Archive for September 2013

Rosh Chodesh - Cheshvan

Beginning of new Hebrew month of Cheshvan - October 4th
[Rosh Chodesh - New Moon]

The establishing of Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, did not originally depend on the sighting of the moon, but completely on astronomical calculations. "What?!  But I thought ORIGINALLY the new moon had to be witnessed?" you probably said to yourself as you read this.

Consider this - during the forty years that the Benei Yisrael  were in the desert, they were covered by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, making it impossible for them to make any astronomical sightings.  Since both the sun and moon were invisible to them, it would have been impossible for them to construct a calendar based on actual observation.  This is clear evidence that calculation was the original means of determining the calendar.  Witnesses were not used.  This situation existed for 1100 years, from the time of Moshe until the time of Antignos of Socho in 3548 (213 b.c.e).

Following is further evidence...

Shemot 12:2 "This month shall be for you the beginning of months..."
It is significant that at this juncture G-d did not instruct Moshe and Aharon to relay the content of this message to the Benei Yisrael.  Surely the word לָכֶם "lachem" (for you), implied that the fixing of the new moon was a commandment applicable to each and every Jew!  Failure of G-d to issue the customary instruction: "say to all the Benei Yisrael, etc.," therefore indicated that the determining of the new moon was something reserved for the elders of the people, a court of experts, and was not something incumbent on the individual Jew.  This is why these instructions were address to both Moshe and Aharon in their capacity as the experts at the time.  The word lachem, in this instance means: "to the likes of you, to trained experts."

If proof were needed that we base our calendar on astronomical calculations rather than the sighting of the moon, consider the fact that during the wanderings of the Benei Yisrael in the Wilderness for 40 years when their encampment was totally enveloped by the Ananei HaKavod, G-d's "Clouds of Glory", neither the people nor their leaders were able to sight the moon.  They did not even see the sun by day either but depended totally on the pillar of cloud or fire to light the way for them.  This is confirmed by Nechemya 9:19 "You in Your abundant compassion did not abandon them in the Wilderness.  The pillar of cloud did not depart from them to lead them on the way by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to give them light in the way where to go."

How would the the Benei Yisrael have been able to fix the date of the new moon unless they had based themselves on their astronomical calculations?  Clearly, the principal method of determining the new moon is based on calculations.  We have an old-standing tradition that 5 of the 12 months of the year always have 30 days whereas 5 other months always have 29 days.  the remaining 2 months fluctuate between 29 and 30 days respectively.  In some years both of these months have 30 days.  In some years both have 29 days, and in some years one of them has 29 days whereas the other month has 30 days.  The two months which are subject to these variations are Cheshvan and Kislev.

We have another tradition that the first day of Tishrei is New Year's day (Rosh HaShanah), and that according to a ruling handed down by Moshe from Sinai each "month" (lunar orbit) consists of 29 days, 12 hours and 793 parts (chelakim - the hour is divided into 1080 equal parts - therefore the lunar month is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds). (Rosh HaShanah 25)  All this is based on Divrei HaYamim Alef (1 Chronicles) 12:33 "Of the benei Yissachar, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times to determining how Yisrael should act; their chiefs were two hundred, and all their kinsmen followed them."  No other matter requires as much knowledge and insight as determining the times of the calendar, the dates of the festivals based on comparison with the seasons determined by the solar calendar.

Of course, if the new moon has been sighted everybody knows that a new month has begun, etc.  It is easy then to calculate the tenth of the month to determine Yom Kippur and the 15th of the month to determine the first day of Sukkot, etc.  The Sages needed to know what calculations are required in order to inform the people ahead of time what to expect and in order to check whether sightings of the new moon which had been claimed were in fact possible according to their charts.  It is this aspect which the verse from Divrei HaYamim Alef dealing with the benei Yissachar deals with.

Note that during the time of David and Yonatan calculations formed the basis of the determination of the new moon as David said to Yonatan (Shmuel Alef 10:5) "Tomorrow, on the new moon I will sit beside the king..."  If the new moon had been determined merely by sighting, how did David know it would be observed on the morrow?  Perhaps there would not be a sighting of the new moon by then?  It is clear then that the date was determined by calculation if sightings failed to confirm these calculations.  In fact, from that episode in Shmuel Alef (Samuel 1) it is clear that already at that time the Sages arranged for two consecutive days of the new moon being observed seeing that we read in verses 24-27 of the same chapter, "The new moon came and the king sat down to partake of the meal...but David's place remained vacant.. That day however Shaul said nothing... But on the day after the new moon, the second day, David's place was vacant again..."  It is clearly impossible to say that the day described as "the second day" refers to another new moon the following month and that this is why they called it "hachodesh hasheni" (the new moon, the second day).

Shaul asked Yonatan (v27) "why did not the son of Yishai come to the meal yesterday or the day before?"  The story goes on, "Yonatan rose from his seat angrily and he did not eat on the second day of the new moon."  Clearly the date of the new moon was determined by means of calculations.  This system was in effect for 1100 years from the time of Moshe until the time of Antignos from Socho who, together with Shimon HaTzadik, was the leader of the Jewish people around the time Ezra and his colleagues came to Eretz Yisrael from Babylon.  (Moshe died in 2488 after the creation of Adam whereas Antignos lived around 3460 years after the creation of Adam.)  Two of Antignos' students, Tzadok and Beissus, were the ones who misunderstood their teacher's meaning when he exhorted his students not to serve G-d like servants who serves a human master for the sake of reward, feeling entitled to it.  Antignos urged his students to relate to the service of G-d as does a servant who volunteers to serve his master out of love and not out of a desire for reward.  These two students thought that there was no system of reward and punishment in Judaism as a result of which they forsook the path of Torah.  A by-product of their heresy was that they raised questions against the system of determining the time of the new moon, claiming that the principal mitzvah in observing the commandment of sanctifying the new moon was the sighting of it not the calculations on paper.  Such a new thesis forced leading rabbis of that time to respond and to prove to these heretics that their calculations were accurate and more reliable than sightings so that Rabban Gamliel came out publicly saying not to be too concerned about whether actual sighting had taken place.  He claimed to have had a tradition from his grandfather that the month (lunar orbit) is never shorter than 29 days 12 hours and 793 parts.  These words of Rabban Gamliel prove that he did not base his calendar on sightings but on astronomical calculations.

We have an explicit Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 25) which states that "if both the elders of the court and the entire nation had clearly seen the new moon but it became night while the elders examined witnesses who testified to the sighting of the new before the elders were able to pronounce the new moon on the day just concluded, they would declare the month to have had 30 days."  This proves that the elders did not rely principally on the sighting.  Had they done so, how could they have added another day to the month seeing not only the witnesses but they themselves had sighted the new moon on the previous night?  Clearly, if they decided to make that month one of thirty days in spite of the sighting, they must have based themselves on their calculations.

There is even more compelling evidence...

The Mishnah at the end of the second chapter in Rosh HaShanah records that two witnesses appeared claiming to have sighted the new moon at its appropriate time, i.e. the night between the 29th and the 30th of the month.  They also claimed that on the following night, i.e. the night of the 31st, the moon had not appeared in the sky.  Rabban Gamliel accepted their testimony.  If Rabban Gamliel and his colleagues had been basing their declarations of the new moon only on sightings, how could he have accepted such testimony which contradicts all we know about the behavior of the moon?  Surely, the fact that the moon did not appear on the following night meant that the witnesses had lied in the first place!  Clearly, Rabban Gamliel relied on his calculations in the first instance and when these proved that the new moon had been due to appear when it did he accepted the visual evidence that it had indeed been sighted on the appropriate night.

As to the statement of the Sages (folio 24) that Rabban Gamliel had a reproduction of the sky on the wall of his study which he employed to instruct laymen, the meaning is that he wanted to convince the supporters of Tzadok and Beissus of his absolute competence in astronomical matters from month to month.  He wanted to show them beforehand in which manner and at what angle sightings of the moon after the end of the present month would occur.  When these students noticed that Rabban Gamliel had correctly predicted where and when in the sky sightings of the new moon would occur, he mananged to discredit Tzadok and Beissus who had tried to undermine the authority of the Jewish Supreme Court.  As a result, the allegations against the calendar calculations of the leading elders of the Jewish people ceased.  Nonetheless, the practice of encouraging people to come forward as witnesses to new-moon sightings continued but primarily as a reminder of an established custom, not as something of halachic necessity.

It is unanimously agreed that the authority to determine calendar adjustments is vested in the hands of the Jewish Supreme Court or its equivalent as something handed down from the time of Moshe, provided such court is composed of the most knowledgeable and G-d-fearing people of their generation.  This is the law which G-d commanded to Moshe in our verse here.  The words הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם (hachodesh hazeh lachem - This month shall be to you), may therefore be translated as "you have authority to delegate the adjustments which may have to be made to this month."

Thus far the commentary of Rabbeinu Chananel.

The authority delegated by G-d to the Rabbinical authorities is of such fundamental significance that we read in Sanhedrin 42 that if the Jewish people had not been granted the opportunity to perform any other commandment except to recite the benediction over the new moon once a month and to the thereby welcome the eternal presence of the Shechinah, this would be deemed sufficient for them.  They base this on the wording הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה (hachodesh hazeh - this month) here and זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ (zeh Eli ve'anvehu - this is my G-d and I will exalt Him) in Shemot 15:2.  What this Midrash is trying to tell us is that the verse here is an explanation of the peculiarly worded text of the benediction recited when blessing the new moon.  It is an allusion to the Jewish people as a spiritual concept, so called as it is a crown, sanctified and the exclusive property of the people of Yisrael, who are referred to in Yeshayahu 46:3 as "transported by G-d on His arms ever since their inception" (in the house of Lavan).  Seeing that he who utters this benediction finds himself in the presence of the Shechinah, he must recite it while standing (not while seated).  This ensures that he is conscious of the necessary awe when in the Presence of G-d.

Reciting the benediction over the new moon is equivalent to testifying to the fact that G-d created the universe and all that is in it.  This is the principal pillar of our religious faith.  Seeing the moon renews itself month after month makes it easy to understand that G-d created one universe after another.  Some unidentified Sages have said that the black color we observe on part of the moon serves as a reminder of the Benei Yisrael who are in exile and who count their months based on the lunar orbits.  Concerning this phenomenon Shlomo said in Shir HaShirim 6:10 "beautiful as the moon, brilliant as the sun."  G-d granted beauty to the moon and brilliance to the sun.  The reason is that the moon resembles woman's lower physiognomy in that it is activated by the male.  The moon similarly receives its input from the sun.  This is also the meaning of the statement in Ketubot 59 "woman exists for the sake of beauty" (rather than for the performance of menial labor).  Speaking of the sun, however, Shlomo used the term בָּרָה (barah), as it is clear, distinct.  See that Shlomo used different adjectives in describing moon and sun it is clear that the moon lacks brilliance.  You need not be surprised at the choice of metaphors by Shlomo as the Shechinah which accompanies the Jewish people in their exile and which reflects the strength of the moon is also feeling the pain of the Jewish people in their troubles.  We know this from Yeshayahu 63:9, "In all their troubles He was troubled."


The Seven Cycles

There are seven astronomical bodies, and each has its particular cycle.  This is their order:

  1. First sphere, closest to the earth, is the Yareach (Moon).  It shines with reflected light.
  2. Second sphere is called Mercury.  In Hebrew it is called Kochav, which literally means "star."  Some say this is because it rules over the destiny of the stars.
  3. Third sphere is called Nogah (Venus).
  4. Fourth sphere is the Shemesh (sun), which makes a complete cycle every year.
  5. Fifth sphere is called Maadim (Mars).
  6. Sixth sphere is called Tzedek (Jupiter).
  7. Seventh sphere is called Shabatai (Saturn).

The Month of Cheshvan

According to Sefer Yetzirah, each month of the Jewish year has a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a zodiac sign, one of the twelve tribes of Yisrael, a sense, and a controlling limb of the body that correspond to it.




- Bachya; MeAm Lo'ez

Haftarah Bereishit

Friday, September 27, 2013 · Posted in , , , , ,

Yeshayahu 42:5 - 43:10
[Parashat Bereishit]



The Haftarah of Parashat Bereishit opens by declaring HaShem the Creator of heaven and earth. This echoes the recount of HaShem’s creating the world in six days, described in Parashat Bereishit.

42:5 Koh-amar ha'KEl HASHEM bore hashamayim venoteihem roka ha'aretz vetze'etza'eiha noten neshamah la'am aleiha veruach laholechim bah
Thus says the G-d, HASHEM, Who creates the heavens and stretches them forth; Who spreads out the earth and [brings out] its produce; Who gives a soul to the people upon it and a spirit to those who walk on it.
Because the miracles during the Messianic Era will be so astounding, only G-d the Creator can do them, G-d Who not only created the world, but creates it anew every moment.  A Divine promise of full and constant support to the servant of G-d in the accomplishment of the mission entrusted to him.   At that time, a new soul (neshama) will be granted to all people equally, but the holy spirit (ruach) only to those who truly walk before Him.

Alluded to in the verse, "[G-d] gives a soul to the people upon it [the land]" is that G-d will provide a soul for  the resurrected dead when they are in the Holy Land. (Ketubot 111a)

6 Ani HASHEM kraticha vetzedek ve'achzek beyadecha ve'etzorcha ve'etencha livrit am le'or goyim
"I am HASHEM, have called you in righteousness and will strengthen your hand.  I will watch over you, having appointed you over the Covenantal people and a light to the nations,
7 Lifkoach eynayim iverot lehotzi mimasger asir mibeit kele yoshvei choshech
to open blind eyes, to release prisoners from confinement and dwellers in darkness from the dungeon.
It is HaShem Who has called the Mashiach to his great mission of returning the Jewish people to the Covenant.  To this end, G-d will strengthen him, "strengthen  his hand," to give him power over all adversaries and watch over him from all harm.  But his mission is not just to the Jewish people, but also to all the nations - for them, too, will he serve as a light.  He will enlighten, "open the eyes of," those who previously could not see G-d's truth.

8 Ani HASHEM hu Shemi uchvodi le'acher lo-eten utehilati lapsilim
I am HASHEM, that is My Name and I shall not give My honor [glory] to another, nor My praise to idols.
Although the idols are called "gods" as I am called G-d, only I can be called HASHEM, because only I am the Master of the world.  Name signifies lordship and might.  So although during the exile, My Name was dishonored because the nations ruled over My people, when Redemption will come, all will then praise Me, and not the idols, as they had previously done.

9 Harishonot hineh va'u vachadashot ani magid beterem titzmachnah ashmia etchem
Behold, the first things [prophecies] have already come and now I shall tell you new things - I shall inform you before they happen."
Just as the "first" prophecies regarding Sancheriv came true to the detail, says Yeshayahu, so shall the "new" prophecies regarding Mashiach come true to the detail.

10 Shiru l'HASHEM shir chadash tehilato miketzeh ha'aretz yordei hayam umelo'o iyim veyoshveihem
Sing a new song to HASHEM, His praise from the end of the earth, those who go down to the sea and those that fill it, the islands and their inhabitants! 
11 Yis'u midbar ve'arav chatzerim teshev kedar yaronu yoshvei sela merosh harim yitzvachu
The wilderness and its cities will lift up [their voices], the open cities inhabited by Kedar; let the inhabitants of Sela exult, let them shout from the top of the mountains.
12 Yasimu l'HASHEM kavod utehilato ba'iyim yagidu
Let them give glory to HASHEM and relate His praise in the islands.
Let all the nations sing to G-d for His opening their eyes, even those who had been farthest from Him - the island dwellers.  Let even animals sing "and those that fill it [the sea]," and even inanimate creatures - the very "islands" themselves.  Sela and Kedar - the primitive people who live in the deserts and mountains (Rashi: "the resurrected dead"; Kimchi: "rock dwellers - those who dwell in towers built on rocks and moutains") let them also praise and sing to Him.  Let His praise be said on the far islands and not just be sent to Yerushalayim from the end of the earth.

13 HASHEM kagibor yetze ke'ish milchamot ya'ir kin'ah yaria af-yatzriach al-oyvav yitgabar
HASHEM will come forth as a mighty one and arouse rage like a warrior.  He will shout triumphantly, even roar, He will overpower His enemies. 
G-d will reveal Himself like a mighty warrior to redeem His people and will act, as if, with rage to avenge their pain.  He will "cry out," so to speak, to confuse and intimidate His enemies and "shout" again upon victory.  But He will also make them shout cries of woe.  The idol worshipers, the enemies of G-d, must now recognize His greatness and join His people in the new song.

14 Hechesheiti me'olam acharish et'apak kayoledah ef'eh eshom ve'esh'af yachad
"I have kept quiet for a long time, silent and restraining Myself.   But I shall scream like a birthing woman, desolating them and swallowing them together.
15 Achariv harim ugeva'ot vechol-esbam ovish vesamti neharot la'iyim va'agamim ovish
I shall destroy mountains and hills, desiccating all their grass.  I shall turn their rivers into islands and desiccate their ponds.
I have kept quite throughout Jewish exile, the injustice done to Yisrael, says HaShem, and silently watched as My children suffered.  I silently heard how Pharaoh in Egypt blasphemed Me and quietly heard how Ravshakeh did the same, but I have seen and heard it all.

Certainly, this cannot continue forever and the time will come to redeem My people, just as the time comes for an expectant mother to give birth.  Just as she suffers in silence throughout pregnancy, only to scream during birth because she cannot control herself anymore, so shall I, so to speak, scream during the rebirth of My people, swallowing those who would have destroyed them.  I shall desolate their kingdoms, their "mountains and hills," and divest them all worldly goods, "desiccate their grass and ponds."  G-d will no longer tolerate the sufferings of His people and the continued ruin of their country.

16 Veholachti iverim bederech lo yada'u bintivot lo-yade'u adrichem asim machshach lifneihem la'or uma'akashim lemishor eleh hadevarim asitim velo azavtim
I shall guide the blind on a path they never knew and walk them along an unknown way.  I will turn darkness into light before them, and crooked paths into straight ways. These are the things I shall accomplish without fail."
Return of the exiles - I shall guide My people back to their Land, along paths they had not known.  I shall open their eyes to see the deeper meaning of My Torah, to which they had previously been blind.  I have done such things in the past and shall continue to do them in the future.

17 Nasogu achor yevoshu voshet habotechim bapasel ha'omerim lemasechah atem eloheinuThose who trust in idols and who say to the molten image, "You are our god," shall be turned back and put to shame.
Then, when G-d redeems His people and destroys those who would have destroyed them, they who trusted in their man made idols will be so ashamed that they will turn away to hide their faces.  They will be shamed because they trusted in such futility, because they believed in such an obvious falsehood.  But among the Jewish people, also, will bear their share of shame for having worshiped idols as the Gentiles do.

18 Hachershim shma'u veha'iverim habitu lir'ot
Deaf ones, hear!  Blind ones, look and see! 
 And why will G-d look on silently as the Jewish people suffer?  (v14) - because they have deafened their ears from hearing His prophets' rebuke and closed their eyes from seeing their own shortcomings.  Open your eyes and ears to see and hear these things now and cease being so self-righteous in your own eyes.  Open your eyes and ears now to listen to G-d's word and see the great things which He will now bring about for you.

19 Mi iver ki im-avdi vecheresh kemal'achi eshlach mi iver kimeshulam ve'iver ke'eved HASHEM
Who is as blind as My servant and as deaf as My sent messenger?  Who is as blind as the perfect one and as blind as the servant of HASHEM?
They, who have had been His servants and His messengers on earth had turned a blind eye to the will of G-d and deafened the voice of their own inner conscience, seeing themselves as spiritually "perfect."

20 Ra'ot rabot velo tishmor pakoach oznayim velo yishma
You see many things but pay no attention, your ears are open, but do not hear.
The people are blind because they pay no attention to themselves - they see no connection between their suffering and their inner lives.  They pay no attention to their behavior and deeds to correct what needs to be changed.  Even when G-d "opens their ears" to the rebuke of His prophets, they turn a deaf ear to their words.

21 HASHEM chafetz lema'an tzidko yagdil torah veyadir
HASHEM desired for the sake of [Yisrael's] righteousness that the Torah be made great and glorious.
But despite that G-d's people are presently blind, G-d will open their eyes in the Future.  This He will do not because of their merit, but because He desires to vindicate them.  And He will do it by magnifying His Teachings in their eyes, so that they serve Him out of love and not for ulterior motives.

22 Vehu am-bazuz veshasui hafe'ach bachurim kulam uvevatei khela'im hocheba'u hayu lavaz ve'eyn matzil meshisah ve'eyn-omer hashav
But they are a plundered and trampled people, all trapped in holes and hidden in prisons.  They are looted and no one comes to the rescue, trampled upon and on one to say, "Give it back!" 
And despite all their sufferings during exile, they did not search for the cause.  Why is it that one nation is so hounded by all nations and so helpless to help themselves?  Even when concealed in the holes of caves, the enemies would trap them and stow them away in prison.  It only the hand of G-d.

23 Mi vachem ya'azin zot yakshiv veyishma le'achor
Who among you will listen to this, who will pay attention and hear of the past?
So if you ask, "Why did G-d do this?" you must be ready to listen to the answer:  Pay attention to all the great things which G-d did for you in the past, things He did for no other nation.  Then you will know that the suffering which He gives you is the fruit of your own sinful deeds.  Listen now to the rebukes which He sent you in the past, so that at least from now on you will not be punished.

24 Mi-natan limeshisah Yaakov veYisrael levozezim halo HASHEM zu chatanu lo velo-avu vidrachav haloch velo shame'u betorato
Who gave Yaakov over to be trampled upon and Yisrael to plunderers, if not HASHEM?  This was our sinning against Him, not wanting to walk in His ways nor listen to His Torah.
This was what they did not hear, that to which they were blind:  All of their suffering was only G-d's doing and only because of their sins.  In fact, this very questioning, "Who gave Yaakov over to be trampled upon," was itself also a sin.

25 Vayishpoch alav chemah apo ve'ezuz milchamah vatelahatehu misaviv velo yada vativ'ar-bo velo-yasim al-lev
He poured out His wrath upon them with the fierceness of war, it raged around them, but they paid no attention.  It burned them, but they did not take it to heart.
G-d poured out His wrath and the fierceness of war upon the people of Yehudah (Judah) when Sancheriv captured Samaria, in order that they learn a lesson.  When they did not, Sancheriv went on to capture the Judean cities.  They still did not learn, so G-d then "burned" the people of Yerushalayim themselves - Sancheriv besieged the City.  But none of these things had any long-lasting effect because they paid no serious attention.


43:1 Ve'atah koh-amar HASHEM bora'acha Yaakov veyotzercha Yisrael al-tira ki ge'alticha karati veshimcha li-atah"But now, Yaakov," thus says HASHEM, your Creator, and your Maker, "Yisrael:  Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name - you are Mine!
 Despite G-d's reason for exiling the Jewish people, (ch.42), He now reassures them that they will be redeemed.  He reminds them how He redeemed them from Egypt and how He proclaimed to the world that they are His - He will redeem them again in the Future as He redeemed them in the past.  G-d also reassures them that He has not exchanged them for another people which will become the "new" Yisrael, for only they are the children of Yaakov-Yisrael, whom He has called His people by name.

2 Ki-ta'avor bamayim itcha ani uvaneharot lo yishtefucha ki-telech bemo-esh lo tikaveh velehavah lo tiv'ar-bach
When you pass through waters, I am with you; through rivers - they will not sweep you away.  When you walk through fire you shall not be scalded and flames will not kindle you.
G-d now reminds them how He took them on dry land across the Reed Sea and Yarden River, alluding that He will do the same once again.  He tells them how they will endure four different types of exiles - "waters, rivers, fire and flames" - and that throughout all they will remain faithful:  The nations will try to baptize you in their "holy waters," to wash you away from your faith in their "rivers."  They will burn you at the stake for not accepting their faith, but the flames will not touch your soul.  I am with you throughout your ordeals.

3 Ki ani HASHEM Elokeicha Kedosh Yisrael moshi'echa natati chofercha Mitzrayim Kush uSva tachteicha
For I am HASHEM, your G-d, the Holy One of Yisrael, your Savior.  I have given you ransom from Egypt and placed Kush and Sheva beneath you.
 G-d further reminds them how He saved their firstborn when all the Egyptian firstborn were killed.  The Egyptian firstborn were indeed their "ransom," because Jewish behavior was no better than theirs.  He also reminds them how Egypt's treasures, their "ransom," together with those of Kush and Seva, fell before them after the plague upon Sancheriv's troops (37:36)

4 Me'asher yakarta ve'einai nichbadeta va'ani ahavticha ve'eten adam tachteicha ule'umim tachat nafshecha
Because you are dear in My eyes, honored and I love you, I shall place mankind underneath you and nations beneath your soul.
 Because the Jewish people are the descendants of the holy forefathers, they are dear in G-d's eyes.  Because they are dear in G-d's eyes and because they accepted His Torah, they are honored more than any nation.  And because they loved Him throughout the exile and suffered for His Name, G-d loves them more than other nation.  They are dear to Him no only because of their small numbers, but also because of their honored essence.

5 Al-tira ki itecha ani mimizrach avi zar'echa umima'arav akabetzeka
Fear not, for I am with you - I shall bring your children from the East and gather you from the West.
6 Omar latzafon teni uleteiman al-tichlai havi'i vanai merachok uvenotai miketzeh ha'aretz 
I shall say to the North, "Give forth!" and to the south, "Hold not back!"  Bring back My children from afar, My daughters from the ends of the earth!
Fear not that you may lose your status due to the exile, for I shall gather you from all over the earth.  I shall bring back the lost Ten Tribes, exiled to the East, and the Judeans exiled to the West.  I will bring back not only those who are distant geographically, at the "ends of the earth," but also those who are distant spiritually, "from afar": Those who were forced to abandon Jewish practice but kept it secretly in their homes, and even those who had only kept the faith in their hearts.

7 Kol hanikra vishmi velichvodi berativ yetzartiv af-asitiv
All are called in My Name, I created them for My glory, I formed and made them.
All those who are called in G-d's Name, all those who call themselves "Jewish" - who proclaim the Almighty G-d with their very lives and proclaim Him the great Creator - they are the ones G-d will redeem and bring back to the Land in the Future.  Let not the nations come and complain why the Jewish people were chosen, for they had the choice to be just the same, for all were created for G-d's glory.

8 Hotzi am-iver ve'einayim yesh vechershim ve'oznayim lamo
To take out a blind people who have eyes and deaf ones who have ears.
And since the purpose of Creation is to manifest G-d, which is accomplished only through His chosen people, therefore, He must redeem them despite their being spiritually "blind and deaf" during exile.

9 Kol-hagoyim nikbetzu yachdav veye'asfu le'umim mi vahem yagid zot verishonot yashmi'unu yitnu edeihem veyitzdaku veyishme'u veyomeru emet
[If] all the nations would assemble together, all the nationalities congregate, who among them could predict such things, or tell us of things already come.  Let them bring forth their proofs and be justified, or let them hear and say, 'it is true.'"
Let all the nations come forth and claim, if they can, that their prophets can predict the future.  Let them come forth and say that the past was already predicted by their prophets.  But let them bring proof to their claims, or let them admit the truth when we tell them.

10 Atem edai ne'um-HASHEM ve'avdi asher bacharti lema'an ted'u veta'aminu li vetavinu ki-ani hu lefanai lo-notzar el ve'acharai lo yihyeh
"You are My witnesses," says HASHEM, "and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you should know and believe in Me, and understand that I am He.  Before Me was nothing created by any god and after Me shall not be."
But the Jewish people can attest to the Truth - I have made them My witnesses.  I had told them of Sancheriv's siege before it came about and the prophecies of the Future shall also come to be.  This I have done so that you will acknowledge Me, that there is no other power besides Me.  I am the sole Creator of all existing things - there was no one else who created anything.

Parashat Bereishit



- MeAm Lo'ez, Sefer Yeshayahu

5774 Torah Parashiyot - Weekly Torah Portions

Monday, September 23, 2013 · Posted in , , , ,


To begin all over again!  
5774 Torah Parashiyot

The book of Bereishit (Genesis), which is not merely an account of the beginning, a narration of how it went, but it is the very blueprint for the beginning that G-d Himself, as it were, consulted when He chose to begin the creation. Its letters, their shapes and sounds, and the words and verses that they form, are the very DNA of the world of darkness and light, day and night, rivers and streams and oceans and mountains, livestock and wildlife, fish and fowl, stars and planets, moon and sun, that we live in.

The main purpose of Torah study is to enable one to keep the commandments.  These letters are the stuff of our very souls, and to study, to examine, to ponder, to immerse ourselves in the depths of the Torah, is not only an immensely satisfying and gratifying endeavor, but it is part and parcel of the fulfillment of our purpose on this earth.... 

        ...to behold G-d's wonders and to praise Him and draw near to Him, B"H.


Four Ideas

First Idea - One must first think about the wonder of G-d's creation. Absolutely nothing existed before G-d created the world. 

G-d is concerned with all the world, and He looks into each detail.  Not only does He direct the universe as a whole, but He also examines each individual, rewarding or punishing him for every deed.


Second Idea - One also must think about the Torah and its commandments.  This obviously means the Written Torah.  But it also includes the Oral Torah, which consists of the laws, commandments and rules which were given to Moshe on Mount Sinai, but not actually written in the Torah.  These must also be observed.


Third Idea - One must constantly meditate on the commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (VaYikra 19:17).  These few words form the basis for the entire Torah.

If a person understands this, he will not envy his more successful neighbor.  He will not say, "Why does he have the good luck to become wealthy?"  He will not be happy to take another's money, and will not trouble his neighbor to come back again and again to collect money that is owed.

Such an individual will give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  If he sees another doing some good that also brings benefit to the doer, eh will not rejudge that it is being done for ulterior motives.  Even when there is reason for suspicion, he will not consider it. Instead, he will say, "It is possible that I am mistaken.  This person is certainly not doing good so as to show off or gain money.  He is not giving charity to gain the praise of others.  Everything is being done for the sake of heaven, to fulfill G-d's will."

When a person gives others the benefit of the doubt, then he is given the benefit of the doubt by G-d.

In general, when a person properly fulfills the commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," he will not do to another anything that he would not want done to himself.  Through this, he will keep the entire Torah and not sin.

Fourth Idea - A person must constantly meditate on the fact that he is mortal and will eventually die. (Berachot, Chapter 1)  He should consider that life eventually ends for all men, rich or poor, young and old.  Thus, he will avoid sin, and overcome the evil urge which attempts to lead him astray each day.  Contemplating one's mortality is a tested method of destroying the power of the Evil Inclination.

Our Sages also advised that one should make a declaration during his lifetime.  When a person is about to die, the Angel of Death tries to make him sin, saying, "If you recite the Shema, I will deal harshly with you and torture you.  But if you deny the Torah, I will protect you from all troubles."  When a person is near death, his will is weak, and out of fear, he feels obligated to heed the advice of the Angel of Death (who is identified with ha-satan), but if he does so, he loses both this world and the next.

One should therefore make an annual declaration in the presence of ten men, either on the first of the month of Elul, or on the day before Rosh HaShanah.  One should not wait until he is sick or on his deathbed, since he may die suddenly or lose the ability to speak.  This is the declaration that one should make:

O HaShem, my G-d and G-d of my fathers, great and mighty G-d, in whose hands are the souls and spirits of all creatures:  When, after many long years, the time comes for me to pass away, may it be Your will that my mind be clear when my soul leaves my body.  May my soul be at ease, and may my mind be healthy and alert.  Do not take away my love and fear for You, so that they may remain with me when my soul departs my body. 
And if, heaven forbid, it is fitting that I experience pain, suffering, confusion, or loss of my mental faculties at the time of my death, I acknowledge the righteousness of Your judgement. You are just in all that comes upon us, for You have done it, and we have been wicked.
I do not, heaven forbid, deny any commandment of the holy Torah.  I do not deny any detail of the rules of Judaism that our Sages have taught, and that we are obligated to keep.  I believe with perfect faith that G-d lives and exists for eternity.  Besides Him, there never was, and never will be, another.  He is trusted to give good reward to the righteous in the World to Come, and to punish the wicked.
I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be resurrected at the time that G-d so wills.  He has the power both to kill and to give life.  He will also send us the true Mashiach.
May it be Your will, O HaShem, my G-d, and G-d of my fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, that You protect me from the Evil Inclination, and inscribe me in the book of good life.  Give me strength, fortitude and health to serve You, to study Your holy Torah, and to keep Your commandments.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You, O HaShem, my Rock and Redeemer. 
When a person mediates on all this, and makes himself aware of the mortality of men, he will be sure to be adequately prepared when he time comes.  When a person goes on a journey, he must make sufficient preparation and be certain to have the necessary supplies.  If he does not do so before he leaves, he will not be able to later.

The parashah commentaries provided at this blog are mostly from two major works, Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez (Torah Anathogy) by Yaakov Culi, and Torah Commentary by Rabbi Bachya ben Asher (Bachya).  There is anthology of the teachings of the Midrash, Talmud and other major Jewish classics.  Included will be pertinent laws, adhering to merely the simple obligations binding on every Jew, from the works of Rambam and Rabbi Yosef Caro's Shulchan Aruch.

There are ten fundamental benefits that you gain from studying these anthologies of the Torah:

  1. You will be aware of the commandment which you must keep, as well as the sins and prohibitions which must be avoided.  There are many things which you might have done without being aware that they are forbidden; and once you learn about them, you will refrain.
  2. You will have a clear understanding of the miracles that G-d has wrought for our ancestors.  There are recorded in Scripture in a highly concise form, often by mere allusion.  You might know that Noach was saved from the flood, that Avraham was rescued when Nimrod cast him into the fiery furnace, and that the Reed Sea was split during the Exodus from Egypt; yet, you might have little idea of exactly how these miracles occurred.  There are other miracles of which even minor details are not generally known, and there are yet other miracles which are not recorded in the Torah at all.  When you read these anthologies, you will be able to visualize all these miracles, just as if you had personally experienced them.
  3. It is well known that the Torah portion must be reviewed each week, "twice Scripture and once Targum."  This means that one must first read the Scripture twice, and then read the Aramaic Targum translation once.  Even if the Torah is heard in Synagogue, it must be personally reviewed each week.  This rule was legislated so the average person would be able to understand the weekly parashah.  In those days, even people who did not understand Hebrew spoke Aramaic as their vernacular.  The Targum was given to Moshe on Sinai.  It was later forgotten, and then reconstructed by Onkelos, a convert to Judaism, based on the teachings of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua.  Today, since many people do not understand Hebrew, and Aramaic is even more foreign to them, they are not careful to review the weekly portion.  It is obvious that one who understand neither Hebrew, Aramaic, nor Rashi, must read a commentary that he can comprehend.  It is advisable to divide the weekly parashah into seven parts, reading one each day.  Some should be read in the morning, before business, and the rest in the evening, before bedtime.  In the course of a week, each portion is then completed.
  4. There are many questions that can be asked about each portion in the Torah.  There are words that appear superfluous, ideas that seem contradictory, and concepts that are difficult to understand.  In every case, you will find satisfactory answers in these anthologies.  It is important to realize that Moshe wrote the Torah with very precious ink.  Nothing is superfluous, not even the smallest letter.
  5. In some of these anthologies, especially within Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez, the relationships among the various prophets and kings of Yisrael, the interplay among them, the letters they sent one another, the reasons why some were killed and even the years in which events took place are explained.
  6. These anthologies are also of great help to businessmen who wish to conduct their affairs according to the standards of the Torah.
  7. In these anthologies, you will find many anecdotes from the Talmud, Midrash and other Jewish classics.  You will learn things that happened since the time of creation, without resorting to secular histories.  Many things found in such books are false, and it is forbidden to read them even during the week, and certainly not on the Shabbat and Festivals.
  8. From these anthologies you will also learn how the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) appeared, how the sacrifices were offered, the order of the service recited on Yom Kippur, and the reasons for each detail.  Also the order for the daily sacrifice, as well as those offered on Shabbat and Festivals.  Although these sacrifices are no longer offered now that the Temple has been destroyed, the Talmudic Sages have taught us that when a person studies the laws of sacrifice in order to understand the Biblical references, it is counted as if he had actually offered the sacrifice.  This is a special advantage unique to the laws of sacrifice.  If a person studies the laws of Shabbat, it is not counted as if he had observed the Shabbat.  There are five types of sacrifice: Olah (burnt offering), Minchah (meal offering), Chatat (sin offering), Asham (guilt/crime offering), and Shelamim (peace offering).  When a person studies the Book of Bereishit (Genesis), it is counted as if he sacrificed an Olah.  The Book of Shemot (Exodus) is considered like a Minchah; the Book of VaYikra (Leviticus) is like a Chatat; the Book of BaMidbar (Numbers) is like the Asham; and the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is like a Shelamim. When a person studies all five Books of the Torah, it is counted as if he had brought all the sacrifices.  In general, when a person studies the Torah so as to know which laws he must keep, it is considered as if he had observed the entire Torah.  This is still true even though there are laws that cannot be kept, or no opportunity to keep them ever arises, since his intent is good.  This is true of course, only when it is impossible to actually keep the commandment.
  9.  These anthologies explain the greatness of our holy Torah.  All the stories found in the Tanach (Bible), especially in the Torah, are not to be considered as mere legends.  In the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, "Woe is to the man who says that the Torah merely comes to teach us worldly stories and history."  One who says this has no portion in the World to Come.  If the Torah were a mere history book, we could write better history today.  If the Torah had such mundane purpose, how could we recite a blessing, thanking G-d for "choosing us from all nations and giving us His Torah?"  Such a blessing is said before and after reading the Torah.  Each morning we also recite a blessing to cover what we intend to study that day.  Some people do not know anything else, but only read the Bible stories. How is it fitting for them to recite a blessing, if these stories are merely legends?  Furthermore, if there is even the slightest error in the writing of a Torah scroll, it is invalid and cannot be used.  This is true even if the mistake is in the name of Pharoah or Balaam.  For mere stories, what difference would a minor variation make?  There is a reason why the Torah uses stories as a vehicle for its teachings. When angels visit the physical world, they disguise themselves as human beings.  Thus, when the three angels visited Avraham, he thought they were ordinary wayfarers.  He prepared a meal for them, they sat at his table, and Avraham watched them eat.  The same was true when Yaakov wrestled with the angel.  Angels must clothe themselves in a mundane form, since if they did not, the world could not endure their radiance.  If this is true of an angel, how much more so must it be true of the worlds of the Torah, for whose sake heaven and earth were created.  When the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, it was therefore necessary that all of its secrets and mysteries be disguised in the form of stories.  If the Torah had remained in its true spiritual form, the world could never have accepted it, and the human intellect could never comprehend it.  It was for this reason that King David prayed, "Uncover my eyes that I may behold the wonders of Your Torah" (Tehillim 119:18).  He was saying, "Master of the universe, open my eyes that I may see the secrets of the Torah which are clothed in the obvious stories found in the Scripture."
  10. Our Sages teach us, "When a person engages in Torah and deeds of kindness, all of his sins are atoned." (Berachot, Chapter 1)  This is based on the verse, "Through love and truth, sin is atoned" (Mishlei 16:6), where the Torah is "love," and kind deeds are "truth."  Even though Torah study is highly important, one must also keep the commandments and do good deeds.  It is written, "For a commandment is a lamp, and the Torah is light" (Mishlei 6:23). This indicates that without observance of the commandments, study of the Torah is not sufficient. (Zohar, Terumat)  The main reason why the Torah must be studied is that the commandments be kept properly.  Neither a lamp without a wick, nor a wick without a lamp, is adequate.  Each commandment provides the doer with a "lamp," while Torah study gives him a wick so that it will produce light.  This is the meaning of the above verse.  Our Sages liken one who studies Torah but does not keep the commandments to one who spends much money building a house, but then neglects to install a door.  As long as the house remains open, it is little better than an open field.

Torah - Man's True Wealth

G-d, Who is King and Patron of this world, sends souls from heaven to sojourn here in the physical world.  Here, they can amass observances and good deeds so as to be worthy of high status in the Future World.  The physical body is like the ship which transports the soul, while the Torah reveals the commandments which will be rewarded in the Future World.

The only advantage of the physical world is that it is a place where one can observe G-d's commandments and thus fulfill His will.

There are some people who pursue only physical pleasures, such as eating, drinking, travel and parties.  Since they cannot satisfy their desires, they become sick and die.

Others wish to amass fortunes, and these are also never satisfied.  

Wise are the people who are masters of their souls.  They eat and drink moderately, nourishing themselves so that they have the strength to discover G-d.  When they find a rare jewel, they "place it under their tongue" (i.e. like honey and milk, [Torah] lies under your tongue, Shir HaShirim / Song of Songs 4:11).   Since they cannot study Torah all the time, they engage in some business, but their intent is to place their money in a safe place, through giving charity and keeping the commandments meticulously.  Their only intent in earning money is to have the opportunity and peace of mind to study Torah and to contemplate the Future World.  

This is man's true wealth.


- MeAm Lo'ez; Bachya
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Parashat Bereishit
Bereishit [Genesis] 1:1 - 6:8

1:1 In the beginning... (Begin the mastering of your soul here - Parashat Bereishit)




Hoshana Rabbah

Hoshana Rabbah - 7th Day of Sukkot - September 25

Tradition is that on Hoshana Rabbah (7th day of Sukkot) the judgment of G-d, passed on Yom Kippur, is sealed by a written verdict. During Sukkot the world is judged for water and for blessings of the fruit and crops.

It is tradition, since it is a day of judgment, to stay awake all night, studying Devarim, Tehillim, the Zohar and recite Tikkun. Some go during the night and immerse in the mikveh and to inject extra Kedusha (holiness) into the night.  One of the reasons for reading Tehillim is because of the impending finalization of the judgment. (When reciting the book of Tehillim one should say the Yehi Ratzon after each of the five books.)
The minhag of the Sefardim is to gather in family groups at home instead of in the synagogues. They read the Tikkun is turn one man after the other.

On Hoshana Rabbah eve, the women are busy baking long wheat loaves with braided ladders on top, such as are made and served the day before Yom Kippur and serves as a reminder during the pre-fast Yom Kippur meal that G-d decides who will ascend and descend the ladder of life. Similarly, for Hoshana Rabbah, the ladder is meant to help our prayers reach heaven. A lesser-known tradition is embellishing the round challah with birds or shaping the entire challah in this form, recalling the phrase of Yeshayahu 31:5 "As hovering birds, so will HaShem protect Yerushalayim."  Yet another theme is shaping the challah like a hand beseeching Heaven, or adding a motif of hands to the top of a round challah..  During this time dough is also rolled out which will be filled with meat for kreplech, a dish traditionally served during this time.

On Hoshana Rabbah morning, the attitude in the synagogue is a varied one.  It is still part of the semi-holiday period, yet the services are as rich as on a full holiday.  In addition the day is a mixture of Yom Kippur and Sukkot; there are the etrogim and willow branches of Sukkot, together with the candles, the white robes (kittels) and the chants of Yom Kippur.

A tradition (passed down from the Baal Shem Tov) was that as much as one exerts himself in the tefillot (prayers) of Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, it will help him in his kavanot (intention) in prayer during the rest of the year.

A very ancient custom that was observed even in the time of the First Temple, and the highest point in the ceremonial of Hoshana Rabbah, is the procession around the bimah.  During the first six days of Sukkot the procession winds around the bimah only once and there is but one Torah-scroll on the bimah.  On the seventh day, however, on Hoshana Rabbah, the procession makes seven circuits around the bimah, on which every Torah-scroll from the ark is held by members of the congregation.  It differs from the Simchat Torah procession in that it is earnest and serious.  The procession winds its way around and around, the men bearing the lulavim and etrogim in their hands and chanting their prayers earnestly and fervently.

After the procession the lulav and the etrog are laid aside and the willow branches are taken up, five of them bound with a leaf of the lulav.  At the close of the Hoshanot prayers, the worshipers beat their willow branches on the ground and chant a ritual passage.  According to the ritual law it is necessary to beat the branches only five times, but the mass of the congregation beats and beats, until all the leaves have been knocked off the twigs.  Anciently in the Temple, the Kohanim marched around the altar seven times and they would beat the earth with their willow branches.

Everyone performs this ceremony, including the women in their section of the synagogue, but none enjoy it as much as do the children.  They keep beating their branches long after the others are through and continue until their elders tell them to cease!  Many carry their bundle of branches home and save them for Pesach, to use in the yearly search for the leaven.

After the services a festive meal is served and eaten in the sukkah for the last time.  There is usually soup with kreplech served, exactly as the meal on the day before Yom Kippur.  But after the holiday services and the festive meal the day becomes again a part of the semi-holiday period and all go about their regular tasks.

This is the happy day in general for the children.  They carry around the long palm leaves of the lulav and braid themselves rings and bracelets from them.


Hoshana Rabbah on a Deeper Level

A person's life hangs in balance until Hoshana Rabbah, which is the final day that the judgment is sealed.  The circuits that one makes around the bimah allude to the running around that a person does in this world when he wastes time earning money for vanities.  It is all a continual circuit, as is a water wheel in the garden.  The buckets on one side lift the water up, while the buckets on the other side spill it out.  Similarly, some people are on the upswing where their buckets are full, but they can come to the other side of their cycle where they are turned upside down and their "buckets" are emptied.

Therefore, no person can be sure of his wealth, his goods, or his property.  If a box is tuned over, everything spills out.  Similarly, when the wheel reaches it apex and is on the downswing, all the water spills out.  From one moment to another, a person does not know what will be happening to him.

The seven circuits made on Hoshana Rabbah allude to the seven judgments which must be passed on a person when he leaves this world.

The seven circuits also have the power to protect a person from the seven great archangels who are in charge of the seventy nations, where each archangel is in charge of ten nations.  These archangels are constantly denouncing us.  However, each time we make a circuit we destroy the power of one of these archangels, and on Hoshana Rabbah we destroy the power of all seven.

The aravah which we take and beat on Hoshana rabbah, alludes to the person subjugating his heart on this day.  On this day, the account books of each person are given to those in charge, whether for life or for death.  A person should say to himself, "Just as the willow has neither taste nor fragrance I too have neither mitzvot or good deeds."  What a person must do is shake all worldly vanities form himself and not waste his time with them.

A person must also think about the fact that a willow's leaves look like human lips, and they dry out very quickly.  If a person's lips are accustomed to speaking maliciously or maligning or scoffing at his neighbor, they will dry up quickly and be cut off.  It is thus written, "G-d shall cut off all smooth lips, every tongue speaking big things" (Tehillim 12:4).  If a person subjugates his heart he will certainly be inscribed for life. (Sheyarei Kenesset HaGedolah; Chemdat Yamim)

-Bachya; MeAm Lo'ez 



פתקא טבא
Pitka Tava
(Aramaic for "a good note", a wish for a final good verdict) 

(A Yiddish equivalent - Gut Kvitl)

Sukkot - Huts & The Four Species

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 · Posted in , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sukkot - begins evening of September 18th; ends evening of September 25th

The Torah speaks of the commandments of dwelling in a Sukkah and taking the Lulav (VaYikra 23:33-44).  The festival is known as Sukkot and is called this because during this festival we must live in a thatched hut known as a sukkah.

G-d commanded us to dwell in a sukkah to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that G-d sent to the Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt.  Six clouds surrounded them on all four sides, with one above and one below.  This was so that they would not suffer from the sun, wind, rain, or dew.  A seventh cloud went in front of them to straighten out the path.  The Benei Yisrael were enclosed by the clouds, as is a person in a ship.  A person in a ship can live there as he does in his house and it is of no concern to him when the ship moves.  The Benei Yisrael were just like that in the seven Clouds of Glory.

In commemoration of the Clouds of Glory, G-d commanded us to dwell in a sukkah.  This was so that we would remember the wonders and miracles that He did for our ancestors when they left Egypt.

G-d commanded us to make the sukkah in the month of Tishrei, in the fall.  This is the time when people usually come into their houses.  We do the opposite. We go out of our houses to the sukkah.  This makes it obvious that we are doing this to commemorate G-d's miracles.

There is also another allusion in this commandment.  At this time we have just completed Yom Kippur - the Day of Judgment.  G-d has forgiven our sins because we have repented.  When we leave our houses for the fields and live in sukkot, we show that, until now, we were hiding in our houses because we were full of sins; we were afraid of the denouncing forces created from our sins.  But now that we have atoned for them, we go out to the fields without any fear at all.

This is alluded to in the verse, "On the day Esav returned to his journey to Seir and Yaakov journeyed to Sukkot..." (Bereishit 33:16,17)  Esav alludes to the Evil One.  Seir denotes a goat in Hebrew and this alludes to the goat sent to Azazel.  After the Evil One, who is Esav, sees the goat sent to the desert, he no longer denounces the Benei Yisrael.  He leaves them and returns to his place in the desert.  When Yaakov - Yisrael - sees that Esav has left them, the Benei Yisrael go out to the Sukkah.  This shows that they no longer have any fear.

G-d therefore commanded us to dwell in a sukkah in the month of Tishrei.  This is a time when people bring their grain in from the field; their houses are filled with all sorts of goods.  It is precisely at this time that one must desert his house and go out to the field, to the sukkah.  This should teach him the lesson that he should not pay attention to worldly vanities and goods, but think only about Torah and good deeds.

The seven days allude to the seven judgments through which a person must pass.

The sukkah alludes to a person's dwelling in this world, which is a temporary place.

The seven days also allude to the human life-span, which is seventy years.

the person's true dwelling place is the Olam HaBah (World to Come). Therefore, a person should not pay attention to worldly vanities, but should immerse himself in the Torah and the commandments.


Laws of the Sukkah

It is a mitzvah to make the sukkah right after Yom Kippur.  When a person has the opportunity to do a mitzvah, he should not delay in performing it.

Furthermore, there is no person who is not completely purified on Yom Kippur.  One should begin this mitzvah immediately after Yom Kippur so as to be able to keep this great mitzvah with a pure, clean body.

Therefore, as soon as one completes his meal after Yom Kippur, he should begin making the sukkah.  If one is weak because of the fast and cannot make it completely, he should make half of it or part of it.  At the very least, he should begin making the preparations so that he can erect the sukkah the next day.

It is a mitzvah for a person to make his own sukkah and not to have someone else do it.

One should carefully choose the site for the sukkah to make sure that it is not a place where there is a bad odor nor too close to the latrine.  Some people are not careful regarding this and make the sukkah in a place which has a foul odor.

Many people do not realize that the sukkah is a very holy dwelling. It is the place where the Divine Presence rests.  It is also the place to which one invites the seven Holy Guests (Ushpizin): Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David.

The covering of the sukkah is known as sechach.  The sechach must be made from something that grows out of the ground.  It must also be plucked from the ground and be something that cannot accept ritual defilement (tumah).

If one makes the sechach from animal hide, places them on top of the sukkah, he does not fulfill his obligation.  Animal hides do not grow from the ground.

If one stretches tree branches or vines over the sukkah while they are still growing, he similarly cannot fulfill his obligation.

If one takes wooden bowls or other wooden vessels and makes them into a roof for the sukkah, he also does not fulfill his obligation.  Since these are vessels, they cannot accept tumah.

It is also forbidden to make the sechach out of grass that will dry out and fall.

The sechach may not be made out of something that has a bad odor, since this may cause one to leave the sukkah.

The sechach must be thick enough so that the shadow it casts covers more area than the sunlight that is let through.  However, it should not be too thick.  The stars should be visible through it.

When we say that certain things may not be used for a sukkah, we are only speaking of the sechach, the roof of the sukkah.  The walls may be made out of absolutely anything.

It is a mitzvah that the sukkah should have four complete walls.  It should be enclosed on all four sides and have a regular door.  However, if one only makes two walls, with a third wall at least a handbreadth wide, the sukkah is valid.

One must be careful first to erect the walls and then place the sechach.  If one makes the roof first and then sets up the walls underneath it, the sukkah is invalid.

If one makes the walls out of reeds, he must be careful to put no more distance of three handbreaths (9-12 inches) between one reed and another.  If there is a greater distance than that between the reeds, it is not considered a wall.

One should not make the walls out of sheets or canvas.  Since they are not rigid, but move in the wind, they are not considered walls.  Even if one places the sukkah in a place where there is no wind, sheets are not considered walls.


Dwelling in a Sukkah

It is a commandment to dwell in a sukkah all seven days, both day and night.  We must eat, drink and sleep in the sukkah, living in it as we do our own homes all year.

It is forbidden to eat a regular meal outside of the sukkah.  If one does now wish to eat at all, he need not do so.  However, if one wishes to eat a meal, he must do so in the sukkah.

This, however, applies only on days other than the first. On the first night, and also on the second night outside the Holy Land, one is obligated to eat bread in the sukkah.  On must eat a piece of bread at least the size of an olive.

It is therefore a custom to make a sukkah at the synagogue for those who cannot make their own sukkah.  Each person must eat an olive size piece of bread in the sukkah and thus fulfill his obligation.

Here we see the error of those who have the opportunity to make a sukkah, but depend on the sukkah made at the synagogue, merely eating an olive-sized piece of bread the first and second nights.  The rest of the week they eat in their homes.  As we have said, the congregational sukkah is only useful for eating the olive-sized piece of bread the first and second nights.  However, when the people eat the rest of their meals in the house, they are in violation of a commandment.  They are violating the positive commandment to live in a sukkah.

It is through the commandment of sukkah that G-d will overcome the nations of the world in the ultimate future.

The Torah says,

"Everyone included in Yisrael shall dwell in sukkot" (23:42).  This indicates that everyone who is a true Israelite lives in the sukkah and does not care about the heat or cold.

From all this we learn how great is the punishment for those who neglect the commandment of the sukkah.  This is an easy commandment to keep.  Therefore, if a person does not keep it, he obviously takes G-d's commandments lightly.

If a person cannot build a sukkah before the holiday because of some unexpected emergency, he can build the sukkah during the intermediate days (Chol HaMoed).

It is permissible to drink water or wine or to eat fruit outside the sukkah.  It is also permissible to have a snack outside the sukkah, one may even eat a piece of bread smaller than an egg.  However, it is forbidden to eat a regular meal outside the sukkah.

When it rains, one need not remain in the sukkah.  He may go into his house and eat his meal.  However, this is only true if it is raining so hard that if as much rain dripped into his house he would leave his house and go out.  If it is only a light drizzle that does not bother a person, he is not exempt and he must remain in the sukkah.

This is only true during the week.  On the first night one must make Kiddush over wine and eat an olive-sized piece of bread in the sukkah even if it is raining hard.  One also must do this on the second night.

If it is raining very hard, one should recite Kiddush and eat an olive-sized piece of bread in the sukkah and complete his meal in his house.

However, if it is raining on the second night, one should not recite the blessing "Leshev ba-sukkah" (To dwell in a sukkah).  The only time that one recites a blessing in the sukkah is when he eats there.

On the first night, one recites Kiddush, then the sukkah blessing, and then the blessing Shehechyanu (Who has kept us alive).

On the second night, one recites Kiddush, then Shehechyanu, and finally, the blessing "to dwell in a sukkah."

During the rest of the week, one recites the blessing, "to dwell in a sukkah" before saying HaMotzi over bread. (Ashkenazi custom is to recite HaMotzi first, and then the sukkah blessing).

On a day when one says Kiddush, he recites the blessing "to dwell in a sukkah" after Kiddush.

A bridegroom and the members of his party are exempt from a sukkah all seven days of the festival.  Some authorities, however, maintain that they are obligated to eat these meals in a sukkah.

A circumcision feast must be held in the sukkah.

If a person is sick he is exempt from the sukkah.

It is forbidden to make any mundane use of the sukkah throughout the entire holiday. It is thus forbidden to take a reed from the wall and hang a garment on it or the like.  It is also forbidden to take a branch from the sechach and use it for anything.

If fruit is hung in the sukkah for beauty it is forbidden to use this fruit all Sukkot, even if the fruit falls down.  However, if one makes a condition before the festival and says, "I will eat this fruit whenever I want," the condition is valid and he may eat any fruit that falls.  However, such a condition is of no use regarding any integral part of the sukkah.  Even if one makes a condition, he may not make any use of any parts of the sukkah.

If a person is in the middle of a journey he is exempt from the sukkah.

A person should make every effort to keep the commandment of the sukkah according to its law. If a person does this, G-d says, "You have kept the commandment of the sukkah. I will also make a sukkah on the great Day of Judgment to protect you on this day."  Regarding this it is written, "He shall protect me in a sukkah on a day of evil" (Tehillim 27:5)


The Four Species

Sukkot is called the "ingathering festival" (chag ha-asif).  This is because it comes in the month during which a person gathers into his house all the produce he has in the field.  It is a time of great joy, when a person is happy because of the crops in his house which is full and brimming over with all good.

It is therefore impossible that a person not sin because of all the good that he has.  The Evil Inclination exists primarily in places where there is great joy, not in places where there is humility and contrition.

G-d therefore commanded us to take the four species during these days.  The four species allude to the four most important parts of man's body: the spine, the eyes, the heart and the mouth.

The lulav (palm frond) alludes to the human spine.  This teaches that at this time of joy a person should straighten his body and attach himself to the fear of G-d.

Th etrog (citron) alludes to the heart.  This is the seat of the emotions.  A person should not let his emotions go too far at a time of joy.

The hadas (myrtle) looks like eyes.  This teaches a man not to follow his eyes.  One must not look at starnge women or other forbidden things when he is in a state of joy or elation.

The aravah (willow) looks like the lips.  This teaches that even when a person feels joy he should watch his mouth not to speak too much, since this can cause malicious speech, frivolity, and profanity.

There is also another reason for this commandment.  If a person has sinned with one of these parts of the body, keeping this commandment should be an atonement for him.  This is a great act of love that G-d has done for man.

Moreover, if a person gazes at these four species, he will not sin with these parts of the body; and if he sins, these commandments are a remedy.

G-d therefore said, "You shall take for you on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree..." (VaYikra 23:40). G-d is saying, "I am giving this commandment to you for your benefit so that it will be a remedy for your sins."

The three myrtle branches allude to the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.  Just as the three patriarchs were united in their service to G-d and did not take their minds off their Creator for even a moment, we, too, who come from these holy roots, must be unified and bound to G-d's service.

This is alluded to in the word for the palm frond which is lulav.  This can be broken into two words, lo lev, which means "to Him is the heart."  This indicates that our hearts are only attached to Him.

We should also be bound together and unified just as the lulav is bound with the other species.  There should be no hatred among us.  It is because of hatred that the Temple was destroyed.  How can we expect the Temple to be rebuilt if we still have this evil trait.

The Torah says, "You shall take on the first day a beautiful fruit of the tree, fronds of dates, a branch from braided trees and willows of the brook" (23:40)

The Torah literally says, "You should take the beautiful fruit of a tree."  The Torah does not designate what kind of tree it is.  Our Sages, however, know by tradition that this is the etrog (citron).

One reason is that there is no fruit as beautiful as the etrog.

Furthermore, the Torah speaks of it literally as "fruit tree beautiful" (pri etz hadar).  If the Torah had meant that one should take a fruit of a tree and not the fruit of the ground it would have said, "a fruit from a beautiful tree." But the Torah literally says, "a fruit of a tree."  This teaches that the fruit must be like the tree and the tree must be like the fruit; the wood of the tree should have the same taste as the fruit.  Our Sages determined that no tree has wood resembling its fruit except for the etrog.

When the Torah speaks of the myrtle, it says that it should be a "branch of a braided tree."  This indicates that the leaves on the branch should look like braids.  Many trees have this appearance, but the Torah also says, "a branch which is a leafy tree."  This can be interpreted, "a branch which is a braided tree" and not " a branch from a braided tree."  This teaches that it is a branch with leaves that completely cover the wood.  No tree does this in the same manner as the myrtle does.

When the Torah speaks of "fronds of a date," it is obvious that the Torah is speaking of the date palm.  This is the lulav.

"Willow of the brook" is the simple willow.

The four species also allude to the four types of Jews. Some people study the Torah and accumulate good deeds. Some study the Torah without accumulating good deeds.  Others accumulate good deeds but do not study the Torah; still others are empty, neither studying the Torah nor accumulating good deeds.

The four species parallel these four types.

Those who both study the Torah and accumulate good deeds are like the etrog, which has both good taste and a pleasant fragrance.

Those who study Torah but do not accumulate good deeds are like the lulav, which produces fruit dates, that are good to eat, but have no fragrance.

The group that has good deeds but does not study Torah are like the myrtle, which as a fragrance but not taste.

Finally, there is a group that neither has good deeds nor studies Torah.  This is like the willow, which has neither taste nor fragrance.

G-d says that all four species must be bound together; they must be like one body, totally unified. The merit of one shall stand up for the others.

Therefore, regarding this commandment it is said, "You shall take for yourselves on the first day..." (23:40).  This teaches that just as the four species must be bound together, so all Yisrael must be bound together and unified in one group.

G-d furthermore says, "Through the commandment of 'You shall take for yourselves on the first day...' I will allow My Divine Presence to rest among you.  I am also called First, as it is written, 'I am First' (Yeshayahu 44:6)."  (The verse can thus be read, "You shall take for yourselves on the day of the First, the beautiful fruit of the tree..")

"Also, because of this commandment, I will take vengeance from 'Esav, who is called first, as it is written, 'The first came out red' (Bereishit 25:25).  I will build the Holy Temple, which is called first, as it is written 'The Throne of Glory on high from the first is the place our Sanctuary' (Yirmeyahu 17:12).

"I will send you the Mashiach, who is called first, as it is written, 'They are first to Tziyon and the news will be given to Yerushalayim' (Yeshayahu 41:27).'

Amein, may this be G-d's Will.

-MeAm Lo'ez, Vol. 12

Chag Sameach!

Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement

Thursday, September 12, 2013 · Posted in , ,

Yom Kippur - begins evening of September 13th; ends evening of September 14th
[G'mar Chatimah Tovah - A Good Final Sealing]

Yom Kippur, also known as Yom HaKippurim the Torah literally says in reference to,


" Only on the tenth of the seventh month..." (VaYikra 23:27)  

"Only" (אַךְ - ach in Hebrew) teaches that Yom Kippur only atones for those who repent and regret their sins, making every effort to rectify anything they have done.  People who do not repent their sins do not have them forgiven in spite of having lived to this date and beyond it.

The gematria for ach is 21. The Hebrew word for repentance is "teshuvah" which the gematria value of the letters in this word are 400, 300, 6, 2 and 5.  In the minor numerical value (mispar katan) these values are 4,2,6,2, and 5.  This adds up to 20.  If one adds a unit for the entire word, the sum is 21, the same as the word ach.  This teaches that Yom Kippur does not atone without repentance.

When a person repents, it is not enough for him to confess his sins and say, "I have erred, I have sinned, I have rebelled."  He must actually change his ways and stop sinning.

Moreover, simple repentance only helps for sins between man and G-d.  For sins between man and man, Yom Kippur does not help until one reconciles himself with his fellow.


Laws of Yom Kippur

It is a mitzvah to eat and drink a lot on the day before Yom Kippur which is alluded to in VaYikra 23:31:

"You shall afflict yourselves on the ninth of the month" 

The literal meaning of the verse is difficult to understand since we do not fast on the ninth of the month, but on the tenth of the month which is Yom Kippur.  The Torah explicitly said earlier,

"On the tenth day of the seventh month... you shall afflict yourselves" (23:27)

However, the Torah is teaching us that anyone who eats and drinks on the ninth of the month is counted as if he had fasted two days, the ninth and tenth.

G-d loved the Jewish nation so much that He commanded us to fast only one day each year for our own benefit.  He commanded us to eat and drink the day before so that we would have the strength to fast and not be harmed by it.

"This is very much like a king who had an only son.  The king ordered his son to fast, but before the fast he ordered his servants to give the son much food and drink so that he would be able to fast easily."
In addition to its being a mitzvah to eat and drink on the ninth day, it is forbidden to fast on that day.

One reason it is a mitzvah to eat and drink on the day before Yom Kippur is to show that we believe with perfect faith that G-d has set Yom Kippur as a day of atonement and forgiving.  Although we have angered G-d all year, and by rights He should be angry with us for our sins, we have faith that He will close HIs Eyes and forgive us when we repent on this day, and not repay us as we deserve.

There is another reason for eating and drinking the day before Yom Kippur.  Whenever a person keeps a commandment he must do so with joy.  The commandment should not be a burden of which one wants to rid himself.

The commandment to repent is one of the 248 positive commandments of the Torah.  Therefore, according to the law, we should keep it with joy.  However, repentance requires sadness, weeping, and remorse for one's sins.  It is impossible to do this with joy.  Therefore G-d commanded us to eat, drink and be merry on the day before Yom Kippur.  This completes the joy of that commandment.

That is why the eating on the day before Yom Kippur is considered a fast.  It is a preparation for the fast of Yom Kippur.  If one does not behave joyously, then the fast and repentance on Yom Kippur are a little value since they involve grief and suffering.

Eating and drinking have another symbolism.  In the Messianic Age, the Evil Urge (Evil Inclination) will be destroyed and people will no longer sin.  We will then have no need for Yom Kippur.  It will be a day of feasting and rejoicing.  We now do this on the day before Yom Kippur, alluding to our belief in the coming of the Mashiach.

The pre-fast meal (seudah ha-mafseket) should be eaten rather early.  One should then accept the fast upon himself somewhat before twilight (bein ha-shemashot).  This is because one must add some of the weekday to the sanctity of the holy day.

The time that is considered "twilight" is the amount of time it would take for someone to walk three-fourths of a (Hebrew) mile (mil), which is 1500 steps.  Twilight starts a little bit less than one-fourth of an hour before nightfall.

At one-fourth of an hour before nightfall is called Yom Kippur.  If one eats at this time, he may be violating a prohibition for which the penalty is being spiritually cut off.  There is a possibility that this time is considered part of the night.

Moreover, G-d commanded us to add a bit more time; to accept the fast upon ourselves somewhat before this one-fourth hour which is called "twilight.'  Therefore, around one-half hour before night it is considered Yom Kippur even though it is still broad daylight. (Orach Chayim 261)

One must also add a bit of the weekday onto the holy day at the end of Yom Kippur.  It is forbidden to break one's fast or to do any work until it is certain that it is nighttime, when one can see three small stars.  These stars must be in proximity to each other.  If they are far from one another, it is not a true sign of night, and if one violates Yom Kippur, there is a question that he may be violating a prohibition for which the penalty is being spiritually cut off (karet).

If one east the pre-fast meal very early, and there is still enough time, he may eat and drink later as long as he has not accepted the fast upon himself.


Things Forbidden on Yom Kippur

  1. Work.  Any work that is forbidden on the Shabbat is also forbidden on Yom Kippur.  The only difference between the Shabbat and Yom Kippur is that is if one purposely does work on the Shabbat, there is a penalty of death by stoning, while if one purposely does work on Yom Kippur, the penalty is being spiritually cut off.  Antyhing that may not be handled on the Shabbat because it is muktzeh may not be handled on Yom Kippur.
  2. Eating.  We are forbidden to eat on Yom Kippur. If one eats a piece of food the size of a date on Yom Kippur he incurs the penalty of being spiritually cut off.  This amount, however, is significant only with regard to a penalty.  It is actually forbidden to eat even the smallest amount of food.
  3. Drinking. We are forbidden to drink any beverages, including water, on Yom Kippur.  If one drinks a mouthful, he incurs the penalty of karet.  As mentioned earlier, even the smallest amount is forbidden.  The measures only involve penalties.
  4. Washing.  We are forbidden to wash on Yom Kippur, whether with hot water or cold water. It is even forbidden to dip one's finger in water.  If one's face, hands or feet or other parts of his body are dirty, he may wash the soiled places.  Thus if one has a nosebleed, one may wash off the blood.  In the morning, one may wash his hands and recite the blessing "Al Netilat Yadayim", ("on washing the hands") as every morning.  However, one must be careful only to wash until the ends of the fingers.  Similarly, if one urinates or defecates, he may wash his hands in the above mentioned manner.  
  5. Anointing.  It is forbidden to anoint one's body with anything normally used for anointing.  This is forbidden even if one does not do so for enjoyment, but merely to remove a bad odor.  However, if one does so for healing or if he has scabs on his head, it is permissible.
  6. Wearing shoes.  It is forbidden to wear a sandal or shoe made of leather.  It is only permissible to wear shoes made of cloth or other substances. If the shoe is made of wood but covered with leather, it is forbidden.  A woman who is within thirty days after childbirth may wear shoes since cold is dangerous to her health.  Similarly, if one is sick or has a sore or wound on his food, he may wear shoes.
  7. Sexual intercourse.  It is forbidden to have sexual intercourse on Yom Kippur.  A man may not touch his wife, just as if she were menstrually impure.
For further instructions on what is permissible and what is forbidden during Yom Kippur, consult your local Orthodox rabbi.


- MeAm Lo'ez; Bachya

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