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Posts Tagged ‘Shemoneh Esrei’

Counting The Previous Day’s Sefirah

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

In this week’s parshah we read about the mitzvah of Sefiras Ha’Omer. Interestingly the reading of this mitzvah coincides with the actual time to perform the mitzvah. The pasuk says, “u’sefartem lachem…sheva Shabbasos temimos – and you should count for yourselves…seven complete weeks.” The mitzvah is to count the days and weeks from the second day of Pesach until Shavuos. One is required to count sefirah at night. We learn from the word temimos that optimally one should count at the beginning of the night so that the entire night can be counted.

One who forgets to count sefirah at night may count during the day without a berachah, and then continue counting the rest of the days with a berachah. If one forgets to count sefirah at night and does not remember to count by day, he may not count with a berachah thereafter.

The following is an interesting question that can commonly arise: One forgot to count Thursday night and did not remember to count during the day on Friday. He then accepted Shabbos early and reminded himself afterwards that he had not counted sefirah. While it is technically still the day (it’s still light outside), this individual has already brought in Shabbos. Do we already consider it nighttime, rendering it too late for him to count for Thursday night’s requirement – and he thus may no longer count with a berachah? Or does the fact that it is actually still daytime enable him to count, even after he has accepted Shabbos?

In answering this question some Achronim refer to a similar halacha from the Taz. The Taz (Teshuvos 600) discusses a scenario where a community did not have a shofar on Rosh Hashanah, which fell out on Friday. After the community accepted Shabbos early, a non-Jew brought them a shofar. Here’s the question: Do we still consider it daytime and thus the shofar can still be blown, or is it nighttime and there is no longer a mitzvah to blow shofar? The Taz gave two reasons for why they could blow shofar. First, accepting Shabbos is similar to making a neder, whereby if it was done b’taos (mistakenly) it is not valid. Since the community would not have accepted Shabbos if they knew that they would be receiving a shofar afterwards, the acceptance was done b’taos – and is not valid.

Second, the Taz, quoting the Beis Yosef in the name of the Smag, says that in regard to calculating the eighth day for a bris milah we only look at whether it is actually day or night. It does not matter if one davened Ma’ariv or accepted Shabbos early; if it is still day the bris will be eight days from the day, not from the night. The Vilna Gaon explains that mitzvos that are not dependent on Shabbos, even if one accepts Shabbos early, are considered as if done during the day. Based on this the Taz ruled that they could blow shofar – even after accepting Shabbos.

Reb Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 4:99:3) discusses whether the Taz’s ruling can be applied to the question of Sefiras Ha’Omer. The first point that the Taz used to permit the community to blow shofar after they accepted Shabbos early was that it was considered that they accepted Shabbos b’taos, since they would not have accepted Shabbos had they known that a shofar was going to be brought. Reb Moshe says that this reasoning can only apply if one only accepted Shabbos (i.e. said “Mizmor shir l’yom haShabbos”), but has not yet davened Ma’ariv. But if one already davened Ma’ariv, we will not consider the acceptance of Shabbos to be b’taos.

This is because there are several variations from the Taz’s scenario. In the Taz’s example, the ruling affected an entire community. When an entire community mistakenly accepts Shabbos early, even if they davened Ma’ariv, they do not repeat Shemoneh Esrei. Regarding Sefiras Ha’Omer, however, we are generally discussing an individual who forgot to count the night before. The halacha is that an individual must repeat the Shemoneh Esrei if he mistakenly accepts Shabbos (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 263:14). Therefore if we consider the individual’s acceptance of Shabbos to have been done mistakenly, it will result in rendering the seven berachos that he davened in Shemoneh Esrei to be berachos levatalah – since he must repeat Shemoneh Esrei. How can we assume that in order to fulfill a mitzvah mi’de’rabbanan (according to many opinions Sefiras Ha’Omer is only mi’de’rabbanan nowadays) one would not have accepted Shabbos, if by doing so we create seven berachos levatalah? And perhaps even if it was in order to gain a mitzvah de’oraisa – if we are discussing an individual’s acceptance of Shabbos where he already davened and will have to repeat Shemoneh Esrei – we would not consider his acceptance of Shabbos to be b’taos. This would leave him with seven berachos levatalah.

Sefira And The Battle With Our Evil Inclination

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

During Pesach we experience liberation from slavery, followed by the dramatic encounter with Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. Then we trek through the desert to the great moment at Har Sinai.

This sequence anticipates what our Sages tell us will happen at the Final Redemption. The Chofetz Chaim is quoted as having said that “we can learn about the end of our exile from what happened at the end of our exile in Egypt” (Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, as noted in Redemption Unfolding by A. A. Mandelbaum).

It is well to have this in mind, because we are going to need all the help we can get in the days before Mashiach arrives.

Today the foundations and pillars of our civilization are shaking, just as the foundations and pillars of ancient Egypt shook during the Ten Plagues. The people and the land of Israel are surrounded today, just as we were surrounded at the Red Sea.

When Hashem took us out of Egypt, we were at Mem Tes Sha’are Tumah, almost completely submerged in the quicksand of Egyptian idolatry and immorality. As Rashi tells us (Shemos 13:18), only one-fifth of our people made it out of Egypt at all; the rest had become so assimilated that they disappeared during the Plague of Darkness.

Even those who left with Moshe Rabbeinu were redeemed only through Hashem’s mercy. Extrapolating from that, we can assume that Hashem will redeem us at the time of Mashiach not because we are deserving, but out of chesed. As we say in Shemoneh Esrei, God will send a Redeemer “l’ma’an shemo b’ahavah…for His sake, with love.”

But if we were on such a low level, how did we become worthy to receive the Torah? What happened between Egypt and Sinai?

The answer is that during that seven-week march through the desert, our job was to elevate ourselves so that we would retroactively merit our liberation and try to become worthy of receiving the Torah.

Today, we refer to those seven weeks as the days of Sefiras HaOmer, and our job is not simply to count the days between Pesach and Shavuos but to use each passing day to elevate ourselves. Just as we had to climb from the depths of impurity in Egypt to try to merit standing before God at Mount Sinai, so today we try to prepare ourselves for receiving the Torah once again by working on our middos during these seven weeks.

And so too we are preparing for the Great Day on which we will be redeemed forever from Exile. As we say, “Master of the Universe, You commanded us…to count the Omer in order to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations….In the merit of the Omer Count…may there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefira….May I be cleansed and sanctified…and may it correct our lives, spirits and souls from all sediment and blemish….”

* * * * *

Since the Source of our protection throughout our long and challenging history is the Torah, and since we are now in the process of preparing once again to receive the Torah, I would suggest we concentrate very deeply in the weeks ahead on the spiritual program called Sefiras HaOmer, the crash course in self-improvement that this period affords us. After all, we are doing nothing less than ensuring our own personal and national survival – in fact, the survival of the entire world.

I think it is fitting here to quote from the words of Mrs. Chava Sandler, wife and mother of the recent martyrs of Toulouse, France: “To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this earth. Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and love of their fellow man. Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone. Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Sabbath candles this and every Friday night.”

These are the words of a woman from whom so much was taken. Instead of drowning in bitterness, she gave us the message we need in these challenging times. She encouraged all of the Children of Israel to cleave to the One Source of strength, consolation and direction we possess in this world.

If you have read my book From Central Park To Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul, you know I was raised in a home devoid of Torah. Both my parents were Jewish. They were also great people, and we lived in a metropolis filled with Jews, but there was no Jewisness in our life.

If I Only Had One Jewish App On My iPhone

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

This past week I saw a video preview of an upcoming iPod app that excited and inspired me to the point of near tears. It was for RustyBrick’s jaw-dropping ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud app. Unfortunately that app won’t be out for another few months (but take the time to check out the preview at www.rustybrick.com), yet I realized after months of writing this column that I had yet to give the due attention to RustyBrick’s Siddur app. While I discussed the Siddur app in my Jewish Press column two years ago, that was an expose on Jewish apps as a whole. Now, aside from being the Jewish app I use most frequently, I can say that if I could only have one Jewish app on my iPhone the Siddur would be it.

I remember that before getting an iPod touch (and later an iPhone), I would carry a tiny siddur in my wallet. It certainly added unwanted bulk, awkwardly making my wallet protrude from my pocket. I immediately downloaded a free app with tefillah on it, but then came across the Siddur app – and became sincerely awed. It had full prayer services in Ashkenaz, Sephard, and nusach Ari, could find a shul or minyan near your current location, and had a full luach with daily z’manim. For these reasons alone, I felt (and still feel) that it’s worth the $9.99 price tag. And that was only the early version of the app. Two weeks ago RustyBrick updated the Siddur app to version 5.0.

The updates on 5.0 include the option to hide the navigation bar, giving the siddur a full screen option, the ability to swipe from tefillah to tefillah, and new zoom and text control features. It’s nothing too sensational, but the app has already been improved in various ways during the 60-plus previous updates. They added a Mizrach compass, a public cholim list to which one can add names, extra optional tefillot (e.g. for parnassah in Shemoneh Esrei) and, with the introduction of the front-facing camera, a tefillin mirror with lines of symmetry. My favorite update was the English translation for the app (an in app purchase, please note). While I would have preferred the English transliteration under the Hebrew, one can read the two languages side by side when using your i-device in the landscape view.

Of course the Siddur is still a “smart app” as well. Hallel is automatically inserted on Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah, and on any other day when the extra prayer is said. Torah-reading and full Tachanun is included on Mondays and Thursdays. When one bentches right after sunset the app will ask you when you started your meal, so as to properly add any prayers that might be needed. Basically the app makes sure that all the tefillot you might need to say on any given day for any given prayer will be available – so long as it’s not Shabbat or Yom Tov (it won’t work on those days).

It appears that I’m not the only person who favors the Siddur app. Of the 18 paid apps provided by RustyBrick (with many more free apps available as well), the Siddur is the most downloaded. This is probably because it really is the most consistently useful app on the Jewish market. “We are honored and privileged to be in a position to help contribute to the Jewish community in this unique and exciting way,” said RustyBrick founder and CTO Ronnie Schwartz. Indeed it does. Despite never having met Ronnie or his brother Barry (the company’s CEO), there is a genuineness about them that makes comments like the aforementioned seem totally sincere. The fact that they just gave all their paid apps for free to a young girl in my community who is bed-ridden following spinal surgery makes them all the more sincere. I will certainly be using my Siddur app to daven for her, and for any weekday tefillah needs I might have.

Is Ma’ariv Really Optional?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

In the beginning of this week’s parshah the Torah writes about Yaakov Avinu’s departure from his father’s house in Beersheva. The pasuk says, “Vayifga bamakom – and he met the place.” This pasuk carries many deeper levels of understanding aside from the pashut p’shat. Rashi explains that the “place” that the pasuk is referring to is Har Hamoriah. The Gemara in Chullin 91b explains that Hashem lifted the mountain and brought it to Yaakov; hence the wording, “and he met the place.” The Gemara in Berachos 26b explains that the word “vayifga” means to daven, and that it was at this point that Yaakov Avinu instituted the tefillah of Ma’ariv.

The Gemara in Berachos 27b says that although all of the tefillos are mandatory, the tefillah of Ma’ariv is rishus (voluntary). Tosafos (Berachos 26a) points out that one may not decide not to daven Ma’ariv unless there is an adequate reason, i.e. another time-sensitive mitzvah.

The scenario that the Gemara describes in Berachos 21a discusses the halacha when one is in the middle of davening Shemoneh Esrei and realizes that he had already davened this tefillah. The Gemara says that he should stop davening immediately, even if he is in the middle of a berachah. Even though one may daven a tefillas nedavah (a voluntary tefillah) whenever he desires, he must stop in the middle since he initially began davening under the impression that the tefillah was obligatory. The Tosafos Harash explains that just as there are no korbanos that are part obligatory and part voluntary, so too there cannot be a tefillah that is part obligatory and part voluntary.

Based on this, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 10:6) wrote a tremendous chiddush. He wrote that the abovementioned Gemara – that discusses the halacha concerning one’s realization in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei that he has already davened that tefillah – should not apply when the tefillah that one is in the midst of reciting is Ma’ariv. The reason for this ruling is that since the tefillah of Ma’ariv is voluntary, it can connect to a tefillas nedavah. Therefore, if one was in the middle of davening Ma’ariv and realized that he had already davened Ma’ariv, he may continue davening as a nedavah if he desires. Since both tefillos are voluntary, they should be able to connect as one voluntary tefillah.

The Raavad disagreed with this p’sak and, as explained by the Kesef Mishnah, argued that for many generations Klal Yisrael have accepted upon themselves an obligation to daven Ma’ariv. Even the Rambam himself writes (Hilchos Tefillah 1:6) that all of Yisrael, wherever they are, have accepted to daven Ma’ariv involuntarily. So how can the Rambam say that the tefillah of Ma’ariv can connect with a tefillas nedavah – since they are both voluntary?

Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, zt’l, in his sefer on the Rambam, suggests the following approach to understanding the ruling of the Rambam: although Klal Yisrael have accepted upon themselves to daven Ma’ariv involuntarily, nevertheless the type of tefillah remains the same. Since the tefillah of Ma’ariv was instituted as a voluntary tefillah, it remains that type of tefillah in its essence. In other words, one can have an obligation to daven a voluntary type of tefillah. The obligation to daven a particular tefillah does not affect the type of tefillah that it is in its essence. Therefore the tefillah of Ma’ariv can connect with a tefillas nedavah since they are both voluntary tefillos in essence.

On the other hand, the Raavad believes that whether one is obligated to daven a certain tefillah will affect the type of tefillah that it is. Therefore since we have accepted upon ourselves to daven Ma’ariv involuntarily, the tefillah becomes an obligatory tefillah and can no longer connect to a tefillas nedavah.

The Rambam (HilchosTefillah 1:10) writes that there are some gaonim who were of the opinion that one may not daven a tefillas nedavah on Shabbos since we do not bring a korban nedavah on Shabbos. The implication from the Rambam is that he agrees with this view. This, however, raises the following question: how can one daven Ma’ariv on Shabbos if, according to the Rambam, it is a voluntary tefillah in essence?

I want to suggest that although Ma’ariv is a voluntary tefillah in its essence, it differs from a nedavah. The similarity that Ma’ariv shares with a tefillas nedavah is that they are both voluntary, and therefore they can be connected. However the Gemara in Berachos 26b says that all of the teffilos correspond to different korbanosShacharis corresponds to the tamid shel shachar, Minchah to the tamid shel bein ha’arbaim, and Ma’ariv to the aimurim of the korbanos (which even if they are not brought, the korban is effective). It is for this reason that Ma’ariv is a rishus. Therefore, even though Ma’ariv is voluntary, it corresponds to the aimurim that are brought even on Shabbos. A korban nedavah, however, is not brought on Shabbos, and therefore one cannot daven a tefillas nedavah on Shabbos.

Counting Our Blessings

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

The following is based on a shiur given by Rebbetzin Esther Baila Schwartz.  The shiur in its entirety can be found on TorahAnytime.com

 

This week we read Parshas Vayeitzei, the parsha in which Yaakov Avinu meets Rachel and Leah, marries and begins a family.  What an appropriate time to take a look at our own lives and focus on all the good we have been blessed with.

We begin the last bracha of Shemoneh Esrei, Sim Shalom, by asking Hashem to sim shalom, tova u’vracha, chein, v’chesed v’rachamim – to establish peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness and compassion (Artscroll translation).  However, the word shalom, peace comes from the word shalem, which means complete.  The first thing we ask for is completeness, and if we are complete, wouldn’t that mean we have goodness, blessing, etc.  So, if we have already asked Him to grant us completeness, why do we have to ask for anything else?  Why wouldn’t it be enough to just say Sim shalom aleinu?  And if we feel a need to delineate what we want, why stop at six, why not ask for sixty things?

Rav Avigdor Miller, z”tl has a very interesting explanation.  He says that honestly if we were to categorize every nuance of every aspect of the brachos we were asking for, we would never stop davening, our tefillos would be never ending.  And while that would be wonderful, it would be impossible.  Most of us have a hard enough time fitting in a standard Shacharis, can you imagine if we had to spend hours upon hours davening each day?

Hakadosh Baruch Hu did not want to be matriach us, to make things difficult for us, to make us focus on every nuance.  At the same time, the purpose of tefillah is to enable us to develop a relationship with our Creator.  To develop adequate bitachon, the knowledge that everything, absolutely everything comes from the Borei Olam and also to develop adequate hakaras hatov, which is gratitude.

The Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, who put together the siddur with ruach hakodesh, chose these six things because they, shalom, tova u’vracha, chein, v’chesed v’rachamim, were enough to focus on.  These six things enable us to zero in on how much we have to be grateful for.  Yes, they overlap with each other – tova overlaps with shalom and with bracha – they are all nuances of the same thing.  However, if you say each one separately and focus on each word as you say it, you will learn to develop a greater level of appreciation of Hakadosh Baruch Hu and a greater level of trust that everything you need comes from Him.

Again, Hashem did not want to be matriach us, He wants us to look forward to davening, to want to daven, so He made it just right – six words to focus on, but six words with tremendous meaning.

Sim shalom, tova u’vracha – we ask for peace, we ask for goodness and we ask for bracha.  What is the unique dimension of brachaBracha is related to the Hebrew word b’raicha, a pool from where water just bubbles forth – a geyser.  Anything in the vicinity of a geyser gets drenched with water.  That is bracha – it overflows covering and watering everything in its path.  We ask not just for shalom and tova, but we want bracha in the peace and bracha in the goodness – we want these things to overflow for us, to spill forth and encompass everything around.  We want abundance; we want Hashem to give to us with incredible generosity.

What is important to remember is that bracha does not always come with ease.  For example, its wonderful, a bracha, to have your children and grandchildren come for yom tov; it’s a bracha to have elderly parents and to be able to spend time with them.  However, it is not always easy to do these things.  Having bracha, being blessed, does not mean that things are going to be easy – and remembering this can be very liberating.  Even though this is what I want, and I don’t want it to change, its still very challenging, it can still be overwhelming. And saying that it’s not easy, saying that it is difficult does not mean that you are complaining, that you don’t appreciate what you have been given.  It means that you are being human.  As someone once said, “I am not complaining, I am just explaining.”

Explaining means saying, “There are so many children here and the noise level is driving me crazy” but never saying, “There are too many children here.”  We must always be careful in how we phrase things.  We want the bracha, in abundance, but as normal human beings we can acknowledge that it is not always easy.  And when it’s not easy, part of developing our relationship with Hashem is saying, “Things are a little hard today.  Thank you for what You have given me, but can You give me a little bit more strength so I can function better?”

The Sword In The Tongue (Conclusion)

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

In last week’s column I published letters from two women who wrote about the terrible ordeal from which many of our people suffer. In the Torah, such an affliction is called “onas devarim” – verbal abuse. While we are all familiar with the prohibitions regarding lashon hara (gossip), the prohibitions regarding onas devarim are less known. In fact, most people are not even aware of them. The following is my response:

First and foremost, yasher koach to you for bringing this very important but painful subject to the fore. There is a Yiddish saying, “Azoi vee es crystal zich, azoi Yiddish zich” – “As the non Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world.” There is no question that the cultural values and mores of our society impact upon us. In our world, we consider it “good-natured fun” to rank out someone. At universities we have hazing. We label people with nicknames and assail them with derogatory language; comedians make fun of others and everyone laughs. Should the victim of this abuse object, he or she is further assailed for lacking a sense of humor or not being a “good sport.”

Some students suffering from such abuse have actually been driven to suicide. In my work I have, sadly, encountered young people who fell through the cracks and abandoned Torah precisely because they were subjected to this abuse. Such incidents occur not only in schools but in summer camps as well.

Why are people so cavalier about onas devarim while at the same time recognizing, at least in theory, the dire consequences of lashon hara? While the devastating effects of lashon hara have had much exposure through shiurim and literature, there has been little focus on the deleterious effects of onas devarim. This is compounded by the ready acceptance in our society of such painful words as “fun.”

There is a well-known jingle American children learn at a tender age: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Our Jewish teachings, however, propound just the opposite. While we agree that sticks and stones can break bones, we are very much aware that abusive, hurtful language can leave lasting scars on the soul – scars that never heal, scars that can actually destroy individuals and families.

These abusive words can come in many shapes and forms – ridicule, innuendo, and even what people regard as good-natured teasing.

Then there are those who indulge in “fishing expeditions” very much like what the little girl in the first letter last week had to endure. Not only did she have to deal with the fact that her daddy’s business was no longer viable, she had to adjust to radical changes in her life – not the least of which was that she could no longer go to summer camp while watching her friends make their happy preparations. On top of that, she had to put up with the snide remarks of busybodies like the lady driving the carpool.

You don’t need a special education to realize that children whose families are suffering from the financial crisis are hurting and certainly do not need cruel questions like “How come you didn’t go to camp?” or “What did you do the whole day by yourself?” or “Is your mother working?” or “What is your father doing now?”

It is no wonder your little girl does not want to go in that lady’s car again.

Mind you, this abominable sin of onas devarim comes in many other guises. I know of singles who stopped going to shul because there were always some insensitive people lying in wait for them with statements like “It’s time you were married already.” And it’s not only strangers who are guilty of this but also well-intentioned friends and family members.

Some might argue that these people are trying to do their best to help singles find their mates. But this is not the way to do it. Those who are truly sincere can make a polite recommendation, but those who do not have any suggestions should remain silent rather than pour salt on an open wound.

But, someone is sure to object, how do we know whether they are still available if we don’t ask?

Well, there are ways of asking. Make the recommendation and if the young man or woman is busy, he or she will be delighted to tell you so. But under no circumstances should you barrage them with questions that highlight their single status.

There are other seemingly innocent questions people pose – for example, asking a childless couple what they’re waiting for. The couple may be yearning for a baby and it’s just not happening.

As I said, these are well-intentioned comments, but they pierce the heart like a knife. How much more so outright hurtful remarks like those described in last week’s letters – asking a mother whose child just went through a broken engagement for the gory details, or assailing a mother who lost a baby with insensitive questions, or staring at a special-needs child, thereby bringing tears to the eyes of the mother. I could mention a thousand and one other examples, but I think the reader gets the point.

There are more halachas regarding speech than any other commandment. Indeed, our laws are very stringent in this regard. Three times a day, at the conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei, we beseech G-d to guard our tongues from speaking deceitfully. Every Jew should repeat to himself Psalm 34: “Who is the man who desires life, who loves days that are good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceitfully.”

Children should be taught from an early age to be careful with their words and not to tease or make fun of anyone, for the tongue is a mighty weapon that has the power to kill.

Indeed, G-d created us in such a way that we are all protected from misusing our tongues. Just consider – every organ in the body is either external or internal. For example, the eyes and the nose are external, the heart and the kidneys are internal. The tongue, however, is both external and internal and is protected by two gates – the mouth and the teeth – teaching us that before we use it, we must close those gates and think long and hard, for once words escape our lips we can never take them back, even if we apologize profusely.

I hope these thoughts will reach the hearts of all my readers and we will all rethink the words that escape our lips.

Mourning in the Morning

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Regarding the positive Torah commandment to pray, Rambam writes, “This commandment obligates each person to offer supplication and prayer every day and utter praises of the Holy One, blessed be He; then petition for all his needs with requests and supplications; and finally, give praise and thanks to God for the goodness that He has bestowed upon him – each one according to his own ability” (Mishneh Torah 1:2).

Come this Sunday, 29 Tammuz, I will have spent 24 of 26 months in official mourning for my dear parents.

Their physical departure has left an indescribable void, but the spiritual guidance of tefillah – the essence of my parents’ life together – has lightened the burden of sadness that has dictated my emotions these past two years.

Spending ever more time in shul to recite Kaddish (and arriving in timely fashion, perhaps one of my greatest tributes to Mom and Dad), I see and feel daily prayer – specifically the morning Shacharis prayer – in a more meaningful and powerful light than ever before.

No longer do I simply mouth the words; I now try to appreciate their depth and significance and how they relate to the noble, godly life my parents lived – all the while trying to emulate the spiritual example they set.

This appreciation begins with the “Mah Tovu Ohalecha” prayer upon entering shul. What better way to be reminded of parents who, as pulpit rav and supportive rebbetzin, always expressed their love to God for “the house where You dwell, and the place where Your honor resides”?

The approbation continues with man’s closing liturgical recitation upon donning tefillin. The sentiments expressed – “I will betroth you to Me [God] forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you shall know Hashem” (Hoshea 2:21-22) – are God’s declaration of His eternal betrothal to his people. These words are said when wrapping the tefillin strap around our fingers, just as a chassan places the ring on his kallah’s finger.

Saying these words reminds me of my parents’ 56 years of wedded bliss. Their kindness to and love for each other, coupled with a mutual commitment to practice Hashem’s divine portrayal of righteousness, justice and mercy, made their marital union a model to be duplicated.

* * * * *

 

There is good reason why noted 11th century liturgical poet Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabirol’s Adon Olam (Master of the Universe) song of praise is recited at both the outset of the daily Shacharis and the conclusion of the Shabbos Mussaf. God is omnipotent, and while His decision to separate me from my beloved parents saddens me greatly, I am comforted by the guarantee that – as Mom and Dad felt in life and undoubtedly now feel in death – “Hashem is with me, I shall not fear.” This consoling emotion is thus sensed literally from the beginning (daily) to the end (on Shabbos) of the davening.

The Adon Olam song has an additional spiritual significance to my wife, my siblings, and me. When sung jointly by Dad and our son in their joyful manner, a unique line of communication between zaidy and grandson was created. They sang this song one last time over the phone when Dad called our son on visiting day at Camp HASC. Just as the Shabbos davening ends with Adon Olam, so too would their close and loving relationship fittingly conclude with one final rendition – for Dad would join Mom in Olam Ha’ba just two days later.

The final of the series of fifteen blessings (based on the teachings of Maseches Berachos 60b) at the start of the congregational Shacharis service blesses God, “Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids.” God’s grace in permitting us to awake yet another morning, and in granting us permission to serve Him for (at least) one more day, gives us the ability to practice the signature act of Judaism: avodas Hashem. While the physical act of implementing the awesome responsibility of serving God is challenging enough, the emotional desire to succeed at this task must be self-implanted.

This was my parents’ way. Every day, from the time God removed sleep from their eyes and slumber from their eyelids, they put into practice the words of Psalm 100:2, recited just moments later: “Serve Hashem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song.” Their joy in serving God’s wishes while singing His praises has been emulated by their children, grandson, and countless worshippers and students.

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Tzedakah, no matter the quantity, was a central element in Mom and Dad’s life together, which makes it especially enjoyable to contribute my share whenever it’s time to recite the “va’yevarech David es Hashem (And David blessed God)” prayer (1 Chronicles 29:10-13).

Why is it traditional to give tzedakah at this point in the davening?

Despite his having been denied the privilege of building the Beis HaMikdash, King David nonetheless thanks God for letting him gather the needed donations and resources so his successor, King Solomon, would have the necessary tools in place to build the Beis HaMikdash upon assuming the throne.

Regardless of our disappointment at sometimes being rebuffed by God when a desire is made known, it is incumbent on us to always – like David – thank Him for allowing us to contribute what we can to a worthy cause. What better time to be charitable than when quoting from David’s declaration to God that “You rule everything”?

My parents followed David’s example. Even when not granted every life wish, they never wavered in helping their fellow human beings whenever possible. They acknowledged God’s rule over everything by giving of themselves to help better the lives of others. From financial assistance to those in need to guiding their family and many of their students to a more meaningful Torah life, their commitment to tzedakah (and chesed, its natural partner) was an outstanding illustration of the lives they touched.

Their giving inspires my family and me to giving that something extra.

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I recall Mom and Dad’s profound and unflinching love for Israel and its Zionist ideals; their beseeching God in the following words said shortly before the Shema: “May You shine a new light on Zion, and may we all speedily merit its light. Blessed are You, Hashem, who fashions the luminaries.”

Visiting Israel with my parents – from praying at the Kotel to walking on the hallowed grounds of our people’s historical mileposts, from observing the daily life of the average Israeli to respectfully and lovingly remembering with endless gratitude my maternal grandparents at their final resting place in Har Hazeisim – was always a treasured experience. Mom and Dad truly took pleasure in being a part of speedily meriting “its [Israel's] light.” That delight is instilled in their surviving loved ones.

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No less than a minimum of four times a day does the tefillah “Kadosh, kadosh,kadosh (Holy, holy, holy is Hashem, Master of Legions; the whole world is filled with His glory)” appear in the davening. This “song of the angels” is articulated loudly by the worshippers in order for God’s angels to hear us enunciate His mastery over the entire world and to then righteously plead our case to Him.

What is the need to say the word “holy” not once, not twice – but three times?

Targum Yonason (the work of the tanna Rabbi Yonason ben Uziel, a student of Hillel’s) offers an explanation that best explains Mom and Dad’s unquestioning emunas Hashem: God is holy regarding both the physical and spiritual worlds, along with the World to Come. I have no doubt that my parents’ unequivocal faith that God tended to their (and their loved ones’) physical and spiritual needs during their lives will be at least matched in its intensity in Olam Ha’ba.

Together with the tefillah of Shema (the ultimate subservience of every aspect of our lives to God’s control), the Shemoneh Esrei stands unique as the only prayer in the entire davening to combine the three main ingredients in the relationship bein adam laMakom (between man and God): paying homage to and making requests of God while expressing gratitude to Him for his kindness toward us.

To me, the last of the Shemoneh Esrei’s 19 requests to God, the plea for peace in all its forms, best sums up my parents’ daily, heartfelt attempts to put into practice on a human level the six attributes – “peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness and compassion” – that we pray for God to show us. Their commitment to this most basic foundation of the relationship bein adam l’chaveiro (between man and his fellow person) helped better the lives of those they positively influenced, while improving their lives for having interacted with many who made them better. That is perhaps their crowning achievement.

To be sure, thesereminders of God’s incomparably positive influence on my parents’ life give me great solace and much hope for a better future. So why does the hole in my heart still persevere? Why does the Tachanun (supplication) tefillah immediately following the Shemoneh Esrei bring me fear and insecurity, just when I’m starting to feel that today might be easier to bear than yesterday?

Despite having prayed up to this point in every conceivable way – standing and sitting during the davening, and now via Tachanun’s Nefillas Apayim (putting down the head) – the following frightful words appear toward the conclusion of our heartfelt plea for God’s merciful empathy: “We know not what [else] to do” (II Chronicles 20:12).

After all this effort to find favor in Hashem’s eyes, all the while trying to learn from my parents’ example of succeeding in that goal, I start to wonder what else it will take to get my message across.

But I am suddenly reassured, as the solution to knowing “what [else] to do” emerges in the subsequent words: “but our eyes are upon You.”

Mom and Dad followed God’s spiritual lead with the human parental reassurance that when in doubt as to what course of action to take, exercise maximum hishtadlus and focus your eyes upon Him. That recipe for tranquility will always remain with me.

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As significant as the aforementioned tefillos have been in the healing process, it is the mourner’s Kaddish, thrust upon me by Hashem’s decision to end my parents’ stay in this world, that has comforted me most.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, the Rav to his admirers and students, explains the mourner’s Kaddish this way (Reflections of the Rav, Volume 2): “The mourner declares that no matter how powerful and terrifying death is, we are not surrendering and we will not be satisfied with less than the full realization of the ultimate goal – the establishment of God’s Kingdom, resurrection of the dead, and eternal life for man.”

It is precisely my not being “satisfied with less than the full realization of the ultimate goal ” that gives me the drive to muster the strength to say every Kaddish with ever-growing kavanah.

Through Kaddish, I look forward to working overtime in this life to one day merit entrance to the destination I am confident my parents call home – Olam Ha’ba.

I look forward to not surrendering to the feeling of helplessness that often pervades my heart.

I look forward to expanding in my core the optimism offered by the Rav’s description of the Kaddish.

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It is not formally part of the Shacharis service, but kabbalistic literature maintains that it is admirable to remember, through recitation, the Six Remembrances crucial to the history of the Jewish people: the exodus from Egypt; receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai; Amalek’s attack; the Golden Calf episode; Miriam’s punishment (and subsequent healing); and the holiness of Shabbos.

Reciting these Remembrances inspires me to never forget the unconditional love, attentiveness and closeness my parents provided my family and the discipline (my area of expertise) needed to make us more productive.

Another recommendation for private reflection at the conclusion ofShacharis is Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, emphasizing belief in God, the everlasting Truth of Torah, and an individual’s responsibility – as well as his or her ultimate reward – for a life well lived.

My parents lived those doctrines with earnest conviction.

They willingly and unhesitatingly believed in God’s direction and decisions.

They genuinely appreciated the Torah way of life incumbent on us as His servants.

And they took seriously their responsibilities as God’s creations to learn what they were taught and practice what they preached toward others.

I am confident that, having carried out this formula for success in this world, they have ensured their ultimate reward as alluded to by Rambam in his thirteenth and final principle: “I believe with complete faith that there will be a revival of the dead whenever the wish emanates from the Creator; blessed is His Name and exalted is His mention, forever and for all eternity.”

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Rambam described prayer as “the uniting of the soul of the individual with the mind of God.”

As I continue my quest to reach this challenging goal through the power of prayer, I look back on the lives lived by my parents, Rabbi Aaron and Rebbetzin Lillian Chomsky, a”h, for inspiration and guidance.

If forced to look back, it’s a beautiful way to start the day.

Eli Chomsky is an editorial staffer at The Jewish Press. He can be reached at echomsky@jewishpress.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/mourning-in-the-morning/2010/07/07/

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