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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘berachah’

Petter Chamor In L.A.

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

More than 1,200 members of the Los Angeles Jewish community gathered recently to witness the observance of the mitzvah of petter chamor. Organized and led by Rabbi Yehuda Lebovics, a Los Angeles mohel, the event was held in the immense outdoor courtyard of Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu.

Rabbi Lebovics explained the mitzvah of petter chamor, which dates back to the time of yetzias Mitzrayim. As a reward for helping Bnei Yisrael carry their belongings out of Egypt, the donkey is rewarded with a mitzvah of its own; it is the only non-kosher animal whose firstborn is considered to be sacred.

Redeeming a firstborn donkey is first mentioned in Shemos 13:13. A Jew must take his firstborn donkey to a kohen and offer a lamb to the kohen as a redemption, or ransom. One of the basic ideas behind petter chamor is to show hakaras hatov by recognizing the roles that donkeys played during yetzias Mitzrayim. Most kohanim have never performed this ceremony during their lives, and most rabbanim have never had the opportunity to participate in this mitzvah.

Barry Weiss recited the berachah of “…al mitzvas petter chamor” and Rabbi Doron Jacobius, representing the Kornwasser and Hager families, recited the berachah of “…shehechiyanu.” Heshy Jacobs was the honored kohen who accepted the seh for the petter chamor. He then formally acknowledged acceptance of the lamb.

Singing and dancing followed the ceremony. As one person said: “I just had to come. Participating in such a rare mitzvah inspired me, and I’m sure many others, to come.”

The Berachah On Kiddushin

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

In this week’s parshah we learn of the episode whereby Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer met Rivka and decided that she was right for Yitzchak. After discussing matters with her parents and her brother, Lavan, Eliezer was ready to return with Rivka to Avraham and Yitzchak. Prior to their departure Rivka’s family blessed her, saying that she should become “thousands of myriad…” and may her offspring inherit the gate of its foes.

Tosafos, in Kesubos 7b, quotes Maseches Kallah that derives from this pasuk that says the following: they blessed her and recited the berachah on kiddushin. Tosafos concludes that this is not a complete drasha since the actual wording of the pasuk is that their blessing was that she should have a lot of offspring. The Gemara in Kesubos 7b says that the berachah that we recite on kiddushin is “…asher kiddeshanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu al ha’arayos v’asar lanu es ha’arusos v’hitir lanu es hanesuos al yedei chuppah v’kiddushin – who commanded us regarding the forbidden relationships, and forbade us the betrothed, and permitted us to be with women who have had kiddushin and chuppah.”

There is a machlokes Rishonim as to whether the berachah that we recite on kiddushin is a birchas hamitzvos or a birchas hashevach. The Rambam, in Hilchos Ishus 3:23, says that one must recite a berachah on kiddushin just as one recites a berachah on all other mitzvos. It is implicit that the Rambam is of the opinion that the berachah is in fact a birchas hamitzvos.

The Rush, in Kesubos 1:12, asks several questions on those who opine that it is a birchas hamitzvos. One point that is perplexing to him is that the wording of the berachah of a birchas hamitzvos is generally short and to the point, i.e. “…asher kiddeshanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu al mitzvas…” However, the wording of the berachah that we recite on kiddushin is much lengthier, implying that it is not a birchas hamitzvos but rather a birchas hashevach. Additionally, he asks why we mention in the berachah what has become forbidden to us. After all, we do not mention the fact that we may not eat from an animal before it is shechted in the berachah that we recite on the mitzvah of shechitah. So why do we mention it by the mitzvah of kiddushin?

Note: As mentioned earlier, these questions must be addressed in accordance with the Rambam’s view that it is indeed a birchas hamitzvos.

Another question that one can ask on the Rambam is based on what the Rambam writes at the conclusion of that halacha. The Rambam writes that one must recite the berachah prior to performing the kiddushin. If one does the kiddushin without reciting a berachah, he may not recite the berachah thereafter. The Rambam wrote all of the halachos of berachos in Hilchos Berachos. There, he wrote the halachos as to when one performs a mitzvah without reciting a berachah. Generally the Rambam does not repeat halachos regarding the halachos of berachos, as they relate to each mitzvah. Why then does the Rambam repeat here the halachos of when one does not recite a berachah on the mitzvah of kiddushin?

I think that the answer to both of these questions lies in the Rambam’s wording of the mitzvah of kiddushin in his Sefer Hamitzvos. The Rambam writes in mitzvah 213 that we are commanded to “livol b’kiddushin – to only have relations after kiddushin,” and give the woman either an item of monetary value or shtar. It is evident from the Rambam that the mitzvah is not simply to perform kiddushin; rather the mitzvah is to live with a level of kedushah and to only have marital relations after performing kiddushin. Perhaps we can even say that if one dies immediately after giving a woman kiddushin and did not yet live with her, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah.

The Rambam, at the beginning of Hilchos Ishus, writes that prior to mattan Torah a person would meet a woman and if they both agreed to marry, they were married. After the Torah was given we were commanded not to act in that manner, but rather to first give the woman kiddushin. Hence this mitzvah is different in that its essence is not to conduct oneself without kedushah. Therefore it is not at all superfluous to mention the fact that we are forbidden to arayos, and that we are only permitted to have marital relations with a woman that has had kiddushin – for that is the mitzvah.

A Small Jewish World

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Two recent experiences served to drive home the point to me that – with apologies to the popular Disney musical boat ride “It’s a Small World” – it really is a small Jewish world.

On August 23, together with five other members of Kesher Israel Congregation, my wife Layala and I attended the Cantorial Council of America’s 52nd annual dinner at Kutsher’s Country Club in New York’s Catskill Mountains. At the dinner, KI’s beloved cantor, Seymour Rockoff, was awarded the Dr. Karl Adler Memorial Award for the Preservation and Enhancement of Jewish Music Education.

Everything about the program was wonderful, especially hearing Cantor Rockoff’s childhood friends and cantorial colleagues reminisce about their shared yeshiva experiences of so many years ago.

The evening began with the Minchah service. I was a bit surprised when one member of our shul’s contingent handed me a Hertz Chumash instead of a siddur. Seeing my confusion, he opened it and pointed to the Kesher Israel Congregation dedication sticker on its inside cover.

What on earth was an old Chumash from KI (donated by one of our shul’s most beloved Sisterhood presidents, of blessed memory) doing in a Catskills hotel?

Then it hit me. About four years ago, the shul decided there was no reason why hundreds of our older Hertz Chumashim should remain unused and stored away in boxes. KI’s board authorized me to find Jewish institutions that might be able to put them to use. Eventually I found homes for most of those Chumashim in synagogues, college campuses, Jewish camps, and retreat centers across the country.

That night in the Catskills, KI’s contingent had chanced upon some of our old Chumashim, the pages of which were once again being turned by worshipers eager to follow the weekly Torah reading.

I know that books are inanimate, but it was almost as if our KI members heard those Chumashim saying, “Thank you for taking us out of those storage boxes and putting us back into circulation. We were meant to be held and used by Jews of all ages. We’re enjoying the Catskills, and some of our friends are having a great time at the Princeton Hillel. Thanks for realizing that we still have plenty of life left in us.”

That same month, my wife and I enjoyed a visit to the beautiful state of Colorado. The vistas around us were breathtaking, and it was wonderful to recite together a special berachah while gazing out at God’s magnificent Rocky Mountains.

Near the end of our stay, while taking in the sights of Cheyenne Canyon Park (near Colorado Springs), something caught my eye. There are so many sheer rock faces in Colorado that it attracts many rock-climbers, and we saw them everywhere.

But what was it I had noticed? We had just driven past a group suiting up to climb a canyon wall. Like all the other climbers in the park, they were loaded with gear: ropes, packs, carabiners, helmets, etc. However, each climber in this particular group was wearing an OD (olive drab) green military uniform. I knew right away that those uniforms were definitely not current U.S. issue. I had a hunch they were Tzahal (Israel Defense Forces) uniforms, but what would Israeli chayalim be doing in the middle of Cheyenne Canyon Park?

We turned the car around and pulled up to them. I quickly spotted the embroidered “Tzahal” tabs above their breast pockets. I jumped out of the car and began shaking their hands.

“I’m Akiva and this is my wife, Layala,” I said. I told them about my two brothers living in Israel; they told us where in Israel they lived, and we enjoyed a short, friendly chat.

We asked them why they were in the middle of Colorado. They were pretty tight-lipped; and all they told us was that they were in the park to practice rock-climbing skills. As they clearly were not able to share too much information, we wished each other well and parted ways.

I immediately called my brother Josh in Israel (he served as an IDF combat medic) to ask if he could make any sense of why we had just stumbled upon a group of uniformed Tzahal chayalim in the middle of Colorado. He told me that after a helicopter full of IDF personnel had crashed in Romania a few years ago, Israelis demanded to know why their husbands, sons and brothers were training in a foreign country. At that point word got out that the IDF sends select units of soldiers all over the world to train (unarmed) in the environments of friendly nations.

Keep Up The Good Work

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I feel extremely guilty about my elderly father and am filled with anger toward my sisters and brothers in regards to his care.

First the latter: My five siblings give me, the youngest child and one of three daughters, little help in caring for our father, instead they provide me with constant advice and criticism. Unfortunately I am the only one who takes care him (I visit every day); my father lives near me and has a full-time attendant. Some of my siblings live nearby and others further away, but they only visit him occasionally – and basically expect me to do everything.

My three brothers feel that as sons, they are obligated to do less. My two sisters claim that they are busy with their married children. Well, I also have married children but somehow find the time for our elderly father. One of the things that angers me is the remarks they make. For example, they’ll say that since I was his favorite child, I am the one obligated to care for him. As our parents were wonderful to all of us, I cannot understand how they can turn their backs on him now – just when he needs us most.

At the same time, I feel guilty that I don’t do more for him. My father complains a lot, causing me to sometimes become angry with him. I find it hard to spend a lot of time with him, although I visit every day, take him to doctors, cook his favorite foods, and make sure he has everything he needs.

I need your advice on how to deal with my anger toward my siblings and guilt about my father.

Angry and Guilty

Dear Angry and Guilty:

It is amazing that one father is able to care for six children, but six children cannot care for one father.

I am impressed by your devotion to your father and your adherence to the mitzvah of kibud av. What I would suggest is that in dealing with your father’s complaining try to validate his feelings. You may find that this helps decrease his complaining. Often when people complain, the natural response from the person forced to listen is to say, “It is not so bad, so stop complaining.” This usually makes them complain more. Saying to your father, “I know how you must feel; it is not easy to feel that way,” may make him realize that he’s being heard and understood. As a result, he may complain less.

With respect to your siblings, you should confront them in a nice manner. At a minimum, you will feel better having told them how upset you are and why. They may be rationalizing to themselves that you enjoy having all of the responsibility.

Use the “I feel” message, as others are usually less defensive when confronted with that strategy. Say something like, “I know that you all have busy lives, Baruch Hashem, and you probably do not realize that I feel I end up having to take care of most of Daddy’s needs. Let’s make a schedule whereby everyone can chip in, so that none of us feels overwhelmed.” If they don’t increase their involvement in your father’s care, at least make it clear that you feel bad when you receive their advice and criticism, especially when you are the one handling most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, it is generally the one who does the most who winds up receiving the most criticism. But please take solace in the sechar that you are receiving for honoring your father.

If you validate your father’s feelings and he continues to complain, validate your own feelings. This does not mean that you should limit your visiting time with him and beat yourself up for sometimes feeling annoyed and frustrated. Remember that taking care of an older person is very difficult, as he or she often does not feel well and thus may be more critical and irritable. With this in mind, let yourself off the hook when you are feeling upset.

While it is certainly important to treat your father with loving care and not show him your annoyance in any way, if you sometimes feel that way (which is only normal), do something nice for yourself instead of feeling guilty. Also, remember two things: your reward may not be evident in this world, and your children will probably accord you the same respect that you are demonstrating to your father.

The Power Of Prayer

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Once again I must postpone the continuation of my Oct. 5 column, “Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad,” this time due to the heavy reader response to last week’s column.

As you recall, I shared my latest journey. It all started on Pesach in San Diego where I suffered four hip fractures and underwent major surgery, and now I was once again scheduled for yet another procedure on the day after Simchas Torah, Oct. 10.

I underwent my pre-op tests and was ready to go. But with every fiber of my being I believe in the miraculous power of prayer, especially when that prayer emanates from the heart of Am Yisrael , so I asked for one more Cat Scan, knowing full well that the odds of the results being different from the previous one were slim if not nil.

My surgeon studied the Cat Scan. “Rebbetzin,” he said, “the healing process has commenced. You don’t have to come for surgery next week.”

To be sure, my journey is not yet over. In a month I will have to be re-evaluated, but my heart overflows with profound gratitude. I am trying to keep the commitment I made to Hashem that if I would have the merit of healing without human intervention (surgery), I would publicly declare that through the power of prayer, the heavenly gates of healing can be opened and lives changed.

This past Shabbos I gave my usual shiur and taught Torah in the shul where I daven – the Agudah of Lawrence-Far Rockaway. It was Shabbos Bereishis, when once again we began the cycle of Torah readings from the very beginning. In that very first parshah the Torah describes the creation of the world and the creation of man, the very crown of creation. We learn that though the seeds of all vegetation were in place, it was only after man prayed for rain that the seeds blossomed and bloomed.

This prerequisite of prayer is evident throughout our Torah and history. My grandson spoke about it at our Shabbos seudah in his d’var Torah. Our mothers – Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Chana and many others – were granted the berachah of children only after they prayed with all their hearts and souls.

This prerequisite of prayer holds true not only with regard to children but in every aspect of our lives. It was only after Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest man ever to walk the face of the earth, turned to Hashem with intense, genuine prayer that Hashem forgave the nation of Israel.

G-d’s response was comprised of just two words, but those two words had and continue to have more power than the most deadly weapons mankind can devise. We are all familiar with those two little words. They are engraved on our hearts and souls; they are the pillars of Yom Kippur: “selachti kidvarecha” – “I [G-d] have forgiven even as you requested.”

Yes, prayer is the foundation, the ultimate defense weapon of our people. Our father Yaakov was endowed with this gift by his own father, Yitzchak, who proclaimed those words that identified us for all time: “Hakol kol Yaakov” – “The voice is the voice of Yaakov.” That voice is the voice of prayer. It is so powerful that it can pierce the bolted heavenly gates and ascend to the very Throne of G-d.

Throughout the long centuries of our persecution, torture, and slaughter, this voice of Jacob has enabled us to triumph. It was prayer that enabled us to survive Hitler’s hell. I know – I was there. I heard it.

In our “enlightened” world, however, this voice has become muted; prayer has come to be regarded as something only a naïve, unschooled person can take seriously. We, the citizens of the 21st century, know the age of miracles has long passed.

And there are still other factors that impede prayer. Ours is a culture that has an

addiction to “instant gratification.” From computers to iPhones, fast food to microwaves, it must all be fast, fast, fast! So if our prayers are not immediately granted, we cut the line and lose connection with our G-d; we stop praying, sit in solitude, and our loneliness consumes us.

The Uniqueness Of Modern Orthodoxy (Part I)

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Question: What is unique about Modern Orthodoxy?

Answer: In the Middle Ages, theologians analyzed Judaism to assess its essential nature. Their concern was to locate a component that, if missing, would render Judaism something other than Judaism. A modern example of such an inquiry would be to seek the essential component of a car. A car without air conditioning or a radio is still a car. A vehicle without a motor, however, is not.

What is the essential component of Modern Orthodoxy? Some have suggested chesed. But chesed is not unique to Modern Orthodoxy. Many Jews and non-Jews consider kindness essential to their way of life. Anyone hospitalized in New York City will attest to the wonderful service of Satmar women who provide kosher food to patients free of charge. I still recall one woman who travelled with two different busses for over an hour each way to bring kosher food to my wife.

If not chesed, then, what makes Modern Orthodoxy different than other streams of Orthodoxy?

First, we must narrow down the possibilities. It is well known that we say a berachah upon meeting a great scholar in worldly wisdom. HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, however, argued that we don’t say this berachah if the great scholar is a Jew (Pachad Yitzchok, V’Zot Chanukah, 9:2 and 9:5). One only says a berachah over a Jew who possesses Torah knowledge, not a Jew who wins the Nobel Prize in chemistry, for example. Conversely, one does not make a berachah over a non-Jew who possesses tremendous Torah knowledge.

Rav Hutner argued that this is implicit in the wording of the Shulchan Aruch, which list two separate halachos: that we say one berachah over a non-Jewish scholar with worldly wisdom and another berachah over a Jewish scholar. The two berachos are “Blessed are You…who has given of His wisdom to those who fear Him” and “Blessed are You…who has given of His wisdom to human beings.” The two berachos are separate and should not be confused. One only makes a berachah over a Jew with Torah knowledge and only over a non-Jew with worldly knowledge.

Why? In regards to berachot, there is a guiding principle of ikar and tafel (essential and secondary). For example, one only recites a blessing over spices if the spices were originally designated to provide fragrance – their main purpose. If the spices, however, were designated for another purpose, one would not recite a berachah over them even if one enjoyed their fragrance.

So too, contends Rav Hutner, in regards to the blessings over scholars. The prime purpose of a Jew is to learn Torah. This is the goal of his existence. Everything else, including secular scholarship or scientific knowledge, is of secondary value to the Jewish soul. It may be important. It may even be vital to life, but it is still secondary to Torah. As such, one only recites a berachah over a Jew who excels in his primary role – Torah. So too with non-Jews. One does not say a berachah over him if he is an expert in Torah because Torah is not his primary role in life.

Getting back to Modern Orthodoxy: Since Torah is the distinctive character of a Jew, the uniqueness of Modern Orthodoxy must lie in Torah. We then must reformulate our original question. What makes the Torah of Modern Orthodoxy uniquely different from the Torah of the yeshiva or chassidic world?

(To be continued)

‘I Celebrate Your Holy Name’

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

I am postponing the follow-up to my previous column – “Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad” – so that I might share with you a very personal experience.

As most of you know, in the final days of Pesach, while speaking in San Diego, I sustained a severe hip injury that required immediate surgery. While three of my fractures healed, the fourth did not. Every time I took a step (despite my constant companion, the cane), I was in pain.

To be sure, I continued with my normal schedule of speaking and teaching. My trips abroad, however, had to be put on hold.

For example, I had been scheduled to speak in France where I was especially anxious to address the Jewish community of Toulouse, the site of that horrific massacre of a rabbi and three children by a Muslim fanatic. We had planned to have a mass gathering of the Jewish community during which I was to present the widow of the rabbi with a Hineni medallion symbolizing that her pain was the pain of Am Yisrael.

From Toulouse I was scheduled to go to Marseille, Lyon, Paris, and Budapest, but all those events had to be rescheduled.

As the weeks and months flew by, it became apparent that more surgery would be required. The operation was to take place on October 10and I asked one and all to pray for me. In our computerized world, the Internet makes such requests an instant happening. I received calls, letters and e-mails for a refuah sheleimah from every part of the globe. I felt blessed and strengthened in the knowledge that my brethren were praying for me and wishing me well.

There were those who asked why I shared such private concerns with the public. My answer was simple: “The Power Of Prayer.”

Yes, I have witnessed the power of prayer many times. With my own eyes I have seen that when all else fails, when the skeptics declare the situation is irredeemable, the miracle of prayer turns everything around. We, the Jewish people, never give up. Our strength, our might, is in the voice of Jacob, the voice of prayer. That still small voice can vanquish all. With words that emanate from our inner hearts, we storm the Heavens and open gates that even the best locksmiths cannot open.

That is why I went public.

Though all was in place and I was scheduled for surgery, in my inner heart I was hoping for a miracle.

Even as I write this, I must tell you I fully realize that everything in life is miraculous. To undergo surgery and emerge in good health is itself an awesome miracle. I recall witnessing a car accident some years ago while walking to shul. It was a frightening sight and I davened for the man’s refuah sheleimah. A bystander, visibly shaken, said to me in Yiddish: “Rebbetzin, people think you have to go to a rebbe for a berachah to find a shidduch, parnassah, and so on, but truth be told, you have to go for a berachah simply to go forth from your home and return in one piece!”

So yes, everything is a miracle. Everything is under the guidance of Hashem.

In our morning prayers, when we bless G-d Who resurrects the dead, in that very same berachah we also praise His name for the miracle of rain. At first glance, this is difficult to understand. Can resurrection be compared to rainfall? Of course it can! Our sages juxtapose the two blessings so that we may forever bear in mind that one miracle is the same as the other, the only difference being our perception of the events. Rain is common – we witness it regularly, so we do not see anything unusual or miraculous about it. Resurrection, on the other hand, is something we never experience and therefore the whole concept is miraculous.

As I mentioned above, I am very much aware that all is miraculous, including successful surgery. Just the same, I beseeched G-d for a miracle that all would see and identify with the power of prayer. I was yearning to continue reaching out with the teachings of our Torah to our people in all the lands of our dispersion. I asked G-d that He heal me naturally, without human intervention.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/i-celebrate-your-holy-name/2012/10/11/

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