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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Kol Nidrei’

Therefore Give Honor To Your Nation

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

You know, it’s amazing. Here we stand before the Heavenly Judge, asking for a year of health for our families and for the nation plus everything else good. That’s what judgment day is for all of us.

The unique text of the liturgy for the High Holy Days begins with the daily Ata Kadosh – You are holy…and “holy ones [that’s us] praise you daily.”

Then, after asking Hashem to put His fear into all His creations, we ask Him to honor us – every one of us, His entire nation – from those who are deserving to pray by the Eastern wall of the synagogue to those who come to services with their neatly folded white yarmulkes that had been in the drawer since last Yom Kippur to those who are eating a hamburger on the Haifa beach.

“Give honor to your entire nation.” The word for nation, “am,” implies every single Jew.

Then we ask for tehillah for those who fear Him. Tehillah is the “power to pray,” which is therefore on an even higher level than tefillah, the simple prayer text. In other words, a Jew’s level of kavanah is more important than a mere outward expression of words. Every Jew, we declare, is deserving of God’s honor. I didn’t make up these words. This is in the liturgy prepared for us by our sages.

Why did this thought come to me this year? I think Hashem in a sense rewarded my decision to put a cover on my latest music album (titled “Charming Nation”) that was a conglomeration of Jewish faces standing at the foot of Mount Sinai for the receiving of the Ten Commandments.

Included were the faces of great tzaddikim past and present, and also Herzl, Einstein, Bob Dylan, Sandy Koufax and even leftist former minister Yosi Sarid, who once called me a rasha on radio and television and demanded that I be put on trial for something I’d said on Arutz Sheva radio.

I knew a cover picture that controversial would cost me the chance for the album to achieve any significant sales, so I never bothered distributing it to the stores.

But I didn’t care. Because I know the soul of every Jew was at the mountain.

It was from my renowned rosh hayeshiva Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, zt”l, that I heard for the first time that the word in Hebrew for an “assembly of people” is tzibor, and its letters allude to our entire nation: The letter tzaddik stands for our righteous; the bet stands for the average people (in Hebrew, benonim) and the vav and resh hint at “and the rishayim,” the wicked.

Rav Freifeld once said to me privately, “I feel like a cog in the machine. Every little Jew is a cog in the machine!”

I understood it immediately: If one little cog is missing, the whole machine is out of commission.

Maybe that’s why we ask Hashem to shower kavod on every little cog – every little Jew.

Take the Jew eating that hamburger on Haifa beach on Yom Kippur. Guess what? He was an Israeli soldier on a one-day leave from risking his life daily guarding the northern border.

Our prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was God’s cog in our machine as he stood at the United Nations warning of the danger to the world if Iran were to become a nuclear power.

I had wished him a happy new year with an ad in the Jerusalem Post asking him to watch my clip on YouTube titled, “We will Never Again be Uprooted” – and sure enough, at the onset of his speech, he declared, “The Jewish people have come home. We will never be uprooted again.” So little Dov Shurin was the cog that inspired that line in Netanyahu’s important speech.

We start the Kol Nidrei prayer by declaring, “In the tribunal of heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God, blessed be He, and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with the transgressors.”

With the transgressors – because we are all part of that great machine known as Am Yisrael. And it is God who gives us our opening to pray to Him like sons to a father.

All In The Mind

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

It was Yom Kippur eve. The shul began filling rapidly as the time approached for Kol Nidrei. Herzl Machlis sat in his seat, cloaked in his tallis and kittel, quietly reciting Tefillah Zakkah, composed by the Chayei Adam 150 years ago.

This emotional prayer ushers in Yom Kippur with an admission of our spiritual inadequacies and a supplication that the afflictions and prayers of the day should atone for our sins. It includes a declaration of forgiveness and forgoing bygones to those who have wronged us, and a request that others may forgive us, as well.

“I forgive completely to anyone who sinned against me, whether physically, monetarily, or verbally …. except for money that I [intend to and] can collect in beis din … Everyone else I forgive completely, so that no one should be punished on my account. Just as I forgive every person, so, too, give my favor in the eyes of other people that they should forgive me fully.”

Mr. Machlis paused to think about Mr. Schor. Earlier in the year, Mr. Schor had borrowed money from him to marry off a child. As the months wore on, it became clear the money would not be returned quickly. Mr. Machlis had decided in his mind to forgo the loan as an additional “wedding gift,” but had never said anything to Mr. Schor.

A month ago, though, the two had gotten into a dispute. Mr. Machlis changed his mind and was no longer was willing to forgo the debt; he had asked for the money back.

As Mr. Machlis stood there just before Kol Nidrei, he reflected about this incident. He wondered whether it was correct to demand the loan back after having decided to forgo it.

Mr. Machlis decided to speak with Rabbi Dayan after davening.

G’mar chasimah tovah,” he wished Rabbi Dayan. “Tefillah Zakkah made me think about an incident that happened this past year.”

“Indeed, Yom Kippur is a day to reflect on the past year,” said Rabbi Dayan. “What happened?”

“I loaned somebody money and decided to forego the loan, but we got into a dispute and I changed my mind,” Mr. Machlis said. “After I intended to forgo the loan, am I still allowed to demand the money?”

“The primary intent of Tefillah Zakkah is to exempt the debtor from heavenly punishment,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Although is uses the term “mechila gemura” (forgoing completely) it likely does not express intent to forgo legal rights. Nonetheless, the issue you raised is a fascinating one, known in halacha as ‘mechila balev’ – forgoing in one’s mind.”

“Oh, really?!” exclaimed Mr. “Who addresses this issue?”

Ketzos Hachoshen [12:1] cites a statement of the Maharshal that a person who decided to forgo his loan and now wants to take revenge and collect it may no longer do so,” replied Rabbi Dayan, “since mechila in the mind is considered mechila.”

“The proof is from a Gemara [Kesubos 104a] that a widow who did not claim her kesuba for twenty-five years can no longer do so,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “One explanation is that, in the context of kesuba, her extended silence indicates intention to forgo the kesuba. Although she never said anything, her intention to forgo is valid.”

“Does the Ketzos accept this view?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“The Ketzos is troubled by the principle, ‘devarim shebalev ainam devarim,’” said Rabbi Dayan. Thoughts alone are not of legal consequence, with the exception of sacred donations.

“But what about the proof from the case of the widow?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“The Ketzos, citing the Maharit, differentiates between that case and the average case of mechila balev,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “When the intention is clearly evident to all, as in the case of the widow, we attribute significance to thoughts. However, when the intention is not clearly evident, as in the average case of mechila balev, it is not of significance.”

“What is the accepted ruling?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“Most authorities agree with the Ketzos that thought alone is insufficient,” said Rabbi Dayan. “There are some, though, who concur with the Maharshal.” (See Nesivos 12:5; Aruch Hashulchan 12:8; Yabia Omer C.M. 3:3)

“So what do I do?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“You are certainly entitled to demand your money, in accordance with the majority opinion,” said Rabbi Dayan. “If it were to become known to the beis din, though, that you initially decided in your mind to forgo the loan, they would likely not enforce payment, in deference to the minority opinion and the principle of hamotzi mei’chaveiro alav hare’aya – the burden of the proof in on the plaintiff.”

My Father, Dayan Grunfeld

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

One cold December evening, I walked into my father’s book-lined study to light the Chanukah candles, which were placed beside the window that overlooked a high street in North London.

My father was seated in his armchair surrounded by the red glow of the crackling log fire, and in the chair next to him, wearing a flowing red robe and white skull cap, sat Sir James Parkes, the renowned Christian theologian and author.

I hesitated and backed away.

“Stay and light the candles,” said my father.

Gingerly, I approached the menorah and with flame in hand, I mumbled the blessings under my breath so that Sir James would not hear.

“Amen,” responded Sir James loudly, and I felt a sense of pride that Sir James had acknowledged our faith, mixed with shame that I had tried to hide it.

My father never hid it. He believed that God and His Law served as the province for all mankind and was in no way reserved for the Jews alone. From its very inception, universalism was axiomatic to Judaism. The Hebrew Bible begins with the story of Man, not with the story of the Jew. God chose the Jews to carry the message of monotheism until the dawn of the Messianic era when all the nations of the world would at last acknowledge Him.

The purpose of designating the Jews as the Chosen People is clearly outlined in the leitmotif of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, namely to fulfill the wish “that every creature know that God is its Maker and proclaim that the God of Israel is King and his Kingship rules over everything.”

If the Jews were to isolate themselves in a ghetto and shun the secular world, such a goal would never be achieved. For my father, there was an intimate connection between the position of Israel as the Chosen People on the one hand and the Messianic unity of mankind on the other. To maintain one’s identity as a separate religious and ethnic group and yet work loyally for the whole community of mankind was, for him, no contradiction.

Consistent with this thinking, my father believed that religion should embrace the whole of life in its personal, economic and social aspects and that it was a fundamental mistake to try to localize God in a House of Worship. God is either everywhere or He is nowhere and the Law of God either rules supreme in all aspects of life or it rules nowhere at all.

According to my father, the origins of the Holocaust could be traced back to the emergence of the Renaissance era with its separation of God and State, and its insistence that God Himself and the Divine origin of His Torah be proven in the courts of human reason. God, imprisoned by the Renaissance in the House of Worship, was the first displaced person of Europe and into the vacuum created by His expulsion rushed the demons of Machiavellian sovereignty, bringing death and destruction in their wake.

Mankind’s inventiveness and destructive energy had run amok and were charging headlong with atom bombs and nuclear armaments toward the precipice of universal self-destruction with none of the precepts and boundaries of religion to keep them in check.

* * * * * As a student of the works of Immanuel Kant and a disciple of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, my father believed the Torah could address all its critics, including the “wise men” of higher criticism, which he, together with others, dubbed “higher anti-Semitism.”

His premise was that God and the Divine origin of the Torah lay beyond the reach of human reason, which can neither prove nor disprove them because, to use the language of Kant, they are not “phenomena,” not part of this world, but “noumena,” beyond this world. Nevertheless, they are facts, to the same extent that nature itself and the soul of the human being are facts.

They exist, without doubt, even though we do not fully comprehend them. One cannot analyze the soul through a microscope, scan God through a telescope or view God speaking to man by using the spade of the archeologist. To deduce from this that God and the soul do not exist would be rather like the fisherman who claims that water does not exist because his net never captured it. Accordingly, to my father, the only way to perceive God is through the observance of the mitzvot, which he called power stations that generate holiness.

Leipzig Machzor: A Vision from the Past

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Pursuit of Knowledge: 600 Years of Leipzig University

Grolier Club; 47 East 60th Street, New York

Mon – Fri; 10am – 5pm; 212 838 6690

 


Seven hundred years ago in a synagogue in southwest Germany near the Rhine River, the chazzan opened a new machzor on Yom Kippur as he began Kol Nidrei.  The congregation glanced up and gasped as they saw the new prayer book he was davening from.  A freshly written large-scale parchment book presented itself to them, specially made for the bimah, to be used on all the holidays, resplendent with brightly colored illuminations and richly adorned with gold-leaf and precious lapis lazuli decorations. 


Thus, what we know as the Leipzig Machzor, currently on view at the Grolier Club until November 21, began its congregational life, filling whoever saw it with wonder, awe and a touch of puzzlement as to how such a beautiful object could be part of Jewish ritual life.  This illuminated manuscript, considered “the most sumptuous of the south German illuminated machzorim [that] has the most extensive array of text illustrations (Bezalel Narkiss)” is one of a handful of such manuscripts that have survived from the years between 1258 and 1340.  All were written in southern Germany, and most were illuminated in a distinctive style that borrows from Christian manuscripts of the same era and distinguished by a peculiar kind of depiction of the human figures found therein.



Leipzig Machzor (ca.1300) Ms. V. 1102
Courtesy Leipzig University Library

 

We know from a hidden signature in one of the decorated text panels that the first volume was written by the same scribe, Menachem, who created the Bird’s Head Haggadah at about the same time.  That haggadah is distinguished by illuminations in which all the human figures have bird heads instead of human faces.  They wear the same medieval costumes and distinctive “Jew hats” as in our machzor.  It’s just that they aren’t fully human.

The Leipzig Machzor employs a similar kind of human distortion; all of the heads seem to have normal faces, always in profile, except that they have large beaks instead of noses.  Similarly their mouths have been replaced by the downward curve of the bird-like beak.  They look fully human until you look more closely.


A later manuscript, the Tripartate Machzor from 1320 also features figurative illuminations, except here all the male figures have normal human faces whereas the women are depicted with animal heads.  What are we to make of these distortions?


While it is tempting to simply attribute such distortions to a pious fear of violating the Second Commandment, the inconsistencies between manuscripts are puzzling.  Scholarly opinion is much vexed over this issue, especially considering that the dominant rabbinic authority of the time and region, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (d.1293) ruled that figurative illuminations in prayer books “did not violate the biblical injunction against idolatrous images.”  Nonetheless “he raised the issue of their distracting the worshiper during prayer.” Even so, he permitted these images in prayer books. (Jewish Texts on the Visual Arts by Vivian B. Mann, pg.106)  If distraction was the issue, wouldn’t human figures looking like animals be even more disturbing, especially in a machzor that could be easily seen by much of the assembled congregation?  A comprehensive answer may never be fully resolved since, as scholar Marc Michael Epstein has commented, “each manuscript represents a particular constellation of patrons, artist and [local] rabbinic advisors,” almost all of whom are absent from the historical record.


In the exhibition, the Leipzig Machzor is open to the beginning of the chazzan’s repetition of Mincha for Yom Kippur. The text is contained within an elaborate medieval gate, topped by crenellated battlements, flanked by pointed towers.  The gold leaf glistens and surrounds the initial word, Eitan, also written in gold leaf set off by a deep blue background ornamented with delicate floral tracery.  Beneath the double arches the remainder of the piyut is inscribed in square Ashkenazi script, describing how Abraham (Eitan) recognized the One God when all others were blinded by idolatry.  This is the exact same piyut we say today, seven hundred years later.  Some of the standard prayers are abbreviated such as the communal response “Remember us for life,” the brocha “Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Abraham” and “You are eternally mighty .” At the bottom of this page the piyut continues “The beloved (m’ahav) only son [Isaac] of his mother, [gave up] his soul wholeheartedly to the slaughter.”  Arranged along the very bottom of the page is a scene containing six figures depicting a conflated narrative from the Midrash Rabbah (38:13) and other midrashic sources.

 



Leipzig Machzor (ca. 1300) Detail of Nimrod, Terah, Abraham, Haran

Courtesy Leipzig University Library

On the extreme left Nimrod is seated on a throne, wearing a crown and holding a staff.  He gestures upwards asserting his authority, demanding that Abraham worship fire.  Before him is the bearded figure of Terah in a turban, evidently explaining the wayward behavior of his son Abraham in destroying his idols.  At his feet is a servant pleading with the king to rescind his death sentence of Abraham. Next are two clean-shaven figures in Jew’s hats, Abraham and his brother Haran.  Abraham is more assertive, thrusting both hands forward while Haran equivocates, one hand up the other down.  Finally on the right edge we see Abraham again, now engulfed in flames while Heavenly hands save him from the fiery furnace.


This illumination dramatically depicts Abraham’s blind faith in the one G-d, a faith he alone possessed.  By many accounts this was one of Abraham’s 10 tests. He was ready to renounce his father, as well as the powerful king Nimrod and brave the flames of death in testament to the reality of G-d.  The pictorial scheme of this page forcefully links the title word, Eitan meaning mighty, with tz’dakah meaning righteousness, and m’ahav, beloved, with a midrashic image that transcends the simple text to create a deeper and more complex meaning, a visual piyut on the textual piyut itself.


As the chazzan (and his congregation peering over his shoulders) gazed at this page such an interpretation must have dawned on them.  What an insight and inspiration to have as the awesome Day of Atonement is slowly slipping by, presenting us with the enormous challenge of now continuing our lives, forgiven surely, but still needing the strength to continue our teshuvah, overcome our tests of faith and struggle with sin that will certainly tempt us. 


Seven hundred years after it was created the Leipzig Machzor still inspires us to strengthen our faith by Abraham’s example.  Perhaps no less so this medieval manuscript will inspire us to create new works of art in image and text, even illuminated machzorim, that pay homage and even challenge the achievements of our forefathers so long ago.


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art.
Contact him at
rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

A Far Reaching Whisper

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

             My talk was called “Divine Whispers.” I would be sharing an array of stories, weaving them together to create a message of how even in the “ordinary” events of our lives, we can find a “divine whisper”-a lesson specially scripted for us. The talk was the highlight of a lovely afternoon and evening program arranged by Chabad emissary Chana Alta Mangel in Blue Ash, Ohio. The food, decor, workshops and program, like Chana Alta herself, were fabulous, offering a perfect balance of beautiful physical and spiritual nourishment.

 

As the crowd enters the spacious main synagogue, I am sitting at one of the color coordinated round tables.  “Esther” walks in and asks to sit next to me. As she’ll tell me by the end of the evening, she had no idea that I was the speaker or the writer whom she eagerly reads, but just thought that I might want someone to chat with.

 

And chat we did…

 

Esther’s eyes shine with pride as she tells me that her daughter, a thirty-two year old beautiful woman, lives in California. She is highly successful, independent and living a fulfilled life.

 

“The problem began,” at this point Esther’s voice is lowered into almost a whisper, “when this wonderful daughter met a man whom she planned to marry-and he wasn’t Jewish.


“Chana, I was so torn,” Esther’s eyes mist over. “On the one hand she is my daughter, whom I love unconditionally. I couldn’t break our relationship. How could I just become estranged from her, and at such a time in her life?

 

“Of course, my daughter couldn’t fathom why I was against this relationship, one that she saw as ensuring her future happiness. But on the other hand, I just knew…Chana, I knew it intuitively that this was something that I absolutely could not go through.

 

“How could I attend this wedding? How could I be a part of it?

 

“And yet…how could I not?”

 

Even now, as Esther recounts her story, the tension that was tearing at her is apparent.


“My husband, on the other hand…” Esther continues, “He is a self-professed atheist. He’s an intellectual and he claims he doesn’t believe in any religion.”

 

At this point, Esther diverts to confide to me, almost in parenthesis, “Chana, any time I attend a class on Judaism, I really have to listen. The moment I get home, my husband questions everything that I learned. And how he questions! But let me tell you, though he’s an atheist, he says the Shema Yisrael prayer with me every night. And on Chanukah, when I lit the candles, I saw tears in his eyes. What an atheist, huh?” She winks.

 

Esther now brings her husband into her continuing narrative, “So, of course when my daughter was about to marry this non-Jewish man, my husband didn’t protest. It was only me. It was such a terribly lonely and confusing time for me.” Esther pauses to regain her equilibrium, fighting her strong emotions.

 

“One part of me even thought of taking my life. I didn’t feel I had a choice,” she says defensively. “I couldn’t attend the wedding and I also couldn’t not attend. So, at the time, it seemed like the only option.” She pauses as she recalls those terrible feelings.

 

“The wedding was several weeks off. I was becoming more and more desperate by the day.

 

“And then it was Yom Kippur night. I was sitting in the synagogue and more and more people were arriving for the Kol Nidrei services. I don’t know what gave me the courage, but I marched right up to our rabbi and I ordered, ‘Rabbi, I know you have a lot of things on your head right now. But listen to me. My daughter plans to marry a non-Jew in a few weeks and you’ve just got to pray for her tonight during the services.’

 

“And I too prayed with all my heart.

 

“I returned home after services, still shaken from my emotional experience. Shortly after, my daughter calls. She immediately tells me, ‘Mom, about my upcoming wedding…Well, the plans have been pushed off…indefinitely.’

 

“Her words were music to my ears.

 

“My daughter is still looking to find her soul mate. But now she is dating Jewish men.” Esther smiles as she concludes her tale.

 

And then, as an afterthought, Esther looks at me expectantly. “Chana, tell me, what do you think? Was that a divine whisper on that Kol Nidrei night?”


 


Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers-Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/a-far-reaching-whisper-2/2009/10/14/

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