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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘commandments’

Who Thinks about Jerusalem During the Seventh Inning Stretch?

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Many Diasporians argue: “Why should I live in Israel when I can do the mitzvot in the Diaspora just as well?”

Firstly, the mitzvah to live in Israel is a commandment of the Torah, and you can only do it if you live in Israel. An Orthodox Jew does his or her best to observe the commandments as completely as possible. It isn’t always easy to keep kosher and pray three times a day, but we do it. The same applies to the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael which our Sages teach is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).

Secondly, the value of a mitzvah performed in Israel is greatly magnified when it is performed in the Holy Land, where the commandments are supposed to be performed, as opposed to its value when performed in an impure gentile land whose atmosphere is filled with spiritual barriers. As the classic treatise on Jewish belief, “The Kuzari,” teaches: “The Land of Israel is especially distinguished by the Lord of Israel and no performance of the commandments can be perfect except there. Many of the Torah’s laws do not concern those who do not live there, and heart and soul are only perfectly pure and clean in the place which is known to be especially selected by God” (Kuzari, 5:23).

Thirdly, many people have a distorted understanding of Judaism, believing it to be merely a list of ritual commandments like keeping kosher and putting on tefillin. They don’t realize, or haven’t learned, that the Torah is, first and foremost, the constitution of the Jewish Nation, the Nation of Israel, as we say in the blessing over the Torah, “who chose us from all of the nations.” Hashem chose us as a Nation and brought us out of Egypt to be “a Nation of Kohanim and a holy People.” We can only be a Nation in Israel. Anywhere else in the world, we are scattered individuals, or communities, but we can’t be a Jewish Nation with our own Jewish government, Jewish army, Jewish language, Jewish calendar, Jewish courts, and the like. We need our own Jewish Land for that. In addition to having to do our own private mitzvot like keeping Shabbat, our mission is to sanctify the Name of God in the world and that is done through the life of the Nation in Israel, and not as always fragile minorities in foreign lands, as the horrors of Parshat Bechukotei make clear. Thus, to sanctify the Name of God and increase His honor in the world, we have to be in Israel.

Fourthly, people shouldn’t be fooled by the temporary “haven” they have found in America. Throughout history, wherever Jews lived, sooner or later, the goyim reminded us, in a very unpleasant fashion, that we were strangers in their land. People are deluding themselves if they think it can’t happen in the United States. In a way, it already is. Intermarriage is skyrocketing, decimating America’s Jewish community with a kiss.

The Hebrew word, “aliyah,” means “an ascent.” One speaks about “going up” to Israel. Since Israel is the Holy Land, anyone who moves here from the Diaspora is considered to be on a journey of spiritual ascent. One reason is that in joining the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael, he, or she, is elevating his private, individual life to the much greater life of the “Clal,” of the Jewish Nation as a whole, sharing in its most cherished aspirations and dreams.

Tragically, a misunderstanding of Judaism is taught throughout the Diaspora, which sees Diaspora Judaism as an end in itself, and not what it really is – a punishment of exile in foreign lands until we return to our own Holy Land. Instead of teaching their communities that the goal of each and every Jew should be to live a Torah life in Israel, as is explicitly expressed in our daily prayers, and repeated again and again in the Torah, Jewish leaders and educators in the Diaspora work toward strengthening Jewish life in the exile itself. Because the educational goals of the Jewish establishment in the Diaspora are misdirected, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who live there don’t know any better. In their innocence, they believe they are doing the right thing in educating their children to become successful Americans, Frenchmen, or Australians, instead of encouraging them to build their lives in the Jewish homeland as proud independent Israeli Jews. The result of this tragic policy is the growing rate of assimilation that is decimating Jewish communities around the world, except in Israel where assimilation hardly exists.

Parashat Emor: Learning Compassion

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The Talmud tells us that compassion is one of the three traits that distinguish the nation of Israel (the others are shame and kindness). The Torah abounds with commandments that exercise this quality, and Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains that they are given for exactly that purpose. Among these commandments are those that protect the welfare of animals. About these, Rabbi Miller explains that the true compassion we must learn is not for the animal but for ourselves.

“And an ox or a sheep, him and his son you shall not slaughter on the same day” (22:28).

This applies solely to cattle, sheep and goats but not to non-domestic animals, even the permissible species.

“If one should pray: ‘You, Hashem, are merciful even to the nest of a bird,’ we bid him be silent” (Berachos 33b). Two reasons are given: 1) He explains the mitzvah as a mercy, but the release of the mother bird is a decree of Hashem which we fulfill as His servants and our intention is only to serve Him. 2) If the purpose was compassion, the same law should apply also to deer.

Hashem does not need our agency for mercy upon the mother bird, and He Himself can bestow His mercies without our aid. He gave us mitzvos to do His will, which is the highest achievement of mankind. Therefore we serve Him out of gratitude to our Creator. But the Creator gave us the mitzvos (which we do solely to serve Him) with the intention that we refine ourselves by means of His service (Vayikra Rabbah 13:3).

“Rabbi Shimlai taught: Torah begins with the doing of kindness and concludes with the doing of kindness” (Sotah 14a), which implies that all that is between the beginning and the end is also for kindliness. But the kindliness of which Rabbi Shimlai speaks is actually the kindness of Hashem to us, because the study of Hashem’s Torah and the fulfillment of His precepts are the very greatest forms of Hashem’s kindliness to us. And we learn that while we gain the perfection of doing the will of Hashem, we are also at the same time acquiring more perfect qualities of character, of which this mitzvah is one example.

The law (22:27) that prohibits a korban less than eight days old applies solely to offerings. For ordinary use, if we know the gestation had been full term, it may be slaughtered as soon as it is born (Shabbos 136a); otherwise we wait until the eighth day. The second law, that the mother and the offspring should not be slaughtered on the same day, applies also to non-korbanos. In the first case, if he transgressed and slaughtered before the eighth day the animal is not permissible to be eaten. In the second case, if he slaughtered the mother and offspring on the same day, we may eat them (the shochet must wait until the following day).

This commandment forbids the slaughter of the offspring and its mother even many years after the birth, when animals have already lost any awareness of kinship. Thus we perceive that Hashem gave this law because of His compassion for us – for we humans would consider it cruel to slaughter both the parent and the offspring in one day, even though the animals themselves have already lost any emotions of kinship. Thus it becomes evident that these are not laws to protect the emotions of the animals but rather to train the holy people in the character trait of compassion upon all His creatures.

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.

But I’m A ‘Pretty Good’ Person

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Last week I concluded my column with the story of a Jew who wanted to make changes in the world and inspire people to do teshuvah – to return to their roots, their Divine heritage.

Fortified with the blessings of his Rebbe, he set out on his mission only to encounter frustration after frustration. Disappointed, he returned to his Rebbe who suggested to him that instead of focusing on others he should focus on himself and consider how he might change. That advice of the Rebbe speaks to all of us, but it’s one thing to say these words and something else to apply them to our personal lives.

Some years ago, at one of my Torah shiurim, I touched on this very subject. Following the class, a woman approached me and said, “Rebbetzin, I agree with you. People must change, and this includes me. I must admit I have one major fault – I’m too good! I allow people to take advantage of me.”

Most of us will dismiss such a remark with a wry smile and attribute it to an egocentric, self-absorbed personality. But before we respond so glibly, let us take a few moments to reflect. Don’t most of us believe that while we may have some faults, by and large we are pretty decent human beings? After all, we rationalize, is it not written that there is no man who is without sin? So, everything considered, we assure ourselves that basically we are “pretty good” people. We shrug our shoulders and move on, confident the entire discussion is not relevant to us.

But no matter how confident we may feel in our self-absorption, the month of Elul is upon us and the sound of the shofar summons us, demanding we wake up and answer G-d’s call before, Heaven forbid, tragedy strikes. In the privacy of our chambers, let us take a look in our spiritual mirrors at our neshamas. Let us search our souls and ask, “How can I improve myself?” “How can I become a better person?” “Where do I start?” “What must I do?”

And even as we undergo this scrutiny, let us bear in mind the world is on fire, though most people refuse to see the flames and understand our Jewish lives are at risk.

There is a new Hitler on the earth’s stage who shamelessly, unabashedly, and without fear has proclaimed his intention to launch a new Holocaust. Once again you might dismiss such threats and comfort yourself by saying, “He’s just a madman.” But as a survivor of the Holocaust, I can tell you that madmen have to be taken seriously precisely because they are mad – mad enough to carry out their threats.

Now, if push came to shove, can you think of even one nation that would rise to our defense or even speak out on our behalf? Our long, tormented history testifies that we are a lone lamb among seventy wolves, all standing ready to devour us. Were it not for G-d, “the Guardian of Israel Who neither sleeps not slumbers,” we would long ago have been destroyed. From days of yore to this very moment in time, the Haggadah of Pesach speaks to us: “B’chol dor v’dor – In every generation they rise to destroy us, but our G-d, blessed be His Name, saves us from their clutches.”

Still, the question remains – How should we embark upon this journey of self- change? With which mitzvah should we commence?

The answer should be obvious to all who have some knowledge of our long, painful history. We were launched into our present exile about two thousand years ago because of the sin of sinas chinam – unwarranted hatred, animosity and jealousy between Jew and Jew, brother and brother. It was this sin that sealed the final decree, set our Temple aflame and razed Jerusalem. But, specifically, what does that mean? What bearing does that have on our self-change? Obviously, since unwarranted hatred was the cause of our downfall, we must purge ourselves of that evil and turn to our G-d as one unified, cohesive family.

Again, though, with which precise mitzvah under the canopy of commandments between man and man should we commence?

The answer is the one closest to us – the one mitzvah we have all violated without even being aware of it: kibud av v’em, honoring our parents.

If we learn to have that under control, then the other commandments between man and man will fall into place.

Here again we may dismiss these words and congratulate ourselves that all this has no relevance to us. On the whole, we have been careful about rendering respect to our mothers and fathers, and if on an occasion or two we lost it, it was because we were unfairly irritated, mistreated, and our nerves were on edge.

We are told that in the period of ikvese d’Mashiach, when discerning ears will be able to hear the footsteps of Mashiach, chutzpah will intensify to outrageous proportions. And so those of us who believe we have fulfilled our responsibilities can make such claims only because we have also been bitten by this chutzpah poison and have no clue as to what that mitzvah entails. We are so far removed from the commandment of honoring parents that we do not know what we do not know!

Yet it is on the foundation of this mitzvah of honoring parents that all commandments pertaining to man and his fellow man are built. Our predicament becomes even more complex because we live in a culture in which children are actually abusive of their parents. And that abuse is tolerated and accepted as the norm. There is a saying in Yiddish, “As the non-Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world,” meaning the influence of the dominant culture trickles into our own domain and renders us vulnerable and endangered.

(To Be Continued)

Cold Shoulders And Cheeseburgers

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Having received a number of comments regarding my Jan. 1 op-ed article “Its Time to Bring Back the Communal Cold Shoulder,” it’s apparent that I need to clarify my position.

I’ve often thought it would be exceedingly difficult to give out report cards for Jews that would accurately evaluate their adherence to the requirements of an observant Jewish life. For if one were to list all the requirements – all the mitzvos – on such a report card, the term “observant Jew” would take on a meaning somewhat different from what one might expect.

I can actually visualize a Jew who with every fiber of his being relates to, and acts upon, the needs of his fellow Jews and society as a whole but who is not shomer Shabbos achieving a better grade than one who attends hashkama minyan and studies Daf Yomi.

A number of years ago I was a delegate to the annual convention of the then-National Jewish Community Relations Council (now United Jewish Communities) in Washington on behalf of Chicago’s Federation. I was paired with a prominent couple from Chicago during our lobbying efforts on the Hill. As we walked around the Capitol building, stopping for a brief lunch, we began talking about Judaism. I was saddened when Mrs. X stated in an ever so matter-of-fact manner that she understood I didn’t consider her much of a Jew as she did not keep kosher or attend Sabbath services.

I was taken aback, as this was coming from an individual whose entire life had been dedicated to the Jewish people. She and her husband, then in their early 70s, were renowned for their outstanding philanthropy. They’d served on the boards and as officers of many national and indeed international Jewish organizations, played an important role in the American Jewish effort supporting the establishment of Israel, enjoyed a first-name relationship with several prime ministers of Israel, and fought on the front lines defending Jewish rights at home and abroad.

I considered those two warm and dear people exemplary Jews. I have no doubt their overall Jewish report card would be one in which they could take a great deal of pride.

For this woman, however, being religious only meant eating kosher, going to shul, etc. She found it hard to accept my response that many a so-called observant Jew would fall far short of her Jewish report card. She told me that at least her married daughter had taken upon herself a religious lifestyle, keeping kosher and observing Shabbos.

We are taught that the Decalogue is divided into two categories – commandments between man and God (ben adam laMakom) and between man and man (ben adam l’chavero). Commentators have noted that in fulfilling the commandments between man and man we fulfill, in a manner of speaking, those between man and God. For how can we truly serve God if we devaluate to the point of violation His preeminent creation – man?

Unfortunately, many of us in the frum community have for some time now devaluated the importance of the commandments between man and man.

To better appreciate that statement, imagine for a moment that I and another person enter a McDonald’s located in or nearby an observant community – both of us with full beards and wearing black hats, long black coats, and tzitzis out for all to see – and that we seat ourselves near the front window to chow down on a Big Mac.

How long would it take for word to spread that Rabbi Lefkowitz was seen eating treif? How long do you expect it would take for Orthodox Jews to turn their backs on me, to give me the “communal cold shoulder” and demand my removal from the pulpit?

And there lies the conundrum. The activities to which I was referring in my Jan. 1 op-ed are illegal and immoral deeds that hurt others (violations of the commandments between man and man), as opposed to, say, consuming a cheeseburger (for all intents and purposes a violation of a commandment between man and God).

Now it becomes clearer, no? Violations of commandments between man and man seem to evoke little moral indignation in the frum community – certainly not nearly as much indignation as would the report of an Orthodox Jew eating a cheeseburger.

‘Crisis’ In Orthodoxy?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

The recent arrests of several New Jersey rabbis, coming on the heels of a variety of other scandals in Jewish life that also resulted in prominent arrests, have led many to conclude that Orthodoxy is in crisis and its entire worldview under siege and perhaps unsustainable.
 
Some have asked, What is the value of Torah study and mitzvot if the human product that results is no more ethical or moral than one who eschews those divine commandments and just lives a life of integrity? Others have decried the “overemphasis” on certain mitzvot to the exclusion, or at least the minimization, of other mitzvot.
 
All valid questions, to be sure, but they also miss the point, and in their justified concern for the reputations of God, His Torah and the Jewish people, those who ask them overlook one essential dimension of Torah and fail to put this tragic waywardness in perspective.
 
In short, there is no crisis; there is only life, people and human frailty.
 
The nostalgia for some perfect world of the past – where all Jews, especially rabbis, were decent, honest, ethical and upright – stems from a fantasy. A dangerous fantasy.
 
   Human nature remains human nature, and as a people we are defined by the majority, not by the exceptions, even if the exceptions grab the media spotlight. And the majority of religious Jews – and rabbis – are decent, honest, ethical and upright people, and even among the accused wrongdoers, the overwhelming majority of their actions also reflect the values they profess. And to the extent they do not? Well, that is why there are courts, laws, prosecutions and public opprobrium.
 
The phenomenon of “religious sin” or the “sins of the religious” is quite ancient. “How could they, of all people?” might well have been asked of Korach, Datan, Aviram and a host of others who stood at Sinai. The prophets were well aware of people who performed mitzvot by rote, who did not seem to be on the inside what they looked like on the outside. That type of person, in one context, is referred to as the “ish navuv” – the “hollow man” (Iyov 11:12), what Rav Shimon Schwab called “a person with a righteous fa?ade who has a hollow interior.”
 

So none of this is new. There is a passage from the SMA”G (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, a compendium of the 613 commandments written in the early 13th century by Rav Moshe of Coucy, France), pointed out to me by my colleague Rav Shaul Robinson, that is both frightening and, oddly, comforting. In Mitzvat Aseh 74 – the laws of returning lost objects, he states:

 

            I have already expounded to the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Spain and to the other exiles of Edom that now that the exile has been prolonged, we must separate ourselves from the corrupt values of the world and grasp the seal of Hashem, which is truth. We are not to lie either to Jews or to non-Jews, nor to cause them to err in any matter, but rather to sanctify ourselves through what is permissible. As the verse says (Tzefania 2:13): “The remnant of Israel shall do no crookedness, not speak falsehood, and not have any deceit in their mouths.” And when Hashem comes to redeem us, they (the nations) will then say, “God acted justly [in redeeming them], because they are people of truth, and the Torah of truth is in their mouths.”
 
            But, if we treat the nations with trickery and deceitfulness, they will say instead, “Look what God has done, choosing for His portion in the world a nation of thieves and swindlers . ” And, indeed, God scattered us about the globe so that we should attract converts, but as long as we deal with the nations with deceit, who will want to cleave to us? We see [from the story of the flood] that God was concerned even about stealing from the wicked.
 
            And the Yerushalmi (Bava Metzia 5:5) teaches that distinguished rabbis once purchased a kor of wheat from non-Jews, and in the bushel of wheat they found a purse filled with money, and they returned it to the non-Jews who exclaimed, “Blessed is the God of the Jews.” There are many similar stories that discuss returning the lost object of non-Jews and the sanctification of God’s name that resulted.

 

That passage is frightening because it was written approximately 800 years ago, and so, apparently, Orthodoxy was in “crisis” then as well. But it is also comforting when we recognize that nothing is new, and that, indeed, there is no “crisis.” Money is money, temptation is temptation, and people are people. No one is perfectly good or perfectly evil, but rather hybrids of good and bad conduct.
 
We hope most people are mostly good, and that the rough edges we all have can be smoothed by the ameliorating effects of Torah. We all struggle with different elements of our nature. Different parts of the Torah challenge each of us – some are challenged by issues of personal modesty and others by arrogance, some by money (most of us, Chazal say in Bava Batra 165a) and others by Shabbat.
 
No two people are alike, and what is asked of each of us is to control those parts of our nature that are unruly. That is the “kabbalat ol malchut shamayim” – acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship – we are obligated to experience twice a day. Our Sages therefore asserted, in loose translation (Sukkah 52a), that “the greater the person [i.e., the more desires he has under control], the greater the temptation” [in those remaining areas].
 
           We all understand intellectually that no one is perfect, and yet are surprised when we see any imperfections in certain people. Undoubtedly, King David (even Moshe Rabbeinu himself) would have been vilified by our society. Spiritual greatness is not, however, defined by an unreachable perfection but by the spiritual giant’s capacity to overcome sin, to accept responsibility for misdeeds, and to aspire to perfection.
 
One should no more be inclined to abandon a life of Torah (or not embrace one) because of a few alleged evildoers than one should stop eating food altogether because a few people suffer food poisoning. “For these [mitzvot] are our lives and the length of our days.” They are commandments, not suggestions. We are responsible for all our actions before God, and the mitzvot in totality are designed to produce a human being who strives for perfection and is answerable for any failings.
 
No one mitzvah can guarantee perfection, because each mitzvah targets a different dimension of the human personality. But pull one thread out, and the entire garment will unravel. The study of mussar, and an understanding of mitzvot, can inculcate how all mitzvotShabbat, kashrut, tefillah, etc. – ideally make us better people, and if they do not in an individual case, we can still learn where we went wrong and what we can do to rectify it.
 
   So let us not rationalize nefarious conduct – but let us also not be na?ve about human nature or simplistic about the Torah’s commandments. Let us continue to demand of ourselves the highest standards of fidelity to God’s law. As Rav Zundel Salanter is reported to have said, “We should check the origin of our money to the same extent we check the origin of our food.”
 
But we should also recognize that, for most of us, it is easier to serve God through Shabbat, kashrut, tefillah, etc., than it is through exhibiting – at all times – ethical behavior and decent conduct, from how we drive our cars to how we earn our money. And the latter is a more substantive definition of who we are as servants of God – and a greater challenge today and perhaps always, and therefore, as the SMA”G indicated, the route to redemption as well.
 
Crisis in Orthodoxy? I think not. It is just life, people and their challenges – and it has existed from time immemorial. The Torah is perfect – but no one ever claimed all its practitioners are.
 

Rather than cast aspersions on others and make sweeping and smug generalizations, we should instead look in the mirror and confront our own failings (and not wait for the FBI or its informants to expose us). And then we will truly become servants of God, a nation renowned for its virtue and piety, and a people worthy of redemption.

 

 

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, 2009). He writes at Rabbipruzansky.com.

Sweet Potato, Pomegranate and Pumpkin Seed Salad

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I love to make this salad ready for when you come home for Yom Tov dairy lunch in the sukkah. I have mixed an unusual selection of vegetables to create a dish, with strong, vibrant color and full of varied interesting textures and flavors. Pomegranates are particularly popular around the autumn Jewish holidays. It is claimed that the fruit has 613 seeds, the same number of commandments – although I have never counted them!
 
Pomegranates are quite seasonal but can sometimes be found out of season in ethnic supermarkets − these stores may import a supply of out of season produce all the time that differs from what the larger stores may feature.


The taste of pomegranates can range from very sweet to very sour or tangy, depending on their variety and their state of ripeness. Be careful when you remove the white outer casing of the pomegrante to retrieve the red seeds, as the juice does stain!
 
Preparation Time: 20 minutes; Cooking Time: 25 minutes.  Serves: 6 people
 
Ingredients
2 pounds sweet potatoes (approx 2 large potatoes) – peeled and cut into cubes
1-Tablespoon olive oil
½ pound watercress
1 large pomegranate – halved and deseeded
 ⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
1-cup goat’s cheese − crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
 
Dressing
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon mustard – of any variety
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper – to taste
 
Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F.
2. Put the sweet potatoes in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Roast for 20 -25 minutes turning once during cooking.
4. To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients together and season to taste.
5. Put the sweet potato in a bowl with the watercress, pomegranate and goats cheese.
 
To serve the stylish way: Drizzle over the dressing and sprinkle over the pumpkin seeds.
 
 
Denise Phillips, is a Professional Chef and Cookery Writer .She can be reached by Email: denise@jewishcookery.com; Website: www.jewishcookery.com

Q & A: Kiddush Levana (Part I)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003
QUESTION: Why do we say Shalom Aleichem at Kiddush Levana, when we bless the new moon, and why do we do so three times? Is it because we have not seen a new moon for a whole month? Can you explain a little more about this mitzva?
Ira Warshansky
Philadelphia, PA
ANSWER: Indeed you are correct in your assumption that we are pleased to see the moon return, and for good reason, as it is the moon which forms the basis for the Jewish year.In the very first Rashi commentary on the Bible we find the statement that the Torah should have begun from the verse in Parashat Bo (Exodus 12:1), “Vayomer Hashem el Moshe ve’el Aharon be’eretz Mitzrayim lemor, Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim, rishon hu lachem lechodshei hashana – Hashem said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month is to be for you the beginning of months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year”. This is the first mitzva that the Jewish people were commanded as a people. And since the main purpose of the Torah consists of its commandments, beginning the Torah with a mitzva would seem to make sense. (We do find a few commands in the Book of Genesis, such as the command to be fruitful and multiply [peru u'revu], circumcision on the eighth day, and gid ha’nasheh [the prohibition of eating the sinew of the thigh], which could have been included along with the other commandments had G-d so intended.)

Siftei Chachamim explains Rashi’s statement to mean that the Torah did not have to include all the incidents and historical accounts of our forefathers, as these could have been included separately in another volume, just as we have the Book of Joshua and others.

“Hachodesh hazeh” includes the first mitzva (rosh chodesh), a most important one. As we see in both the first and second chapter of Tractate Rosh Hashana, extreme care was given to the proper timing and proclamation of rosh chodesh. Based on witnesses’ testimony, the precise timing of rosh chodesh was crucial for the proper functioning of the Jewish calendar, which is based on the monthly cycle of the moon. Our calendar incorporates another requirement: All the festivals must occur during their proper seasons.

Yet our sages understood that if one were to strictly follow a single set of rules, it would be impossible to satisfy the other requirement. Therefore, a whole formula of calculation was instituted to synchronize the requirements. Ibn Ezra (Shemot 12:1) explains this in great detail.

We know that our festivals are very dependent on the lunar cycle since all biblical references to their yearly arrival is based on the timing of the months. Passover arrives on the 15th of Nissan (the first month), and Shavuot follows 49 days later. Rosh Hashana is referred to as the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei), Yom Hakippurim as the tenth day of that month, and Sukkot comes on the 15th.

Rashi (ad loc.) explains, quoting the Mechilta (Shemot Rabbah), that G-d actually showed Moses the exact shape of the moon that one must see to determine that a specific viewing constitutes a new moon.

The Gemara (Menachot 29a) explains that a Tanna of the school of R. Yishmael taught that three matters remained difficult for Moses until G-d specifically showed them to him with His finger. All three include the word zeh (this): the menorah in the Holy Temple, as it says (Numbers 8:4), “And this is the workmanship of the candelabra”; rosh chodesh, as it says (supra), “This month is to be for you …”; and sheratzim, creeping creatures, as it says (Leviticus 11:29), “And this shall be for you unclean…” Others add even a fourth, the laws of ritual slaughtering, as it says (Exodus 29:38), “And this is what you shall offer upon the altar.” Rashi (Menachot 29a) explains that in all these cases Moses was not able to discern on his own precisely how it had to be done.

The mishna (Rosh Hashana 24a) tells us that based on what Moses saw, and what was subsequently handed down from generation to generation, R. Gamaliel fashioned a picture of the moon in its various phases and would ask the witnesses to a new moon, “Did you see such or did you see such?” as a means of ascertaining whether it was indeed a new moon.

Thus we see that the mitzva of the sanctification of the month is one of such exacting specifications that only after it was shown to Moses by G-d did Moses fully understand it.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 42a) teaches us another mitzva associated with the new moon – Kiddush Levana. The Gemara quotes R. Acha b. Chanina who said in the name of R. Asi in R. Yochanan’s name: “He who blesses the new moon in its due time welcomes, as it were, the Holy Presence, for it states in our verse (supra), ‘This month is to you …’ and it says in yet another verse (Shirat HaYam, Exodus 15:2), ‘… This is my G-d, I shall glorify Him….’”

It was taught in the school of R. Yishmael that had Israel merited only to greet the Presence of their Father in Heaven but once every month, that would have been sufficient. Rashi explains this to mean that even if this had been their only mitzva, in and of itself it would suffice to sustain us. Abaye says that therefore we must recite that prayer while standing.

The Gemara then quotes R. Yehuda, who would bless the new moon with the text that we recite today, as quoted both by Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 16) and by the Tur and R. Yosef Caro (Orach Chayyim 426, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh). The Tur and the Mechaber add extra verses quoted from Tractate Soferim (20:2), which also quotes the Gemara in Sanhedrin: “Siman tov etc.,” three times, “Baruch yotzrech etc.” three times while “dancing” (rising on our toes), “Keshem she’ani ro’ked etc.” three times, “Tippol aleihem etc.” (May Your fear and dread fall upon them etc.) stepping three times forwards and three times backwards,
and “Shalom aleichem” three times.

Our present text includes some variations of extra prayers that we have added over time.

But why are these various pesukim said three times? The Perisha (O.C. 426) explains that we say Shalom alecha (actually we say Shalom aleichem) three times because we previously cursed our enemies with “Tippol aleihem.” Thus we are assuring our friends that we do not wish this upon them, but rather peace (shalom).

One may find it rather odd that the Perisha does not explain why the other verses are said three times, including “Tippol aleihem,” which is the reason for saying “Shalom aleichem” three times.

(To be continued)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-kiddush-levana-part-i/2003/11/26/

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