The Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur

Rav Goldberg was discussing the tefilos of Yom Kippur with the shul’s chazan, Reb Hershel.

“Probably the least understood part of the Yom Kippur davening is the Seder Avodah recited in the repetition of Musaf,” the rav began. “Although it is one of the most important parts of the Yom Kippur davening, I have seen many shuls race through it at a pace too fast for comprehension.”

“Let me quote you the Me’am Loez,” continued Rav Goldberg, pulling a sefer off the shelf. “He writes, ‘Many people doze off during the recital of the Avodah. They don’t realize that the most important part of Yom Kippur is during the repetition of the Sh’moneh Esrei, when the Seder Avodah is recited.’”

“I didn’t realize it was that important,” admitted Reb Hershel, “but it is very hard to understand.”

“Dozens of piyutim (liturgical pieces) have been written describing the Seder Avodah,” explained Rav Goldberg. “Most shuls that daven Nusach Ashkenaz recite the piyut that begins with the words Amitz Koach, which is indeed a very difficult, poetically-written piyut. The piyut used in Nusach S’fard, Atah Konanta, is much easier to comprehend.”

“So why do we recite Amitz Koach?”

“That is an excellent question that I cannot answer fully. Already in the time of the Gemara, we see that the Seder Avodah was recited, presumably from some type of piyut, although the text they used is long lost. The Geonim and Rishonim refer to many different piyutim that they had in their times. Amitz Koach was authored by Rabbeinu Meshulam ben Klonymos, who is quoted by Rashi with the greatest respect (see Rashi, Bava Metzia 69b s.v. Mafrin; Zevachim 45b s.v. h”g). In the course of time, Minhag Ashkenaz accepted the use of Amitz Koach, presumably out of respect for the author.”

“Why is it so important to recite the Seder Avodah? Is it a Takanas Chachomim?”

“There is no specific takanah requiring the recital of the Seder Avodah. However, reciting it fulfills the concept of ‘U’neshalma parim sefaseinu,’ ‘And let our lips replace the (sacrificial) bulls’ (Hoshea 14:3). The Midrash teaches that when we are unable to offer korbanos, our recital of the Avodah is accepted by Hashem as a replacement for the korbanos (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 4:3). This implies that we accomplish kaparah (atonement) by reciting the Seder Avodah with kavanah. Therefore, a person who recites the viduy of the Seder Avodah and truly regrets his sins can accomplish atonement; this would be similar to the viduy recited by the Cohen Gadol.”

THE ATONEMENT OF YOM KIPPUR

Reb Hershel was curious. “What did the viduy of the Cohen Gadol accomplish?”

“Different korbanos offered by the Cohen Gadol atoned for different sins (see Gemara Yoma 61a). However, the greatest atonement was accomplished by the goat sent to Azazel, which atoned for all the sins of the Jewish people (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 1:2; Mishnah Shevuos 2b).”

“Do you mean that a person could achieve atonement, even if he did not do Teshuvah?”

“Although there is such an opinion in the Gemara, the halacha is that Yom Kippur’s kaparah is effective only for those who do Teshuvah (Shevuos 13a). A person who does complete Teshuvah — which means that he regrets his sins, makes a decision that he will never commit this sin again, and recites viduy — is forgiven for his sins.”

“Does this mean that he will never be punished for them?”

“Not always. For very serious sins, including Chilul Hashem (desecrating Hashem’s name), he may still be punished in this world. But someone who completely repented his sins in this world is guaranteed that he will suffer no punishment in the next world (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 1:3-4).”

“At the time of the Beis HaMikdash, did people know when their sins were forgiven?”

“When the Cohen Gadol was a tzadik, part of the Yom Kippur Avodah included a procedure that showed Klal Yisrael whether or not they were forgiven. Let me provide some background. The Beis HaMikdash treasurers purchased two goats at the same time that were identical in height, appearance and value (Mishnah Yoma 62a). One of these goats was a Yom Kippur korban, offered in the Beis HaMikdash, and the other was the Azazel goat.”

CHOOSING THE GOAT FOR AZAZEL

“The Cohen Gadol drew lots to determine which goat would be the korban for Hashem and which would be the Azazel. This was an elaborate procedure. The Cohen Gadol stood in the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash, near the courtyard’s entrance, facing the two goats, one opposite his right hand, and the other opposite his left. The S’gan, the Associate Cohen Gadol, stood on the Cohen Gadol’s right, and the Rosh Beis Av, the head of the family unit of Cohanim on duty that week, stood on the Cohen Gadol’s left.

“The Cohen Gadol thrust his hands into a small wooden box containing two gold lots, one marked ‘for Hashem’ and the other ‘for Azazel,’ and removed the lots, one in each hand. He then raised his hands, exposing the lots to the S’gan and Rosh Beis Av. If the lot saying ‘for Hashem’ was in his right hand, the S’gan announced, ‘Master Cohen Gadol, raise your right hand.’ If it was in his left hand, the Rosh Beis Av announced, ‘Master Cohen Gadol, raise your left hand.’

“The Cohen Gadol then placed each lot on the head of the goat nearest that hand, and decreed, ‘For Hashem, a Chatos offering.’ The Cohen Gadol used the Ineffable Name of Hashem in this declaration, and everyone assembled responded by shouting ‘Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso L’Olam Vo’ed’ (Mishnah Yoma 37a and 39a).”

THE RED THREAD

“The Cohen Gadol then tied a red thread to the horn of the Azazel goat, and another red thread around the neck of the Chatos goat (Mishnah Yoma 41b). Much later in the

procedure, the Cohen Gadol rested his hands and full weight on the head of the Azazel goat, and recited aloud a viduy on behalf of the entire Jewish people. He concluded his viduy by stating, ‘Because on this day He will atone and purify you from all your sins. Before Hashem shall you become pure (Vayikra 16:30),’ once again using the Ineffable Name of Hashem. When the assembled people heard the Name uttered in purity and holiness by the Cohen Gadol, they all bowed and prostrated themselves, until their faces were pressed to the ground. They then recited again, ‘Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso L’Olam Vo’ed’ (Mishnah Yoma 66a).

“At one point in the procedure, the red thread tied to the Azazel goat was removed, torn in half, and one part tied again onto the Azazel goat’s horns. At the exact moment that the Jews were forgiven, both halves of the thread turned white” (Yoma 67a).

“You mentioned that the red thread was torn in half,” Hershel asked. “What happened to the other half?”

“This depends on the period of Jewish history. When the Cohen Gadol was a great tzadik, the Jews were forgiven on Yom Kippur, and the red thread turned white. During those years, the thread was left displayed in a prominent place in the Beis HaMikdash for everyone to see the miracle. However, in the later years of the Second Beis HaMikdash, when the Cohanim Gedolim were often not suitable for the position, the thread did not turn white. To save themselves embarrassment, the thread was placed where it would not be seen (Yoma 67a).

“How frequently did the thread turn white?”

“Apparently, during the period of the Bayis Rishon and the early period of the Bayis Sheni, the thread always turned white. In this period, the position of Cohen Gadol was awarded on the basis of merit. However, after the Cohanim Gedolim in the Bayis Sheni began purchasing the position, often, the thread did not turn white.”

THE COHANIM GEDOLIM OF THE SECOND BEIS HAMIKDASH

“You mentioned that there was a vast difference between the Cohanim Gedolim of the First Beis HaMikdash and those of the Second. Could you explain this more fully?”

“Yes, gladly. The Cohanim Gedolim of the First Beis HaMikdash were all great tzadikim who were worthy of their exalted position. Most of them had a long tenure as Cohen Gadol. In contrast, most of the Cohanim Gedolim of the Second Beis HaMikdash bribed the government for the position. Because they lacked the kedusha the position required, they died within a year of securing the appointment (Yoma 8b; 9a).”

“And yet they were eager to bribe the government for the job?”

“People do very strange things for kavod. As Chazal teach us, it is one of the three things that remove a person from this world.”

MUST BE DONE BY THE COHEN GADOL

Reb Hershel had many other questions. “What part of the Avodah of Yom Kippur was the Cohen Gadol obligated to perform himself?”

“Certain procedures took place in the Beis HaMikdash every day, such as clearing the two mizbeichos (altars); bringing the daily offerings (Korban Tamid); burning k’tores (incense) twice a day; and cleaning, setting up and lighting the Menorah. In addition, on Shabbos and Yom Tov, there were special korbanos called Korban Musaf, the origins of our Musaf prayers. The Torah mentions these korbanos in Parshas Pinchas. All these could be performed by any cohen.

“On Yom Kippur, in addition to the daily and Musaf korbanos, there was a special procedure unique to Yom Kippur, which is called the Seder Avodah, or the Seder Avodas Yom Kippur. This Avodah, involving the offering of several special korbanos and a unique offering of incense, is described in Parshas Acharei, the Keri’as HaTorah for Yom Kippur morning, and in great length in Mesechta Yoma. For this Avodah, the Cohen Gadol wore special white garments that were worn no other time. Although it was preferred that the Cohen Gadol perform everything in the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur himself, the only part absolutely mandatory for him to perform was the special Yom Kippur Avodah.”

WERE LOTS USED ON YOM KIPPUR?

“I am confused,” admitted Hershel. “The Piyutim of Seder Avodah mention a lottery to determine which cohanim will bring korbanos on Yom Kippur. But why such a procedure, if the Cohen Gadol was doing everything anyway?”

“A lottery system was used each day to determine which cohanim would perform the different tasks in the Beis HaMikdash. Most poskim contend that the Cohen Gadol performed ALL the service in the Beis HaMikdash by himself on Yom Kippur (even though he was only required to perform the special Yom Kippur Avodah). In their opinion, there was no lottery on Yom Kippur to determine who performed any tasks. Other poskim contend that although the Cohen Gadol was to perform all the tasks in the Beis HaMikdash himself, if he was unable to perform the entire Avodah himself, other cohanim could do some parts of it, in his place. When this happened, the lottery system would determine which cohen was appointed to perform the avodah.”

CHANGING CLOTHES

“It is interesting to note,” continued the Rav, “that to perform every part of the special Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur, the Cohen Gadol was required to wear his special Yom Kippur vestments (described in Parshas Acharei). However, for every part of the service that was not part of the Yom Kippur Avodah, he wore the eight vestments described in Parshas Te’tzaveh. Thus, the Cohen Gadol changed his clothes five times during Yom Kippur. According to a special commandment received by Moshe Rabbeinu (Halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai), he immersed himself in a mikveh each time he changed his clothes and also performed a special procedure involving washing his hands and feet twice each time.”

“I understand that when the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim (The Holy of Holies), no one was allowed to be inside the entire Beis HaMikdash building, even the Kodesh (Vayikra 16:17),” interjected Hershel.

“Not only were no humans allowed in, even angels could not enter (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:5, cited by Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 19b).”

THE COHEN GADOL SWEARING

“I remember learning that the Cohen Gadol had to swear an oath before Yom Kippur,” queried Hershel. “Why was that?”

“The first time the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim, he did so with a ladle of specially refined k’tores (incense) and a censer, a type of coal pan for burning incense. According to Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai, he had to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim first and then burn the k’tores inside. However, the Tzedukim, who did not accept Torah she’be’al peh, believed that he should kindle the k’tores first and then enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim. In the period of the Second Beis HaMikdash, when the position of Cohen Gadol was often purchased, there was concern that the Cohen Gadol might be a clandestine Tzeduki. Since no one could enter the Beis HaMikdash building while the k’tores was offered, there was no way of knowing what the Cohen Gadol actually did while inside. Therefore, he was required to swear before Yom Kippur that he would perform the service as instructed by the Gedolei Yisrael.”

“Were there any recorded instances of a Cohen Gadol who was a Tzeduki?”

“The Gemara records two such instances. In one case, the Cohen Gadol proudly told his father, who was also a Tzeduki, that he had offered the k’tores according to their practices. The Gemara records that this Cohen Gadol soon died a very ignominious death.”

“What happened in the other instance?”

“The Gemara records that the cohanim heard a loud sound in the Beis HaMikdash. They raced in to find the Cohen Gadol dead, with obvious signs that he had been killed by an angel (Yoma 19b).”

“But I thought even angels could not enter the Beis HaMikdash while the Cohen Gadol offered the k’tores?”

“This is an excellent question, and it is asked by the Gemara Yerushalmi. The Gemara answers that since the Cohen Gadol had performed the service incorrectly, the angels were permitted to enter.”

MULTIPLE ENTRIES INTO THE KODESH HAKODOSHIM

“How many times did the Cohen Gadol enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim on Yom Kippur?” asked Hershel.

“Most people don’t realize that the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim four times on Yom Kippur. The first time was with the special Yom Kippur k’tores, the second time to begin the kaparah of his special Yom Kippur bull offering, and the third time to attend to the kaparah of the goat offering. During each of these last two visits he sprinkled eight times. These sprinklings have a significant place in the piyutim. These are the places when the chazan, followed by the congregation, shouts out, ‘Achas, achas v’achas, achas u’shtayim,’ until ‘achas va’sheva’ to commemorate this part of the Avodah.”

“You said that the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim four times, but we mentioned only three.”

“Much later in the day, the Cohen Gadol changed into a different set of special Yom Kippur white garments and entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim to pick up the censer and the ladle that he had brought in earlier. This was a required part of the Yom Kippur service.”

“I reviewed the description of the Avodah mentioned in Parshas Acharei,” continued Hershel. “I notice that the Torah does not mention Yom Kippur until the twenty-ninth pasuk of the discussion. Why is this?”

“Although Aaron and the later Cohanim Gedolim never entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim, except on Yom Kippur, the Midrash says that Aaron was permitted to enter it at other times, provided he followed the procedure described in Parshas Acharei. On Yom Kippur, he was obligated to offer these korbanos and enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim. Thus, the beginning of the reading explains how Aaron could enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, whereas the end teaches that this procedure must be performed on Yom Kippur.” (Note that Rashi, in his commentary on these verses in Chumash, seems to have a different approach to this question.)

“Is it true that a rope was tied around the Cohen Gadol’s waist before he entered, so that they could pull him out if he died?”

“In actuality, the source, which is a quotation in the Zohar, mentions that a rope was tied around his foot,” responded Rav Goldberg.

“Thanks a lot for all your time,” Reb Hershel concluded.  “I now understand the importance of reciting the Seder Avodah carefully, and why some people study the mishnayos of Meseches Yoma before Yom Kippur.”

“You are absolutely correct. Indeed, the Mateh Efrayim maintains that one’s main learning during the entire month of Elul should be devoted to understanding the Seder Avodah properly. So, don’t forget to study the mishnayos and gemaros we’ve just been discussing.”

 

The Creation of the “Permanent” Calendar

calendar-1568148-639x424When the Torah commands us to create a calendar, it includes two different responsibilities: First, to have Rosh Chodesh and the length of each month determined on the basis of when the new moon appears, and, second, to have the holiday of Pesach fall in the spring and the holiday of Sukkos in the autumn (in the northern hemisphere). Thus, we have two separate and very different requirements, one of having the months determined by the moon, which is a little more than every 29½ days, and having years that coordinate with the seasons, which follow the solar year, which is a bit less than 365¼ days.

To accomplish that the dates and holidays should fall according to the seasons, the halacha is that some years have 12 months, or approximately 354 days, and others have 13 months, or approximately 384 days. This ensures that the holidays fall in their appropriate seasons. The mitzvah of the Torah is that the head of the Sanhedrin should be in charge, every month, to decide whether a month is 29 days long or 30, and of deciding whether a year should have an extra month. In the latter case, he appointed a special committee, comprised of members of the Sanhedrin, to review the relevant information and determine whether the year should be 13 months (a leap year) or only 12 (a common year).

By the way, after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the main Beis Din was not located in Yerushalayim, but wherever the Nasi of the Jewish people resided, as long as it was in Eretz Yisrael. This included several communities at various times of Jewish history, including Teverya, Yavneh, and Shafraam.[i] Indeed, during this period, if the head of the Beis Din was in the Diaspora and there was no one of his stature remaining in Eretz Yisrael, the special Beis Din met outside the land of Israel.[ii]

Initially, all these decisions were made by the heads of the Sanhedrin, and, indeed, when Moshiach comes, we will again have this system. This was the system in place for thousands of years – from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until about 250 years after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. At that time, the head of the Sanhedrin, Hillel Hanasi (not to be confused with his ancestor, Hillel Hazakein), realized that, because of Roman persecution, the Sanhedrin’s days were numbered and it would be necessary to switch to a different system for determining the calendar. Hillel Hanasi implemented a temporary Jewish calendar, which is the one that we currently use. Although many people refer to it as a “permanent calendar,” it will be in use only until we again have a Sanhedrin, which will then be in charge of the calendar.

Hillel’s calendar kept the same basic structure of 29- and 30-day months and 12- and 13-month years, but it is based purely on calculation and not on observation. The two major changes in this new calendar are:

  • A Leap of Fate

The leap years now occur following a regular pattern of seven leap years and 12 non-leap (usually called “common”) years in a 19 year cycle. The third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth years of the cycle are always leap years, and the rest are common years. This year is the nineteenth year of the cycle, and thus is a leap year.

  • The Haves versus the Have-nots

The length of most months is now predetermined. Tishrei, Shvat, Adar Rishon (which exists only in a leap year), Nissan, Sivan and Av always have 30 days; whereas Teiveis, regular Adar (in a common, non-leap year), Adar Sheini (in a leap year), Iyar, Tamuz and Elul are always only 29 days long. The two months of Cheshvan[iii] and Kislev are the only months whose length varies, sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30.[iv] A year in which both Cheshvan and Kislev have only 29 days is called chaseirah, lacking or defective; one in which Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30 is called kesidrah, as expected or regular; and one in which both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days is called sheleimah, full or excessive.

The terms chaseirah, kesidrah, and sheleimah apply in both common and leap years.[v] Thus, in the new calendar, all common years are either 353 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 29 days), 354 days (if Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30) or 355 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days); all leap years are either 383 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 29 days), 384 days (if Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30) or 385 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days). Since Adar in a common year always has 29 days, Adar Rishon always has 30 days, and Adar Sheini always has 29 days, like the regular Adar, the addition of an extra month of Adar in a leap year always adds exactly thirty days.

(Because the nineteen-year cycle synchronizes the lunar calendar with the solar year, the Hebrew and English dates of births, anniversaries and other occasions usually coincide on the nineteenth anniversary of the event. If yours does not, but is off by a day or two, do not fret. Your record keeping is accurate, but the cycle of nineteen years only relates to whether it is a leap year, not to whether the years are of the exact same length. The lengths of Cheshvan and Kislev are determined by other factors, and this will affect whether your 19th, 38th or 57th birthday or anniversary exactly coincides with its Hebrew/secular counterpart, or whether it is slightly off.)

The new calendar bases itself on an estimate, an average time that it takes the moon to revolve around the Earth. This molad calculation is that each new moon appears 29 days, 12 hours, and 793 chalakim (singular: chelek) or 793/1080 of an hour after the previous new moon. Once one knows when the new moon, called the molad, occurred on the previous Rosh Hashanah, one could now add either 12 or 13 times the above figure and determine the time of the molad in the next year, which is the most important factor in determining the date of the next Rosh Hashanah. (The term chelek, used on Shabbos Mevorchim when announcing when the molad is, equals 1/1080 of an hour, or 3 and 1/3 seconds.)

There is one other factor: Sometimes Rosh Hashanah takes place not on the day of the molad, but the next day, because the molad occurred on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah and would not be visible in Eretz Yisrael until the next day. When Rosh Hashanah was determined by the observation of witnesses, this information was important not only in determining when Rosh Hashanah falls, but also for interrogating potential witnesses testifying to the appearance of the new moon. However, Hillel’s calendar is no longer dependent on witnesses, Rosh Hashanah is still not established on a day when the molad falls on its afternoon, but is postponed. Based on this information, one can determine which day should be Rosh Hashanah in the coming year.

Another major innovation

Did you ever notice that Yom Kippur never falls on Friday or Sunday? If it did, we would observe two consecutive days that both have the stringency of Shabbos. Indeed, when the calendar was based on observation, this could and did happen.[vi]

However, Hillel Hanasi’s calendar included some innovations that were not part of the earlier calendar. His calendar does not allow Yom Kippur to fall on either a Sunday or a Friday, thus avoiding the difficulty of having two Shabbos-like days fall consecutively. Hillel Hanasi’s calendar also does not allow Hoshana Rabbah to fall on Shabbos, which would cause the cancellation of the Hoshanos ceremony. As long as the calendar was determined on the basis of eyewitness testimony, it was halachically more important to have Rosh Chodesh fall on its correct day than to be concerned about difficulties created when certain holidays fall on or next to Shabbos.[vii] However, once we are fulfilling the mitzvah in a less-preferred way with Hillel’s “permanent” calendar, keeping Yom Kippur from falling on Friday or Sunday, and Hoshana Rabbah from falling on Shabbos, are factors to be included in establishing the calendar.

In order to accommodate these innovations, Rosh Hashanah could fall only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Shabbos, since if it falls on Sunday, Hoshana Rabbah falls on Shabbos; if Rosh Hashanah falls on Wednesday, Yom Kippur falls on Friday; and if Rosh Hashanah falls on Friday, then Yom Kippur falls on Sunday. This would mean that when Rosh Hashanah in the coming year would naturally fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, an extra day is added to the calendar to make sure that Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday, Thursday or Shabbos instead.[viii] This calendar concept of guaranteeing that Rosh Hashanah not fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday is called לא אד”ו ראש, lo adu rosh, meaning that the beginning of the year, Rosh Hashanah, does not fall on א, the first day of the week, Sunday; ד, Wednesday; or ו , Friday. It is predominantly for this reason that there was a need to have Cheshvan and Kislev sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30, in order to make the exact length of the years flexible.

Although the innovation of adding one day to the year so that Rosh Hashanah not fall on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday seems relatively simple, it sometimes leads to more complex considerations. In some years, adjusting Rosh Hashanah to avoid Sunday, Wednesday and Friday creates a problem in the year before or the year after. Since Hillel Hanasi’s calendar did not allow a common year to be longer than 355 days and a leap year to be shorter than 383 days, the only way to avoid problems is to plan the calendar an additional year in advance and adjusting the calendar appropriately. In order to accomodate all these various calendar requirements, Hillel Hanasi established four rules, called dechiyos, which, together with the sod ha’ibur calculation and the 19 year leap year rotation, form the basis for determining our calendar.[ix]

To explain how this works, let us choose a sample year in which the molad calculation for Rosh Hashanah fell on Wednesday evening, and Rosh Hashanah therefore falls on Thursday, which is what we would expect. However, the next year’s molad for Rosh Hashanah falls on Tuesday less than two hours before the end of the day. Although the molad falls on Tuesday, it is too late in the day for this molad to be visible in Eretz Yisrael, and therefore, Rosh Hashanah cannot occur before Wednesday. However, since Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on a Wednesday because of the rule of lo adu rosh, it must be pushed off to Thursday, or two days after the molad. For this reason, that year must have an extra day. However, each year is limited how long it may be. In order to accommodate the proper dating of the second year, the year prior would have to have more days than the calendar allows. In order to resolve this, the year before is made longer than necessary. What is happening is that one Rosh Hashanah is postponed to allow that the next Rosh Hashanah should fall out in an acceptable way.

As I mentioned above, although the leap years follow an absolute nineteen-year cycle, whether the year is chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah is determined by the other factors we have noted, and therefore does not follow the nineteen-year pattern. Rather, one first calculates when Rosh Hashanah should fall out based on the sod ha’ibur, checks the rules of the dechiyos to see what adjustments need to be made, and then determines on which day Rosh Hashanah should fall. As a result, whether the year in question needs to be chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah requires calculating not only this year’s schedule, but also the coming year’s calendar requirements.

Based on all these calculations, there are seven prototype years for a common year and seven for a leap year that fulfill the calendar rules. Each of these fourteen prototype “years” is called by a three letter acronym in which the first letter identifies the day of the week of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the second letter denotes whether the year is chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah, and the third letter identifies the day of the week of the first day of Pesach. No letter is used to denote whether the year is common or leap, because this is understood by knowing how many days of the week Pesach follows Rosh Hashanah. In a common year that is kesidrah, Pesach falls two days later in the week than Rosh Hashanah, and in a leap year, it falls four days later, the two additional days being the extra two days that the extra month of Adar Rishon, thirty days long, adds to the day of the week count. Of course, these calculations must be adjusted one day in either direction, if the year is chaseirah or sheleimah. Either way, calculating how many days are between Rosh Hashanah and Pesach tells us whether it is a common or leap year, so there is no need to include this in the acronym.

Thus, this year 5776 is known as בשז because Rosh Hashanah fell on Monday (ב), it is a sheleimah (ש) year in which both Cheshvan and Kislev contain 30 days, and the first day of Pesach falls on Shabbos (ז).

At this point, we have the basic information to figure out how our calendar operates. Although we may not realize it, we actually already have enough information at our fingertips that we could already calculate the calendars for the coming years – indefinitely.

Conclusion

We understand well why our calendar involves use of the solar year – after all, our seasons, and the appropriate times for our holidays, are based on the sun. But why did the Torah insist that our months follow the moon? It seems that we could live fine without months that are dependent on the moon’s rotation around the earth!

One answer to this question is that the waxing and waning of the moon is symbolic of our own our relationship with Hashem – which is sometimes better and sometimes less so. However, we know that we can always improve that relationship, just as the moon after its waning and almost disappearing always renews itself.

 

[i] Rosh Hashanah 31b

[ii] Berachos 63a; Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 1:8

[iii] Although the correct name of the month is Marcheshvan, we will follow the colloquial use of calling it Cheshvan.

[iv] Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 8:5

[v] By the way, because Kislev is sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30, the last day of Chanukah is sometimes on the second day of Teiveis, and sometimes on the third.

[vi] She’iltos of Rav Acha’ei Geon, #67; Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 5:21; Ha’emek She’eilah ad loc., Note 22.

[vii] Ha’emek She’ailah ibid; Gri”z, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh

[viii] Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 7:1.

[ix] Because these dechiyos are extremely technical, I did not explain all of them.

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

Question #1: Where?

Where is the bracha of Magen Avos first mentioned?

Question #2: What?

What is the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

Question #3: When?

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

Answer:

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

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

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

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

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

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

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

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

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

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

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

Do we recite Mei’ein Sheva on Yom Tov?

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

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

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

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

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

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

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

Thirteenth century zeal

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

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

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

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

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

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

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

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

Conclusion

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

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