little, drink a little,’” implies that even a small snack is prohibited, and this is indeed the opinion of some early authorities (Terumas HaDeshen #109). However, the consensus of later authorities is to follow the opinion of the Tur (Orach Chayim 235), who permits snacking before maariv, and prohibits only eating a meal (Magen Avraham 235:4).

One man’s snack is another’s meal

Now that we have distinguished between eating a snack, which is permitted, and eating a meal, which is not, we need to define our categories. At what point does the permitted snack become a forbidden meal?

To answer this question we will borrow from a related halachic discussion. The Mishnah rules that during Sukkos one is required to eat his meals in a sukkah, but casual (arai) eating and drinking is permitted outside the sukkah (Sukkah 25a). How does one define what is arai and what is not? The Mishnah and the Gemara conclude that eating up to a kebeitzah (the size of an egg) of bread or mezonos does not require a sukkah, but that one may not eat more than a kebeitzah of bread outside a sukkah (Sukkah 26b – 27a).

Since the Gemara holds that up to a kebeitzah of bread or mezonos is a snack that does not require a sukkah, the halachic authorities rule that this amount may be eaten before maariv (Mishnah Berurah 235:16; see also Shulchan Aruch 232:3).

The halachic authorities compare sukkah to maariv in yet another way. Just as one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit or vegetables outside the sukkah, since this is always considered eating arai (Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Orach Chayim 639:2), one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit or vegetables prior to davening maariv, since this qualifies as a snack and not a meal (see Magen Avraham 235:4).

BEVERAGE VERSUS FRUIT

This leads us to a basic question: If one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit and vegetables outside the sukkah and before davening maariv, why is one limited in how much beverage one may drink before davening maariv? If halacha considers consuming fruits and vegetables as casual eating that is permitted before maariv, why should drinking be judged as any less casual?

The answer to this question lies in a terse comment of the Magen Avraham wherein he rules: One may drink as much as one wants outside the sukkah, but must be careful not to drink more than a kebeitzah of beverage before davening mincha, lest he drink too much and become intoxicated to the extent that he cannot daven (Magen Avraham 232:17). This ruling understands that the prohibition against drinking prior to davening is limited to intoxicating beverages (Mishnah Berurah 232:35). When the Gemara was concerned “that a person should not return from the field in the evening and say, ‘I’ll drink a little,’” the concern was only about alcoholic drinks.

Accordingly, once the time comes to perform a mitzvah (and perhaps even a half-hour before), one may not eat a meal or drink more than a kebeitzah of alcoholic beverage without first performing the mitzvah, but one may eat as much fruit and vegetables, and drink as much non-alcoholic beverages, as one desires. One may also snack on up to a kebeitzah of bread or mezonos, but no more.

NON-INTOXICATING EXCEPTION – KIDDUSH AND HAVDALAH

There are at least two mitzvos that stand as exceptions to the previous rule: The Shulchan Aruch prohibits all snacking and drinking before kiddush and havdalah, once the time to fulfill these mitzvos has arrived (Orach Chayim 271:4; 299:1).

Why is it prohibited to snack before kiddush and havdalah, whereas one may snack before one has davened maariv? The Magen Avraham explains that snacking is prohibited before reciting kiddush or havdalah because one is obligated to fulfill these mitzvos at the very beginning of the evening (Magen Avraham 235:4). I presume he means that Chazal prohibited snacking in order to guarantee that the mitzvah is performed immediately. However, regarding other mitzvos, where the concern is only that he might forget to perform the mitzvah altogether, it is sufficient to ban eating a meal or doing something that might result in not performing the mitzvah at all.

KIDDUSH VERSUS HAVDALAH

With this background, we can now explain the following curious difference between kiddush and havdalah. Prior to reciting kiddush, one is prohibited to drink anything, even water, whereas prior to reciting havdalah, although one may not snack or drink most beverages, one may drink water (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 271:4; 299:1). Why this distinction between kiddush and havdalah?

It seems that although both kiddush and havdalah should be fulfilled at the beginning of the evening, Chazal encouraged reciting kiddush early, in order to greet Shabbos as early as possible. On the other hand, although one should recite havdalah early in the night, one should not rush Shabbos out the door, but simply be certain to recite havdalah before engaging in after-Shabbos activities. Therefore, Chazal permitted drinking water before reciting havdalah, although they prohibited doing so before kiddush, to guarantee that people recite kiddush quickly.

For the same reason, there is another major difference between kiddush and havdalah. If someone began a meal early Friday afternoon and it extended into Shabbos, he must stop eating as soon as Shabbos arrives and recite kiddush. Although one may continue the meal after reciting kiddush and wait to daven maariv and recite shma after the meal is over, he may not continue the meal without first reciting kiddush.

However, if this happened when Shabbos ends, one has no requirement to recite havdalah until the meal is over. This is why we commonly extend seudah shlishis (in Yiddish called shalosh seudos) into the night, and bensch, daven maariv, and recite havdalah only when the meal is over.

DAY VERSUS NIGHT

So far, we have explained that once the time to perform a mitzvah arrives, one may not eat a meal or drink a significant quantity of intoxicating beverage before one has performed the mitzvah. We have also seen that some authorities prohibit even snacking. We have learned further that prior to reciting kiddush or havdalah, halacha prohibits any snacking or drinking at all, with the only exception that one may drink water prior to havdalah.

One possibility that we have not yet explored is whether there is a halachic difference between a mitzvah performed in the daytime and one performed at night. Perhaps there is less concern regarding a daytime mitzvah, and Chazal prohibited eating only prior to performing a nighttime mitzvah, lest eating after a hard day’s work cause one to fall asleep before performing the mitzvah. According to this suggestion, one could eat a meal before fulfilling the mitzvos of shofar, lulav or tefillin.

However, this distinction does not accord with the accepted halacha, as we find several instances where someone may not begin eating a meal before fulfilling a daytime mitzvah such as davening mincha (Mishnah Shabbos 9b), taking lulav (Sukkah 38a) or blowing shofar (Tosefta, Shabbos 1:4, as explained by Magen Avraham 235:4).

EARLY NIGHT SNACK

As mentioned above, although some authorities contend that prior to maariv one may not eat or drink anything, the consensus is to allow snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and small quantities of alcoholic drinks. Notwithstanding this decision, the Magen Avraham (692:7), after reaching this conclusion, makes the strange comment that one may eat a snack before the reading of the Megillah only in extenuating circumstances. This ruling is all the more confusing since it contradicts his own conclusion permitting snacking before fulfilling the Torah mitzvos of taking lulav and reciting shma (Magen Avraham 235:4; 652:4). Later authorities assume that only under extenuating circumstances did the Magen Avraham permit snacking before fulfilling any mitzvah (see Mateh Efrayim 588:2; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #7 and others).

LET’S TALK ABOUT SHOFAR

Based on this Magen Avraham, many prominent authorities rule that someone who is weak or ill may recite kiddush and eat less than a kebeitzah of food prior to hearing the shofar, but emphasize that this should be done in private, so that other people will not assume that they may also be lenient (Mateh Efrayim 588:2). According to this position, snacking before shofar blowing is permitted only for the weak and the ill.

BEFORE SHOFAR OR AFTER?

If someone must eat before the end of Rosh Hashanah davening, is it better for him to eat before shofar blowing, or to hear shofar blowing first and then make kiddush and eat? On the one hand, as we have demonstrated, there is a prohibition against eating before fulfilling a required mitzvah, which would imply that he should first fulfill the mitzvah of shofar and only then eat. Although he would still eat before davening musaf, this is less of a concern than before shofar, since musaf is only miderabbanan and shofar is a Torah mitzvah.

On the other hand, one who eats before hearing the shofar thereby interrupts between the bracha recited over the shofar and the later shofar soundings.

FAMILY FEUD

It is curious to note a dispute between closely-related gedolim on this issue. Rabbi Akiva Eiger maintains that it is better not to eat before the shofar, but to hear shofar first and then eat, even though this results in the kiddush and the brachos on the food interrupting between the brachos of shofar and the later shofar blowing. He was more concerned about eating before fulfilling the mitzvah than he was about interrupting after the bracha.

On the other hand, his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #7, end) contends that someone ill who cannot wait to eat until the end of davening should discreetly make Kiddush and eat between shacharis and shofar blowing. He contends that it is better to eat before shofar than to interrupt between the bracha on shofar and the later soundings. (It is also noteworthy that the Chasam Sofer implies that someone who is ill may eat even a meal before shofar blowing.)

The above authorities all seem opposed to any eating before the shofar, except in extenuating circumstances. This places on a shaky footing the custom of making kiddush for the entire congregation before shofar.

However, the Sdei Chemed (vol. 8 pg 325 s.v. vishamati) cites several sources recording a practice in Ashkenazic communities to recite kiddush and eat a small snack before shofar blowing. The prevalent practice in Yeshivos reflects this approach, considering the long wait until davening is over as an extenuating circumstance. This became the subject of a major dispute among the great Torah leaders in America a generation ago, with Rav Henkin, zt”l, strongly opposed to the practice of eating before shofar blowing for anyone not clearly ill or weak, while Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l championed the practice of making kiddush before shofar.

HOW MUCH IS A SNACK?

One should bear in mind that the dispute among these authorities is only whether one may eat a snack before shofar and musaf. The prevalent yeshiva custom to recite kiddush  prior to shofar blowing is intended only to permit people to eat up to a kebeitzah-sized piece of cake. Unfortunately, the average hungry person placed in front of a huge pile of cake has difficulty restricting himself to less than a kebeitzah.

Although the early sources do not countenance this, a contemporary authority quotes a basis to be lenient: since everyone returns to shul for the rest of davening immediately after reciting kiddush, people will clearly remind one another to not miss shofar blowing (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Volume 2 52:14:52, quoting Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach). (I personally categorize this last line of reasoning as a limud zechus, a rationale to explain behavior that seems to run against halacha, rather than as a solid reason to justify the practice.)

PROPOSED SOLUTION

For those who find it difficult to eat less than a kebeitzah, and are uncomfortable relying on this last heter, which clearly runs counter to the approach of most early authorities, I suggest the following: Many foods, such as potatoes, yams, quinoa, corn and rice are highly filling, even though they technical qualify as vegetables for these halachos. In order to fulfill the requirement of kiddush bimkom seudah – the halachic requirement that one eat a “meal” when fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush – one should eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of cake, crackers, pretzels, or some other grain product. In order to avoid eating more than a kebeitzah of these items, which most authorities forbid, one should be careful to eat less than a kebeitzah of items made from the five grains, and then eat a substantive “snack” of potatoes or some other satisfying vegetable. This requires less self-discipline than restricting oneself to a kebeitzah of cake. I also strongly suggest that any shul or yeshiva that has a kiddush before shofar should instruct people not to eat more than a kebeitzah of cake.

CONCLUSION

When we hear the shofar blow, we should remember that we, the Jewish people, are crowning Hashem as our King and the King of the universe. Studying the laws that pertain to this mitzvah is an important way in which we can show our acceptance of His kingship.

 

My Vows I Shall Fulfill

It is rather obvious why we are studying this topic this week – since the laws pertaining to vows are the first subject mentioned in Parshas Matos.

Question #1: Quiz question

Can performing a mitzvah become a liability?

Question #2: Is this a “klutz question?”

What does it mean that I am doing something “bli neder?”

Question #3: A sixty-thousand-dollar question

Yankel asks: “When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Question #4: A frum question

“My friend Billy Nader* says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?

Answer: What Is a Neder?

Someone who recites a vow, an oath or a pledge is required to fulfill it (see Bamidbar 30:3). By virtue of the vow, oath or pledge, one creates a Torah obligation on oneself that one is, otherwise, not required to observe. For example, someone who declares that he will begin studying daf yomi every day is now obligated to do so, even on a day when it is inconvenient. Similarly, one who pledges tzedakah at yizkor or pledges a contribution to a shul upon receiving an aliyah becomes fully obligated min haTorah to pay the donation. In the case of a pledge to tzedakah¸ one must redeem it as soon as practical; otherwise, one risks violating an additional prohibition, bal te’acheir leshalmo, do not delay paying it (Devarim 23:22), as I will soon explain.

In general, one should be careful not to make vows or pledges. For one thing, he has now created a stumbling block for himself; since he runs the risk that he will not observe his commitment (see Nedarim 20a, 22a). Furthermore, one has created an accusation against himself, for by committing to observe something that the Torah did not require, he implies that he is so skilled at observing mitzvos that he can add a few of his own. The Satan can now level accusations against his occasional laxities in a much stronger fashion (see Nedarim 22a, based on Mishlei 20:25). (There are a few circumstances in which one is encouraged to make vows, but we will leave that topic for a different time.) For this reason, it is better not to pledge to contribute to tzedakah — if you have the money available, donate it; if it is not currently available, don’t pledge it! (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 203:4). It is very important that gabayim be in the habit of declaring that people’s pledges are bli neder, and a similar wording should appear on pledge cards.

Different Types of Obligations

There are six main ways that one may create an obligation upon oneself either to fulfill something or to abstain from doing something.

(1) Nedarim, vows

A neder, a vow, in which one declares that something otherwise permitted is now prohibited — such as, declaring that certain foods are prohibited.

Example:

In her desire to keep to her diet, Yaffah states: “I am going to prohibit all chocolate on myself.” Yaffah has now created a neder, which prohibits her, min haTorah, from eating chocolate.

(2) Shavuos, oaths

A shavua, an oath, in which one swears to fulfill or refrain from some activity — such as swearing that one will fast on a certain day, or that one will say Tehillim every day.

Example:

To repair his somewhat sloppy record at making it to minyan every morning, Shachar swears a shavua that he will be in shul for shacharis for the next three days. Should he fail to to make it to shacharis any of those days, he will be breaking his shavua, which contravenes a Torah prohibition.

Whether a specific declaration constitutes a neder or a shavua depends on halachic technicalities, usually contingent on how one makes the declaration. Several halachic differences result from whether someone made a neder or a shavua, including that violating a shavua is a more serious infraction (Ran, Nedarim 20a). Later in this article I will mention another important difference between them.

(3) Kabbalos mitzvah, declaring that one will perform a good deed

Someone who declares: I will arise early and study this chapter or that mesechta has declared a great vow to the G-d of Israel (Nedarim 8a). Someone intending to perform an exemplary act who expresses these plans has now obligated himself, even though he did not use the terms “vow,” “oath,” or “pledge” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 213:2).

Example:

Asking others to say certain chapters of Tehillim can create a stumbling block. One should be certain to specify that they are accepting bli neder.

(4) Kabbalas tzedakah, intending to donate charity

In the specific instance of contributing tzedakah funds, even deciding to give to tzedakah without verbalizing one’s intention creates an obligation to donate tzedakah (Rama, Yoreh Deah 259:13; see also Choshen Mishpat 212:8; based on Shavuos 26b).

(5) Performing a stringency

Someone who is aware that performing a certain hiddur in halacha is not obligatory, and begins doing so, intending to observe it regularly, becomes required to continue the practice as a form of vow. It becomes a binding obligation, requiring hataras nedarim, annulling vows, even if the individual fulfilled the practice only one time, and even if he did not declare that he intends to continue the practice (Nedarim 15a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:1).

Examples:

Someone who begins standing during keriyas haTorah, intending to continue the practice, becomes obligated to do so, unless he specified that he is doing so bli neder. He should perform hataras nedarim at the first opportunity, so as to avoid violating the prohibition of abrogating observance of a vow.

A woman began lighting a third Shabbos candle in her own home after her first child was born, and then did so the first time she visited her parents’ house. This now became an obligation. She asked a shaylah what to do and was advised to make hataras nedarim on the practice of kindling a third light, and, certainly, when she is a guest in someone else’s home.

(6) Three times

Someone who performs a stringent practice three times without saying bli neder must continue to fulfill the hiddur, even if he did not necessarily plan to always observe it (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:7).

Saying “Bli Neder

Should I not observe hiddurim? I want to do these mitzvos, but I certainly do not want to be punished if I fail to continue performing them! How do I avoid becoming responsible?

To avoid creating this liability, someone expressing intent to perform a good deed should be careful to say that he/she is acting bli neder, without accepting it as a responsibility (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4). Similarly, someone who begins practicing a halachic hiddur should say that he is not accepting it as a responsibility.

Example:

Hadassah decides that she will eat only glatt kosher meat or will use only cholov Yisroel products, both meritorious activities. She should state that she is doing it “bli neder.”

Similarly, when pledging money during Yizkor, while making a mishebeirach or making any other oral commitment to donate charity, one should be careful to say bli neder. When others are pledging to tzedakah and one feels pressured to participate, specify that the pledge is bli neder (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 257:4).

Saying “Bli Neder” Even for a Non-mitzvah

Some authorities recommend saying bli neder on all one’s activities, even those that do not fulfill a mitzvah, so that the habit helps prevent one from inadvertently creating nedarim (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4).

Example:

Chavah tells her husband, “I am planning to go to exercise class this morning, bli neder.” Although the statement that she plans to exercise does not create any obligation on her part, habituating herself to say bli neder is a good practice to develop.

We can now answer one of the questions asked above. “I have a friend who says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?” The answer is that your friend is being astutely cautious and following the advice of halachic authorities.

Don’t Delay in Paying

In addition to the above-mentioned concerns involved in pledging tzedakah, the Gemara rules that the mitzvah of bal te’achar, not to delay the donation of a korban, applies also to tzedakah (Rosh Hashanah 6a). This means that someone who pledges money to a charitable cause is required to pay the pledge as soon as he can.

To quote the Rambam: Tzedakah is included in the laws of vows. Therefore, one who says “I am obligated to provide a sela coin to tzedakah” or “this sela shall go to tzedakah” must give it to poor people immediately. If he subsequently  delays redeeming the pledge, he violates bal te’achar, since he could have given it immediately since there are poor people around. If there are no poor people, he should set aside the money until he finds poor people. However, if, at the time of his pledge, he specified that he is not intending to redeem the pledge until he locates a poor person, he is not required to set aside the money (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 8:1).

Someone who declares that he will give tzedakah to a certain poor person is not required to give the money, until he sees that person (Rama, Yoreh Deah 257:3). However, someone who pledged to contribute to deprived people, without qualifying which poor people he meant, is required to fulfill his pledge immediately (Mordechai, Bava Basra 491).

What Is Hataras Nedarim?

Now that we realize that the obligations included in making vows is rather extensive, we want to find out, quickly, how to release ourselves from these vows.

Chazal derive from the Torah that there is a way one can be absolved from a vow, pledge or other such commitment, which is called hataras nedarim. Performing hataras nedarim does not in the slightest way diminish the reward that one receives for the good deeds one performed. It simply removes the continuing obligation to perform the vow from the individual who created it. Therefore, in the vast majority of circumstances, someone who made a neder should perform hataras nedarim, so that he does not violate the neder (see Nedarim 22a).

How Does One Perform Hataras Nedarim?

First, the person who made the vow or other commitment goes to three Jewish men who understand the logic of halacha and know the basics of how hataras nedarim operates (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:1 and commentaries). These three form a type of ad hoc beis din for the purpose of releasing vows. One of the three should be a talmid chacham proficient in the laws of hataras nedarim, including which vows one may not annul (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:8).

The nodeir, the person who made the vow, shares with the three (or, at least, the talmid chacham who is proficient in the laws of nedarim) the content of the vow, oath, or good practice from which he desires release and why he seeks relief. The talmid chacham will ask the nodeir several questions that must be answered truthfully. The talmid chacham thereby determines whether or not there are valid grounds to release the nodeir from the commitment (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14). Only a talmid chacham who understands the very complicated laws of vows should undertake hataras nedarim, because there are many details that must be met for the hataras nedarim to be valid. (The details of what does and what does not constitute an adequate basis for hataras nedarim are beyond the scope of this article.)

Assuming that the talmid chacham feels that there are adequate grounds for hataras nedorim, the beis din declares the neder or other commitment annulled, by declaring mutar lach, mutar lach, mutar lach – the activities prohibited by the vow are now permitted. Of course, in the case of a vow to do something, the words mutar lach mean the reverse — you are no longer obligated to carry out the vow.

Someone who violated his vow prior to performing hataras nedarim has indeed sinned, and is required to perform teshuvah for his or her infraction.

The Difference between a Neder and a Shavua

There is a halachic difference between performing hataras nedarim to release someone from the obligation he created with a neder, and between performing hatarah after someone recited a shavua. Whereas in most instances one should arrange to release someone from a neder, one annuls a shavua only under extenuating circumstances (Rama, Yoreh Deah 203:3; Rambam end of Hilchos Shavuos). Explaining why this is so will need to wait for a future article.

May I appoint an agent to perform hataras nedarim for me?

No, one must ask directly to the beis din to release oneself from vows (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:16). If the members of the beis din do not understand the language that the nodeir speaks, they may use an interpreter to facilitate communication (Rama ad loc.).

There is one instance in which someone may make an agent to release nedarim. Sometimes, a husband may act as an agent for his wife to annul her nedarim. If a husband finds three people already gathered together — for example, they were performing hataras nedarim for him or for someone else — he may act as his wife’s agent to ask them to release her from her neder at the same time, if she appointed him to do so on her behalf (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56).

How does a woman perform hataras nedarim?

A woman who has a specific oath, vow, or practice from which she wishes release should arrange to perform hataras nedarim with a talmid chacham or beis din. As I mentioned above, if she is married, she may ask her husband to be her agent to perform hataras nedarim at a time when he is doing so for himself (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56).

Hataras Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashanah

At this point, we can address Yankel’s question:

“When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Indeed, Yankel’s question is extremely valid: hataras nedarim requires that one mention, specifically, the vow from which one seeks redress, and the beis din must deliberate whether this particular neder can be revoked. It is, therefore, unclear whether the generic hataras nedarim recited on Erev Rosh Hashanah, indeed, releases one from any commitments. The proper thing to do is to mention to an appropriate beis din every specific neder or practice that one wants annulled.

Mesiras Modaah

The Gemara mentions that should one declare at the beginning of the year that all the vows one makes in the course of the year are invalid; this pronouncement has some value. This declaration is called a mesiras modaah. The Gemara concludes that this statement has only limited value, and one should not, intentionally, rely upon it. In point of fact, the standard hataras nedarim procedure performed on Erev Rosh Hashanah includes a mesiras modaah.

Kol Nidrei

The Rishonim dispute whether the purpose of Kol Nidrei that we recite at the beginning of our Yom Kippur service is also meant to be a form of hataras nedarim, performed at a time when virtually everyone is in shul to include the maximum number of people, or whether it is a mesiras modaah. It is for this reason that there are three different versions of the text: one that has kol nidrei refer to the past year’s declarations, which means that it is hataras nedarim; one that refers to the coming year’s declarations, which means that it is a mesiras modaah; and one that mentions both the past and the future years, which means that it is meant to accomplish both.

There is another interesting difference in halachic practice that results from this last dispute: Should the congregation recite Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan? If it is a mesiras modaah, then one must declare it oneself, and each individual should read the Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan. On the other hand, if it is a form of hataras nedarim, then it should be declared by the chazzan alone accompanied by the two honored men alongside him who hold the sifrei Torah, so that they form a beis din that is annulling everyone’s nedarim. The Mishnah Berurah (619: 2) rules that we should consider it a mesiras modaah, and therefore concludes that each individual should recite Kol Nidrei softly along with the chazzan.

Conclusion

Now that we realize how serious our speech can be, we should reflect not only on the ideas of nedarim, but also on all the ramifications of our speech. As the pasuk (Mishlei 18:21) states, maves vechayim beyad lashon, Life and death are controlled by our tongues!

*Obviously, this is not his real name, but a nickname.

Appreciating Tashlich

Question #1: As a child, I remember being told that tashlich was our annual opportunity to throw away all our sins into the water. What is behind this custom?

Question #2: Someone once told me that tashlich alludes to the 13 middos of Hashem’s mercy. How do these middos correspond?

Answer:

Both of these questions revolve around developing a deeper understanding of the custom of reciting tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. Let us research the sources and halachos of this minhag, and comprehend the lessons that we should learn while observing it.

The earliest mention of tashlich of which I am aware is in the writings of the Maharil, who lived in Germany during the late Fourteenth Century, and others of his generation (Minhagei Rosh Hashanah #9). He mentions the custom of going on Rosh Hashanah to the ocean or rivers that contain fish in order to “throw our sins into the depths of the sea,” vesashlich bimtzulos yam kol chatosom.

We should note that in the verse upon which this is based (Micha 7:19), it is not we, but Hashem , who is casting our iniquities into the sea. This is important, because tashlich does not mean that we have now successfully thrown away our sins. It is the realization that only by doing teshuvah will Hashem throw away our sins.

Others cite a different biblical source for tashlich, from the verse in Nechemiah (8:1): “On the first day of the seventh month [which is, of course, Rosh Hashanah], all the people gathered together, as one, to the street that was before the gate of the water” (Rav Reuven Margulies, cited in Piskei Teshuvos 583: footnote 48).

Tashlich is recorded by the Rama and the Arizal, and has, of course, become standard practice. It is interesting to note that the earliest sources for tashlich are all Ashkenazic authors, and later the custom spread to Sefardic communities. For example, Rav Chaim Vital (Sha’ar Hakavanos, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 583:30) writes, “The custom practiced by the Ashkenazim, which they call ‘tashlich,’ to go on the first day of Rosh Hashanah after Mincha, slightly before sunset, to the Mediterranean Sea or to a spring is a proper custom. It is preferable to do this outside the city, stand on the seashore or alongside the spring, and recite three times, ‘Mi Keil Kamocha…’ (Micha 7:18-20).”

Is it a Good Omen?

The Rama, both in Darkei Moshe and in his glosses to Shulchan Aruch, cites the custom of tashlich in what appears to be an unusual place. We would have expected that he mention tashlich as part of the discussion concerning what to do after Rosh Hashanah morning davening, which is found in Chapter 596 of Orach Chayim, or, alternatively, together with the laws of Rosh Hashanah Mincha, which are found in Chapter 598. Indeed, we find other authorities who discuss the rules of tashlich in both of these places. However, the Rama mentions the custom of tashlich earlier, in Chapter 583, where the Tur and Shulchan Aruch record the custom, mentioned in the Gemara, of eating special foods on the night of Rosh Hashanah as a good omen, a siman tov, for the coming year. Why did the Rama insert the practice of tashlich in a place that is out of chronological order?

It appears that the Rama includes tashlich in the chapter of good omens for the New Year because the main reason for the custom of tashlich is its powerful symbolism.  One can certainly explain why, according to the Rama, there is a preference to recite tashlich near a river, ocean, or other source that contains fish, since they are a sign of prosperity without ayin hora.

A Different Reason

The Gra, in his notes to this Rama, presents a different reason for the custom, the reason to which the Maharil himself alluded. The Gra quotes the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni #99):

If Avraham could see the place of the Akeidah, why did it take him three days to get there? The answer is that the Satan first attempted to dissuade Avraham from going. When the Satan realized that this plan would not be successful, the Satan tried a different tactic, and made himself into a large river that would be impossible to pass… Avraham continued on [accompanied by Yitzchak and the two lads] until the river was up to their necks. Avraham then lifted his eyes heavenward, saying, “Master of all worlds, you revealed yourself to me and said, ‘I am the only One, and you are the only one. Make the entire world know about My name and bring your son as an olah.’ I did not question your words, nor did I delay fulfilling them. Now we are drowning. If my son Yitzchak drowns, how will I guarantee that Your unity be known?” Immediately, Hashem scolded the Satan, who left.

According to this approach, tashlich is a reminder of the tremendous mesiras nefesh of Avraham Avinu. This should make us internalize the message repeated daily in Shema — to love Hashem with all our being, even to sacrifice our lives for Hashem because we love Him so. Developing this quality of Ahavas Hashem is certainly one of the main goals of Rosh Hashanah. Thus, according to the Gra, tashlich is primarily an educational lesson.

A Fishy Place

However, according to the Gra’s approach, there is no apparent reason for reciting tashlich near a water source containing fish, a preference mentioned in most early sources. We may also note that the first reason I mentioned, that we want Hashem to wash away our sins as we do teshuvah, should also not require that the water contain fish.

However, there are many other reasons for reciting tashlich at a water source that contains fish. For example, the Levush explains that we should see ourselves as fish caught in a net. This comparison should encourage us to do teshuvah and to take the Yomim Nora’im more seriously.

Here is another reason why tashlich should preferably be recited at a water source containing fish: Fish, living their lives concealed under water, are not exposed to ayin hora; we, also, hope not to be exposed to ayin hora (Elyah Zuta).

Must it be Fishy?

Notwithstanding the various reasons to explain saying tashlich at a place populated by fish, the Magen Avraham (583:5) emphasizes that whereas the Maharil wrote to say tashlich at a river with live fish, the Arizal implies that it is equally acceptable to say tashlich at a well, even one that contains no fish. I will explain more about this shortly.

Outside the City

The Arizal (quoted by Magen Avraham 583:5) emphasizes that it is preferable to go to a water source outside the city. Based on the Midrashic source cited above, we can understand that our traveling is an attempt to reenact, in our own small way, the tribulations that Avraham Avinu underwent on his way to performing the incredible mitzvah of the akeidah.

I quoted earlier Rav Chayim Vital, the main disciple of the Arizal, who writes that one should recite tashlich at the seashore or next to a spring. Going to the Mediterranean or some other sea is certainly hinted at in the verse asking Hashem to throw all one’s sins into the depths of the sea, implying that one is close enough to throw something into the water. However, not all gedolei Yisrael followed this practice of being next to the body of water when they recited tashlich; they were satisfied with having the water in sight. For example, it is recorded that the Chasam Sofer went to a high place from where he could see the Danube River running through his hometown of Pressburg (today known as Bratislava).

Anyone who has been in Yerushalayim for Rosh Hashanah has probably noted that because there is no flowing river near the city, tashlich is recited in interesting places, such as near mikvaos and alongside buckets of water. For some time, Yerushalayim has been without any natural source of water, something unusual for any old city. The custom of reciting tashlich alongside a mikvah or a water cistern in Yerushalayim is already mentioned by the Kaf Hachayim (583:30), who reports that it is acceptable to recite tashlich even next to an empty water cistern! He explains that tashlich is only an allusion, and the main “water” we mean to convey our message is the “yam ha’elyon.” Obviously, he is alluding to a kabbalistic reason for tashlich.

In contemporary Yerushalayim, where I live, the most common practice is to recite tashlich alongside small backyard fish ponds stocked with a few inexpensive fish from a pet store. I assume that in the time of the Kaf Hachayim, there were few pet stores in Yerushalayim, and the scarcity of both drinkable water and adequate living quarters did not allow for backyard fish ponds.

Feeding the Fish

The Maharil is emphatic that one should not take bread to tashlich on Rosh Hashanah to feed the fish. Apparently, this custom of feeding crumbs or bread to the fish was observed over six hundred years ago, despite the opposition of most halachic authorities.

What is wrong with feeding the fish?

It is forbidden to feed any animals, birds or fish on Yom Tov that are not dependent on you (see, for example, Rashi, Beitzah 23b).

Crumb Carrying

Some authorities quote an additional reason for prohibiting putting bread into the river on Yom Tov. Carrying is permitted on Yom Tov only for items that fulfill some Yom Tov need. Since fish in the sea are not dependent on us for nourishment, carrying in a public domain to feed them desecrates Yom Tov (Mateh Efrayim 598:5).

 

Instead of Feeding the Fish

Some authorities describe a different practice that does not desecrate Yom Tov: while reciting the word “tashlich,” one should empty out the dirt that one finds in the hems of one’s garment into the water, hinting at casting away our sins. With this act, we should accept doing teshuvah wholeheartedly (Likkutei Mahariach; Kaf Hachayim; see Mateh Efrayim 598:4).

Some sources quote, in the name of the Arizal, that one should only shake out the dust on the tzitzis of one’s talis koton (Likkutei Mahariach, cited by Piskei Teshuvos 583:footnote 50). Obviously, according to this Arizal, women cannot fulfill this part of the custom.

Women and Tashlich

Many authorities are strongly opposed to women going to tashlich altogether (Elef Hamagein 598:7). On the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, there should be no intermingling of the genders, and better that the men not see women. If women want to go to tashlich, the best approach to avoid this problem is that introduced by my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Ruderman, that women go to tashlich before Mincha, and men after.

The Structure of Tashlich

The main part of tashlich is to recite three verses from Micha that allude to the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s kindness. Thus, to understand tashlich well, we should understand the concept of the thirteen attributes.

After the Jewish People sinned when we worshipped the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf, Hashem taught Moshe to use these thirteen attributes of His kindness to achieve absolution.

Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘Were it not for the fact that the Torah itself wrote this, it would be impossible to say it. 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 repeating it. Nevertheless, the Torah compelled us to say that Hashem revealed to Moshe a means for pardoning 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, enabling him to implore for forgiveness for the Jewish people, and teaching him how to lead the Jews in prayer (Chiddushei Aggados, Rosh Hashanah 17b s.v. Melameid).

A Word about Attributes

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

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?

The Torah says: Hashem, Hashem, is a merciful and gracious G-d, slow to anger, full of kindness and truth. He preserves kindness for thousands of generations by forgiving sins whether they are intentional, rebellious or negligent; and He forgives (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 counts each of the three mentions of Hashem’s name at the beginning of the passage, Hashem, Hashem, and Keil, as a separate attribute.

However, it is important to note that the Arizal counted the thirteen merciful attributes in a different way. Whereas Rabbeinu Tam counted Hashem, Hashem, Keil as three different attributes, the Arizal does not count the first two Names (Hashem, Hashem). Thus, the first attribute mentioned by the verse is Keil. To compensate for the loss of two attributes in the count of thirteen, the Arizal reaches thirteen by dividing each of the phrases erech apayim and notzeir chesed la’alafim into two different attributes, whereas, according to Rabbeinu Tam’s count, each of these phrases counts as only one attribute.

Micha’s Thirteen Attributes

The kabbalistic sources explain that the three verses of Micha that form the basic structure of tashlich also allude to the thirteen attributes of Hashem. For many years, I tried to figure out how the verses in Micha correspond to the thirteen attributes until I discovered that this allusion follows the Arizal’s approach to the thirteen attributes. Many machzorim have this method of counting the thirteen attributes noted by placing the word from Moshe’s original prayer above the corresponding attributes in the verse from Micha.

What do I do?

At this point, I want to return to the above-quoted Talmudic source that explains the power of the thirteen attributes and note a very 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 “perform” is yaasu, which means that the Jews must do something, definitely more than just reading 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 does the Gemara mean?

Emulate Hashem

The commandment to emulate Hashem may be the most important of the 613 mitzvos. To quote the Gemara: Just as Hashem is gracious and merciful, so should you become gracious and merciful (Shabbos 133b). 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 as does Hashem, He forgives us. Reciting the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s mercy is the first step towards making ourselves merciful, emulating Hashem’s ways. Yaasu means that by emulating Hashem’s kindness and His tolerance, by accepting people who annoy and harm us, we become His G-dly People!

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 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 equally accepting of those who annoy and wrong us.

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

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

4. When a person does teshuvah after sinning, Hashem loves him more than He loved him before he sinned. As the Gemara states: In a place where baalei teshuvah stand, complete tzadikim are unable to stand. Therefore if someone wronged me and now wants to makes amends, I must befriend him and accept him at a greater level than I had previously.

All of these ideas are included when we observe the mitzvah of tashlich. We should read the verses and think how we can emulate Hashem’s kindness, by demonstrating the same acts of kindness that He performs to His creations.

Conclusion

There are so many beautiful lessons to learn from observing this old minhag. We should be careful to observe this practice in the spirit of the day, and, by internalizing these lessons, may we and all klal Yisrael merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Who Knows Thirteen?

Question #1: Sneak Preview

My grandmother told me how she remembers that the first night of selichos people used to go from shul to shul sampling the davening of each of the chazzanim, and deciding which shul they would attend for Rosh Hashanah. Is there any halachic basis for having the chazzan daven also the first night of selichos?

Question #2: Bemotza’ei Menucha – At the end of Shabbos

Why do Ashkenazim begin reciting Selichos on Motza’ei Shabbos or Sunday morning?

Question #3: More or Less?

Levi asks me: “Because of my work schedule, on most days I do not have a lot of time in which to recite selichos. Is it better to recite just a small amount of the selichos in the time that I have, or to race through as much as I can say?”

Answer:

What is the source for the practice of reciting selichos? Does it have the halachic status of a custom or something that Chazal instituted? In this article, we will address these basic questions.

To begin, let us note that our structured prayers can be classified into three categories:

I. Daily Davening

Our daily tefillos, through which we fulfill our mitzvah to serve Hashem every day, as the Rambam writes: It is a positive mitzvah to pray every day, which fulfills what the Torah states “and you shall serve Hashem your G-d.” The oral mesorah teaches that the service referred to here means prayer (Hilchos Tefillah 1:1).

II. Fasts and Emergencies

Tefillos that we say on fast days and other times of difficulty. These fulfill a different Torah mitzvah, and again I quote the Rambam: There is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and blow trumpets on every travail that befalls the community (Hilchos Taanis 1:1). One day, I hope to write an article on the topic of trumpets, and why we do not blow them today. The selichos we recite following the repetition of shemoneh esrei (or according to some old minhagim, during the repetition of shemoneh esrei) on most of our fast days, including the Tenth of Teves, Taanis Esther, the Seventeenth of Tamuz, and Behab after Sukkos and Pesach, are all reflective of this mitzvah.

III. Selichos

Even though teshuvah and prayer are always good, during the ten days that are from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur they are exceptionally good and they are immediately accepted (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 2:6). The selichos that I am discussing in this article are the special prayers for teshuvah and forgiveness with which we supplicate during Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

Structure of Selichos

Although there are numerous variant customs, most of Klal Yisrael structures selichos in the following way: We begin with ashrei, followed by a half-kaddish, then recite many introductory verses of Tanach, which in turn lead into some small prayers that culminate with a paragraph that begins with the words Keil Erech Apayim. Keil Erech Apayim directly introduces the focal point of the selichos – the recitation of the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s kindness. After the Jewish people sinned when we worshipped the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf, Hashem taught Moshe to use these thirteen attributes of His kindness to achieve absolution for the Jewish people.

We then read a few verses that refer to Hashem pardoning our iniquities, followed by several poetic supplications, each of which leads into another recital of the thirteen attributes. This is followed by some closing prayers which include the viduy (confession) and tachanun (a prayer customarily said while sitting in a bowed position), all of this closing with the chazzan reciting full kaddish. In all Ashkenazic customs with which I am familiar, there are numerous different poetic supplications, variously called selichos, akeidos, pizmonim, etc., and each day we recite a different series of these prayers. The purpose of these prayers is to introduce and set the mood for the recital of the thirteen attributes.

If we stop to realize, we will notice that our selichos prayer is structurally similar to our daily mincha prayer (without the aleinu and mourner’s kaddish at mincha’s end). However, the most noticeable difference between mincha and selichos is that the shemoneh esrei recited as the primary part of mincha is replaced in selichos by the repeated recital of the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s mercy and the numerous prayers that introduce those recitals.

The Thirteen Midos

Why is the recital of the thirteen midos of Hashem’s mercy so important? Let me quote the Talmudic passage that is the basis for our recital of selichos.

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 for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur! 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!

More or Less

Since we understand how important it is to say selichos with feeling, it is obvious that one with limited time to recite selichos, should say a smaller amount and understand what he is saying rather than rush through what he says (see Tur Orach Chayim Chapter 1).

Praying Truthfully

We should bear in mind that many of the selichos state that we are arising while it is still dark and similar expressions, all of which reflects the custom of earlier generations of reciting selichos either at halachic midnight (chatzos) or very early in the morning well before sunrise. Someone reciting selichos anytime after sunrise should be careful to modify these passages so that he is not pleading a lie before Hashem (Aruch Hashulchan).

Who Should be the Chazzan?

The above-quoted Leket Yosher concludes: It is therefore logical that the individual leading the selichos should be someone who will lead the services on Yomim Nora’im. In other words, since selichos are the introduction to our Yomim Nora’im supplications, the same chazzan that the community desires to plead on its behalf on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should be called upon to lead their selichos entreaties.

By the way, other authorities mention another reason why the chazzan who will be leading services on Yomim Nora’im should also be chazzan for selichos, particularly if the chazzan is paid for his services. The halacha forbids paying someone for performing work on Shabbos or Yom Tov, even if it is work that is otherwise permitted, such as babysitting, being a kashrus mashgiach or a chazzan. This forbidden payment for Shabbos work is called schar Shabbos, literally, Shabbos wages. So how do I find a babysitter for Shabbos when I need to attend a simcha, if I cannot pay him or her?

The way to avoid the prohibition of schar Shabbos is to hire someone for an entire job that also includes weekday work, without calculating how much is being paid for Shabbos or Yom Tov. Making the payment into one big package is called havlaah (literally, “absorbed”) and is permitted provided no computation is made for specific Shabbos or Yom Tov work, and the wages are not paid on a calculated hourly basis (since this also means that one is paying for the hours worked on Shabbos or Yom Tov).

Now we have a curious problem. It is a practice of at least a thousand years to hire chazzanim. How does one pay a chazzan to perform his job on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when there is a prohibition of schar Shabbos if one pays him for Shabbos work? The answer is that one also hires the chazzan to perform some weekday activity, such as giving bar mitzvah lessons, teaching in the congregation Hebrew school, or running the shul’s youth activities.

None of these solutions resolve the schar Shabbos concern regarding a chazzan who is hired to daven only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. To avoid the schar Shabbos problem, the custom developed for the chazzan to lead one of the selichos, and thereby he is paid a “package deal” remuneration that includes some weekday work (Elef Hamagein 585:24; Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 28 note 145).

What if the chazzan is traveling from a distance for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and it is not worthwhile to pay his transportation for a third trip for selichos? In this instance, there is a simple solution to the schar Shabbos predicament, since the chazzan is also being paid for his travel time, and this itself becomes the havlaah.

Note that a halachic difference results between the two approaches I have presented why the chazzan also leads selichos. According to the Leket Yosher’s approach, the chazzan should preferably daven every one of the selichos days, whereas according to the schar Shabbos reason, it is adequate if he davens any one of the selichos days. According to both approaches I have mentioned, there is no particular reason why a chazzan should daven specifically the first night of selichos.

Why begin Motza’ei Shabbos?

Indeed, why do Ashkenazim begin selichos on Motza’ei Shabbos?

We always begin reciting selichos on Sunday because it is close to Shabbos, and everyone learns Torah on Shabbos since he does not deal with his financial matters and therefore has time to learn Torah… and since people are happy and joyous because of the mitzvah of learning Torah that they were able to do on Shabbos, and also because of the Shabbos pleasures that they celebrated, and we say that the shechinah rests when one is happy because of performing a mitzvah, therefore it is good to pray then (Leket Yosher).

Others explain the reason we begin selichos on Motza’ei Shabbos is because the beginning of the week represents the beginning of creation, and we are performing teshuvah for man who is the goal of all creation (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 581:3).

At least Four

Ashkenazic custom is that, when Rosh Hashanah begins on Monday or Tuesday, we begin selichos the week before, to make sure that we recite selichos for at least four days before Rosh Hashanah. One reason mentioned for this practice is because, originally, people fasted on the days of selichos, and they wanted to fast a total of ten days. Since there are four days during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah that one may not fast – Shabbos, the two days of Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur – we recite selichos for at least four days before Rosh Hashanah (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 581:3).

A Word about Attributes

We mentioned above that the main “prayer” of the selichos is mentioning the thirteen merciful attributes of Hashem. 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 of the verse 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 a curious and very 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 reading 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 one of 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, and 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 that they wronged me – after all they also have 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 teach how we should appreciate all that Hashem does for us but also as a model to teach how we should constantly treat our fellowman.

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