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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Lecha Dodi’

Eternal Love Story

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Parents know each child is different. Similarly, each month is different; each has a different “personality” and a different function.

What is the nature of the month of Elul?

According to one system of counting, it is the last month of the year. If our fate during the coming year is decided between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, then Elul must be very important.

How do we try to ensure that the coming year will be good?

This is our job during Elul.

Elul has been described by the acronym Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Shir HaShirim 6:3).

Isn’t it strange to think of Elul in this way? We are coming before our Father and King for judgment. We crown Hashem “Melech” on Rosh Hashanah. How, then, can we describe our relationship with the Supreme Judge, who holds our fate in His hands, in such romantic terms? Does this make sense?

Imagine you are on trial for your life. You are trembling in the courtroom. Armed guards are watching you. The prosecutor is about to list your crimes. At that moment, would you tell the judge how much you love him? You would be crazy!

Or maybe not.

The way we put on tefillin offers a parable for life. First we put on the shel yad, which is tied around the upper arm opposite the heart. Then we place the shel rosh upon our head and, lastly, we wrap the retzuah (leather strap) around our hand. What does this teach us? That the heart is primary.

We begin the day by adjusting our emotional orientation. When we place the shel yad upon our arm, our heart is bombarded with holy “radiation” from the tefillin. If our heart is good, we will be good. So we send healing into the heart in order to bring it under the influence of Torah. Following the heart, we place the tefillin upon our head, and then we wrap the retzuah around the hand.

But the heart is primary. As the Gemara says, “Hashem wants the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b). If a person is “happy with his lot” and full of chesed, all else will follow. The heart must be good; then comes the brain. We take our good, generous emotions and the brain conceives of ways to implement them. The last step is action itself, symbolized by the retzuah.

We have to work on our heart. The cause of our Exile was sinas chinam, unwarranted hatred between Jew and Jew. The cure is ahavas chinam, “unwarranted” love. “Sinah” and “ahavah” are emotions, which emanate from the heart. The heart must be cured and trained.

The way we prepare for life by regulating our emotions, so we prepare for our encounter with God. Elul thus becomes the month in which “ani l’dodi v’dodi li.”

We also need an ayin tovah – a good eye.

The Mishnah (Avos 5:22) teaches: “Those who have a good eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul are among the disciples of our Father Avraham. Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul are among the disciples of the wicked Bilaam.” Rabbi Yissocher Frand asks, “What does ‘ayin tovah’ really mean? It means a generosity of spirit and a generosity of dealing with people.”

* * * * *

On Yom Kippur the kohen gadol enters the Kodesh HaKadoshim. What does he find? Atop the Aron HaKodesh are the kruvim, facing each other. These two figures, male and female, represent a loving couple. When Hashem created the world, he populated Gan Eden with Adam and Chava, who represent the culmination of creation. That they rebelled against Him represents their own weakness, but quite clearly they were created with the ability to live in perfect harmony in the presence of Hashem. If a man and woman live together the way Hashem commands, their relationship is the building block of His world.

But there is more.

The Gemara tells us that the kruvim represent the relationship between Am Yisrael and God. “Rabbi Katina said: When the Jewish people made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the festivals, the priests would roll up the partition of the Holy of Holies and show them the kruvim in amorous embrace. ‘Look,’ they would say to the people, ‘God’s love for you is like the love between a man and woman’ ” (Yoma 54b).

Q & A: Yotzrot (Part II)

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Question: I read The Jewish Press’s Luach of February 17 with much interest. You write, “We daven Shacharis as usual.” I find it difficult to understand why you don’t mention reciting the special yotzrot for Parshat Shekolim. Are yotzrot a relic of history? I’m a senior citizen who remembers saying yotzrot as a child. But now, they seem to have disappeared from Orthodox synagogues.

Milton M. Adler
Cherry Hill, NJ

Answer: Yotzrot (often referred to generically as piyutim) have disappeared from many, but not all, congregations. Rabbi Yosef Grossman (in Otzar Erchei HaYahadut, ot peh, 377) defines piyutim as prayers, poetic refrains, or sanctified songs written by venerable authors (beginning with geonim in Babylonia) and added as optional additions to the liturgy for special occasions. Many of these authors served as shluchei tzibbur themselves and were capable of effecting a unique spiritual arousal on the part of the congregation. Piyutim include words of rebuke, reproof, and lamentations and yearning regarding the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence. We continue our answer with more information from Rabbi Grossman’s work.

* * * * *

One of the earliest (and most famous) paytanim is Yosi b. Yosi, whose compositions have found their way into the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers. Also well known are the compositions of Yanai and his disciple Rabbi Eliezer HaKalir, who is considered one of the “fathers” of Jewish liturgical poets.

In the Middle Ages, liturgical poetry reached the height of its development in both Sefarad – Spain, North Africa, and the oriental lands – and Ashkenaz – Germany, France, and other European lands. Among the liturgical composers in Spain were Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabirol, Rabbi Moshe ibn Ezra, known as “Ha’Salach,” and Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Levi. Famous liturgical composers in Ashkenazic lands included Rabbenu Gershom Me’or Ha’golah, Rashi, and Rabbenu Tam.

Yemen also possessed many composers, the greatest of which was Rabbi Shalom Shabazzi. Yet, for the most part, piyutim were generally more accepted (and included in the liturgy) in Ashkenazic lands than in the Sefardic lands.

With the passing of time, more compositions were added from the works of such able composers as Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (the author of “Lecha Dodi”) and Rabbi Yisrael Nidgara (the author of “Kah Ribon Alam V’almaya”).

Piyutim are at times referred to by more specific names. As delineated by Rabbi Grossman at the conclusion of his discussion in Otzar Erchei HaYahadus, they are:

Yotzrotpiyutim accompanying the blessing of “yotzer or” in birkat Kriat Shema.

These are added to the liturgy during the Days of Awe and on specific Shabbatot.

Ofanim – piyutim recited before “ha’ofanim v’chayot ha’kodesh,” also found in birkat Kriat Shema of Shacharit.

Zulatotpiyutim recited before ezrat avoteinu after Kriat Shema.

Geulotpiyutim recited right before the blessing ga’al yisrael.

Avodahpiyutim accompanying the Avodah service of Yom Kippur.

Ma’aravitpiyutim especially composed to accompany the Ma’ariv service of festivals.

Havdalotpiyutim for Motza’ei Shabbat (traditionally sung at Melave Malka).

Hoshanotpiyutim sung throughout the course of Sukkot and climaxing in the Hoshanot ceremony of Hoshana Rabbah.

Selichotpiyutim in the form of confessionals that are recited on public fasts, throughout the month of Elul, and during Aseret Yemei Teshuva.

Kinot – lamentations recited on Tisha B’Av.

Numerous factors contributed to the widespread decline in the recitation of these piyutim. One factor is the comprehensibility of the piyutim. Prose, no matter how beautiful, is often hard to understand. Furthermore, often Aramaic words found their way into the compositions. (To their credit, ArtScroll and other publishers of siddurim and machzorim often offer excellent English language translations of piyutim, thus affording people the opportunity to enjoy their beauty.)

I think one of the most obvious reasons for their omission nowadays is their length. The olam ha’yeshivot – the yeshiva world – for example, does not recite them because their roshei yeshivot believe them to be rather lengthy. Yeshivot generally daven at a slower pace and reciting piyutim would greatly lengthen the services and cut into study time.

Regular synagogues also likely omit them for the same reason. Many people do not wish to remain in shul past midday. This sentiment is based upon the following: The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) notes that one verse (Deuteronomy 16:8) states, “atzeret laShem Elokecha – an assembly to the L-rd” while another one (Numbers 29:35) states, “atzeret tiyeh lachem – an assembly for you.” Which is it: an assembly to the L-rd or to us? The Gemara replies that the day is both – “chetzyo lachem v’chetzyo laShem – half for [us] and half for the L-rd.” Even though the verses concern the end of Pesach and Shemini Atzeret, R. Yehoshua applies this rule to all festivals. In our time, many people extend this rule to Shabbat as well.

Anim Z’mirot (Part II)

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Question: May Anim Z’mirot be said without a minyan?

Response: Some people think the answer to this question is no because they think Anim Z’mirot is a davar she’bikedushah by dint of the fact that people stand and open the aron during its recital, which is done in a responsive fashion.

However, people stand and answer responsively during the recital of Lecha Dodi and yet it is not a davar she’bikedushah since it can be said without a minyan present. Furthermore, the tefillah of Avinu Malkeinu is recited responsively, with all standing, while the aron is open, and yet, the Mateh Efraim (584:14) rules that it can be said even without a minyan. This ruling is based on the p’sak of the Taz and Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 242) that the public only stands during Avinu Malkeinu because it is custom, not law.

The commentary of the K’tzeh Hamateh (HaRav Chaim Tzvi Ehrenreich) cites numerous sages that agree with this ruling. Yet, he also cites a number of gedolim who disagree and maintain that Avinu Malkeinu can only be said with a minyan. Indeed, the Gemara (Ta’anit 25b) states that Rav Akiva went down to the teivah to say Avinu Malkeinu. This clearly implies that it was recited as part of a minyan.

Interestingly, the very custom of standing for Avinu Malkeinu or Anim Z’mirot may be at the root of the machloket. Perhaps standing for these tefillot (due to the aron being open) automatically transforms them into divrei she’bikedushah. If they do, then these tefillot may only be said with a minyan. If they don’t, they need not be.

Enter, O Bride: Elul Is Here

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

“Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine)” – Song of Songs 6:3).

This is the acronym of Elul.

Since Elul is the last month of the year and immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment for all the world’s inhabitants, it was established as a time for teshuvah/repentance. We therefore recite selichos and penitential prayers to [Hashem]. [Book of Our Heritage]

We are to remember this month the emotional bond between the Children of Israel and the Ruler of the Universe. We are in love with each other. Everything that has transpired in our long history can be understood in that light. If tempers flare, if there is estrangement, it is a result of passion – because the relationship is founded on love.

“I recall for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me into the wilderness, into an unsown land” (Jeremiah 2:2).

How we long for each other!

“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved. What shall you tell Him? That I am sick with love” (Song of Songs 5:8).

We have spurned Hashem. He created this perfect world for us, this world of supernal beauty. And yet we rejected His love. Since the moment Adam and Eve made their cataclysmic mistake, things have been getting continuously worse.

Our rejection of His love has never had one good consequence. The world is a mess and we know it; the more we try to fix it, the worse the mess becomes. We have become stiff-necked because of refusal to admit our guilt.

In His unlimited love, Hashem introduced a Nation of Priests to repair the damage and bring the world back to its senses. But the world did not appreciate that nation, and that nation itself has lost its way. Weakened by jealousy and division, we have blundered. As a consequence, we are surrounded by those who hate us.

How long are we going to exile ourselves from the One we love?

Our Friend is willing and able to protect us completely. Why don’t we call out to Him? We are too proud. We have made such a mistake by alienating Him that we are embarrassed to call out to Him. We tell ourselves we don’t merit to do teshuvah and that God could never forgive us. When you are in depression, you can’t bring yourself out.

So let’s remind ourselves of some basics.

Several times every day we say, “Blessed are You, our God and the God of our fathers Who recalls the kindnesses of the Patriarchs and brings a Redeemer to their children’s children, for His Name’s sake, with love .”

For His Name’s sake, with love.

Even if we don’t merit salvation, Hashem will at some point cease to tolerate that our relationship is being dragged in the gutter. When His beloved Nation is universally hated, it reflects upon Him. At a certain point the Holy Name of Hashem must itself be redeemed.

When we were redeemed from Egypt – the paradigm for the Final Redemption – we were buried in spiritual mud at the forty-ninth level of impurity. Did we deserve to be taken out? How could we have deserved it at that level?

But our Friend took us out on the basis of our future teshuvah. And we did do teshuvah, struggling during the forty-nine days of Sefira with our own inadequacies in order to elevate ourselves before our chassana at Har Sinai.

Hashem’s love for us is boundless. Soon He will redeem us regardless of our merit.

“When you beget children and grandchildren and will have been long in the Land, you will grow corrupt [and] you will surely perish quickly from the Land . Hashem will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where Hashem will lead you. There you will serve gods, the handiwork of man, of wood and stone, which do not hear and do not eat and do not smell” (Deuteronomy 4:25 ff).

Sounds as if it’s all over, right?

Not so fast!

“From there you will seek Hashem, your God, and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have overtaken you, at the end of days, you will return unto Hashem your God, and hearken to His voice” (Deuteronomy 4:29-30).

A Taxi Driver, A Flaming Sword, And Purim’s Redemption

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

“Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha” – with the coming of Adar simcha increases.

What is the biggest simcha? When God saves us.

There is an endless list of problems in this world. Every problem has a solution, but when the list gets too long, the solution seems beyond us. How can we cope with it all?

Saving the Jews in the days of Mordechai and Esther was beyond human capability. The Children of Israel were powerless in a vast empire that encircled the globe, at the head of which stood a monomaniac whose consuming desire was to “destroy, to slay and to exterminate all the Jews, from young to old, children and women, in one day and to plunder their possessions.” (Megillas Esther 3:13)

How did the Children of Israel react? Did they appeal to the UN? Did they petition Congress? What did they do?

“Esther … said to Mordechai: ‘Go, assemble all the Jews that are to be found in Shushan and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day, and I, with my maids, will fast also. Thus, I will come to the king and, if I perish, I perish.” (Megillas Esther 4:15-16)

Do you hear this?

“If I perish, I perish.”

This is courage. This is greatness. Esther put the survival of her people before her own survival.

I am writing these words from Yerushalayim. They say war is brewing in the north. On the streets the children of Ishmael walk unafraid. In Iran a wild man postures and gestures, and the world cringes. Turkey, once Israel’s friend, fires off diatribes of scorn and ridicule.

Who in the vast world is our friend? Who will stand up for us? And, if one does, is he strong enough to confront the rest of the world, which is bent on our destruction, God forbid?

I will tell you who can stand up for us: it could be the smallest, weakest man.

King David was relatively small in stature, but he defeated Goliath because he spoke in the Name of God.

Queen Esther entered the palace of Achashveirosh alone, and she was alone when she came before him and Haman to save her people. One woman defeated the entire evil machinery poised to destroy all the Jews. How? Because she spoke in the Name of God.

There is a taxi driver in Yerushalayim who late one night drove us home from a simcha. At every red light, he would turn on the overhead lamp and look down. What was he doing? Peering over his shoulder, I realized he had a sefer in his lap and was learning Torah at every stop. When we got out, I expressed my admiration, and he looked at me. “Ein bereirah” (there is no choice), he said. He has learned by heart entire sections of Torah while stopped at red lights.

This man is a mighty warrior of God. He may be unknown in this world, but in the World of Truth he is a giant in stature. He carries a flaming sword. He is personally standing in the way of empires bent on destroying the Children of Israel. This unknown taxi driver in the Holy City of Yerushalayim is holding the entire world together.

What is wrong with us? Are we living in a fantasy? Don’t we understand our lives are at stake? Are we greeting each other with love? Do we say “Shalom aleichem“? When someone says “Shalom aleichem” to us, do we answer? Do we daven for each other?

When Esther risked her life, God turned a supposedly impossible situation around. The weak were victorious and the strong were vanquished. Because in the eyes of Hashem it makes absolutely no difference who is weak and who is strong.

On the day we act like loving friends and family, the day we are willing to risk our lives for our brothers and sisters, the day we take seriously Hashem’s total control of the world, the day we understand that there “is no choice” other than to dedicate ourselves completely to Torah and service of Hashem, the Jews will once again have “light and gladness and joy and honor.” (Megillas Esther 8:16)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-taxi-driver-a-flaming-sword-and-purims-redemption/2010/02/24/

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