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December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Yomim Tovim’

Shabbos Mevorchim Teves

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Our Jewish calendar is based on the lunar year, and Rosh Chodesh, literally the head of the month, occurs when the moon renews itself. It is a holiday — in that we daven mussaf, just like on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim, we do not conduct fasts, and the pious among our people eat a special seudah. Traditionally, women do not sew on Rosh Chodesh and refrain from performing heavy-duty tasks.

Rosh Chodesh was presented to women as a special reward for not partaking in the construction of the Golden Calf; when their husbands asked them wives for their gold rings, the women refused to hand them over for this purpose.

Originally, the days of Rosh Chodesh were intended to be a gift for the people in merit of the twelve tribes, but the tribes forfeited their entitlement to this benefit when they sinned with the Golden Calf, and the holiday was subsequently given to women who did not participate in the fiasco.

The Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer further states that just as the moon regains its youth at the beginning of each month, woman will be rewarded in the World to Come by being rejuvenated every month. One cannot help but note the contrast between this and Avraham Avinu’s request of Hashem — that man be endowed with visible signs of aging, so that the age difference between father and son could be discerned and proper respects be conferred upon the elder. (This was the first time since Adam HaRishon that the concept of zekeinim came into being.)

This Shabbos we bentch the new month of Teves, which falls on Friday (December 14 on the English calendar) and heralds the month that saw the birth and passing of Avraham Avinu, as well as the birth of Shimon, the second son born to Leah Imeinu.

The yahrzeits of many luminaries are celebrated during this month, among them the Rambam (20 Teves), the Baal HaTanya and the Shem MiShmuel (24 Teves), and Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and HaRav Pinchas Hirschprung (27 Teves). Here I must add that I had the distinct honor of being in the presence of HaRav Hirschprung z”l but fear I was much too young to appreciate the privilege or even to properly absorb the import of his teaching at our Rosh Chodesh assemblies in Bais Yaakov of Montreal eons ago.

A couple of striking calamities befell us during this month: Ezra HaSofer and Nechemya ben Chachalya passed away on the ninth day of Teves, and it was on the tenth day of the month (Asara b’Teves) that the king of Babylon lay siege to Jerusalem, which eventually led to the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash on Tisha b’Av.

The eighth day of Teves saw the Greeks coercing the seventy-two Sages of Israel to translate the Torah into Greek — a most unfortunate occurrence that brought spiritual darkness upon the Jewish people. The last two lights of Chanukah that are lit in the month of Teves serve to illuminate all of its days and to nullify its forces of evil.

* * *

The Rambam in his later years had served as personal physician to the king of Egypt. Thus, upon the Rambam’s passing, the king ordered that a magnificent carriage drawn by six horses escort the holy man’s remains to Eretz Yisrael. The aron was escorted by thousands of weeping Jews.

Upon entrance to the Holy Land, hundreds more joined the procession — but along the way an argument broke out between the Jews of Jerusalem and those of Teverya; the former wanted their Rebbe to be interred in the holy city, while the latter insisted that he be interred next to his kin in Teverya.

In the midst of this altercation a band of robbers intercepted the group, forcing its members to abandon the carriage as they ran for cover. The horses then broke into a gallop and didn’t break stride until they arrived in Teverya, where they came to rest near the kevarim of the Rambam’s relatives.

Needless to say, this was taken to be the Rambam’s way of signaling his preferred burial place.

* * *

While the Baal HaTanya was imprisoned due to the false propaganda spread by the misnagdim, he once received a personal visit from a minister who asked him to explain the pasuk in Bereishis where Hashem asks Adam “Ayeika?” (Where are you?) The visitor was intrigued: Does God not know everything?

There Is A Season

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Title: Lakol Z’man: A Time for Everything
Author: Yossi Huttler

The Holidays are over (please, no applause). But if you find yourself already missing them, rejoice, rejoice. A pleasurable new compendium of poetry by newcomer Yossi Huttler will keep you warm until Chanukah, Purim and – dare we say it too soon – Pesach once again come into view.

In the collection, entitled Lakol Z’man, Huttler goes through the Jewish calendar, offering charming, one-page poems that help bring the seasons and their distinctive days into lyrical focus.

Thus, in Nissan (the sections are arranged by Hebrew months) Huttler includes poems called “Bedikas Chametz” and “Mah Nishtana,” and in Av, he has one called “Tears.”

The poems are easily accessible even for those without much experience reading poetry, but many contain a subtle and introspective beauty. Here’s one (called “Na’anuim”) whose transcendent imagery catches you by surprise:

hands shaking
lulav rustling
shuddering
like a G-d fearing man
now how do I
turn my palm
frond around
shake me up
likewise

Each one individually is certainly enjoyable (and that’s how they were written; as individual poems as Huttler was inspired by “the annual journey through the various minor and major holidays,” as he puts it). But when read together, in succession, the collective effect brings the reader on a path that both expands the inner tingling sensation that we get as we experience the Yomim Tovim and amplifies our anticipation.

Most of the poems are serious, which is to say Huttler is approaching the subject matter seriously, but he can also be lighthearted.

One Nissan entry – one of my favorites – called “Machzir Gerushato” (literally, “Returning to one’s divorcee”), and subtitled “Motzei Pesach,” goes like this:

re-acquainting myself
with you
I walk down the aisle
then, another
trying not to act overeager
you haven’t changed
(have I?)
so why do you look so different tonight
from all other nights
in the florescent light
of the supermarket
it’s only been eight days

Lakol Z’man is a pleasure. Buy one by e-mailing the author at yhuttler@aol.com, or calling him at 323-655-0973.

Road to Recovery

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Dear Brocha,

Thank you so much for your honesty! Since you have bared your soul, I now feel I can do the same. While growing up, the Yomim Tovim were always my favorite times of the year. On Sukkos we always went sukkah hopping, to Simchas Bais Ha’Shoeva, and boy did we dance on Simchas Torah. On Purim we went collecting in fancy cars, danced in the streets to the leibedike music, and had a mesiba in yeshiva where we danced with our rabbeim. On Pesach we ate lots of delicious food and yet we still complained that we had so little to eat. We went on fun Chol Ha’Moed trips and made good wholesome memories together as a family.

Today, I am a father of six bochurim b”ah. While I love and appreciate all of my children, unfortunately the Yomim Tovim aren’t filled with the good memories as in the days of yore. You see, one of my sons got involved with the wrong crowd, and at 16 he looks forward to Shabbos and Yom Tov as simply another opportunity to drink. Now that Sukkos is almost upon us, instead of joyfully anticipating, I am cautiously fearful about what Simchas Torah will bring.

Simchas Torah is a celebration of Klal Yisroel’s completing and re-commencing the cycle of reading the heilige Torah. It is a time when we can reach great heights in our closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It is a time for parents to enjoy their sons getting an aliyah, dancing with them and watching them be showered with candies to symbolize the sweetness of the words of the Torah. All of this is greatly encouraged!

However, my 16-year-old son has graduated from candies to liquor. Last year someone had to call Hatzolah because he appeared to be so inebriated, we thought he might have had alcohol poisoning. Some of the members of our shul were concerned about adults getting into trouble for giving liquor to minors, so instead he was taken to a local pediatrician who instructed us on what to look for so he wouldn’t have to have his stomach pumped. I was hoping that this scare would make him abstain from liquor for good. Yet now, he simply recounts that incident with pride as if it’s his rite of passage to adulthood. Unfortunately, most of the young adults pat him on the back and give him high fives over this “great accomplishment.”

Just last week, my wife and I told him, in no uncertain terms, that his behavior was unacceptable. We also told him that while we try to look the other way when he takes a drink on Shabbos, we would not permit him to get drunk on Simchas Torah. We also told him that if we saw him drinking, we would be forced to take him home. Boy was I shocked by his reaction! He told us that if he were offered a drink, he would not refuse it. He said that while he will not drink on his own, if others offered him a drink, he would partake.

I know that liquor flows freely in our shul on Simchas Torah and I can’t stop it from happening. I went to discuss this with the rov, who was empathetic, yet said he can’t enforce a change to this tradition. My wife and I even considered going to our married son for the second days of Yom Tov so there would be no temptations, however, our son informed us that in his shul there are plenty of l’chaims on Simchas Torah as well. We have desperately been searching for an alcohol free or alcohol reduced shul and are unable to find one. Why do people think they need alcohol to attain a level of simchas hachaim? Why can’t we get a spiritual high through the kedushas hayom? Where have the days gone, when our primary concern was that there was too much candy being given out in shul?

A Worried Father

Dear Worried Father,

What a terrible way to have to look at Yom Tov! I actually believe that the dilemma you face is far greater than just the issue of Simchas Torah. The teenage years are chock full of episodes of experimenting and asserting one’s independence. As teens transition into adulthood, they often become tempted to partake in what they perceive as adult activities. They want to follow their parents’ lead, try the activities already done by their friends and establish their own identities. Alcohol frequently becomes a factor in this struggle. Many teens will likely turn to alcohol or other substances during their teenage years. Seventy percent of high school students have had at least one alcoholic beverage, and they are often with their friends when they drink.

The Valero Tradition

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Most couples establish their own routines. They have their own rhythms that may include where they eat, when they vacation, and what they read. My husband Lou and I are no different. We like to eat Israeli food on Tuesday nights and we usually order the same—shwarma for him, grilled chicken for me. Our regular waitress knows us so well that she brings us hummus and babaganoush as soon as we sit down. We love to see romantic comedies—but only at the discount theatre on Cedar Lane in Teaneck. In the winter, we vacation someplace warm—typically in the Caribbean. For every seven days we’re away, Lou plays golf three times. And, each Monday, in the summer, on our way home from the Catskills, we like to stop at the Velaro gas station in Monroe to eat eggs and drink coffee.

The Velaro tradition began in an unexpected way. My husband and I bought a new Volvo SUV that contains every safety feature known to mankind. As we were driving from Loch Sheldrake to Teaneck, the car apparently did not like the way Lou was driving. I was in heaven. I was thrilled that I had the good sense to buy a car that has a built-in high tech “wife” to nag him—taking the pressure off of me. In any case, the car suggested that he stop for a coffee break.

We pulled over at exit 130 on Rt. 17 and headed to Monroe for caffeine. I waited in the car for Lou to return with our drinks. But, about two minutes later Lou came out to the parking lot to get me. “You have to see this,” he said, and thus our Valero relationship was born. Inside, Lou directed me to the back right corner where there was a counter and we could purchase all manner of freshly made kosher food. The front of the building housed a convenient store with various packaged and frozen foods all sporting an OU. Gathered around were a handful of Satmar Chassidim eating soup and hot cereal. Not one to ever imagine myself actually eating in gas station, I decided that it looked clean and fresh and that I would give it a try. The other patrons were happy to recommend their Valero favorites to us.

The author’s husband, Lou

Now every week I make the same joke about Lou only “taking me to the finest places.” But, when he suggests we go straight home or that we go out to eat when we return to Teaneck, I always tell him that I prefer eating at the gas station. I spoke to the owner of Valero, who while preferring that I not use his name, did say “we have had kosher food at Valero for about six years. People come from far away for our vegetable soup with knaidlach.” When I asked him for the recipe, he coyly answered, “I can’t tell everyone everything…otherwise, why would they come? I can tell you this,” he confides, “we sell more sandwiches than we do beer.” And they are open six days a week – closed on Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim.

Ari, the counterman

Why has this ritual become so important to Lou and me? Well, the food is fantastic and Ari, the guy behind the counter, is the consummate Jewish mother type. He greets us with a smile, asks us about our week and then usually offers us a taste of something new he has concocted. This week, he wanted us to taste his Farina—too sweet for me. But, then he suggested preparing an omelet containing his freshly made potatoes and sautéed onions. I was in “eggcstasy.” They were hot, tasty and fresh. The potatoes were cooked perfectly and the onions were sweet and delicious. Sometimes we opt for an egg sandwich on a challah roll and other times we break into the lunch mode. We have tried salmon teriyaki, fresh tuna cakes, mashed potatoes, and veggie chulent (available beginning Wednesday afternoons) all with great success.

In The Past We See Our Future

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner

We Jews are a people of memories. Our past defines who we are. The past infuses our religious lives with context, purpose and meaning. How could we be if not for knowing how we were?

Our festivals and Yomim Tovim speak to our relationship with our past in unique and powerful ways. However, even in this uniqueness, Shavuot stands out.

Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev offered three explanations as to why Shavuot is also referred to as Atzeret, even though the Torah only uses the term Atzeret in association with the festival of Shemini Atzeret, not Shavuot. First, while labor is forbidden on all Yomim Tovim, festivals have specific practical mitzvah observances associated with their celebration. On Pesach, we eat matzah and drink four cups of wine. On Sukkot, we dwell in the sukkah and take the daled minim. But on Shavuot only the cessation of work is commanded. Thus, Shavuot is known as Atzeret, signifying its only form of Yom Tov.

The Kedushat Levi further explained that the names of all Yomim Tovim reflect a specific historical event to be commemorated in subsequent generations in a religious sense. Shavuot, however, is not a name reflecting any historical event. It is an identifier of time, the completion of the mitzvah of counting Sefirat Ha’Omer. Celebrating a “conclusion” seems at odds with Jewish practice. We celebrate in anticipation of coming celebrations, of the mitzvot to be fulfilled more than those already fulfilled. Our joyous anticipation is the reason for reciting the Shehecheyanu prior to observing a mitzvah rather than at its conclusion.

Even so, Judaism teaches that joy and religious ecstasy are derived from accomplishment and fulfillment. For the religious and learned Jew, there is no greater joy than the joy found in celebrating a siyum – celebrating the privilege and opportunity in having completed a significant part of Torah. The siyum is not unbridled celebration, however. Although it marks completed accomplishment, it does so with full awareness of the anxieties of finality.

We fear completion as much as we celebrate it. Imagine the overwhelming joy of the soon to be celebrated Siyum HaShas – completing of all Shas once in seven years, while simultaneously anxious whether seven years hence I will be able to rejoice yet again. Seven years is a long time. For this reason the committed student of Torah proclaims “Hadran halach” – “I shall return to you.”

The genuine Jew wants not only to celebrate the joys of yesterday, but even more to anticipate the hopes of tomorrow.

This, then, is the essence of the Shavuot Atzeret experience. Rashi comments that it is Shemini Atzeret that focuses on our need to linger, to continue the joys of celebration rather than allow them to come to an abrupt ending – shekashe alai peridatchem. Shavuot marks the completion of the mitzvah of counting the Omer. Atzeret induces us to continue the effect of the goals toward which we counted.

The Kedushat Levi, in concluding that when a Jew experiences a religious awakening and reaches a spiritual elevation he embraces an inner urge to translate the love, ecstasy, and yearning into practical application, is in accord with the Ramban.

The Ramban interprets the verse in the Song of Songs “Mah tairu umah teoreru et ha’ahavah ad shetechpatz” – “That you awaken not, nor stir up love, until it pleases” – to mean that free and unfettered love is mere “sound and fury” unless it finds a mode of practical expression. In the same way, one cannot love or worship God in theory. Religious inspiration and exultation demand ad shetechpatz. Such a religious fervor calls for the creation of chefetz, keli, a vessel through which to express and manifest these innermost feelings and emotions.

The Jews at Sinai obviously reached these highest levels of religious exultation and fervor, but did not as yet possess any practical means of expression other than the fulfillment of the negative command to hold back and refrain from “touching the mountain.” Thus the Yom Tov is known as Atzeret, recalling the one and only commandment, the only “vessel” now available to translate their deep religious feelings.

How Can Orthodox Jews Deny The Miracle Of Israel?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

For me, Israel is personal.

I was born as Israel’s War of Independence raged, just weeks after the state’s miraculous birth. As I lay in the hospital room with my mother, the windows shattered with the relentless attacks of those who sought, once again, to destroy us – this time not on their bloodstained soil but on our own sacred land. Once again, by God’s hand, we prevailed. The few against the many. The weak against the so-called strong.

My parents arrived in Palestine on the very last boat to sail from Romania. They were broken, demeaned and degraded but they were determined to find renewal in the holy land. For my family, galut and geulah are not chapters in a history book. They are real life experiences.

For us, Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut were not mere dates on the calendar but days filled with piercing memories that called for reflection, remembrance, and, ultimately, celebration.

For many years, my family was not alone in fervently claiming these dates, these searing modern commemorations, as our own. Growing up in Forest Hills, New York, I remember the crowds of Jews – all Jews, of every age and background – that came together in synagogues and sanctuaries to remember, to pray, and to promise.

I remember the power those long-ago days held for those of us who gathered to commemorate and to celebrate them. But now? Many progressive Jewish communities continue to celebrate Israel, but in the majority of today’s major Orthodox communities it’s rare to find recognition – let alone active celebration – of these most sacred days.

How do we explain this Orthodox response, or lack of it, to the state of Israel? Can any of us deny the miracle Israel represents? For the first time in two thousand years the ingathering of exiles is realized as Jews have returned home to the land promised by God. The city of Jerusalem is rebuilt. The desert once again blooms.

All this on the heels of the greatest churban in Jewish history, the Holocaust.

Miracle of miracles! The gates of Auschwitz closed and the gates of Haifa opened. If ever there was a confirmation of the Divine Covenant, of the eternal relationship between a people, a Torah, God, and a land; if ever there was a fulfillment of prophecies that in spite of a bitter galut and the terror of persecution there would be ultimate geulah and return to the land and its God; if ever there was a period of Messianic possibility and challenge – it is now.

More Jews are engaged in serious, regular, and creative Torah learning in Israel than at any time in the last five centuries. “From Zion the Torah will come forth and the word of God from Jerusalem.” And so it does. The world’s Torah is nourished from its source in Jerusalem. A distinguished chassidic leader recently told me that most Jews are not aware that “the government of the state of Israel is the world’s most generous donor in support of Torah study.”

The silence of the Soviet Jews ended. The influence of Jews in America and Europe is palpable. All this, and more, only because Israel exists.

Yet the majority of Orthodox Jews in America act as though nothing of note happened on May 14, 1948. They refuse to acknowledge God’s outstretched arm or recognize our generation’s restored glory. What arrogance causes them to summarily reject the opportunity to celebrate and rejoice on new Yomim Tovim? How do they show such disregard for those who love, support and sacrifice for Israel? What thinking is behind the rejection of the Hebrew language and the distancing of all that speaks of Tziyonim?

There are Orthodox schools of thought and practice that educate their children – toddlers even! – to think and live as kanaaim.

The fact that modern Israel may not as yet be the fulfillment of all Messianic dreams and aspirations does not, cannot and must not mean its rejection, denial, or disdain.

“Israel,” Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz poignantly wrote, “is focal to our people. It is not an afterthought. It is not something to be tolerated for the sake of unity or because it is home and protector to so many of our brothers and sisters. It is a step, small or large is irrelevant, toward redemption. Its triumphs and celebrations are our triumphs and celebrations. There may be differences in the manner of celebration, but we affirm, with strength and conviction and without apology, that it is our simcha and that we want to, and need to, be a part of it. We are proud of its symbols, be they flag or anthem, for they have become sanctified…”

My grandfather, the Romanian gaon Rav Bezalel Ze’ev Shafran, was asked, “Why is it that in the Nusach S’fard Keter Kedushah we ask, V’hu yigaleinu sh’einit?” Why do we ask that God redeem us for the second time? The second redemption has already occurred! Are we not eagerly anticipating the third and ultimate redemption?

Preparing For Pesach

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Succeeds Halfway

For weeks before Pesach the people in small towns across Poland, Lithuania and Russia lived only with the Yom Tov in mind. The housewives turned their homes upside down, the matzah bakery became alive, tailors and cobblers prepared to meet the seasonal rush, and the children worked themselves into a pitch of excitement, which they could not have endured had they had to wait for the seder night one day longer than they already did. The rav’s study naturally did not escape this communal upheaval; in fact, it was the focal point that reflected all that went on in the community. The hectic days left their traces in a good many tales passed down from mouth to mouth.

The story is told of Rav Naftali of Ropshitz coming home worn out after delivering the long sermon customarily preached on Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos before Pesach. His wife asked him how he felt, and Rav Naftali replied: “This was a particularly trying sermon. Times are bad, and a great deal of money is needed if the community is to provide all the poor with the necessities for Pesach. I had to put all my strength into an impassioned appeal for support of our efforts.’’

“And how did you succeed?’’ his wife asked.

“Halfways,’’ Rav Naftali said with a smile. “The poor are willing to take; whether the rich will give remains to be seen.’’

Finding The Good

Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev would use the Yomim Tovim as a forum for his continued dialogue with the Holy One blessed be He and as opportunities to demonstrate to the Almighty that His children, Israel, were deserving of both forgiveness and a better fate.

Thus, one erev Pesach, in the afternoon, when the prohibition on chometz (leavened bread) was already in effect, Reb Levi Yitzhak called to his shammas and said:

“Let us go take a little stroll around the streets and market places of the city.”

The shammas was little surprised that the rav would decide to walk aimlessly about on erev Pesach, but he knew that there was something behind it – and indeed there was.

The Smuggler

As they walked about they spied – on a street corner – a well-known Russian smuggler.

“Come, I want to have a talk with this man,” said Reb Levi Yitzchak.

“But rebbe,” protested the shammas, “he is a well-known smuggler.”

“I know, I know. That is why I want to talk to him.”

The surprised shammas was even more flabbergasted as they came up to the smuggler and he heard Reb Levi Yitzchak say, “Have you any ‘merchandise’ that recently arrived?”

“Indeed, I have,” replied the smuggler. “I have materials of all colors and descriptions that just arrived. Would the Jewish rabbi care to look at some?”

Reb Levi Yitzchak only smiled and shook his head.

“Come,” he said to his shammas, “let us go further.”

Any Chametz

Moving on, they left the market area and continued into the Jewish section. There they saw the Jews hurriedly going to and from the baths in anxious preparations for Pesach. Stopping someone on the street, Reb Levi Yitzchak asked him:

“Reb Yid, have you any chametz in your house or your possession?”

The man looked at Reb Levi Yitzchak with tears in his eyes and exclaimed, “Rebbe, what sin have you ever found in me that causes you to suspect me of having chametz in my possession on erev Pesach?”

Reb Levi Yitzchak left him and approached another man and once more asked the same question: “Have you any chametz with you?”

The man looked with alarm at Reb Levi Yitzchak and cried out, “G-d forbid that I should have chametz in my possession at this hour!”

Looks To Heaven

Turning his eyes upward to Heaven, Reb Levi Yitzchak called out, “Almighty Lord, G-d of Israel, look from Your Heavenly place and behold Your people, Israel. The czar of Russia is a mighty king with a horde of soldiers and police who patrol the borders. He has laws and judges and jails to punish the offenders who dare to smuggle in contraband. Nevertheless, the smugglers are not deterred by laws or punishment and they continue to smuggle.

“You, however, issued a simple command, ‘Thou shalt not have chametz’ and though there are no soldiers or police or judges or jails to enforce it, nevertheless, not a Jew in Berdichev dares have any chametz in his possession on this day.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/kidz/tales-of-the-gaonim/preparing-for-pesach/2012/03/30/

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