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August 31, 2014 / 5 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem Prize’

Celebrating A Bar Mitzvah

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Question: Why do we celebrate when a boy becomes bar mitzvah?

Answer: The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) states that Rav Yosef, who was blind, found himself troubled at the thought that blind men are exempt from performing mitzvot. He therefore declared that if anyone could tell him that we don’t pasken like Rabbi Yehudah – who ruled that blind men are indeed exempt – he would make a “yom tov” for the rabbis. (Rashi interprets “yom tov” to mean a “banquet.”)

The Maharshal, Rav Shlomo Luria (Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kamma, M’ruba), argues that this Gemara demonstrates that one should celebrate when one first learns of one’s obligation to perform mitzvot. He argues further that this Gemara is the source for celebrating one’s bar mitzvah. We celebrate this day just as Rav Yosef planned on celebrating the day he learned that he was obligated to observe mitzvot.

In our prayers, we say, “Lishmo’a, lilmod, u’l’lameid, lishmor v’la’asot et kol divrei talmud Toratecha b’ahavah.” It is a prayer for God to imbue love of Torah and mitzvot within us. The purpose of a bar mitzvah celebration is to manifest our love and joy in observing the Torah. That’s why we give gifts to a bar mitzvah boy. We thereby demonstrate how overjoyed we are at his new status. The youngster who receives these gifts, in turn, learns of the importance of loving Torah and mitzvot.

Giving gifts is a form of chinuch in ahavat haTorah, which every Jew is obligated to instill in children. By giving a present, one fulfills a chiyuv mitzvah.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of seven sefarim on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat the Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.

Seudah Shlishit Before Yom Tov

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Question: Whenever a yom tov starts on Sunday (as Shavuot did this year), synagogues generally forego their Seudah Shlishit, eaten after Minchah on Shabbat. But why? If one is supposed to eat a third meal every Shabbos, why skip it if a yom tov starts that night?

Answer: Just because a shul does not host a Seudah Shlishit does not mean that individual congregants should skip this meal. Indeed, doing so would be incorrect. Rather, people should eat this meal on their own, possibly by eating a mini meal immediately after one’s Shabbat afternoon meal.

The reason why shuls do not host Seudah Shlishit when yom tov begins that night is because the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 249:2) states that a person may not eat a meal on Friday afternoon, for if he does, he won’t has an appetite for the Shabbat meal that evening. The Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 249:8) cites the Pri Megadim who states that this prohibition also applies on the afternoon before a yom tov due to the mitzvah of oneg yom tov.

Thus, shuls do not host a Seudah Shlishit if yom tov begins that night because they don’t want their congregants to be full when entering yom tov. They want them to be hungry and looking forward to the yom tov meal. However, congregants on their own should make sure to eat Seudah Shlishit earlier in the day.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient for rabbinic leadership and scholarship, has published several books on Jewish law, including his latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.

Lighting Yom Tov Candles

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Question: When should women light yom tov candles?

Answer: Women light Shabbos candles around 18 minutes before sunset to ensure that they don’t accidentally light on Shabbos itself. Lighting candles (from a pre-existing flame) on yom tov, however, is permissible. Thus, it would seem that women can light yom tov candles even hours after sunset (as long as they do so before the yom tov meal).

Some argue otherwise. The Gemara (Shabbat 23b, Rashi) states that R. Yosef’s wife lit Shabbos candles right before sunset. R. Yosef advised her to light much earlier based on the verse, “The pillar of clouds did not move away during the day, nor the pillar of fire at night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:22). This verse teaches us that the pillar of fire arrived before the pillar of clouds departed. Thus, R. Yosef advised his wife to light Shabbos candles while it is still day. HaGaon Rav Itzik Blazer of St. Petersburg (known as Reb Itzel Petersberger) contended that this teaching indicates that candles must always be lit in the afternoon.

Why, then, do Jewish women not light in the afternoon before yom tov? Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Mo’adim U’zemanim: Haggadah shel Pesach, Minhagei HaGra, Hadlakat Nerot) suggests that the common minhag does not accord with R. Yosef’s teaching because candles are not used for illumination in modern homes. We only light Shabbos and yom tov candles as an act of respect for the Sabbath and festival. For illumination, we have electric lights, which are on in the afternoon. These lights may be symbolic of the ancient pillar of fire that arrived during the day.

Rav Sternbuch concludes, however, that lechat’chila it may be preferable to light yom tov candles prior to sunset in accord with those who believe the Talmud requires one to do so.

If the yom tov candles represent the sole source of illumination, it would appear that lighting before sunset is actually obligatory (unless erev yom tov is on Shabbos). In addition, people who have timers on their lights should time them to turn on before sunset (or light candles before sunset).

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has authored several works on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas,” is available at Amazon .com and Judaica stores.

After The Amidah

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Question: At the conclusion of the Amidah, should the chazzan say “Yiyu leratzon imrei fi… – May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable before you, G-d, my Rock and Redeemer”?

Answer: The Rema (Orach Chayim 123:6) rules that he need not. After “Uva l’tziyon,” the chazzan will in any event say the words in Kaddish, “Titkabel tzelot’hon – May the prayers be accepted.” He therefore need not say “Yiyu leratzon,” which means the same thing.

The Shelah and the Vilna Gaon, however, rule that the chazzan should say “Yiyu leratzon.” The Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 123:21) concurs. The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 111:4) writes that the chazzan should say it silently (presumably because it is written in the singular).

Many congregations allow a second chazzan to replace the first chazzan before Ashrei, after the conclusion of the Amidah. In such instances, the first chazzan never says “Titkabel tzelot’hon” after “Uva l’tziyon.” Thus, even according to the Rema, he would have to say “Yiyu leratzon.”

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has authored several works on Jewish law. His latest is “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas,” available at Amazon .com and Judaica stores.

A Silver Atarah On A Talit

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Question: I have heard that some halachic authorities disapprove of placing a silver atarah on a talit. Is this true?

Answer: Yes. The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 8:10) writes that wearing a silver atarah gives the impression that atifat harosh is more important than atifat haguf. But this is not so. It is atifat haguf that is essential, not atifat harosh. To offset this concern, some people place a strip of silver in the middle of their talit to signify the vital role of atifat haguf. Yet, this is not really sufficient.

The Ari Hakadosh did not have an atarah on his talit (nor do modern-day litvishe roshei yeshiva). Indeed, he didn’t have any marker on his talit whatsoever indicating which part of the talit was to be used for his head.

Many people do not buy a talit with a silver atarah, and I believe this is the proper practice. A talit should wholly be made of wool; there is no reason for silver or gold to adorn it.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.

Praying For The Sick

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Question: During Kriat HaTorah, many congregations recite a general prayer for ill people. What is the source of this custom? Also, in many congregations, instead of the gabbai announcing each name, all of the shul’s members are asked to silently say the name of the ill person to themselves while the gabbai remains quiet for several moments. Is this proper?

Answer: Recently, someone showed me the following from Berachot 55b: “When Rava would take ill, he would not say anything. [If his illness persisted], he would say to his servant, ‘Go out and announce that Rava is ill. He who likes me, let him pray to G-d for mercy on my behalf. And he who hates me, let him take joy over [my predicament]’ … G-d will then have compassion on me and transfer my illness to him.”

This Gemara teaches us that when someone is ill, the community should be made aware of the person’s name so that it will pray for his recovery. As such, it seems that simply saying the ill person’s name silently to oneself is improper since the rest of the congregation has no knowledge for whom they should be praying.

Interestingly, Rava only requested that an announcement be publicly made that he was not well. Thus, it seems that any public listing of ill people who need a refuah sheleimah is sufficient. Actually saying a special Mi She’beirach would be unnecessary.

To explain the practices of saying a Mi She’beirach for the sick and having people say the names of ill people silently to themselves, we may suggest the following: The Mi She’beirach for the sick is not a communal prayers based on the story of Rava in the Gemara. Rather, they are personal prayers for the sick, which are recited in synagogue because of the presence of the Sefer Torah.

I recall learning, although I cannot recall the source, that prayers said in the presence of a Sefer Torah have a greater efficacy than other prayers.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com.

Coming To Shul To Think

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Question: If a person has a number of personal concerns that need to be thought out and analyzed, can he go to shul to do this?

Answer: The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 151:4, based on the Mechaber, 151:1) writes that if a person wants to go to shul for the sole purpose of meeting someone, he should make sure to read a bit of Chumash or halacha in the shul before meeting his friend. If he can’t read or learn, he should ask a child to read a verse for him, and he should sit in the shul for a short period of time since sitting in a shul is a mitzvah, as is written (Tehillim 84:5) “Praiseworthy are those who sit in Your house…” (He may also stand [see Bach ibid.] since the Hebrew word “yoshvei” also means “to remain.”)

In other words, being in a shul, even without davening or learning, is a mitzvah. Accordingly, we may suggest that a person who has to think through a number of issues should indeed do so in a shul since he will thereby fulfill a mitzvah (even just by sitting there).

Many years ago, I came to shul in the evening; there were no lights on in the sanctuary. As I walked to locate the switch, I tripped over someone. It was one of the shul’s members. I asked him what he was doing sitting in the dark. He responded that he had a number of important issues to resolve and decided that the solemn silence of the sanctuary would be the most suitable place to think and meditate. What a unique role for a shul!

Most people think that a shul is only for davening, saying Tehillim, or learning Torah. But what about thinking? What about meditating? Somehow we Jews look upon such sensations as “goyish” – certainly not for frum people. But the Maharal interprets the word tefillah as machshavah, thought. Thus, thinking through concerns is evidently intertwined within the fine fabric of prayer itself.

A scholarly rav once challenged my idea that a shul can serve for thinking through one’s problems by citing the following midrash. Shemot Rabba states that a domed building was set up outside of Jerusalem for people to think through issues of life so as to avoid people entering the holy city with these “heavy” thoughts that may lead to depression and distress. Doesn’t this midrash indicate that contemplating difficult problems is improper in a holy place like a shul?

I don’t think so. Jerusalem is a separate category. Isaiah (66:10) says, “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her.” Thus, there is a special mitzvah of simcha within Jerusalem. This is not the case regarding a shul.

The Rema notes that a person sitting in a makom kadosh should “contemplate his affairs.” The Mishnah Berurah writes that this means that “he should examine his actions…to ascertain whether there is an aspect of transgression in his dealings. He must consider whether he did not stumble into possible robbery, excessively deviate from the proper value of a transaction, take interest….” These sources seem to support my thesis.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has published a number of books on Jewish law. His latest work, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas,” is available at Amazon.com and Judaic stores.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/halacha-hashkafa/coming-to-shul-to-think/2012/04/12/

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