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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Rosh Hashanah’

Who Performed Avraham’s Bris?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

In this week’s parshah Hashem commands Avraham Avinu to perform the mitzvah of bris milah. The pasuk tells us that Avraham was 99 when he performed the bris milah on himself. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (29) and Tosafos, in Rosh Hashanah 11a, say that Avraham’s bris was performed on Yom Kippur. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer adds that Shem, Noach’s son, performed the bris on Avraham. There are several explanations as to why Avraham had Shem perform his milah.

Some opinions suggest that since the milah was to be performed on Yom Kippur, Avraham did not want to perform the milah himself since this would violate the laws of Yom Kippur. One may only perform a milah on Shabbos or Yom Tov if the bris is on the eighth day. Since Avraham’s milah was not on the eighth day after he was born, it was considered not in the proper time – and thus Avraham could not perform the milah. Since Shem, however, did not keep the Torah he could perform the milah. Therefore Avraham asked Shem to perform the milah.

But there is a medrash (Bereishis 49:2) that says that Avraham asked Hashem as to who would perform the milah on him. Hashem told Avraham that he should do it himself. Avraham immediately took a knife and was about to cut, but hesitated because he was worried about his age. Hashem sent His hand and held onto Avraham – and Avraham cut. The medrash’s source for this is the well-known pasuk from p’sukei d’zimra: “vecharos imo ha’bris – and he cut with him the bris.”

As according to Tosafos and the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer the milah took place on Yom Kippur, we must then ask the following: since according to the medrash that says that Avraham performed the milah together with Hashem, how can this have been done on Yom Kippur – since Avraham kept the entire Torah even prior to matan Torah?

This question is based on the assumption that the milah of Avraham Avinu was considered “shelo bizmano – not in the correct time.” For if it was the correct time (the eighth day of a boy’s life) then one is permitted to perform a bris on Shabbos and Yom Tov. There are some Acharonim (the Yehudah Yaleh in Yoreh De’ah 254 and the Sdei Chemed, 7:2) who answer that, in fact, Avraham Avinu’s bris was considered to be done on time since he performed it on the day that he was commanded to perform it. Even though he was 99 years old, the bris was still considered to be on time and therefore permitted to be performed on Yom Kippur. Other Acharonim suggest that the reason Avraham’s bris was considered on time was because the commandment was for him to perform the bris on that very day, as the pasuk says: “b’etzem hayom hazeh, nimol Avraham v’Yishmael b’no – on that very day, Avraham and his son Yishmael were circumcised.” Since the bris was performed at the intended time, it was considered to have been done on time – and permitted to have been done on Yom Kippur.

Yet this is not the general understanding. Most consider the bris of Avraham Avinu to be shelo bizmano and therefore not permitted to be performed on Yom Kippur. It is quoted in the name of Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik, shlita, that it is for this reason that there is no mention that Avraham made a seudah by his or any of his household’s bris milah – with the exception of Yitzchak. This is because the Sha’arei Teshuvah (551:31) says that one only should make a seudah for a bris that is on time. We only find that Avraham made a seudah for Yitzchak’s bris because that was the only bris that was performed on time.

Another solution is that even though Avraham kept the entire Torah (as the Gemara says), certain discrepancies existed. Generally a bris milah that is not on time is not allowed to be performed on Shabbos or Yom Tov. However, since Avraham was not yet commanded to keep the Torah – and, for that matter, he was not commanded to keep Shabbos or Yom Tov – they were treated differently concerning this matter. Since they were not yet commanded to keep Shabbos or Yom Tov before matan Torah, a bris could be performed on Shabbos or Yom Tov even if it was not on time. Thus Avraham was allowed to perform his bris on Yom Kippur.

Baltimore Sun Features Sports Fans’ High Holidays Dilemma

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

An article in the Baltimore Sun featured the conflict fans of the Baltimore Orioles have with the yearly Yom Kippur observance, showcasing how lovers of baseball keep their finger on the pulse of sports as the Day of Atonement takes place.

Some observant Jews leave their iPhones on at home during the service, according to the Sun article, with app alerts posting to their screens without causing them to break the Jewish law against operating electronic equipment on holidays.

The Sun sited a frequent problem of postseason or important late-season games falling out on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, and sites the head Rabbi of the Beth Am Synagogue of Baltimore, who recommends congregants record games they want to follow, so they can enjoy them after important Jewish holidays.

The article also included an anecdote about a Conservative rabbi who would update congregants on the scores during the service, so they would be attentive and their curiosity alleviated, and discussed which games the rabbi would announce during services, and which he would not.

One man, an avid sports fanatic, said he would not be checking on the game at all, because of his concern for maintaining the sanctity of the day.

Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed 2012

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

1.  Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrey, whose astrological sign is Libra (♎). Libra symbolizes key themes of Yom Kippur: scales, justice, balance, truth, symmetry, sensitivity and optimism. Libra is ruled by the planet Venus (Noga, נגה, in Hebrew), which reflects divine light and love of the other person.  The numerical value of Venus, נגה, is 58 just like the numerical value of אזן, which is the Hebrew root of “balance” and “scale.”

2.  Three holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot (Tabernacles) - are celebrated during the month of Tishrey. The number 3 is identified with balance, stability and The Essence.  The triangle is a symbol of stability.

3.  On the first day of Tishrey, the first human being, Adam, was created. Each year on the tenth day of Tishrey, Yom Kippur, human beings are accorded an opportunity to recreate themselves spiritually. Tishrey and Libra are dominated by the Hebrew letter ל, which is the tallest Hebrew letter, consisting of 3 parts, aiming upward, reflecting the need to elevate-oneself morally, self-enhancement. Yom Kippur is not driven by punishment, but by behavioral-enhancement.

4.  Yom Kippur’s central theme is the plea for forgiveness – directly and not merely via prayers - from fellow human beings.  It highlights humility (admitting fallibility), faith, soul-searching, thoughtfulness, being considerate, compassion, accepting responsibility, magnanimity.  Speaking ill of other people (“evil tongue” in Hebrew) may not be forgiven.

5.  The Jubilee – sanctifying each 50th year by proclaiming liberty, as also inscribed on the Liberty Bell – is announced by blowing the Shofar (a ritual ram’s horn) on Yom Kippur. The Jubilee liberates people physically and spiritually. The word “jubilee” (יובל) is a Hebrew synonym for “Shofar.” Yom Kippur and Jubilee highlight liberty and the subordination to God.

6.  Yom Kippur culminates the ten days of genuine, heart-driven atonement/repentance, which begin on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrey - an Acadian word for forgiveness and Genesis. It is observed on the tenth day of TishreyTen has special significance in Judaism: God’s abbreviation is the tenth Hebrew letter (Yod - י); Ten attributes of God – Divine perfection – were highlighted during the Creation; the Ten Commandments; the Ten Plagues;  Ten reasons for blowing the Shofar; 10% gift to God (tithe); The Ten Martyrs (Rabbis who were tortured/murdered by the Roman Empire); Ten generations between Adam and Noah and ten generations between Noah and Abraham; a ten worshipper quorum (Minyan) is required for a collective Jewish prayer;  etc.

7.  Yom Kippur is a Happy Jewish Holiday, replacing vindictiveness and rage with peace-of-mind and peaceful co-existence between God and human beings and, primarily, among human beings.  Yom Kippur emphasizes God’s Covenant with the Jewish People, ending God’s rage over the sin of the Golden Calf.

8.  The Hebrew word Kippur כיפור (atonement/repentance) is a derivative of the Biblical words Kaporet כפורת - which covered the Holy Ark at the Sanctuary – and Kopher כופר, which covered Noah’s Ark and the Holy Altar at the Temple.  Yom Kippur resembles a spiritual cover (dome), which separates between the holy (days) and the mundane (rest of the year), between spiritualism and materialism. The Kippa כיפה (skullcap, Yarmulke), which covers one’s head during prayers, reflects a spiritual dome. 

9. Yom Kippur calls for repentance – Teshuvah, תשובה, in Hebrew.  The root of Teshuvah is similar to root of the Hebrew word for Return שובה – returning to positive values – and Shvitah שביתה – cessation (strike) of mundane thoughts and actions and eating.  It is also similar to the root of Shabbat שבת. Yom Kippur is also called Shabbat Shabbaton – the supreme Sabbath.  The last Sabbath before Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Teshuvah (based on Hosea’s prophesy, chapter 4).  While the Sabbath is the soul of the week, Yom Kippur is the soul of the year.

10.  The Hebrew spelling of “fast” (צם/צום) – abstinence from food – reflects the substance of Yom Kippur.  The Hebrew word for “fast” is the root of the Hebrew word for “reduction” and “shrinking” (צמצום) of one’s wrong-doing.  It is also the root of the Hebrew words for“slave” (צמית) and “eternity” (צמיתות) – enslavement to God, but not to human-beings. “Fast” is also the root of עצמי (being oneself), עצום (awesome),  עצמה (power), עצמאות(independence), which are gained through the process of fasting, soul-searching, spiritual enhancement and trust in God.

11.  The prayer of Veedooi-וידוי (confession/reaffirmation in Hebrew) is recited ten timesduring Yom Kippur, re-entrenching genuine repentance and the plea for forgiveness. The prerequisites for forgiveness are the expression and exercise (talking and walking) of repentance; assuming full-responsibility for one’s (mis)behavior, and significantly altering one’s behavior.  King Saul sinned only once – ignoring the commandment to annihilate the Amalekites – but was banished from the crown and killed, because he shirked responsibility, while responding to Samuel’s accusation.  King David sinned twice (The “Bat-Sheba Gate” and the “Census Gate”), but was forgiven, because he accepted full-responsibility and the death sentence (as proclaimed by Nathan the Prophet), which was promptly rescinded.

Rosh Hashanah: A National, Not Personal, Holiday

Friday, September 21st, 2012

We are used to assuming that Rosh Hashanah is a holiday of repentance and atonement, a holiday of judgment, and the holiday when our fate for the coming year is determined. The Selichot prayers before and after Rosh Hashanah add to the sense of personal days of judgment, an obvious truth.

But from a simple look at the prayers, we can see that the focal point of the days is completely different. The main thing that we are supposed to be doing on Rosh Hashanah is crowning the Creator as King of the world. This is also the main reason for the central mitzvah of the day: the blowing of the shofar. That is first and foremost an announcement that the coronation is about to take place.

How did the focal point of Rosh Hashanah turn into something private? The answer is simple: The Torah states, “Due to our sins we have been exiled from our land and we have become distant from our earth.” Just as the entire Torah has transformed into a religion that hovers above reality, not really a part of it, so Rosh Hashanah no longer expresses our national aspirations. When we lost our sovereignty and we lost Jerusalem, when the royal palace on the Temple Mount was destroyed, the nation of Israel also lost the possibility to actualize the purpose of its existence – to perfect the world in the Kingdom of Heaven. From a national holiday, Rosh Hashanah morphed into a personal holiday, just as Judaism as a whole became a system of personal reminders outside of reality.

Even now, after we have returned to our land and after we received the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War (six days of miracles), we continue with our private – not national – Rosh Hashanah ritual.

However, we who have declared our goal to perfect the world in the Kingdom of Heaven and who are working toward that goal politically – from within reality – can make the coronation of the King of the world a palpable event.

May we perceive G-d’s rule over the entire world, and may we merit a year during which we are favored and loyal tools to make that happen.

I wish all of you a sweet and blessed year.

My Personal Shofar Blower

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Rosh Hashanah memories take us to our shuls, homes and families. They remind us of promises made about how we would change our lives and rearrange our priorities. There may also be memories of the delicacies we ate when we were children – the chicken soup, gefilte fish and great desserts. And one sound, the sound of the shofar blasting away with its shrill notes of tekiah, shevarim… and finally the long, very last sound – the tekiah gedolah.

For me the most unique memory of the shofar blowing did not come in a shul or a home, but rather while doing my reserve duty here in Israel. And although it happened many years ago, it seems like it was yesterday. Reserve duty, miluim in Hebrew, is a 2-4 week period of guard duty, or patrols that one is required to do after completing compulsory army service. After we moved to Efrat from Beersheba I was assigned to a local unit that patrolled the Gush Etzion area (about 10 minutes south of Jerusalem). We did eight-hour shifts along with an officer who had significantly more training than us. But we all had our M16s, and had to shoot a few bullets to make sure that we remembered how to pull the trigger.

One September evening I had just completed my eight-hour shift and was allowed to return home to sleep. But before retiring I turned on the 11 p.m. news. The lead story was a terrorist attack on a jeep that fortunately did not result in any injuries, but had taken place in the exact area that I had just finished patrolling. I was shocked. The area has many Arab villages, and there was always the possibility that something dangerous could happen. Somehow, I just never thought about this real possibility.

Two days later was Rosh Hashanah, and I had been told that I would be allowed to be home for the holiday. Everything was prepared, and I was excited to be home with the kids and friends. But then I received a phone call informing me that I would not be able to stay at home; rather I had to be on duty in case there were any more incidents. Sad as it was there was no choice, and even though I would be only walking distance from Efrat I would not be able to actually leave the base.

I packed my machzor and clothes, and my wife gave me some kugel and cake. But the one thing I didn’t possess was a shofar. What would I do without a shofar? Would someone come to the base, or would it be a Rosh Hashanah sans shofar blowing?

I recall being the only religious soldier on this small base, and it was lonely having to do all the davening alone. However, the meals were eaten together with the others, and I was given the “duty” of reciting the Kiddush. The following morning I again took my machzor in hand, and went up the lookout tower (called a pill box due to its shape). Right before I got to the Mussaf prayer that has all the shofar blowing I heard steps, and there was one of my fellow reserve soldiers, Rav Uri Dasberg, with shofar in hand! I couldn’t believe it. Uri lived even closer to the base and was allowed to stay at home, but came especially for me. As I had done in my own shul for many years, I called out the sounds of the shofar and Uri did every note to perfection. He was my personal shofar blower.

The following day, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the same pattern was repeated. I considered myself very lucky. I thanked Uri profusely for personally helping me out. At some point that second day the base commander informed me that I could walk home to Efrat, but I had to tell one of the other soldiers to replace me.

My wife and family were so excited and surprised to see me; I would be able to spend a few hours of Rosh Hashanah at home with my family. As I devoured the many dishes that my wife had prepared, I relayed the story of what had happened to me in the tower.

Rosh Hashanah Guide for the Perplexed

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

1.  Rosh Hashanah and the Shofar (ritual ram’s horn) symbolize and commemorate:

*The annual reaffirmation of faith in God;
*The first human-being, Adam, was created on Rosh Hashanah, the sixth day of Creation, the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrey;
*The opening of Noah’s Ark following the flood;
*The almost-sacrifice of Isaac (thou shall not sacrifice human beings!) and the covenant of the Jewish People with God;
*The three Jewish Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Prophet Samuel (the latter inspired Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense,” the cement of the American Revolution), were conceived/born during the month of Tishrey, which is called “The Month of the Strong Ones”;
*The release of Joseph from Egyptian jail;
*Mt. Sinai and receiving the Ten Commandment and the Torah;
*The commitment to liberty. The blowing of the Shofar also announces the beginning of the Jubilee (“Yovel” in Hebrew), which is a synonym of Shofar. The blowing of the Shofar represents deliverance from spiritual and physical slavery. It inspired the American anti-slavery Abolitionist movement;
*The reconstruction of the 2nd Temple and the destruction of both Temples;
*The ingathering (Aliya) to the Jewish Homeland, the land of Israel;
*The cycle of nature - seed planting season and the equality of day and night;
*Optimism in the face of daily adversity – genuine repentance and mending behavior warrants forgiveness;
*The fallibility of all human-beings, starting with Adam and including the most pious persons, such as Moses;
*Humility as an effective means to minimize wrong-doing;
*Restraint. Patience and long-term commitment – “Hashanah” in Hebrew (השנה) means “the year,” “change” and “repeat.”  No quick fixes!
*The “Ten Days of Awe” are initiated on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur.

2.  Rosh Hashanah – unlike all other Jewish holidays – is a universal (stock-taking, renewal and hopeful) holiday. “Rosh” (Hashanah) means in Hebrew “beginning,” “first,” “head,” “chief.” The Hebrew letters of Rosh (ראש) constitute the root of the Hebrew word for Genesis, “Bereshit” (בראשית), which is the first word in the Bible. Just like the Creation, so should the New Year and our own actions, be a thoughtful, long-term – not a hasty – process. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of the Jewish month of Tishrey, which means beginning/Genesis in ancient Acadian. The Hebrew spelling of Tishrey (תשרי) is included in the spelling of Genesis (בראשית).

Rosh Hashanah is referred to as “Ha’rat Olam” (the pregnancy of the world), and its prayers highlight motherhoodoptimism and the pregnancies of Sarah and Rachel, the Jewish Matriarchs, and Hanna, who gave birth to Isaac, Joseph & Benjamin and Samuel the Prophet respectively. Sarah, שרה (the root of the Hebrew word, Israel, ישראל) and Hanna, חנה (the root of the Hebrew words Pardon, Amnesty and Merciful, חנינה) were two of the seven Jewish Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Hanna, Deborah, Huldah, Abigail, Esther.  Hanna’s prayer has become a role-model for God-heeded prayers. Noah – who led the rebirth of humanity/world – also features in Rosh Hashanah prayers.

3.  The three pillars of Rosh HashanahRepentance (returning to good deeds – תשובה – in Hebrew), Prayer and Charity (doing justice – צדקה – in Hebrew).

4.  The Hebrew word for atonement/repentance is Te’shuvah (תשובה), which also means“return” to core morality and values and to the Land of Israel. On Rosh Hashanah, one is expected to plan a “spiritual/behavioral budget” for the entire year. The three Hebrew words, Teshuvah (Repentance/Atonement, תשובה), Shivah (Spiritual and Physical Return, שיבה) and Shabbat (Creation concluded, שבת) emerge from the same Hebrew root.  They constitute a triangular foundation, whose strength depends on the depth of education and commemoration. According to King Solomon, “The triangular cord cannot be broken.”

5.  Rosh Hashanah is mentioned in the Book of Numbers (29:1) as “the day of the Shofar blast” (Yom Te’roo’ah in Hebrew). The Shofar (ritual ram’s horn) is blown on Rosh Hashanah as a wake-up call, a break away from the professional, social and political mundane, in order to recommit oneself to roots and basic valuesrepair our order of priorities andmend human behavior.  Shofar (שופר) is a derivative of the Hebrew word forenhancement/improvement (שפור).  Blowing the Shofar symbolizes a new beginning – replaying the birth of the Jewish People – and the receipt of the Torah – at Mount Sinai, which was accompanied by sounding the Shofar.

6.  The Shofar should be humble (bent and not decorated), natural and unassuming, just like the foundation of a positive character in general and leadership in particular.

7.  The Shofar is the epitome of peace-through-strength.  It is made from the horn of a ram, which is a peaceful animal equipped with strong horns, fending off predators. The numerical value of the Hebrew word, “ram” (איל), is 41, equal to the value of “mother” (אם), who strongly protects her children.

8.  While the blowing of the Shofar is a major virtue, listening to the Shofar is at least as important a virtue. The Hebrew root of “listening,” האזנה, is Ozen, ear (אוזן), which contains thebalancing mechanism in our body (אזון).  Ozen is also the root for “Scale” (מאזניים) and “Balance,” which is the zodiac sign of the month of Tishrey.  Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (when people balance their good deeds vs. bad deeds) are observed during the month of Tishrey.

9.  The three ways of blowing the Shofar express the inner constant values (Te’kiyah), the tenacious human marathon through success and failure (She’va’rim), and the determined pursuit of faith-driven long-term vision (Troo’ah).

10.  The three series of blowing the Shofar represent the faith of mankind in God (Malkhooyot), the centrality of history/memory/roots and God’s Covenant with the Jewish People (Zichronot) and repentance/enhancement (Shofarot).

11.  The three different soundings of the Shofar represent the three Patriarchs (Abraham – tenacity, fighting capabilities and mercy, Isaac – benevolence, Jacob – truth), the three parts of the Bible and the three types of human beings (pious, evil and mediocre), all of whom are worthy of renewal.

12.  Rosh Hashanah services include 101 blows of the Shofar. It is the numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of Michael, a Guardian Angel, which was one of the names of Moses.

13.  The pomegranate - one of the seven species that bless the Land of Israel – is featured during Rosh Hashanah: “May you be credited with as many rewards as the seeds of the pomegranate.” The pomegranate becomes ripe in time for Rosh Hashanah and contains – genetically - 613 seeds, which is the number of Jewish statues. The pomegranate was employed as an ornament of the Holy Arc, the holy Menorah (candelabrum), the coat of the High Priest and the Torah Scrolls. The first two letters of the Hebrew word for pomegranate (רמון), Rimon – which is known for its crown - mean sublime (Ram, רמ). The pomegranate (skin and seeds) is one of the healthiest fruit: high in iron, anti-oxidants, anti-cancer, decreases blood pressure, enhances the quality of blood and the cardiac and digestion systems. Rimon is a metaphor for a wise person: wholesome like a pomegranate.

14.  Honey is included in Rosh Hashanah meals in order to sweeten the coming year. The beeis the only insect which produces essential food.  It is a community-oriented, constructive and a diligent creature.  The Hebrew spelling of bee (דבורה) is identical to “the word of God” (דבור-ה).

15.  Shofar Blowing Commemoration Day (Leviticus 23) is one of the names of Rosh Hashanah. One can avoid – rather than repeat – past mistakes by learning from history. The more one remembers, the deeper are the roots and the greater is one’s stability and one’s capability to withstand storms of pressure and temptation. The more stable/calculated/moral is the beginning of the year (Rosh Hashanah), the more constructive will be the rest of the year.

May the New Year (5773 according to the Jewish calendar) be top heavy with truth, realism and tenacity and low on distortion, wishful-thinking and vacillation.

Visit Yoram Ettinger’s website The Ettinger Report.

What Bill Belichick and the Patriots Can Teach Us about the Days of Awe

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

A conversation between God and the angels is recorded in Tractate Rosh Hashanah:

Angels: Why aren’t the Israelites singing Hallel (psalms of praise) on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

God: The books of Life and Death are open before Me, and you want them to sing?

In this conversation, the Angels appear to have forgotten which Holidays we’re discussing, expecting these serious Days of Awe to be days for singing and happiness.

The following sports metaphor should help us understand the Angels’ question:

The great Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, who has lead his team to many Super Bowl appearances, five as a head coach and three more as defensive coordinator, is arriving in July for the team’s first training mini-camp. His basic goals is to get the team ready for the new season by setting their sights on another Super Bowl, introducing the play book, and instilling the discipline necessary for a winning team.

The latter would include a commitment to adhere to the coach’s direction. Coach Belichick is known for his “New England way”: team success over individual success, thorough preparation, shutting out distractions, and looking no further than the next game, or, as Coach Belichick puts it: “We just gotta’ get ready for next week.”

Now think about it: how does the team feel when their great coach arrives at that mini-camp? Obviously, they’re glad he’s arrived, and anticipate getting ready for another championship run.

The ten day period from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur are similar: God, our great, respected ”coach,” starts our year by ”joining us” for ten days with the goal of getting us ready for another ”Super Bowl season.” He wants to direct our attention 1) towards that goal2)towards focusing on the ”play book” (the Torah) and towards the recognition of God as our absolute ”coach,” who we must adhere to in order to ”win.”

So the Angels correctly ask why we’re not joyfully singing Hallel as God ”arrives” at the beginning of our year-we certainly are ecstatic upon his arrival and much anticipate ”kicking off.”

Let us begin our year on the right foot towards another Super Bowl season.

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