From Mt. Moriah to Mt. Sinai, by Rabbi Noach Goldstein

mount sinai torah

The story of Akedat Yitzchak is so intertwined with Rosh Hashana that it is impossible to seriously contemplate the day without thinking of Akedat Yitzchak. To briefly survey some of the connections: They have the same major themes,[1] one view in Chazal is that Akedat Yitzchak took place on Rosh Hashana(see Bereishit Rabbati 22:14), and most graphically, the Rambam rules at the very beginning of הלכות שופר that the שופר must come from the horn of a ram (see Raavad and Lechem Mishna ad loc.). However, I think there is another way in which the legacy of Akedat Yitzchak contributes to our עבודת ה’ that is not as readily noticed, but that we should certainly have in mind during this time.

In a short article in the Megadim journal,[2] R. Dr. Yonatan Grossman points out that there is a plethora of parallels between Akedat Yitzchak and שמות פרק כ”ד, where Hashem makes a covenant with Bnei Yisrael at Mount Sinai. A sample:[3]

  • They share the basic setting of התגלות השכינה on a holy mountain, where a מזבח is built, קרבנות are offered, and Hashem establishes a ברית.
  • The overriding importance of total obedience to ציווי ה’—Avraham’s willingness to offer Yitzchak and Bnei Yisrael’s repeated declaration of נעשה ונשמע—is foundational to both passages.
  • The root ע-ל-ה, which is obviously deeply significant, appears over and over again in both places (eight times at הר המוריה, nine times at Mount Sinai).
  • In each passage one group is left behind while two people continue to ascend the mountain (The שתי נערים Avraham and Yitzchak; the זקנים vs. Moshe and Yehoshua);
  • Both places share a number of key words and phrases.[4]

This theme is also highlighted in a number of midrashim, for example Bereishit Rabbah (56:1) quoted by Rashi (22:4) that Avraham was able to identify הר המוריה because a cloud covered the mountaintop, just like at mount Siani, and the midrashim cited by the Chizkuni (22:19) that Yitzchak did not return with Avraham from Akedat Yitzchak because he either entered גן עדן or left to study Torah, both of which parallel Moshe after ascending Mount Sinai.

The natural question this raises is what message does the Chumash want to get across by drawing such strong connections between the covenant at Mount Sinai and the ברית at הר המוריה. As is often the case, close connections also help highlight significant discrepancies. In our context, two jump out: 1) Avraham names the place of the Akedat Yitzchak, “ה’ יראה”—Hashem will see—but at Mount Sinai we are told about the זקנים, “ויראו את אלקי ישראל”—they saw Hashem; 2) The only קרבן that Avraham brings is an עולה, but at Mount Sinai we are told about the “נערי בני ישראל” (another עקידה connection) that “ויעלו עלת ויזבחו זבחי שלמים”—they offer שלמים in addition to the עולות.

The idea seems to be that the covenant at Mount Sinai takes the foundation of Akedat Yitzchak and builds on it. The core of the עקידה is יראת ה’ and unquestioned obedience—”עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלקים אתה”—and that remains the foundation of our relationship with Hashem—”כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע”. However, once כלל ישראל has Akedat Yitzchak and its pure expression of יראת ה’ firmly established in our spiritual legacy, we can progress to the next step in our relationship with Hashem, the יראה mixed with אהבה in a way that does not dilute the יראה, but fully complements it. The entire legacy of the Akedat Yitzchak is present at Mount Sinai, only now we are able to offer שלמים together with our עולות, and the זקנים can כביכול “see” Hashem and not only be seen by Him.

Avraham is uniquely described in Tanach as both “ירא אלקים” and as “אברהם אהבי” (Yeshayahu 41:8). As we hopefully try our fullest to heed the call of דרשו ה’ בהמצאו and capitalize on the opportunities the coming days of offer to restore and deepen our relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam, Avraham is the ideal person to have at the front of our consciousness. On the one hand the dedication and awe shown at Akedat Yitzchak are the ultimate religious aspiration. On the other hand, as the covenant at Mount Sinai shows, it also reveals that there are many more steps on the journey.

 

Noach Goldstein is a fellow in the Wexner Kollel Elyon and Assistant Rabbi at the Jewish Center of Manhattan.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife Alexis and sons Yehoshua and Azi.

[1] The list of shared themes includes but is not limited to; יראת שמים, קבלת עול מלכות, מדת הרחמים, התגלות, זכירת הברית, etc.

[2] Megadim vol. 25, “”וירא את המקום מרחק” – עקדת יצחק כסיפור רקע לברית האגנות ולסיפורים נוספים”.

[3] Some of these examples are not from R. Dr. Grossman.

[4] Examples from שמות כ”ד include: “וישכם בבקר” (cf. Bereishit 22:3); “ויבן מזבח” (cf. 22:9), “לא שלח ידו” (cf. 22:12), שבו לנו בזה עד אשר נשוב אליכם (cf. 22:5), and “אש אכלת” (cf. 22:6).

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Rosh Hashana: Joy and Judgment , by Sheldon Kupferman

Jacobs dream

 Painting by Reuven Rubin

When we announce our opening maariv in the amida on the beginning of the Rosh HaShana holiday, we recite a verse from Psalms:

 

תקעו בחודש שופר בכסה ליום חגינו, כי חוק לישראל הוא משפט לאלוקי יעקב”

 

 “Sound the shofar on the New Moon, on the appointed time for the day of our festival. For it is a statute for Israel, the judgment of the God of Jacob.

 

 

 

 Because Rosh HaShana is the first day of the month of Tishrey, it always begins with a new moon, unlike all the other holidays which are closer to or on the 15th day of the month when the moon is full.

 What is the significance, if any, for making this holiday at such a time. The image of Keseh, hidden or covered, is it just because of the date or is there any significance?

 

 Rosh HaShana is referred to as HaYom Harat Olam. Art Scroll translates this phrase as the Birthday of the world. However, this is a mistake. Haras comes from the word harayon, which means pregnancy.

 As such, the proper translation would be:

 “Today is the conception day of the world”!!

 As such, we are not celebrating the day that the world came into reality.

 We are celebrating the day that God decided that there should be a world with beings other than Himself. It is the day that God decided to make room in His reality for a being that is other, subject to time and space. He decided to make room in his reality for a being that had free will and choice. He decided to make room for a relationship with others.

 The midrash asks why did the Torah begin with the letter bet. The midrash points out that the word bracha begins with s bet and aleph the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is the first letter of the word Arrur which means to curse.

 What the midrash is trying to relate is that God decided that the source of blessing can only happen when one gives to another. Existence of one God alone is infinite, but without room for others there is no relationship to grow. In the world of time and space a world of self of 1 can only lead to self-absorption and curse. A world of 2 beings, each giving to the other is the basic source of blessing. As this was the moment of the conception of creation, before it actually occurred, before it came into existence, this is the world of Keseh , of the hidden before time and space.

 On Rosh HaShana we return to our conception. We return and Remind ourselves (Yom HaZikaron) of the perfect conception of ourselves and ask God and us to judge where we are in this relationship. This is the Yom HaDin. Straight raw objective judgment.

 When God actually brought the world into existence, he let go of the perfect model and made even more room for mercy and patience. As realistic humanity is flawed.

 

 The mortal response to coming face to face with this Yom HaDin is twofold:

 A: IMITATE DEO, imitate the Creator. Give to those who don’t have. Be godly. Create a relationship where you are the giver. Go away from self and make room for others.

 

 The second response would generally be dread and fear. Yet the prophet Nehemiah demands from those who returned to Zion with him, Eat, drink enjoy the best that life can offer. Rejoice. When you give to others on this day of judgment, do it with Joy of celebration of standing with the Creator.

 Even if you are afraid of your grand potential, know that one can grow that potential by giving to others in joy.

 

 The Sfat Emmet cites a tradition that the forefather Jakob experienced his prophetic dream of being in the presence of the ladder that went up to heaven on the day of Rosh Hashana. In that dream, Jakob is an observer as he watches the angels ascending and descending, all while God watches from up high.

 

 The Sfat Emmet takes Jakob to task. Jakob wakes up from his dream in dread and fear. Ma Nora Hamakom Hazeh. Yet the Sfat Emmet, chastised Jakob for just watching. Get over it he demands. The fear may be real, but he had a major missed opportunity. Jakob was only an observer. He should have gone up the ladder himself, to meet his true essence and true potential all while celebrating his union with God. The course of Jewish history and all of humanity would have forever been changed for the better. What makes someone a hero is not that they are not afraid. One becomes a hero because they act on their fear and despite their fear.

 This is the itzumo Shel Yom for Rosh Hashanah. May we all make this judgment experience an opportunity for growth and self-reflection. May we do it with joy and celebration and always seize life and the experiences that God has waiting for us with fear and with the joy of the opportunity. May we all be blessed to be sources of blessing in our search and request for a happy, healthy, successful, and prosperous year.

 

Based on Rabbi Isaac Hutner’s first Ma’amar on Rosh Hashanah, in his magnum opus Pachad Yitzchak.

 

 

Rosh Hashanah: Confidence Counts, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

nechemia temple

It was a small group of sweaty, sunburnt, and exhausted men. They had been a small group who traveled back from today’s Iraq, back to their ancestral homeland after seventy years of exile intending to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. After disappointment after disappointment, struggle after struggle, the humble building was complete. Those who remembered the glory of Solomon’s first Temple broke down in tears, recognizing the disparity between the glory of the old building and the newbuilt Beit Hamikdash. This all took place on Rosh Hashana. 

The verse shares with us a heart-wrenching account (Nechemiah chapter 8):

“Now all the people gathered as one man to the square that was before the Water Gate, and they said to Ezra the scholar to bring the scroll of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, both men and women, and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.”

That “first day of the seventh month,” is the date of Rosh Hashana. There they are, the small remnant of Jews, standing in the street below temple mount, listening to the Torah—many of them for the first time. They listen with pierced ears to the words of the Torah, as they take in the words they will newly commit to as they return to the land of Israel. 

“And he read in it before the square that was before the Water Gate from the [first] light until midday in the presence of the men and the women and those who understood, and the ears of all the people were [attentive] to the Scroll of the Law.

And Ezra the scholar stood on a wooden tower that they had made for the purpose… And Ezra opened the scroll before the eyes of the entire people, for he was above all the people, and when he opened it, all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with the uplifting of their hands, and they bent their heads and prostrated themselves to the Lord on their faces to the ground. And they read in the scroll, in the Law of God, distinctly, and gave sense, and they explained the reading to them.”

Seldom in Jewish history do we find such a readiness to obey God’s words and to embrace the Torah. It is reminiscent of the time the Jews stood at Sinai and said “Naaseh Ve’ Nishma”, we will do as God says, and we will hear all that He has to say. Recognizing the gap between their practice and what is required, the disparity between the lives they are leading, and the lives they ought to be leading, the newcomers to Jerusalem begin to weep. It is the perfect example of Teshuva Me’ ahava, repentance motivated by love. There is no element of fear, no explicit rebuking, just a recognition of the need to do better. 

Then Nehemiah-he is Hattirshatha-and Ezra the priest, the scholar, and the Levites who caused the people to understand, said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; neither mourn nor weep,” for all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law.”

And he said to them, “Go, eat fat foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord, and do not be sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

And the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Hush, for the day is holy, and do not be sad.”

Then all the people went to eat and to drink and to send portions and to rejoice greatly, for they understood the words that they informed them of.

 

Symbolically, that Rosh Hashana embodies so much of what we feel to this very day. Have we even come close to doing what we thought we are capable of? Are we near the goals, hopes, and aspirations we hold so dear? Did we even try? We stand there preparing for Rosh Hashanah as sheer shock that this past year, the month of Elul, the week of Slichot, and erev Rosh Hashanah having gone by so fast. We are at the Day of Judgment with nothing. “Kedalim U’Kerashim,” we say in the Slichot. Like impoverished and wretched people we come to you. We are shocked by the dissonance, the distance between what we know is right and what we have done. 

Suddenly, the reality of God’s commandment and common practice hits us: “Go, eat fatty foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord, and do not be sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Why? What merit is there in rejoicing at a time of judgment?

The Jerusalem Talmud(Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1:3) addressing this issue explains:” Rabbi Simon stated: it is written (Deuteronomy 4:8) “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is at all times that we call upon Him?” Rabbi Hama said at Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Hoshaia, who is a nation like this nation? The norm of the world is, a man who knows that he is going to be judged wears black garments, and wraps himself with black, and grows his beard, for he does not know how his verdict will be decided. However, those [the people of Israel] are not like that. Rather, they wear white clothing, wrap themselves with white, groom their beards, eat and drink, and rejoice, for they know that God does miracles for them.”

On Rosh Hashanah, we mark our closeness with God. Inherent to that closeness is the faith we will be exonerated. The reason for the confidence? Sin represents distance from God. Virtue, on the other hand, represents closeness to God. The act of showing faith in God that we will get a good verdict Rosh Hashanah, in and of itself atones for our sins. We show where it is that we want to be. We eat, drink, and celebrate because for us distance from God is not an option. 

Like the broken and downtrodden Jews rebuilding the Second Temple, we recognize the gap between where we are and where we should be. The ancient commandment echoes today—as in those times—reminding us that confidence and faith are the only way forward. Sometimes reality is like Sir Winston Churchill put it” “Success Is Going from Failure to Failure Without Losing Your Enthusiasm.” Recognizing God as the King of the Universe and the entire Universe as His domain is in and of itself a reason to rejoice; a terrific step forward to a happy and successful year. 

Shana Tov, and Happy and Healthy Sweet New Year to all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Doesn’t Yom Kippur Predate Rosh Hashanah? by Rabbi Jonathan Sigal

shofar siddur

Concerning the Yomim Noraim there is a strong and obvious question hidden in plain sight, as follows: Would it not make a lot more sense to make Yom Kippur our day of Atonement before Rosh Hashana the Day of Judgement and not afterward as we do? This way we could amend all of our wrongdoings with Viduy and teshuva combined with the Cleansing power of that special day and then come into Rosh Hashana all clean and fixed and then Merit a decisively good Judgement for life?

 

Now of course it is the Torah that has divinely decreed this order and the days are also intrinsically linked to historical events: specifically Rosh Hashana was the day of creation of Man (and so he is re-evaluated and Judged in terms of is he living up to the very purpose to that he was created for) and Yom Kippur was the day Moses came down from Sinai with the Second Tablets that was proof positive that the Jewish Nation was forgiven for the Sin of Making the Golden Calf hence was established as a day of Atonement for generations. However, the question still remains why was it Divinely orchestrated that Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement follow Rosh Hashana the Day of Judgement and not vice versa? The Key to understanding the solution to this dilemma is to analyze the manner that we pray and serve Hashem on the Day of Rosh Hashana.

 

We do not repent at all or show any signs of sorrow for our past misdeeds, nor do we ask for any personal needs (even though we do hint to them with the Simonim, our food signs like the apple in the honey etc.). Everything we do on Rosh Hashana, the blowing of the Shofar and the theme of our prayers is to stress and prove one point, That Hashem is our King and we are subjects in his Kingdom. The experience of Rosh Hashana allows us not only intellectually understand that Hashem is our King but to internalize and feel this truth in every fiber of our being. Actually, that is the power of the Shofar it Symbolizes the cry of the Soul and as we hear that cry it resonates with our collective and individual souls and reminds of us our true mission in this world as subjects in Hashems Kingdom, this is how it actually wakens us up and inaugurates Hashem as our King. It is that “Kol Demma daka” that very thin voice barely perceived because during the rest of the year when we confused with Business as usual, we can barely hear it because it drowned out by the noise of the mundane world, but on Rosh Hashana we able to focus on it and hear its message. We can delete everything in our lives that is not related to that voices message clearly understand that anything that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of Hashem is not really of importance to our life’s mission. During the rest of the year we have allowed ourselves to be Subject to the Evil Inclination and his Kingdom. On Rosh Hashana, we take note of how far we have wandered and liberate ourselves and establish ourselves in the Kingdom of Hashem. (This is why Joseph was liberated from the prison for interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh on Rosh Hashana).

 

Once someone asked a Master of Sculptures how he does it? He said it is very easy I take a block of Granit and if I want to Sculpture an Elephant, for example, I just cut away everything that is not Elephant!) So too the Shofar blow and prayers of Rosh Hashana help us chisel away from our lives anything in our lives that is not in/under Hashem’s Kingdoms domain. With this we can answer our original question. All year round as we have lived under the influence of the evil inclination, we have built up a building of Nonsense and Sin. This must be dismantled. There are two basic ways to raze a building: either to knock it at its foundation and the building will fall or to take it apart brick by brick. On Rosh Hashana we are destroying the building at its foundations which are the cause of our mistakes and sins is because fundamentally we had wandered out of Hashem’s Kingdom and allowed our Evil Inclination to rule us. As a result, our Judgement was clouded and we made wrong decisions and failed. On Yom Kippur, we take our building apart brick by brick and analyze every nook and cranny piece by piece and see how we can improve every detail of our being.

 

It is impossible to analyze every aspect of our being correct if our Judgement is clouded. If we exist in the Kingdom of the Evil inclination and our conditioned by his influence how can we truly honestly analyze and fine-tune every aspect of our being? That would not be possible unless we first move out of the Kingdom of Evil and enter the Kingdome of Hashem. Only after we have reconnected with clarity to our true mission in life as subjects to Hashems World and his mission can we honestly reconstruct ourselves on Yom Kippur.

 

Rabbi Jonathan Sigal Grew up in Atlanta, GA and attended Yeshiva Highschool there. He later attended Yeshiva Ohr Sameach (Rabbi Ahron Feldman Shalita), Yeshivas Ofikim (Rabbi Chaim Kamil zt“l) , Yeshivas Heichal Hatorah (Rav Tzvi Kushlevski Shalita) Learned in various Kollelim he followed his Rabbi Yaakov Schatz Shalit”a to Amsterdam who served as Rosh Kollel there. Rabbi Sigal Served Two years as Rosh Kollel after his Rebbe returned to Israel. He currently studies Jewish law in the Amsterdam Kollel, does communal work teaching Torah, doing kiruv work, working for the Shachita, assisting the Jewish Burial Society. Rabbi Sigal can be contacted at sigaljj@hotmail.com

Sukkot and the Mysterious Simchas Yom Tov, By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

KAJ sukkos

 

The Ma’aravis piyyut for the second night of Sukkos commences:

ישמחו בחגיהם ידידים ונעימים

חסות בצל סכה שבעת ימים

יתענגו בה במיני מטעמים

אהובים מצותיה מקימים

לילות וימים

Dear and pleasant ones will rejoice in their festivals

Protected in the shade of the sukkah for seven days

They shall delight in it with various types of delicacies  

The beloved ones fulfill its mitzvot

Day and night

 

Similar to all piyyutim, which were authored by great sages primarily during the era of the Rishonim, deep messages are embedded in the fabric of this Ma’aravit hymn. Let’s take a close look.

 

Firstly, it is mystifying that the piyyut begins with what would appear to be the theme of Simchas Yom Tov, by elaborating on this theme through depicting the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah, Dwelling in the Sukkah. The mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov, as presented in Devarim 16:14, pertains to the bringing of festive korbonot on the Shalosh Regalim and enjoying Yom Tov in various ways (Rambam Sefer Ha-Mitzvot: Aseh 54, Hil. Chagiah 1:1, Hil. Yom Tov 6:17-18); Simchas Yom Tov is unrelated to the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah (!). Why does the piyyut seem to connect the mitzvot of Simchas Yom Tov and Yeshivah B’Sukkah?

 

Secondly, continuing with the Simchas Yom Tov theme, the piyyut speaks of delighting with delicacies in the sukkah. Partaking of delicious food in the sukkah would not appear to be an element in the formula of Simchas Yom Tov, for the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov does not pertain per se to eating in the sukkah; Simchas Yom Tov is a mitzvah on all Yomim Tovim, that just happens to be fulfilled on Sukkot when one eats in the sukkah (or indoors, if one is exempt from eating in the sukkah). However, the piyyut implies that some special or unique form of Simchas Yom Tov is obtained by enjoying food in the sukkah. How can this be?

 

Rav Yitzchak Zev (“Velvele”) Soloveitchik, zt”l, the Brisker Rav, noted that there exists a fundamental difference between the simchah of Yom Tov and of Purim. On Purim, we engage in “Mishteh” – Feasting – replicating the festivities experienced by the Jews in the Persian Empire upon being saved from death. The raw act of Mishteh, as manifest through Seudat Purim and drinking during that seudah, constitute the mitzvah. In contrast, with Simchas Yom Tov, the physical pleasures are not themselves the essence of the mitzvah; rather, these pleasures engender a spirit of simchah, bringing one to joyously connect with Hashem. Simchas Yom Tov is the simchah of rejoicing in Hashem, and it is merely fueled and elicited by tangible delectation, which serve as backdrops to joyously experiencing the Shechinah. Rav Yosef Dov Ha-Levi Soloveitchik zt”l of RIETS explained the distinction between the simchah of Purim and of Yom Tov in a somewhat similar manner, expounding that Simchas Yom Tov is a Simchah She-ba’Lev (Simchah in the Heart) and is a function of being Lifnei Hashem (Before God) on Yom Tov – a state that is precipitated by the Kedushat Ha-Yom, the Sanctity of the Day. On Yom Tov, each Jew is in the close proximity of the Shechinah, as it were, which inspires joy. (V. Reshimot Shiurim: Sukkah p. 218-219.)

 

In our liturgy, the sukkah and the Beit Ha-Mikdash are often compared. In fact, the Ma’aravis under discussion here continues, immediately before the berachah of “Ga’al Yisrael”:

 

בנה סכתך והקם הנפולה

יסודותיה לשתת ולבנותה על תלה…

Build Your Sukkah and raise up the fallen one

Establish its foundations and erect it on its mount…

 

What is the connection between the sukkah and the Beit Ha-Mikdash?

 

Life in the Midbar, where our ancestors wandered and trekked toward Eretz Yisrael three-and-a-half millennia ago, was a 40-year spiritual high, in which Hashem’s Presence was palpably felt, as He supernaturally tended to our every need and graced us with His closeness. Although the Midbar experience was relatively short-lived, its essence was captured and maintained in the confines of the Beis Ha-Mikdash, which served as the perpetual repository of intense Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah (Manifestation of God’s Presence) and live miracles on display, preserving and sustaining these central aspects of life in the Midbar. Similarly, the sukkah, which hearkens back and corresponds to our being sheltered (supernaturally or physically – Sukkah 11b) throughout the Midbar experience, is not a trifling, token memento of life there, but rather captures and replicates it, as we commemorate 40 years of living in the veil of the Shechinah. The sukkah in its own way reenacts life in the Midbar, expressing and reproducing the sensation of being safeguarded in Hashem’s Shadow. This is the significance of the Kabbalistic and liturgical references to the sukkah’s “Tzeil” (“Shade” or “Shadow”), connoting the sukkah’s role as providing a glimpse of life in the Shadow of the Divine, and it explains why the sukkah is repeatedly compared in our tefillot with the Beit Ha-Mikdash.

 

This concept gives rise to a remarkable idea regarding the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov. Although Simchas Yom Tov is to be fulfilled as prescribed in the sources cited above (and of course in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch – Orach Chaim s. 529), there is an additional aspect of simchah to be experienced in the sukkah, where one is likewise before the Shechinah, insofar as the sukkah reflects spiritual life in the Midbar. Just like Simchas Yom Tov is manifest by the joy of being in the Presence of Hashem – and that is why the special mitzvah of Arba’ah Minim in the Beit Ha-Mikdash is denoted by the command of “and you shall rejoice before Hashem your God for seven days” (Vayikra 23:40; v. Rambam: Hil. Sukkah 7:13) – so too is there great simchah by dwelling in the sukkah, where we are within the veil of Hashem and the locus of His Shadow. The elation aroused by this experience is a specialized form of Simchas Yom Tov, which our piyyut most understandably addresses as such. We can now appreciate the otherwise mysterious logic of the Ma’aravis and its connecting Mitzvas Yeshivah B’Sukkah with simchah.

 

For me and probably for everyone, the onset of Sukkot, and in particular the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah, are a spiritual rhapsody. I am convinced that the distinct and exceptionally uplifting sensation of being in the sukkah is not mere nostalgia or sentimentality, but is rather the result of an encounter with the Shechinah, as we are privileged to spend a week in the Tzeil of Hashem and to delight in His closeness.

 

 

ENDNOTE ON RECITAL OF MA’ARAVIS:

 

Based on the position of the Vilna Gaon (Ma’aseh Rav s. 162), the minhag of most yeshivot is not to recite the Ma’aravis liturgy. Nonetheless, despite his personal minhag of omitting these piyyutim, Rav Soloveitchik instructed his minyan at the Maimonides School in Brookline, MA to recite them, as the Rav felt that since they are printed as part of the standard Yom Tov tefillah, omitting them would send the wrong message to his congregants, who were well aware of the non-Orthodox movements cavalierly excising various sections of the davening. In order to demonstrate to his congregants that we are not at the leisure of making such changes at whim, and that the siddur cannot be cherry-picked but is instead an authoritative and fixed text, the Rav made sure that the Ma’aravis hymns were recited at his minyan.

 

The piyyutim, which were authored by preeminent gedolei Yisrael of the Medieval Ages and earlier and are cited by Rishonim to support important halachic and homiletic interpretations, are loaded with erudite Torah concepts and are rife with profound insights and intense inspiration. The Rav and other great talmidei chachamim were known to carefully study the piyyutim and derive sublime lessons therefrom.

 

I must point out the majestic rendition of the Ma’aravis liturgy at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ) of Washington Heights, where the chazzan slowly chants most of the Ma’aravis selections out loud, with an extremely beautiful and stirring musical nusach in the minor key. One is gripped by the solemn and emotive magnificence of the occasion. If one has the privilege to be in Washington Heights on Yom Tov, experiencing these tefillos at KAJ is an absolute must.

 

 

 

Rabbi Gordimer is a musmach of RIETS and serves as a rabbinic coordinator at OU Kosher. He is a frequent contributor to various Torah publications and Orthodox media outlets, and he serves as Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values. Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Jewish Action Editorial Committee, the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar.

On Judging and Being Judged, by Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz

court judging

The Rabbis teach that he who judges others favorably should himself be judged favorably by God (Shabbos 127b).  Perhaps this opportunity should compel us to consider the ways that we judge others in anticipation of “Judgement Day”.  

The judgement of other people is an inherently divine activity that we are loathe to engage in as humans.  The Torah describes the judges in Beis Din as “elohim” many times (for example Shmos 22:7-8) because we are to see judgement as something emanating from God through the mouths of the judges (see Ramban on Shmos 21:6).  Sefer Devarim (1:17) sums it up and says “the judgement is for Elokim” (God). Similarly, Pirkei Avos (2:4) warns us never to judge another person unless we are in their exact position, which is, implicitly, never. And if, for whatever reason, we are to ever to judge another person, we are to judge favorably (Avos 1:6).

Despite this, it seems that there are times when we must judge others, and not always favorably.  Pirkei Avos (1:7) teaches us to distance ourselves from an “evil” neighbor and warns judges to assume the worst in all of the litigants (1:8) and witnesses (1:9).  The midrash elaborates on this theme in Kala Rabasi (9) through an anecdote:

All people should always be considered in your eyes as thieves, yet you should honor all people as if they were Rabbi Gamliel.

There was a story about Rabbi Joshua who invited a man into his house, he gave him a meal, and a place to sleep on the upper floor of the house. Rabbi Joshua took the ladder away.  What did the man do? He got up in the middle of the night, took all of the (owner’s) items, and packed them up, and as he tried to leave, he fell and broke his neck. In the morning Rabbi Joshua said “empty one! Is this what people like you do? The man responded: “I didn’t know you took away the ladder”. R. Joshua said: “didn’t you see we were being careful around you?”

This midrash points to this dichotomy but how are we to reconcile these two contradictory outlooks?  The continuation of this midrash poses this question and suggests that it depends on the person in question.  If it is a righteous person who is known to us, we are to judge favorably. If not, we are to be more suspicious. Rabenu Yona suggests a similar approach in his commentary to Pirkei Avos (1:6).  I would like to suggest another approach based on the halachos of Lashon Hara.

The Chafetz Chaim (introduction, ase 3) says that one who believes lashon hara has committed the sin of not judging others favorably, among other sins.  Nevertheless, he cites (klal 6 seif 10-11) the exception that we should suspect that it is true in order to protect ourselves. How is this reconciled? He suggests a sort of “palginan neemanus” that would instruct us to believe lashon hara in respect to creating protection for ourselves, but at the same time, in our hearts we should think about it as completely false.  Therefore, we should treat the person with the same absolute respect and honor as before; there should be no change in our interactions with the person or in our thoughts of the person. Nevertheless, we should protect ourselves from the possibility that the lashon hara is true. Thus, we are to respect every single person like Raban Gamliel, the nasi but to take precautions lest they are the worst.

Pirkei Avos instructs us to distance ourselves from evil neighbors in case we anticipate a negative influence, but we are not to diminish our respect for those neighbors.  We are to be suspicious of the integrity of the witnesses and litigants in court in case our judgement will be tainted, but we are to see all litigants as righteous when the case is completed.  This dichotomy is profoundly difficult to balance, just as the Achronim struggle with the possibility of palginan neemanus which parces testimony and attempts to believe it only in one respect and not in another.  However, if we are charged to accomplish in the case of lashon hara, then perhaps we are required to do the same for all instances of judgement. Rashi (Shabbos 127b) tells us that if we will judge others more positively, peace will be promulgated in our communities.  As we have seen, this can be profoundly complex and challenging to accomplish, but perhaps a less judgmental environment may truly elevate our communities and potentially ensure a better judgement for us all this year.

 

 

Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz is the rabbi of congregation Shaare Tefillah and is Chair of the Talmud Department and Director of Judaic Studies at the Ramaz Upper School. He has published a number of volumes of educational resources and halachik essays here: https://oupress.org/product-category/halacha-aggadah-sifrei-kodesh/

Shofar: When Fulfilling a Mitzvah Necessitates a Leniency by Rabbi Arie Folger

Maurycy_Gottlieb_-_Jews_Praying_in_the_Synagogue_on_Yom_Kippur

Every year, in synagogues throughout the world, Jews of all walks of life, men and women, adults and children, even the infirm, pack into synagogues to hear the sounding of the shofar. This mitzvah exerts a particular draw on people, and even when people find themselves in situations where they are not halakhically obligated to go out of their way to hear the shofar, or may be subject to a halakhic dispensation, they insist on it.

Hearing the sounding of the shofar is a positive commandment, a mitzvat asseh, and since it is only contingent upon us on Rosh haShanah, it is time bound, hazeman geramah, and hence women are dispensed from this obligation. Nonetheless, since times immemorial, women chose to fulfill this mitzvah and other mitzvot assei she-ha-zeman geraman.“

A majority of contemporary women have accepted stricture upon themselves, and are careful and eager to fulfill most mitzvot ‘assei she-ha.zeman geraman, such as shofar, sukkah and lulav … and that has the status of kibbelu ‘alaihu (basically, a vow –AF),” writes Rabbi Akiva Eiger.[1]

More is necessarily better, right? So choosing to fulfill another mitzvah should purely confer advantages and be saluted by halakhah, right? Well, the solid consensus of poskim is that it is not only meritorious for women to adopt this mitzvah – for which they will be rewarded – but that women may also blow the shofar themselves (for themselves or for other women), and that men may blow for women, too, even after they have already fulfilled their own obligation. Nonetheless, the matter was not always obvious, and as late as the 18th century, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginzburg[2] (Shaagat Aryeh) posited that this was subject to an in his opinion unresolved machloket, and that in deference to those who prohibit, women should seek to fulfill the mitzvah by listening to a man blowing the shofar and not blow themselves.

Already in the days of Rabbi Ginzburg, the matter had actually been considered settled halakhah and women hearing the shofar – even blowing or having someone blow especially for them – was considered uncontroversial. Nonetheless, the discussions on this issue allow us to consider an interesting idea, namely that it isn’t automatically better to do more; we need to consider the halakhic “cost,” so to speak, before welcoming a chumrah.

At its core, two questions animate Rabbi Ginzburg. First, one may not gratuitously blow a shofar on Shabbat or Yom Tov. Though sounding a shofar is not a melakhah, it is classified as a chokhmah, an action requiring particular skills, which is rabbinically prohibited on holy days.[3] Secondly, Rabbi Ginzburg wasn’t convinced that there is real value in women adopting such mitzvot that they are exempt from. Basing himself on the combination of both arguments, Rabbi Ginzburg posits that the rabbinic prohibition on sounding a shofar on holy days might only be lifted for men, as they have no other way to fulfill their obligation, but not for women. Hence, argues Rabbi Ginzburg, it would be better for women not to blow the shofar on their own, but to insist on a man – who on Rosh haShanah is dispensed from the prohibition of performing that chokhmah – so as to respect all the disparate views on this matter.

As mentioned above, the solid consensus of poskim disagrees with Rabbi Ginzburg on both points.[4] How did such a solid consensus come to be formulated?

Rabbi Ginzburg’s point of departure is a comment by Rabbenu Asher ben Yechiel, in which he reports on a foundational disagreement in the matter, and decides in favor of one view. Rabbi Ginzburg worries about the other view and claims that several other Rishonim agree with that other view; most poskim didn’t read the Rif or the Rambam like Rabbi Ginzburgh, and hence did not see enough support for the “other” view to worry about it.

The foundational disagreement begins in the Talmud. The Mishna (Rosh haShanah 32b) gives license to children to practice blowing the shofar:אין מעכבין את התנוקות מלתקוע, אבל מתעסקין עמהן עד שילמדו. Subsequently the Talmud remarks that women are glaringly absent from the Mishnah:

CHILDREN NEED NOT BE STOPPED FROM BLOWING. This would imply that women are stopped. [But how can this be], seeing that it has been taught: ‘Neither children nor women need be stopped from blowing the shofar on the Festival’? — Abaye replied: There is no discrepancy; the one statement follows R. Yehudah, the other R. Yosi and R. Shim’on, as it has been taught: ‘Speak unto the Benei of Israel: [this indicates that] the “sons” of Israel lay on hands but not the “daughters” of Israel. So R. Yehudah, R. Yosi and R. Shim’on say that women also have the option of laying on hands’. (ibid. 33a)

The Talmud draws an equivalency between two sugyot, and in one of the two, we have a Stam Mishnah. The $64000 question is whether the Talmud implies we rule like the anonymized „stam“ – and thus usually ratified – Mishnah and thus like Rabbi Yehudah that women are not allowed to lay their hands on sacrificial animals they bring to the Beit haMikdash, or whether we rule like Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Shim‘on that women are permitted to lay their hands on sacrifices, and thus like the Baraita that women may blow the shofar.

The disagreement between Rabbi Yehudah on the one hand and Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Shim‘on on the other may be restated as follows: is there value in women voluntarily performing such commandments of which they are exempt, or not? Readers will know the final answer already, as there is an almost unanimous consensus that the performance by women of most mitzvot of which they are exempt, is meritorious. But how did we get there?

The first Rishon to explicitly tackle this question is Rabbenu Tam, who writes:

Although the Stam Mishnah follows Rabbi Yehudah, the halakhah follows Rabbi Yosi, because his reasoning supports his cause, and because of the story in [the chapter] Hamotzi Tefillin (TB Eruvin 96a) … and the story in the chapter Ein Dorshin (TB Chagiga 16b) [both presuppose that we rule like Rabbi Yosi]. (Tosafot ibid. s.v. Ha Rabbi Yehudah)

Rabbenu Asher ben Yechiel first rules like Tosafot, explains that Rabbi Yitzchak Gayatz (1030-1089) had already ruled – like Rabbenu Tam – in favor of Rabbi Yosi, and then records a subsequent disagreement in this regard:

The Ba’al ha’Ittur wrote that presumably, while women may blow the shofar for themselves, someone else (i.e. a man –AF) may not do so for them, and that it was the custom in Germany that men would go blow the shofar for women who recently gave birth, before the shofar was blown in the synagogue, so that the shofar blower would [at once] fulfill his own oblogation [and thus not blow specifically for the woman, for whom according to the Ba’al ha’Ittur he should not be allowed to blow –AF).
Raaviya,[5] however, wrote that since women may lay hands [on sacrifices], … even though it resembles working with sacrificial animals (which is generally prohibited –AF), so, too, regarding blowing the shofar, which is a (usually merely rabbinically proscribed –AF) chokhmah and not a (severely proscribed –AF) act of work, it is permissible to blow the shofar for them, even for one who has already fulfilled his obligation. It is likewise permissible to carry the shofar in the public domain to the synagogue in order to blow for them.
And that [adds Rabbenu Asher] “is what seems to me [correct], … all the more so for they woman, as the intend to fulfill a mitzvah…”  (Rosh, Rosh haShanah, IV:7)

Rabbenu Tam in the above cited Tosafot proceeds to state his conviction that when women voluntarily fulfill time bound positive mitzvot, they do recite the blessing formula asher kiddeshanu bemizvotav vetzivanu. That women may recite these blessings is first and foremost his own conviction (“umutarot levarech”). He subsequently brings three proofs from the Talmud that imply strongly that women may or ought to be allowed to make such blessings, but proceeds to reject every single one of those proofs. Thus, based on the above cited Tosafot, the Ashkenazi consensus allowing women to make such blessings would hinge on the mere conviction of Rabbenu Tam, a highly unusual manner to arrive at halakhic consensus. However, in another recension of Rabbenu Tam’s treatment of the subject matter[6], he begins with another proof, which is not refuted: The Talmud (Eiruvin 96a) records a disagreement regarding whether the Sages of her day protested King Shaul’s daughter Michal donning tefillin or not. For Rabbenu Tam, a possible vocal opposition to Michal’s practice would only make sense if she also recited the blessings for donning the tefillin.[7]

Rabbenu Asher also cited this point of Rabbenu Tam’s approvingly, and similarly endorsed the practice of women reciting the blessings for their voluntary fulfillment of positive time bound mitzvot, and that is the halakhic consensus among Ashkenazim. Sefardim also see value in women performing positive time bound mitzvot, but generally do not allow for such a blessing to be recited by women when they are not obligated to do so. Most Sefardim’s reluctance to allow women to recite blessings on the voluntary fulfillment of positive time bound mitzvot stems from seeing in more severe terms the prohibition to needlessly pronounce G”d’s name, and presumably also because Rabbenu Tam ended up rejecting most of his proofs.

Rabbenu Asher’s ruling concurring with Rabbenu Tam and Raaviyah is subsequently cited by his son Rabbi Ya’akov, author of the Tur:

Although women and minors are exempt [from the obligation to hear the shofar], they may blow the shofar and make the blessings and we do not protest, and there is here neither a transgression of blowing the shofar on a holy day nor of making a blessing in vain. (Tur Orach Chaim 589)

Rabbi Yosef Karo (Shulchan Arukh ibid.) ruled in accordance with Tur, Rosh and Rabbenu Tam that women may blow the shofar or have the shofar blown for them by others; he merely disagrees regarding the permissibility of women reciting the blessings for positive time bound mitzvot performed voluntarily, and indeed Sefardi practice accords with Rabbi Yosef Karo.

Rabbi Moshe Isserles comments ad loc. that Ashkenazi practice is that women do recite those blessings; it is merely proscribed for a woman to farm out the recitation of those blessings to a man who has already fulfilled his own obligation. For Magen Avraham (ibid. 589:4), who relates to the ruling approvingly, the reason for the old German custom cited by Ba’al ha’Ittur for a man to come before services to blow for women who won’t be able to come to synagogue is apparently not because of any prohibition for a man to blow the shofar specifically for women, but rather so that the man may make the blessing in case a bedridden woman does not feel up to it; there is otherwise neither a prohibition for a man or a woman to blow the shofar on Rosh haShanah, nor for a woman to recite the blessings.

The ruling is similarly cited approvingly by a host of other authorities, like Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (Bayit Chadash on Tur ibid.) and Mishnah Verurah (on Shulchan Arukh ibid.). Though the above mentioned responsum by Shaagat Aryeh (Rabbi Ginzburg) is cited by Sha’arei Teshuva (on Shulchan Arukh ibid.), poskim seemed not to feel it warranted consideration. Nonetheless, the responsum demonstrates that one needs to consider whether the performance of a stricture, of an additional obligation, is wholly positive, or comes at the expense of disregarding another injunction. Only once we agree that there is no significant downside, not even the transgression of a Rabbinic prohibition, only then may a stricture be considered salutory. And it is only because poskim throughout the ages disagreed with Shaagat Aryeh and considered that there is no transgression of hilkhot yom tov in blowing the shofar for a woman, that the practice may be encouraged in all its halakhically sanctioned forms. And that in turn stems from the near universal agreement that there is value in women fulfilling positive time bound mitzvot. As Rabbi Sirkis writes (Bayit Chadash ibid.): “whoever is not commanded and yet fulfills [the positive time bound mitzvot] earns reward.”

We mentioned earlier that the dominant opinion among Sefardi poskim is to encourage women fulfilling positive time bound mitzvot, but to disallow the recitation of the accompanying blessings. One interesting exception is Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Chida),[8] who testifies that his opinion has shifted since seeing a responsum in Sheelot uTeshuvot min haShamayim from the Tosafist Rabbenu Yaakov of Marvege (died 1243), in which it was confirmed from heaven that the halakhah accords with the view that women do make a blessing upon fulfilling a positive time bound mitzvah. Chida posits that Rabbi Yosef Karo had not seen the work of Rabbenu Yaakov of Marvege, for had he seen it, he would surely be swayed. Rabbi Azulai reports that such was in fact the custom of Sefardim in Jerusalem, and this author was told that such is also the tradition of the Gruzinim (Georgian Jews). In his wake, Rabbi Chaim Hezekiah Medini,[9] Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer of Bagdad,[10] Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel[11] and Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg[12] all agreed that Sefardi women may make the birkat hamitzvah on a time bound positive mitzvah.

Nonetheless, Chida did not sway the Sefardi consensus on this matter – most famously, Rabbi Ovadya Yosef strongly disagreed,[13] but practically all do agree with Rabbenu Tam’s other point that the halakhah accords with Rabbi Yosi who sees great value in women’s voluntary performance of mitzvot they are exempt from. As Chida cites from Rabbenu Yaakov of Marvege, “women are included in zekhirah (Divine remembrance), that their remembrance should rise up to before the Holy One, blessed be He.”

Shanah tovah umtukah

 

 

[1]Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eiger, vol. I, addendum to §1

[2]Responsa Shaagat Aryeh, yeshanot, §104 and §106

[3]Rabbi Moshe Isserles, glosses to Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim 596:1

[4]On three points, in fact. Rabbi Ginzburg also posits that during the entire Rosh haShanah holiday there is no prohibition in needlessly blowing the shofar – for men –, while the consensus is that the prohibition is only lifted for fulfilling the obligation to blow in accordance with the established minhaggim and shittot. Thus, for Ginzburg, it is conceivable that men may be permitted to blow the shofar for women even if women are not obligated, while the same action would be prohibited to women if they are indeed not obligated. Rabbi Ginzburg‘s solution is not acceptable to the halakhic consensus whereby a man blowing for a woman would only be permissible if there is value in women voluntarily obligating themselves to hear the shofar. As we shall see, there is a near universal consensus that it is meritorious for women to fulfill even mitzvot they are not obligated in.

[5]Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel of Mainz (1140-1220), author of Avi ha‘Ezri

[6]Recorded by Rosh, Kiddushin I:49

[7]One may wonder whether the question is not anachronistic, since blessing formullae may have been an innovation by the Men of the Great Assembly in the early Second Temple era, but such historical ruminations are out of place when a story‘s role is enabling the subsequent halakhic argument rather than the historical clarification. It may be that the story is entirely historical, and it may be that some aspects of the story are later elaborations, but one can neither force a particular historical interpretation based on the later Talmudic discussion, nor may one question the halakhic import of that discussion based on one‘s doubt regarding the precision with which a particular story was transmitted through the ages. In order to abstain from discussing what actually happened historically, let‘s just note that the Sages were wont to ascribe to Michal a profound piety that included donning tefillin, and that when that story was told, for generations, some would tell the story while stressing the Sages did not condemn her for donning tefillin, while other stressed while recounting that the Sages indeed condemned her for it.

[8]Yosef Ometz §82. I am indebted to Rabbi Gil Student for this reference. See likewise his work Birkei Yosef, Orach Chaim 654:2. I later found a discussion of this and the following five sources in Rabbi Getsel Ellinson, Woman & the Mitzvot, Vol. I, pgs. 90-94.

[9]Sdei Chemed 40:136

[10]Kaf haChayim 589:23

[11]Responsa Mishpetei Uziel, Choshen Mishpat §4

[12]Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 9:2

[13]Responsa Yabia Omer, Vol. I, Orach Chaim §40 & §42; Vol. V. Orach Chaim  §43

 

Rabbi Arie Folger is the chief rabbi of Vienna, Austria, and a member of the Rabbinical Court of Austria. Previously, he served as the senior rabbi of the community of Basle, Switzerland, and later Munich, Germany. He was ordained at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University and holds an MBA from New York University. He’s also a talmid of the yeshivot of Mir and Gateshead.

Rabbi Folger has held several elected positions within the Rabbinical Council of America and the Conference of Orthodox Rabbis of Germany, and is a member of the Standing Committee of the Conference of European Rabbis. He represents the CER at the European Council of Religious Leaders. He was an editor on the new RCA Siddur Avodat Halev, is the editor of the CER’s rabbinic journal Seridim, and recently a book appeared in Italian about his correspondence with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, entitled Ebrei i Christiani, Benedetto XVI in dialogo con Rabbino Arie Folger.