Shabbat-B'Shabbato – Parshat Nitzavim - Vayeilech
No 1489: 25 Elul 5773 (31 August 2013)
AS SHABBAT APPROACHES
Who Passed the Torah On? - by Rabbi Oury Cherki, Machon Meir, Rabbi of Beit Yehuda Congregation, Jerusalem
The words of Pirkei Avot are well known – that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua (Avot 1:1). However, in the Talmud another tradition appears:
"We have been taught: How was the 'Mishna' organized? Moshe learned straight from G-d. Aharon then came in and Moshe taught him the passage. Aharon then moved over and sat on Moshe's right side. His sons came in and Moshe taught them. When the sons left, Elazar sat on Moshe's right side, and Itamar sat to the left of Aharon. The elders came in, and Moshe taught them. The elders then left and the entire nation came in and Moshe taught them. Thus, Aharon heard the passage four times, his sons three times, the elders twice, and the rest of the nation once. Then Moshe would leave and Aharon would review what he had learned. Aharon left, and his sons taught the people. They left, and the elders taught the people. Thus, everybody heard the material four times." [Eiruvin 54b].
According to this description, the Torah was handed down by the Kohanim and the elders, not by Yehoshua!
A reasonable answer to this dilemma is to differentiate between two types of Torah – the written and the oral Torah. The purpose of the oral Torah, which in the above passage from the Talmud is called "Mishna," is to teach us the practical aspects of how we are meant to act. This is studied using the techniques of deriving the laws from the Torah, leading to the laws of the halacha, and not by a simple reading of the text. Such study requires a stable institution which can decide questions which are in doubt, a function that is performed by the Kohanim and the elders. The written Torah, on the other hand, teaches the ethical values at the foundation of the Torah, and this can be derived directly from the text, even if it is not directly related to the halacha. An example is the law pertaining to a person who injures somebody else's eye – the written Torah indicates what he deserves in principal, to lose his own eye, while the oral Torah teaches us the practical laws of payment for damages.
The person in charge of passing on the ethical aspects of the Torah is the king, who reads the Torah "so that he will learn to fear his G-d" [Devarim 17:19], and who in practice follows the written Torah in guiding the nation (see the Natziv, Devarim 24:16).
This chain of events is clear from this week's Torah portion. "And Moshe called out to Yehoshua, and he said to him... Be strong and have courage, for you will go with this nation to the land" [Devarim 31:7]. It would seem that Yehoshua was only given military and political roles. And immediately afterwards, it is written, "Moshe wrote down this Torah and gave it to the Kohanim, the sons of Levi... and to all the elders of Yisrael" [31:9]. This corresponds to the Talmud in Eiruvin quoted above, where we explicitly see that Yehoshua did not participate in passing the Torah from one generation to the next. But we are immediately told, "And Moshe commanded them, saying, at the end of seven years... read this Torah in front of all of Yisrael" [31:10-11]. The command to "read" is in the singular and not in the plural. This means that Moshe was talking directly to Yehoshua, who remained standing there with him, as the one who would pass the Torah on at the gathering of "Hakhel" – "so that they will learn and fear your G-d" [31:12]. Yehoshua has an additional role as the one who hands over the ethical and moral aspects of the Torah, as described in Pirkei Avot.
Rabbi Cherki is the head of Brit Olam – Noahide World Center, Jerusalem
POINT OF VIEW
Will Ashkenazim and Sephardim always Recite Prayers Separately? - by Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, Dean of the Zomet Institute
"Moshe wrote thirteen Torah scrolls on the day that he died. There were twelve for each of the twelve tribes, and one that was left in the Holy Ark. That way, if somebody wanted to make a forgery of part of the Torah they would fail." [Midrash Tehillim 90].
The Triple Kedusha is not Recited by Everybody All Together
The Days of Awe have been felt in the air for several weeks in the shofar blast at the end of the morning prayers, among all the communities of Yisrael both in Israel and abroad. The Sephardi sector of the Jews has been rising early since the beginning of the month of Elul, piercing the air with the heart-rending and soul-searching Selichot prayers. And now the Ashkenazi brethren will also finally wake up "at the end of the day of rest" and they too will pour their hearts out as water at the approach of the annual days of judgment and mercy. However, the difference between the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim is not only in the number of the days of judgment but of course in the text of the Selichot and the liturgical prayers, in the melodies, and even more so in the special atmosphere that can be felt between the chazzan and the congregation.
The differences in the customs of the communities exist all year round, but reach their peak in the Days of Awe. "Mixed" communities, students in educational institutions, Torah garinim (settlement groups), settlements, and the general population are forced to separate either pleasantly or less so, and seek different paths to the same G-d in heaven. I admit that I do not have any solution for the problem of the Days of Awe, and it indeed seems that nostalgic memories of the home atmosphere and old "traditions" will take precedence for many years to come over the desire to fulfill the phrase, "Yachad – All together they will sanctify You with a triple sanctity" [Sephardi Kedusha for Mussaf]. I have no idea what is done in all the "mixed families" (except that I do know what my daughter and son-in-law do). Does the father's tradition take precedence over that of the mother? I can say, as an aside, that this is yet another challenge for the feminists who are looking for equal opportunities. (Are all of these women from the Ashkenazi sector?)
I have always been bothered by the differences between the prayers of different sectors, which lead to divisions within communities and hinders friendships. The subject is becoming more serious with the blessed increase in "mixed families" of east and west within the religious Zionist camp. It seems to me that, as opposed to the Chareidi camp, in our community this family trait is no longer a factor in choosing a mate, and the ethnic source no longer matters at all (well, almost, anyway).
I always felt that the unified version of the prayer book should include a rotation of different styles both during the week and on Shabbat. I dream of seeing a community with a novel approach to the Shabbat prayers – where the prayers for Shabbat eve and in the morning, including the Torah reading, will be split half-and-half, in rotation, even if one of the sectors is only a minority in the community. The criterion might be at least a quarter of the congregation. If there are less than that, not only would a half-and-half system not be justified, it would be hard to find enough people among the minority to lead the prayers and read the Torah. Perhaps there is some place in this country where such a blended arrangement exists, and the fruits of such a system would be many. But I do not fool myself into thinking that such an arrangement has a high chance of taking root. Even if a community has a desire to establish such a congregation, there is no practical example that can serve as a basis for doing so.
In view of the above considerations, I would like to present my ideas as a challenge not to the communities but rather to the grammar schools. It seems to me that the Ashkenazi texts will be the rule in most yeshiva high schools, ulpanot, Hesder and post-graduate yeshivot, and IDF prep schools, because, unfortunately, the heads of most of these institutions are from the Ashkenazi camp (this is another issue which will not be discussed here). I assume that this is true even in institutions where most of the student body comes from a Sephardi background, since the Ashkenazi elite has taken over the leadership (this is again unfortunate). There is also a practical element. It is very hard for educators to develop an atmosphere and to gather all the students together using an approach that is foreign to them. But the situation in the grammar schools is not at all clear to me. Is this also dominated by the Ashkenazi tradition? Are the classes in those schools also split into factions? Are students with the "wrong tradition" told to pray by themselves and not join the others?
A Note to the Leaders of Religious Education
I therefore call out to two different groups of leaders. One is the heads of the religious education authority, to treat this matter head-on by adopting it as a national project for the next few years. Let them create a model of prayer that combines the texts and the melodies of both Ashkenazim and Sephardim based on daily rotation or a broad comobination. This will require enhanced studies and training, experimentation, and encouraging perks for those who join the trend – to be accomplished using all the good techniques which they have at their disposal. At the same time, a call should go out to all the heads of yeshiva high schools with dormitory facilities to organize Shabbat prayers which grant full equal time and importance to both the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi traditions. I know very well that this will be difficult, lacking as we do chazzanim with dual-sector skills, and without enthusiastic participation of the students, and especially without the educators having the requisite skills to join in the "other" style. In spite of all the practical problems, I am convinced that if the will is strong enough, this will "not be a legend" but a real accomplishment.
* * * * * *
In the Shulchan Aruch, it is written, "It is best that there be twelve windows in a synagogue" [Orach Chaim 90]. The Sefat Emet notes, "'He guides from the windows' [Shir Hashirim 2:9] – there are twelve windows in the sky, and therefore there should be twelve windows in a synagogue" [Torah portion of Shemot]. The Magen Avraham quotes from the ARI that "there are twelve gates in heaven corresponding to the twelve tribes, and each one has its own gate and customs." The conclusion is clear: Twelve different tribes join together in a single synagogue to pray...
LET YOUR WELLSPRINGS BURST FORTH
Crowning the King - by Rabbi Moshe Shilat, Director of "The Torah of Chabad for Yeshiva Students"
The labor of the day on Rosh Hashanah is to crown G-d – "And you shall make Me your King!" All year round we are very busy. We are occupied with our weekday burdens, a livelihood and our bodily needs, and we are also occupied with serving G-d and with our prayers, Torah study, observing the mitzvot, and improving our deeds. On Rosh Hashanah, for forty-eight hours, we do not take care of any day-to-day matters, neither physical nor spiritual, but rather we pay attention to the very basic foundation: to renew the royal authority of the King of the Universe.
We wake up to establish G-d's kingship over us and over creation as a whole. "Rule over the entire world." By crowning the King we are showing our lack of worth compared to Him. Our acceptance of the yoke of heaven is deeper at this time than at any other time during the year.
Chassidism describes an event of "siluk" - removal – that takes place on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. The Holy One, Blessed be He, disappears from the world and "folds up inside," and withdraws "within Himself." Our attempt to crown the Holy One, Blessed be He, on Rosh Hashanah and our prayers to Him are a request for renewed contact, such that He will want to have us back and return to here.
Just Accept the Yoke
The labor of the day consists of prayer and having a broken heart, like a slave who begs for his life. Chassidism issues a special warning on Rosh Hashanah to refrain from vain actions and from any speaking at all (!), to sleep little, and to recite Tehillim. Even great and prominent people spend the day in the "simple labor" of accepting the yoke of heaven.
We do not concentrate on actions or study but rather on withdrawing into ourselves and full dedication to observing the will of G-d. This acceptance of the yoke gives us strength for our labor for the rest of the year, for action that is full of happiness and that flourishes. The statement by the sages that "a year which is poor in the beginning will bring wealth at its end" is explained by Chassidism to mean that standing before G-d with a feeling of poverty and emptiness when we accept the true yoke of heaven will lead to a year that is full of wealth and a favorable life. We all want life, we all aspire to live in a Divine space. But this comes as a result of our being "in a constrained place, a meitzar." Crowding our entire being into Rosh Hashanah is what leads G-d to reply to us in a great expanse.
A Day of a Shofar Blast
This holiday does not have many special rituals but rather a great many prayers. It has a need for many proper intentions and one specific action, blowing a shofar. "Let it be a day of blasting" [Bamidbar 29:1]. The crowning is achieved through the use of a shofar blast. "Recite the passage of royalty before me, so that you will crown me... And how is this done? With a shofar."
The "tekiyah" of the shofar, the long simple blast, is the primary and simplest sound that a shofar makes. It is not especially interesting and it is not a symphony of various sounds, rather it is an act of crying out!
The shofar is the natural horn of an animal which is at a lower spiritual level than we are. This is a living creature which is much less complex than we are.
The blast of the shofar is described in the Torah as a "teru'ah." There are two explanations for this word. (1) Chopping up and shattering. (As in "And the land of Ashur will be chopped up by the sword" [Micha 5:5]. (2) An expression of love and appreciation, "He has the love of a king for him" [Bamidbar 23:21].
The shattering of our personality and the reality around us when a shofar is blown awakens and reveals the independent love between us and G-d.
The Most Absolute Experience!
The words of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik about the Chassidic approach to the blowing of the shofar are very interesting.
"The blast of the shofar, according to the approach of the Tanya, is an expression of the tremendous desire of the one who wants to leave behind the limits of the trait of constriction – the trait of gevurah, power – to the broad range of expansion – the trait of chessed, kindness.
"The weeping of a man on Rosh Hashanah is the weeping of a soul which misses the source of its creation, with a desire to cling to its lover, not in hiding but in an exposed way. The blast of the shofar protests against reality and denies the universe. When a person takes hold of a shofar and sounds a blast, he is protesting the reality which separates him from infinity. He sighs deeply and weeps about his inability to cross the mountains of existence which separate between his soul and his Creator.
"The blast of a shofar represents the yearning for the absolute unknown, which cannot be captured in any thought, which is separate and set aside, awesome and holy. The shofar cries and weeps about the infinite distance which separates between our reality and the infinite. And therefore it serves to negate the world and to raise mankind to absolute existence."
[Ish Hahalacha Chapter 8].
NATURE AND THE TORAH PORTION
Woodworm - by Dr. Moshe Raanan, Herzog College and the Jerusalem College for Women
"Perhaps there be among you roots which will grow bitter herbs and wormwood" [Devarim 29:17].
"To Suffer because of Me"
Without a doubt connoisseurs of wine are familiar with the name and taste of vermouth wine, but many of them probably do not realize how it is connected to the wormwood that is mentioned in this week's Torah portion. It is even possible that this type of wine already existed in the era of our sages and that it is mentioned in both the Babylonian and the Yerushalmi versions of the Talmud.
The word "la'anah" – wormwood – appears in the Tanach eight times, among them five times in close proximity to the word "rosh," as in the verse quoted above. The various verses imply that this refers to a plant that is bitter or poisonous, since every time it appears in a negative context. For example: "Its end is bitter as the wormwood, sharp as a double-edged sword" [Mishlei 5:4]. "He filled me with bitterness, he kept me satiated with wormwood" [Eichah 3:15]. The parallelism between bitterness and "la'anah" in this second verse has led some researchers to identify it as "maror," one of the bitter herbs that is eaten together with the Pesach sacrifice. The Ramban sees a link between the name la'anah and the bitterness. "Rosh and la'anah are bitter or poisonous plants, and these are their names in Hebrew. Or they might be nicknames, and one is called 'rosh' – a head – because it is the bitterest herb of all, while the other is called 'la'anah,' as in the verse 'to suffer because of me' [Shemot 10:3], because one who eats it suffers when he does so." Z. Amar suggests that there is a philological link between la'anah and the Arabic verb "la'an" which means to curse, since the la'anah is a type of curse.
Masking the Taste
There are several suggestions about the identity of the la'anah, and we will go along with the one chosen by the Vulgate, the translation by Akilas, and several versions of the Septuagint ("Tirgum Hashiv'im"). They identify la'anah as absinthium, specifically Artemisia absinthium. This plant does not grow in our land, but what does grow here has similar properties. The RADAK, whose family origins are from Spain, wrote in the entry for "la'an" in the book of roots, "It is known that this is as bitter as the 'rosh' but that they are two different species. And there are those who say that it is the plant called 'asensio'" (absinthe in Spanish). Almost all researchers accept these definitions for the la'anah in the Bible, following these translations. They suggest that it is referring to one of the species of absinthe that is called by this name in modern Hebrew – possibly the desert wormwood.
Some rabbis identify la'anah as maror and give it the name "wermut." Magen Avraham quotes the "Agudah" as follows: "The Agudah also writes that maror is wermut, and it is known that la'anah is wermut in Asheknaz" [473:15]. Wermut is German for wormwood. In European sources this is evidently one of the species of Artemisia, possibly Artemisia absinthium.
The connection between wormwood and vermouth is that in the past an extract of this herb was the main source of the wine's taste. The main task of the wormwood was to mask the bad taste of cheap wine, or wine which had spoiled during the long journey to market. Today it is used to impart a bitter taste. This type of wine appears in the Talmud. "Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said: There are three types of wine which do not become forbidden if left uncovered. They are sharp, bitter, and sweet... sharp – liquor and pepper; bitter – afsintin; sweet – water from 'barg'." [Avotda Zara 30a]. Rashi comments, "Afsintin – in a foreign language, 'ulishna.'" This is wormwood. Rabeinu Chananel also notes, "afsintin is la'anah in Greek - that is, the wine is bitter as wormwood."
(For more information in Hebrew and pictures, and to correspond with the author: see the Daf Yomi portal, daf-yomi.com, Avoda Zara 29a, "Leharchiv".)
A FAMILY NAMED "YISRAELI"
On Shabbat Everything is Allowed - by Rabbi Yikhat Rozen, Director of the Or Etzion Institute – Publishing Torah Books of Quality
I want to introduce you to Tom Shachar. He is a fairly new neighbor in our building, just about my age. I started feeling close to him as soon as his family moved into our building. At first I just greeted Tom and his brother to be polite, but I very quickly realized that this was a very special boy.
First of all, Tom is very kind and helpful, to a most unusual degree. Very often when I go into his house he is busy washing dishes, or taking care of his younger sister, or deeply involved in a soul-searching discussion with his brother. Whenever he has something, like a snack, he always gives some of it away to others, even before they ask. If he sees a woman passing by on the street carrying heavy packages he will right away offer to take the packages and to go home with her. It is clear to everybody who knows him why he is so well liked in his family and among all of our friends.
The other thing is that we have very many interests in common. I like to read science books and learn from them, and it turns out that Tom is an expert in many fields. He is the type of boy who knows just what an "Appolo asteroid" is (it's a heavenly body, sort of a tiny star) and how to tell the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite (rock formations that are found in caves). He knows which food should be eaten and when, in order to digest it in a healthy way. Complex mathematical problems are child's play for him, just like almost every other subject in the realm of science. And that sums up my friend Tom in a nutshell.
It is also very pleasant to talk to Tom. We can sit and talk for hours, and we never get bored. He always has an interesting story to tell, a surprising scientific fact, or some detailed analysis of the situation in our country and in the world.
However, there is one thing that keeps us apart. My family is religious, and we always try to observe the mitzvot and to study Torah, while the Shachar family is not. Aside from a few of the Jewish customs related to the holidays, they know almost nothing about basic elements in the Tanach and about halacha. I must say that I am truly surprised to see that such a smart boy does not know the names of the twelve tribes or who Beit Shammai is, or know about the significance of the mezuzah on our door.
On Shabbat we in our family sit around the table, sing the Shabbat zemirot, and discuss Torah issues. But the Shachars watch television, go to the beach, or make a barbeque in the back yard. On Tisha B'Av we mourn for the destruction of the Temple, while they see it as just another weekday. I seriously wonder if they know where the Temple was and why we are unhappy on that day.
In spite of this big difference between us, Tom and I are very good friends. We have a lot in common, and we find it very easy to ignore our differences. On Shabbat and on the holidays I prefer not to go into the Shachar house, and I would never eat anything they offer me, for reasons of kashrut. Tom knows not to disturb our Shabbat atmosphere and not to desecrate the Shabbat when he is in our house. Even though he is completely ignorant about Torah and Judaism, he has learned quite a lot from his contact with me, and I guess he understands much more about Torah and "religious boys" than most of his other friends.
One time, though, Tom was very upset, and he cried out: "I don't understand! What kind of a day is this Shabbat of yours? Everything is forbidden, not allowed! You are not allowed to travel, you can't do laundry, you are forbidden to cook, not allowed, forbidden! Judaism is a religion of compulsion! It restricts your life so much! Hasn't the time come for you to understand that you are a serious person, a boy who is thoughtful, modern, and progressive? Doesn’t that mean that it is wrong to forbid you to do things all the time? How do you accept all of these restrictions that leave you in a tiny framework of a few items that you are allowed to do? Enough is enough! The time has come for you to abandon all of these laws and start to live!"
At this I started to laugh. "I see that you do not understand the point of Shabbat at all! It is not that everything is forbidden on Shabbat – rather, everything is permitted. One is allowed not to cook, one is permitted not to travel. It is permissible to sit and read a book or study the weekly Torah portion. On Shabbat I am allowed to sit with my parents and my brothers and sisters and sing! It is a day when I do not have to get up at six o'clock and rush to school. I am allowed to be as I am, it is not required that I force myself into a framework of obligations! ... That is the beauty of Shabbat, it is the source of all its joy! On Shabbat, everything is permitted..."
(Source: "Stories that I Love to Tell")
(Note: The stories of the "Yisraeli" family are based on true events or on stories that could have been true.)
Reactions and suggestions for stories: email@example.com
RESPONSA FOR OUR TIMES
Selichot before Midnight - by Rabbi Re'eim Hacohen, Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi, Otniel
Question: Are we allowed to recite the "Selichot" prayer before midnight?
Answer: From the writings of the Geonim and that of early commentators who quoted them, it is clear that the custom was to rise early in the morning for Selichot, but we are not told exactly what time they started to pray. This is the opinion of the "ancients" which is brought by the ROSH (Rosh Hashanah 4:14), in the laws of Rav Amram Gaon (Goldshmit Edition, page 308), and as brought by RITZ Giat (one of the earliest commentators) in Hilchot Teshuva (58). The Rambam also describes getting up during the Ten Days of Repentance to recite Selichot, finishing at sunrise (Hilchot Teshuva 3:26).
The source for the rule not to recite Selichot before midnight is the Zohar in the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah (132b), where it is written that the pious people in the world wake up early in the morning, while from the time of Mincha until midnight the trait of judgment is active. This is how the Zohar explains the verse, "Dedicate war to it, let us rise up at noon. Woe is to us that the day is over and that the shadows of the evening have come out" [Yirmiyahu 6:4]. However, starting at midnight the pious ones wake up again, and the trait of mercy exists. That is why the Psalmist of Yisrael, King David, wrote, "I will rise up at midnight to thank You" [Tehillim 119:62]. In the Shaar Hamitzvot (Vaetchanan), the ARI mentions laws at the beginning of the night, and in the Shaar Hakavanot he writes: "During the first half of the night no Selichot should be recited and the Thirteen Traits of Mercy should not be mentioned" [Arvit, page 52d]. Magen Avraham also writes that after midnight is a time of good will. He specifically quotes the words of the ARI, "No Selichot or the Thirteen Traits should ever be recited except on Yom Kippur" [165:5]. This is also written in the Mishna Berura (565:12) and in Mateh Efraim (581:20). Shaarei Teshuva quotes Birkei Yosef (in the name of Maharam Zechuta), who absolutely forbids saying the Thirteen Traits before midnight, and he sees such an act as the opposite of the goal and something forbidden.
However, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes in Igrot Moshe that if a community cannot recite the Selichot after midnight they should be given permission as a temporary measure to recite the prayers earlier (Mahadura Tenina, Orach Chaim 105). His reason is that the rule to recite the Selichot later has no source in the Talmud. "Rather, these are the words of more recent rabbis, based on books of the Kabbalah." He feels that Selichot before midnight are permitted as a regular prayer. In Rabbi Feinstein's opinion, the ARI only prohibited reciting Selichot which are related to the destruction of the Temple, specifically during the night after Shabbat. (However, the words of the ARI seem to imply the opposite of this.) Rabbi Feinstein proposes to recite the Selichot much earlier, in the first third of the night, based on the Talmud (Berachot 3b), which divides the night into three time periods and on the words of the ROSH, that the first period is a good time to make requests from G-d. The Shulchan Aruch also defines the ends of the three periods of night as good times for requests (Orach Chaim 1:2).
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, in Yechaveh Daat, lists all of the relevant sources, and he disagrees with Rabbi Feinstein, mainly because of the words of the Maharam Zuchuta (Volume 1, 46). Rabbi David Hakohen, the "Nazir," testified that after Shabbat some of the chassidim would be lenient and say Selichot before midnight. In the synagogue where the Nazir prayed (on Amos Street) the Selichot after Shabbat were recited before midnight, and since he was not able to change this custom, the Nazir joined the others. (However, he recited the Thirteen Traits in the tune of Torah reading and not as a prayer.)
In my humble opinion, since reciting the Selichot is just a custom and since the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch accepted the opinions of the masters of the Kabbalah, one should not abandon this custom, and the Selichot should not be recited before midnight. However, in places where the community recites the Selichot earlier, it would be wrong for anybody to disassociate himself from the community, and people should follow the custom of the Nazir and the ruling of Rabbi Feinstein. Kaf Hachaim writes (131:27) that Selichot can be recited before Mincha, in the afternoon, and this was quoted by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Yechaveh Daat. According to the Zohar, it is true that at the time of Mincha the aspect of judgment gains in strength, but our custom is to recite the Thirteen Traits in Mincha every day.
In practice, the best alternative is to recite the Selichot after midnight or early in the morning. But if it will not be possible to assemble a minyan at midnight or in the morning, the Selichot should be said before Mincha. With respect to the Selichot on the eve of Yom Kippur, it is clear that this is different from any other night in the year. The Torah calls this night, "the ninth of the month, in the evening" [Vayikra 23:32] and not the eve of the tenth of the month (but we will not expand on this idea any further).
One last point is whether midnight is the preferred time or if the early morning is to be preferred, since the morning is mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch as the end of one of the three time periods during the night (as is indicated by the Rambam). The Talmud describes midnight as a time of good will that is characterized by the advent of a north wind (Yevamot 72a). According to Machatzit Hashekel (1:2), this is true with respect to the wind, but for the matter of prayer the ends of the nightly time periods are preferable. Igrot Moshe, in discussing Selichot at the end of the first nightly period, explains that this explains why the Rambam ruled that Selichot should be recited at the end of the third time period. On the other hand, according to Kabbalah midnight has a unique status.
We can conclude that in view of the many viable alternatives, everybody should continue with his current custom.
SOMETHING ABOUT BOOKS
"Open the Gate for Me" – Art on the Front Pages of Books - by Rabbi Avishai Elboim, Director of the Rambam Library (Beit Ariela), Tel Aviv
The front page of a book can be compared to the entranceway of a home. It is an introduction to the book, the first encounter between the reader and the book. The details that are given on the front page will give the reader an idea of who "lives" inside the book and what the "house" is like. It also serves as an invitation to come inside and visit.
The front page that exists today for every book was not a regular custom in written manuscripts and in the first printed books. The names of the book and the author were included in a note at the end (the colophon), written by the author or by the one who copied the book. The first Jewish book with a front page was the "Rokeyach," which was printed in Fano, Italy, in 5265 (1505). Ever since this practice has become very common, and today almost no book is ever printed without a front page.
A special genre has developed for books on Torah subjects, where the front page is an independent creation which is often very creative, using a very literary style combining rhymes and "gematria" (numerical values), with the use of many metaphors as a way of praising the author. The same elements are also true of the names of the books, which quite often do not impart any information about the contents and do not describe the unique elements of the book.
In many cases, the text of the front page is decorated with artful elements that form a framework around it. Various styles exist, corresponding to the style of art in the time and place that the books were printed. Thus, a front page printed in the east will be very different from one printed in Eastern Europe, and a front page printed in the Baroque era will be very different from another one that is made up of leaves and flowers.
At times, the front pages themselves were works of art. These might include drawings made by experts in woodcutting and engraving. Themes from the Tanach were often used as a basis for the drawings. Images of Moshe and Aharon or miniature scenes of known events from the Tanach, such as the Binding of Yitzchak or Yaacov's dream, which appear on various front pages of books, transform them into small works of true art.
Another aspect of visualization of the front pages can be credited to the printers, who wanted to mark their books with a known symbol, and who therefore chose a logo which differentiated them from other printers. Such illustrations are known as "degel hamadpis" - the publisher's flag or banner.
In discussing the front pages of books and their characteristics and forms throughout the generations, we must remember that many of the printing houses were not owned by Jews. This includes some very famous printers. It has been shown that quite often the same printing frames were passed from Jewish to non-Jewish companies, and vice versa. The same illustrations thus appear in both Jewish and non-Jewish books.
An example of the complex relationship between art and Judaism can be seen in the internet magazine of "Jewish Librarians," number 8, which has a broad review of the subject "Divine Angels: Angels in Jewish Books." This is based on a beautiful exhibit that was held in the library of Bar Ilan University on the subject of pictures of angels in Jewish books. The theme of the exhibit was to address two issues that would seem at first glance not to be related at all. The first issue is the technical aspect of graphic design, and in particular the change that has taken place in recent times in the format of Jewish books. This was illustrated by drawings of angels and the Keruvim. The second issue is a theological aspect, to increase the awareness of the subject of "distance and concealment" of the angels from our lives. A careful analysis of the phenomenon raises important questions. Do these pictures of the angels correspond to Jewish traditions? Why did the angels disappear from the front pages of Jewish books during the last two hundred years?
Such questions are discussed in depth in a lecture given by Prof. Meir Bar Ilan and by my learned friend David Ben Na'im, a librarian who was the curator of the exhibit. I highly recommend looking at the above article which gives a summary of their ideas.
In the last hundred years or so, the publishers went back to using a simpler format, and only in very rare cases are special artistic front pages printed today.
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HOLY AND SECULAR
When the "Brakes" Lock - by Rabbi Amichai Gordin, Yeshivat Har Etzion
With the start of the new school year, I hereby present my readers with five non-obligatory thoughts on the subject of the educational system.
When the "Brakes" are On
Before the study material and before studying behavior; before educational values and before teaching good behavior; before the proper intentions in prayer and before making sure that the blessing after the bathroom is recited – before anything else, it is necessary for the pupil to have a broad smile on his or her face. Before anything else at all, it is necessary to be happy.
Trying to teach a child who is unhappy is like driving up a big hill in a car with the handbrakes on. If the brakes are on, it does not matter how hard we press on the gas pedal. The car will continue to jerk along. It simply will not work well. A pupil who has a bad feeling will not advance. Even if the best teachers in the world give him or her a full round of private lessons – when the brakes are on, the child will not learn smoothly.
We must encourage our students and children and believe in them. We must make sure that they believe in themselves and in their abilities. When the children feel good, the year that follows will be good and sweet. We are human beings, we are not merely intentions. When we feel bad our head is clogged, it doesn't work well. When we feel good, we blossom.
A Worn-Out Tire – First Case
Years ago, I was in contact with a veteran scholar-teacher who had dozens of personal conversations with students. I asked him, "Explain to me how you don't go crazy. They always ask the same questions, and you always give them the same answers." In reply, he gave me a patient smile. "The questions and answers really are the same all the time, but my friend, every time the people are not the same people. They change. When somebody new comes, the questions and answers are also new."
Teachers who teach very few hours in many different classes will not find it easy to see how material that they have been teaching for decades appears to be different. Teachers who teach very few classes, each one for many hours, are able to make personal contacts with the students and to feel a renewal in their educational labors.
A Worn-Out Tire – Second Case
It is clear to all that the educational part of the work of a teacher is more important that the factual material that the teacher passes on. But it is also clear that the factual part of the lessons takes up more than ninety percent of the time in class.
A teacher who continues to teach the same material in exactly the same way, for twenty years, will become worn out. Anybody who does not advance will go backwards instead. There is no alternative. The system must provide support so that the teachers will advance from year to year. Every teacher, no matter how excellent he or she is, must continue to advance every year. Whoever doesn't advance will become worn out.
A Theoretical Test versus a Practical Test
A story is told about a professor of education, who after many years of study and research, and writing many reports about the subject of education, decided one day to pay a visit to a real school. At the end of the tour, the professor was asked for his opinion of what he saw. He replied, "Actually, it seems to be working quite well. But please forgive me, I must go back to my room and my books. I must check if this is working out in theory too."
The educational system is brimming over with beautiful and interesting ideas. Good ideas are important, and it is also important to consult with the experts. However, the experts are not enough. Every single idea must be checked in the field in a limited way, but in depth. Only after fixing, improving, and adjusting the basic idea in light of real results can any idea be proposed as a real project.
Educational history is full of theoretical ideas which appeared successful and brilliant, but which shattered when brought against the wall of reality. Every single idea, no matter how pleasing it is to the eye, must be tested and checked in the real world. Only afterwards can it be brought out and implemented.
Long Vacations built into the System
Tuvia Tzafir, a comedian, once explained: "There are three reasons why it is worthwhile to be a teacher – Pesach, July, and August." It is true that teachers have long stretches of vacation, but on the other hand they cannot take any day they want as personal leave. What does a teacher do on the day that his brother is getting married, or if, G-d forbid, his wife has an operation? The system provides only one solution for such events – to report a sick day.
There is an alternaive. Instead of presenting the teacher with an unpleasant dilemma – to lie and say they are sick or to come to work anyway – the summer vacation could be shortened by, say, one week. And then the teachers would be able to take off for personal needs to make up for the five extra days during the year that they work.
In this scheme, the long summer vacation will be one week shorter. The students will study more than they do now. But the teachers will no longer be forced to lie. And the principal will know in advance when a teacher will ask for a vacation day. (I want to thank the teacher A.T. for this brilliant idea.)
INSIGHTS FOR THE SHABBAT TABLE
by Rabbi Shmuel Sasson, Head of the Torah Garin in Haifa, coordinator of the Community Torah Project in Shaalei Torah
"The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Blow a shofar made from a ram before me so that I will remember for you the Binding of Yitzchak Ben Avraham" [Rosh Hashanah 16a].
At the time of blowing the shofar, we are standing ("nitazvitm") before the Holy One, Blessed be He, on the Day of Judgment, and we remind Him of the merits of the Binding of Yitzchak. Avraham stood up before G-d before receiving the commandment and said, "Here I am!" [Bereishit 22:1, and then after Avraham picked up the blade to sacrifice his son, G-d once again calls him by name. Again, Avraham stands up and replies, "Here I am" [22:11].
I am Here, a slave of G-d, when You are merciful and full of kindness and truth, and I am here, a slave of G-d, when I have been commanded to suppress my natural instincts and my conscience.
We view Avraham's stand as an idealistic action which includes both the desired emotions of morality and pity, together with the feelings of holiness, which is beyond our understanding.
In his book of responsa "Mikodshei Hashem," rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Meislish, (who after the Holocaust served as a rabbi in Chicago), tells the following story:
"It was Rosh Hashanah in Auschwitz. On that day, the frozen prisoners were told to bring 400 young men to the Nazis. A father of one of the youths turned to me with a question. 'Rabbi, am I allowed to redeem my son for gold when I know that he will be replaced by another youth?'"
Rabbi Meislish replied that he would not be able to give a halachic ruling since he could not consult with his books, which were not available, and that he needed a calm atmosphere in order to give a reply. The man asked the question over and over. But when Rabbi Meislish did not reply, the man said, "You are the rabbi here, and you have not given me permission to do this. This means that the ruling is I must leave my son alone and sacrifice him to G-d."
Brief Comments by Our Readers
With respect to Rabbi Yosef Leichter's important article about Rabbi Abdallah Somech (Ki Tavo, Issue 1488), I would like to add some interesting details about two of his sisters. His sister Samara married Rabbi Eliyahu Mani (5578-5659, 1818-1899), who was a student of Rabbi Somech. Rabbi Mani moved to Jerusalem in 5616 (1856). First he joined the Kabbalah yeshiva Beit El, and later on he moved to Chevron where he founded his own yeshiva and served as the Chief Rabbi. He worked for the rest of his life to improve the conditions in Chevron.
According to the researcher Avraham Ben Yaacov, Samara had many outstanding traits, and she was something of a "woman Torah scholar." Her grandson wrote from personal experience in his book "Rabbi Eliyahu Mani" that she was famous for her charitable acts. In the afternoon she would read to her friends from the well-known book of ethics, "Shevet Mussar" and give them her explanations. On Shabbat she taught the weekly Torah portion, and between Purim and Pesach she would review the laws of Pesach. At times when people came to ask Rabbi Mani halachic questions and he was not home, his wife would take out a copy of the Shulchan Aruch, and after a brief look would make a halachic ruling. Samara too is buried in Chevron.
Another sister of Rabbi Somech, Mazal Tov, married Yehoshua Gabai. One of their granddaughters was Pircha (Flora) Sasson (5617-5696, 1856-1936), who was born in Bombay and later moved to London. Flora Sasson was a well-known scholar in her generation, with broad knowledge of Talmud. She carried on learned discussions with great rabbis of the generation. For example, she had a correspondence with the Ben Ish Chai, who considered her an outstanding scholar in Torah knowledge and in fear of G-d. She supported many Torah institutions. Flora Sasson passed away in London in 1936, and in 1947 her remains were moved and reburied in the family plot on the Mount of Olives.
(Comments refer to a recent issue of Shabbat-B'Shabbato – they must be sent to Zomet Institute in Hebrew.)
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SHABBAT-ZOMET is an extract from SHABBAT-B'SHABBATO, a weekly bulletin
distributed free of charge in hundreds of synagogues in Israel. It is
published by the Zomet Institute of Alon Shevut, Israel, under the auspices
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Translated by: Moshe Goldberg
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