Soul Terminology, and Expressions of Love: Proper Frum Expression In The Lens of the Ashkenaz Tradition – Gleanings From Rav Shimon Schwab – התבטאות תורני בדברי רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל

June 17, 2015

I recently came across a number of recordings of הרב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל online. Rav Schwab zt”l, whose twentieth yohrzeit was marked just a few months ago at קהל עדת ישורון – ‘Breuer’s’, where he served as Rav for many years, was a master expounder of Torah hashkofoh, as well as a general גדול בתורה and מנהיג ישראל (he was also a strong supporter of מכון מורשת אשכנז, see e.g. his הסכמה printed at the beginning of שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א, as well as his letter in the beginning of שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ד). His ספרים, many of which came out toward the end of his life, or after his petirah, have spread his greatness to people around the world. However, many, especially among the younger generations, even if they know of him, never heard him speak, בקול קדשו, thereby losing out on the special flavor this great godol imparted with his audial דברי אלקים חיים. Therefore, it is great to know that recordings of a number of major addresses that he made to mechanchim are accessible online.

While listening to Rav Schwab recently via these recordings, in addition to enjoying the general great Torah wisdom on the declared topics of the addresses, I also gleaned some important lessons from his careful diction, even if they were peripheral to the main subjects under discussion. With a תלמיד חכם of the stature of Rav Schwab, who did not utter words lightly, all the more so in his later years, when his Torah was in category of old wine (as per mishnah in מסכת אבות פרק ד), one can see and deduce important lessons from seemingly minor phraseology as well.

Following are two examples of what I mean.

There are expressions that are commonplace today, in various circles, that were not commonly used by the masses (if used at all) in previous generations. Which compels the thinking Yid to wonder, if they are according to our mesorah, or are in the category of חדשים מקרוב באו?

1) ?חלק א-לוה ממעל, או נשמת א-לוה ממעל

When Rav Schwab talked about the soul of a Yid (in “An Address on Tznius”, second section of this recording) (54:38), instead of using an expression for it often heard nowadays, namely חלק א-לוה ממעל, he used a different term, namely נשמת א-לוה ממעל. The relevant passage (just after 54:25) is

“The lack of tznius brings out the worst in the nefesh habehamis. And the tznius clothing inspires the very best of our Nishmas Elokah Mimaal.”

What is the difference one might ask? The former (Cheilek Elokah Mimaal) is a Kabbalistic term, used by some, which can be, and is (mis)understood by some as meaning that a neshomoh is literally a ‘piece of Hashem’, a notion at odds with traditional Jewish theology, which posits rather that the neshamah is a creation of Hashem. The latter term (Nishmas Elokah Mimaal) does not lend itself so easily to such misunderstanding.

I suspect (but don’t know with absolute certainty) that Rav Schwab may have deliberately used the term he used due to the above concern.

See discussions here, here, and here.

 2) הקב”ה אנחנו אוהבים אותך

Nowadays one at times witnesses public statements, in the form of songs, declarations, and even bumper stickers, proclaiming  הקב”ה אנחנו אוהבים אותך (Hashem, we love you), an expression that was not commonly heard shouted aloud in the past in our circles. Is that in consonance with our מסורה? Rav Schwab (in his address entitled Internalizing Eternity) states the following (after 33:20) “Since Ahavas Hashem is such a strictly personal matter, he who truly loves Hashem does not show his אהבה. He rather hides it. It is far too intimate to parade it in public. He is mekayeim והצנע לכת עם ה’ אלקיך. It is exclusively his private affair, between him and his Creator.”

In the zechus of following our holy mesorah of traditional Torah expression, may we be soon be zoche to the expression from הקב”ה of אני ה’ א-לקיכם.

א גוטען חודש

 

The Disappearing Doctor of Iyyar: Virtual Vanishing of a Venerable Minhog – הרופא הנעדר של חודש אייר: מנהג ותיק בכתיבת שם ה’, שהולך ונתמעט

May 6, 2015

There is a popular vort that some people like to say over, especially around this time of the year, which interprets the letters of אייר, the month we are now in midst of, as standing for אני ה’ רופאך, I am Hashem your healer (‘doctor’). The aleph stands for אני, the two yuds for הקב”ה, and the ר for רופאך. The month is thereby depicted as a month of healing. The vort seemingly is based on an old minhog of many generations among Yidden, in which the letters י-י  (sans hyphen) are used to represent the venerated name of Hashem (in particular the שם הוי-ה), in place of the spelling out of it with the letters Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay (י, followed by ה, followed by ו, followed by ה).

Writing the Shem Hashem – background, past, and present practices

Jewish custom is that the Shem Hashem is treated with special respect. When people write, they do not write the Holy Name as it appears in a sefer Torah, for example. Rather they write ה’, ה’ יתברך, or similar. This was followed not only in private writing, but even in the printing of סידורים, where in the past, Shem Hashem was not written out explicitly, based on venerable, old practice. In other words, the spelling out of the letters, Yud – Kay – Vov – Kay in the past was done in Biblical texts, such as ספרי תורה וספרי נ”ך. In texts of תפלות, however, it was not done. Instead, Yud – Yud was substituted. The reason for this, was as part of the great veneration and respect Jews had for the great and awesome name. Just as people don’t enunciate it when they speak, rather they say instead ‘Hashem’ (the name), הקדוש ברוך הוא, etc., so too, they were careful not to spell out the name in writing as well. Recently, however, almost all נוסח אשכנז siddurim have abandoned this ancient practice (with the notable exception of some Yekke ones, whose circulation and numbers are quite limited at this time though) and started to write out the sheimos explicitly, with the letters ‘Yud – Kay – Vov – Kay’. It has gotten to the point, that one is hard pressed to find a siddur which follows that venerable minhog in many nusach Ashkenaz Shuls.

To better bring out the above, one can take a look at pages from a variety of נוסח אשכנז siddurim over the centuries, by clicking on the links below, thanks to Hebrewbooks.org.

1. The kabbalistic סידור שער השמים of the famous Kabbalist, the של”ה, from approximately three hundred years ago, here.

2. The famous סידור בית יעקב (also strongly Kabbalah influenced), of the great Rav Yaakov Emden,  here.

3. A siddur from one of the גדולי ירושלים, ר’ זונדעל קרויזער, from a few short years ago, here.

Note the difference between how the Shem is written in the first two and how it is seen in the third.

Why should this be cause for wonder and concern, לעניות דעתי, as it seems from this vantage point?

For a number of reasons. If this was the minhog of the gedolim and masses of the past, how can people later, who are presumed to be on a lesser level, make such a change, on such a broad scale, to the extent that the old tradition is threatened with disappearance ח”ו? Do they think we know better than so many previous generations, and their leaders, the gedolim? How can such an old tradition be so easily abandoned? It should be stated that the question is more for people involved in putting together סידורים than the masses who daven from them, who are likely not aware of the issues involved, to be fair.

Kabbalistic siddurim have previously followed such a path, of printing out sheimos explicitly, and in Sepharadic/ Eidos Hamizrach siddurim one sees many varied sheimos spelled out. But the minhog among Ashkenazim was not so.

הרב יעקב לויפר, who wrote about this recently, feels that Kabbalistic influence is involved in the shift. He also mentions a responsum of Rav Moshe Sternbuch שליט”א, who/which advocates as much, as well as a claim that the Brisker Rav held so as well (which he states requires investigation), but feels that R. Sternbuch is in the minority.

It still surprises me, however, as this is not a small, minor matter, but a venerable old minhog that was kept for centuries.

The extent of the strength of the minhog can be seen from strongly worded declarations from very prominent Rabbonim in support of it over a century ago, which can be seen online, once again thanks to hebrewbooks.org, two examples being

1) ר’ אלעזר הכהן, son in law of ר’ יעקב מליסא, the famed Nesivos Hamishpot (בעמח”ס נתיבות המשפט), wrote strongly about this inyan over a hundred years ago, with his message entitled אזהרה למדפיסים.

and

2) A few years later, a קונטרוס came out in support of the same, entitled הסכמות הרבנים, with statements of a group of renowned Rabbonim, including R. Chaim Berlin, and R. Eliyohu Boruch Kamai of Mir.

Rav Sternbuch, in his reponsum where he discusses the matter, from circa thirty years ago, states that most siddurim do not spell out the sheimos, but rather use י-י instead. But if that was true at that time, it definitely is not so now, as the tide has swung dramatically, to the point where I think the old minhag can be placed in our ‘endangered minhogim‘ category. The fact that it has reached such a situation, hopefully will spur people to give it more thought and consideration.

In the zechus of התבוננות in, and hopefully, at some point, החזרת עטרה ליושנה in this inyan, may we be zoche to אני ה’ רופאך, בב”א.

Note: (The info in the above is primarily based on an excellent מאמר in קובץ חצי גבורים פליטת סופרים ז, אלול התשע”ד by הרב יעקב לויפר, ירושלים, עמודים שמז-שסה)

Rav Shmuel Wosner zt”l, Oberlander Titan: His Ashkenaz side – הרב שמואל וואזנער זצ”ל: הגאון האבערלאנדר מוויען ויחסו למסורת אשכנז

April 29, 2015

A few weeks ago, Rav Shmuel Wosner, בעהמ”ח שבט הלוי, passed away, after more than a century בעוה”ז.

Many of the reports, commentaries, and eulogies (הספדים) that followed described him outright, or gave the impression, that he was a Chasidic leader. While it is true that Rav Wosner had close connections with the Chasidic world (as well as with the Litvish world, and other frum groups), the reality is actually somewhat different, and more complex.

For those that are not aware, to set the record straight, wearing a shtreimel does not necessarily a Chasid make (cf Rav Elyashiv zt”l). In reality, Rav Wosner was an Oberlander (Austro-Hungarian empire Ashkenaz) Yid from Vienna, aka א וויענער, who davened נוסח אשכנז. Having nusach Ashkenaz as one’s personal נוסח התפלה, and being Chasidic, do not typically go together. While it is clear that Rav Wosner adopted some Chasidic practices, the fact that he davened nusach Ashkenaz speaks volumes, and indicates that he retained his core Oberlander identity.

A few months ago, רבש”ה שליט”א spoke at a gathering for a new MMA affiliated minyan in ירושלים , and, in the course of his remarks, related some interactions with various gedolim over the years, with regard to Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz related activities, small excerpts of which re R. Wosner follow. He stated that Rav Wosner was most supportive and helpful, relating that when MMA opened its first shul in Bnei Brak, a week before Rosh Hashanah 5752, Rav Wosner said ‘this is a great זכות for the ימים נוראים, not just for you, but for all of כלל ישראל, that you are returning these minhogim to Klal Yisroel’…..Over the years he always encouraged us….After he encouraged us to open a Shul that says פיוטים and מערבות, he then began to say them in his own shul, which is נוסח ספרד, as well. He began to say במה מדליקין in his shul, and he says all the piyutim in the tefillah, even when the tzibur isn’t saying it. In the last year he even stopped the תקיעות in the ‘shtille shmoneh esreh’ (תפלת מוסף בלחש) on ראש השנה…I owe Rav Wosner a lot, because he gave us a lot of support.

May the memory of רב וואזנער זצ”ל be for a blessing, and hopefully there will be, of his many followers, admirers, and descendants, those that continue on in his ways of following the traditions of Oberlander Yiddishkeit, including davening nusach Ashkenaz.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Updates: Hespedim for Rav Wosner with maspidim wearing a טלית גדול, have been held in multiple locations: See e.g. LucerneParis (Strasbourg Rav שליט”א being maspid in tallis)London Satmar.

Comprehensive reports on the yichus of Rav Wosner זצ”ל.

Big Tallis Roundup: Tallis Wearing During Drosho, Hesped, Megillas Esther night reading, etc. – טלית גדול לדרשה, הספד, קריאת מגילת אסתר בלילה, וכו

March 26, 2015

We are now at a special time of the year, just before שבת הגדול, which is one of the times when people can see prominently a special, ancient minhag in practice in some kehillos, namely the Rav’s wearing of a טלית גדול for the דרשה.  As expounded upon at length in שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א, according to Minhag Ashkenaz, talleisim (tallis gadol) are not only for davening with, and not only for daytime use. Rather they also have the role of being recommended appropriate garb for communal functionaries performing certain functions, מפני כבוד הציבור, for the honor of the congregation, during both daytime and nighttime hours.

A few months ago, it was touched upon here, on this website, in conjunction with a שבת שובה דרשה, Shabbos Shuva being a twin of sort to Shabbos Hagadol in this respect.

Now, I would like to point out some other examples, which I noticed recently, which show this ancient practice continuing in other contexts as well.

Zayin Adar drosho with tallis

In some kehillos, for example those of Oberlander (Hungarian Ashkenaz) background, ז’ אדר  (the seventh day of Adar, yohrzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu) is marked religiously with special observances, one of them being a prominent דרשה given by the רב.

In a recent report online from קהל עדת יראים וויען in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the USA, a kehillah with Oberlander roots (למרות שהסניף בוויליאמסבורג שינו נוסח התפלה שלהם בשנים האחרונות) , one can plainly see the Rav giving his drosho while wearing a tallis.

A Tallis Gadol for Hespedim

A. In a Chasidic Beis Midrash 

Recently there was a hesped in London for R. Elchonon Halpern, a leading Chasidic figure in the recent era, especially in Europe, who was recently niftar, in his Beis Medrash there, at the end of the shiva for him. I found it interesting to notice, in a photographic report of the event, that various maspidim were wearing a tallis while delivering their eulogies. In a Chasidic Beis Medrash no less.

Another Minhag Ashkenaz vestige where you might not expect it, evidently….

It seems that such things are more common in some parts of the world than others. It seems that in the old world (such as Europe) (as well as former old world colonies, as opposed to, for example the USA which was פורק עול of the U.K. via its revolution :) such practices are stronger than in new world places like the Americas, the old world being more history and tradition conscious and bound at times than the new one.

So, for example, at a hesped for the same R. Halpern in a Chasidic Beis Medrash in Boro Park in the USA, a tallis was not seen on the maspidim (although it is possible that it was at night, which could have been a factor as well, though I think it was not the decisive factor, rather the location was).

B. In the Lederman Shul in Bnei Brak 

In Bnei Brak, at the famous (nusach Ashkenaz) Lederman Shul, at a hesped for Rebbetzin Bassheva Kanievsky z”l a few years ago, one sees talleisim on the maspidim as well.

C. In varied venues in Europe

Hespedim for Rav Shmuel Wosner with maspidim wearing a טלית גדול, have been held in multiple, varied locations: See e.g. LucerneParis (Strasbourg Rav שליט”א being maspid in tallis)London Satmar.

Wearing a tallis for Megillas Esther leining at night

Needless to say, according to Minhag Ashkenaz, the one who reads the megillah at night on Purim does so with a tallis. In Litvishe Yeshivos where the chazan regularly wears a tallis gadol for maariv during the week around the year, the same applies.

Interestingly, it seems that many Chasidim do so as well, see e.g. these photos from various minyonim in Bnei Brak, and these from the Gorlitzer Rebbe there.

It is seen in these photos at an Oberlander kehillah down under too.

So we see quite a broad spectrum of Ashkenazic Jewry is doing so (of course, not 100%, Moshiach has not arrived yet ;-), even some of those who don’t usually wear a tallis at night. Something worthy of consideration.

Important article re wearing a tallis gadol at night

An important, wide ranging study on the wearing of the tallis gadol at night, was recently published by a leading scholar, מחבר, and researcher of minhogim, R. Yechiel Goldhaber, of Eretz Yisroel, in the kovetz חצי גבורים, mentioned in our previous post on מי שברך לחולים בשבת.

He shows in it, that what people think is an absolutely unequivocal, clear cut matter, re a kabbalistic position on wearing of the tallis gadol at night, is actually not exactly so, but rather much more complicated than generally known. An important area of study and line of inquiry, which we hope will be continued.

Perhaps we will discuss it, as well as some other relevant material, in the future, בעזרת השי”ת.

יה”ר מלפני אבינו שבשמים שבזכות טלית גדול ושבת הגדול נזכה לתקיעת השופר הגדול בב”א

א גוטען שבת און א כשר’ן און פרייליכען פסח

Fascinating, Little Known History of a Mi Shebeirach Revealed: The Hidden Story Behind A Shabbos Practice – מי שברך לחולים בשבת: הלכה, מנהג, ומציאות, נחשף, נחקר, ונברר ע”י רב המבורגר

December 24, 2014

Davening for a sick person on Shabbos?

May one daven for a sick person on Shabbos?

Not a simple matter. Recall that we don’t say the regular, weekday Shmoneh Esrei, which contains a prayer to heal our sick, on that day.

What about making a מי שברך לחולים for an ill person on Shabbos?

Were your answers to the above two questions the same? Different? If so, why?

Mi shebeirach for cholim on Shabbos today

A recent issue of a קובץ תורני (Torah journal) by the name of קובץ חצי גבורים, פליטת סופרים, from this past אלול, includes a major contribution by רבש”ה, Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger, נ”י, bearing the title of מי שברך לחולים בשבת, in which these and some related topics are masterfully and comprehensively expounded upon and explicated.

קובץ

In many Shuls today, the mi shebeirach lecholim on Shabbos is a drawn out affair. Some people seem to rack their brains to think of any person, with almost any kind of health issue, they could include in it (not surprising – after all, we are רחמנים בני רחמנים :). In some places, long lists are read by the mi shebeirach maker, while in others a new custom has been innovated, in which people in the congregation say names they wish to have included, while remaining in their places.

Many people do not seem to be aware that it is not a simple matter to assume that davening for a sick person is allowed on Shabbos. While there were and are decisors who ruled that such davening is allowed, a significant  body of חכמי אשכנז held that such is allowed only for a חולה שיש בו סכנה, someone who’s life is in danger, specifically בו ביום, on that very day of Shabbos.

Mi Shebeirach for Cholim on Shabbos through the ages

Rav Hamburger takes his readers on a journey through many centuries, exploring how our chachomim addressed this issue, navigating skillfully through the waters of Talmud, and pages of Midrash, Responsa, and Siddurim. The wide ranging exposition ranges far and wide through many centuries, including examinations of various nuschaos (versions) of mi shebeirach texts, as well as the emendation made by R. Avraham Gombiner, the Magen Avrohom, to the מי שברך לחולה text, the reaction to it, and instructions (or their lack) in סידורים (prayer books).

Also discussed are the meanings of enigmatic Talmudic phrases that figure in the discussion, such as שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבא, and יכולה היא שתרחם.

At the end he notes that while widely accepted poskim such as Chayei Adam, Aruch Hashulchan, Mishna Berurah, Shulchan Aruch Harav, among others, said that it should be restricted to a חולה מסוכן on Shabbos, much of Eastern European Jewry (with some notable exceptions) seem to be meikil on it, conducting unrestricted mi shebeirachs for cholim. On the other hand, the older minhog was maintained among Bnei Ashkenaz (‘Yekkes’), among whom, not only was such restricted to a choleh sheyeish bo sakonoh, but also the mi shebeirach used was a regular mi shebeirach לבריא, rather than the mi shebeirach lecholeh.

Understanding the spirit behind the practice 

The gedolim and poskim that limited mi shebeirach for the ill on Shabbos, did so, not, חס ושלום, G-d forbid, out of a lack of compassion or cold heartedness, but rather, following the mesorah they received, out of concern that the special atmosphere of Shabbos, its sanctity and tranquility, not be compromised by such supplications (except for extreme cases, and even then just in a limited manner). The Shabbos itself, with its atmosphere of holiness and tranquility, is therapeutic and healing. As alluded to in the text of the מי שברך לחולה, there is a connection between רפואת הנפש, healing of the spirit, spiritual health, and רפואת הגוף, healing of the body, physical health. That special Shabbos atmosphere needs to be guarded to be properly maintained. Additionally, the zechus, the merit of keeping Shabbos properly, which, as we say in the shmoneh esrei of mincha on Shabbos, is מנוחת אהבה ונדבה, מנוחת אמת ואמונה, מנוחת שלום ושלוה והשקט ובטחת, is itself a great zechus, which accrues to the benefit of the חולה and others who guard it.

Once again, Rav Hamburger has illuminated for us, with great light, the ins and outs, as well as the roots, branches and variations of a Jewish practice forgotten and misunderstood by many.

The return of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz (hopefully)

In addition to the great contribution and sheer enjoyment that this enthralling contribution to לימוד התורה represents, it is also very welcome for another reason. Namely that it is the first such new lengthy, Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz type exposition (it is written in a format like that used in Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, e.g. starting from the beginning, from relevant early sources, such as Biblical and Talmudic, tracing the practice down through many generations in later sources such as halachic codes, collections of minhogim, and siddurim, followed by surveys of practice in different lands of Jewish settlement, culminating in a final review/summation section) to appear in some time. Since the four initial volumes of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz (SMA) (as well as the accompanying small introductory volume, גדולי הדורות על משמר מנהג אשכנז), appeared between app. twenty and ten years ago, no new volumes have appeared in recent years (though a fine volume with an English synopsis of the Hebrew volumes appeared a few years ago – and now is listed at hundreds of dollars at Amazon.com – wow!), while Rav Hamburger was occupied with other literary endeavors, such as הישיבה הרמה בפיורטה, ירושתנו, וכו. It is hoped that this new perek (which Rav Hamburger indicated may be incorporated in a future volume of SMA) heralds the return and resumption of the highly acclaimed and very necessary series in the near future. According to the Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz website, a number of new works are awaiting sponsorship, including SMA V & VI. Hopefully הקב”ה will send discerning sponsors soon that appreciate the greatness of this work (along with other valuable MMA products), to partner with the Machon and enable the resumption of its dissemination. It is a series that has gained wide acclaim, in wide circles of cognoscenti. From Talmidei Chachomim, to Academics, to Bnei Ashkenaz, to regular Jews, who recognize something special when they see it.

יה”ר שנזכה לכך במהרה בימינו, אכי”ר

Beautiful Literary Tribute to Chanukah at KAJ WH

December 23, 2014

In the vein of the classic “Why I Daven with the Yekkes” of a few years ago, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer has just penned a beautiful explication and appreciation of Chanukah at “Breuer’s”.

May Hashem bless the scribes who pen such works of art and truth for the edification of us all.

א גוטען חודש און א פרייליכען חנוכה

Vestiges of Minhag Ashkenaz in Unexpected Places: Satmar Rebbe’s Teshuva Drosho – דרשת שבת שובה ושבת הגדול ע”י הרב בטלית

October 2, 2014

Sometimes one is pleasantly surprised when they see an unexpected sight. Such was the case when, a short while ago, I came across a photo of the (Kiryas Joel) Satmar Rebbe giving a ‘Shabbos shuvah drosho’ in Williamsburg in New York, a few days ago, wearing a tallis. The practice seems to be a vestige of the old minhag Ashkenaz, in which a tallis is worn not only for davening, but also on other special occasions, such as when a Rav is mesader kiddushin, officiating at a chassunah (wedding), and for Shabbos Hagodol and Shabbos Shuva drashos, and so on, מפני כבוד הציבור. In this case it was especially interesting as it was not even on Shabbos, but rather on Sunday, צום גדליה!

Interestingly, this minhag survives in a variety of locations around the world, such as Eretz Yisroel, Europe, as well as some places in the USA. Did you see it at the drosho you attended this year?

Do you have any other examples of sightings of Minhag Ashkenaz practices, or vestiges thereof, in unexpected places, that you would like to share with us? Do tell!

יה”ר שנזכה לשוב בתשובה שלמה בקרוב

New Edition of Selichos KeMinhag Ashkenaz – סליחות כמנהג אשכנז: מהדורה חדשה לשם ולתפארת

September 30, 2014

A great new edition of selichos according to Minhag Ashkenaz, has just been released in Eretz Yisroel.

In addition to being arranged according to that venerable tradition, with pleasing to the eye font and layout, it also features translations of difficult words into easy Hebrew, as well as more extensive commentary notes to the prayer text on the bottom of the page, among other features. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the mechaber, Rav Shimon Schuster of Kiryas Sefer, for all the work he put in to make it available to the public.

This should be of significant interest to those who follow מנהג אשכנז, as well as those who are interested in tefilloh and selichos in general. Those who say selichos arranged according to other orders, such as מנהג ליטא, or מנהג פולין, will also find it of interest, as while there are some differences in the selichos selections and order between them and that in this publication, there is also significant overlap and sharing as well. Additionally, seeing other, variant minhogim is usually illuminating, helping one to better understand, and contextualize one’s own tradition, as well.

More information on this fine new work (over five hundred pages!), and a link to download it (free of charge!), here.

Let us hope, as the mechaber writes, that this new work will help enhance our כוונה during selichos recitation, and make the tefillos more accepted on high.

בברכת חתימה טובה

Chacham Ovadia Yosef זצ”ל Never Went To Meron On Lag Baomer, And Was Pained By The Mass Pilgrimage There – (מפי בנו, הרב דוד יוסף שליט”א)

May 19, 2014

It is not just staunch Ashkenazim, proud of their great heritage, that refrain from going to Meron on Lag Baomer, and oppose participation in the activities there. Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, who never went there in his life (at any time of the year), did not stand alone in never taking part in the event. Okay, you might think, I understand, Rav Elyashiv had talmidim…but others, from other chugim, different backgrounds, with the same practice?

Yes! And where you may not have thought.

Chacham Ovadia Yosef, the recently niftar Sepharadic Torah giant, also never went to Meron on Lag Baomer, not even once, in his ninety three plus year life!

That was one of the things recently revealed by his son, לבחל”ח, Rav David Yosef, in a strong address about problematic aspects of Lag Baomer festivities.

In the recording attached to the linked article (worth checking out), Rav Yosef states, in strong and colorful language, among other things, that 1) his father, Chacham Ovadia, even in his youth, when he studied at Yeshiva Porat Yosef, on an occasion when the Yeshiva was in dire straits and a trip to kivrei tzadikim in the north of Eretz Yisroel was arranged for the benefit of the Yeshiva, declined to participate in it, insisting instead on staying where he was and learning Torah, 2) Rav David Yosef himself refused entreaties to go to Meron on Lag Baomer, even via special, exclusive  helicopter transit, and, as his father, has never been there on that day, 3) he went through the chumash hundreds of times and has never seen the ‘מצות עשה’ to make ‘aliyah liregel’ to Meron then, 4) שומר נפשו, someone who guards his soul, should be careful about such things, 5) אין לך ביטול תורה גדול מזה.

We see here a great example of the common practice and outlook of paramount gedolim, at the pinnacle of Torah leadership in our time. Both Sepharadic and Ashkenazic recognized the problematic aspects of the Meron pilgrimage and stayed away.

ומהם ילמדו וכן יעשו, אכי”ר

The Spreading Fires Of Lag Baomer: Tempting Quick & Easy ‘Spirituality’ vs. Enduring Ruchnius

May 16, 2014

In the past we have discussed at length (5771, 5772, 5773A, 5773B, and 5773C) how Lag Baomer is marked in minhag Ashkenaz, and contrasted it with other, more recent customs, that have become popular among other groups. Postings on that topic have been among the most visited of any in the history of this site, indicating that there is a great thirst and need for authentic information on the inyan. Readers are directed to those previous posts if they wish to review them. However, there is still a need for additional accurate information and Torah perspective on the inyan, especially when people are being bombarded with information not in accordance with our mesorah, which can seem tantalizing and tempting. So it is time to revisit the inyan again, as it is about to become ענינא דיומא once more.

The Prescience of the Chasam Sofer

A main exhibit of the stance of Minhag Ashkenaz on Lag Baomer, is, of course, the words of the Chasam Sofer about it, as we have discussed and linked to in the past.

Some may wonder, about the Chasam Sofer’s position. After all, we see some groups who claim to venerate and follow him, which do not follow what he wrote on this topic.

However, observant and honest people can see the prescience, the greatness of the Chasam Sofer, how he was רואה את הנולד, how he anticipated with his greatness, חכם עדיף מנביא ( a wise man is greater than a prophet), the problems that the later observances added on to the day, such as the mass Lag Baomer Meron pilgrimage, could lead to.

One of the things the Chasam Sofer expressed concern about with regard to Lag Baomer, was the exaltation of Meron over ירושלים עיר הקודש. There is only one Yerusholayim, which has such a special status in our faith, and that special status needs to be guarded.

However, in some writings today promoting the Lag Baomer Meron pilgrimage, we see language that might have made the Chasam Sofer shudder. For example, in a contemporary sefer called טיב מירון, which came out just a few years ago,  from a prominent Chasidic Kabbalist in Eretz Yisroel, ר’ גמליאל הכהן רבינוביץ, it is stated (p.180-181) that going up to Meron is like עליה לרגל to the בית המקדש! Astounding!

How great was the foresight of מרן החתם סופר זצ”ל!

Be wary of spreading fires

Another aspect of the evolving Lag Baomer situation in recent years is the spreading of the bonfire custom.

A number of Chasidic groups, as well as some others, who didn’t do it in the past (does anyone have any evidence of such large bonfires in prewar Europe for example?), have recently adopted it (though others remain faithful to their previous customs and refrain from it). For example, Satmar Chasidim  in Kiryas Joel, in just the last few years, has started a new practice to make a giant bonfire on Lag Baomer eve (Satmar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, however, does not, maintaining that they do not deviate from the practice of the previous Rebbe, R. Yoel Teitelbaum, who did not do so). Belzer Chasidim as well, have adopted it, in recent years, both in Eretz Yisroel and in the diaspora. Gerrer Chasidim, although the Rebbe does not do it, are allowing it elsewhere (beyond the Rebbe’s court). Similar for Bobover Chasidim. A prominent Chasidic leader once told me that there is no makom for such fires outside the land of Israel. He laughed at the importation of the custom to the diaspora. However, the fact that other, smaller Chasidic groups were doing it, which attracted some of their followers, evidently has recently influenced some of the larger Chasidic groups to adopt the practice, to one degree or another, in order not to seem to lag behind the others. Lubavitch as well, with their emissaries in various places, in addition to promoting the Lag Baomer parade custom initiated by their previous Rebbe, are adopting the bonfire custom, even though it was not traditionally Lubavitcher practice (this is made easier by the fact that since the last Rebbe passed away, there is a dimunition of central authority in that group).

Bonfires are quick, easy, and colorful, but they can be dangerous as well. Our ancestors didn’t build things like this, and we shouldn’t either.

Mixing customs from opposing traditions is inconsistent, and breeding grounds for confusion

Another interesting development is the development of new practices by some. For example, I recall reading about a Yeshiva, maybe it was in the Lakewood area, which had a bonfire, but, adding a Litvish-Yeshivish twist to their adoption of this Chasidic practice, auctioned off the lighting of the fire to bochurim who bid for it with pledges to learn various amounts of gemara. They took a practice used by some Yeshivas on Simchas Torah and attempted to combine it with a new custom they brought in from outside. And there are some Ashkenaz Shuls and Yeshivas who are trying to jump on a Chasidic bandwagon and have bonfires as well, even without such modifying touches. They think they can have it both ways, be poseach al shtei haseipim evidently. But one cannot do so. To mix customs from differing  traditions is problematic, fraught with danger, and introduces confusion into the minds of their followers. Let them not be surprised if some of their followers in the future, decide to jump ship. After all, if, as the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and their leaders are imitating outside customs, why should they not get the underlying message and join the groups being imitated entirely? Such mixed messages are confusing and dangerous.

Stay the course, the way of our holy ancestors, אבותינו הקדושים

The lesson that must be taught is that we stay faithful to our mesorah and do not sell it, neither for a pot of red lentils, nor for a blazing red bonfire. That we eschew the hype and sales pitches for questionable, quick, alleged yeshuos, and newfangled foreign practices, and stay the course. That we realize that quick and easy, and genuine growth in רוחניות don’t usually go together. That instead of looking for a quick ‘spiritual’ thrill, we keep a distance from faux spirituality, and go instead for genuine, slow, solid work and aliyah in avodas Hashem.

In the zechus of our staying the course, and resisting the temptations for quick, flashy, easy, excitement, in favor of our perhaps less glamorous, but time-tested minhogim, of אבותינו הקדושים, a great path to follow in general, year round, may we be zoche to קבלת התורה בשלימות באמת, and solid, genuine aliyah בעבודת השי”ת תמיד.

א גוטען שבת


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