Archive for the ‘Minhag confusion’ Category

The Lion of Ashkenaz: The Arizal You Didn’t Know – הארי של אשכנז: האריז”ל שלא הכרת

July 17, 2018

Today, ה’ אב, is the yahrzeit of one of the great figures of Jewish history, the אר”י ז”ל, Rav Yitzchok Luria. Although almost four and a half centuries have passed since The Ari passed away as a relatively young man, only in his late thirties, he still is very much alive in terms of his influence on the Jewish world.

To a great extent, as Rav Hamburger שליט”א writes in the recently released fifth volume of שרשי מנהג אשכנז, the Arizal was a riddle, a mystery, during his lifetime, as well as after his passing, to the present day.

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to get a better understanding of this major figure in Jewish history from what is available to us, כפי שידינו מגעת, and to, בעזרת השי”ת, dispel some of the confusion about him that is quite prevalent among many today.

To that end, a significant section (p. 246-320) in the new sefer, entitled האריז”ל, שורשיו באשכנז ושאלת התפילין, (see p. 20-21 here) is devoted to in depth exploration and analysis of the Arizal from an Ashkenazic perspective.

Contrary to the conception many people seem to have, thinking of the Arizal as a Sepharadic Kabbalist or as Chasidic, Arizal was an Ashkenazic Jew. Let us explore a bit his Ashkenazic identity, practices, and attitude.

Identity

  1. He is referred to over and over again, by his contemporaries, as the אשכנזי רבי יצחק. It was not just a name, an inherited surname (his family name was Luria) from previous generations, as we are familiar with today. Rather it was a description of the man. Although his Ashkenazic father passed away when he was just eight years old, his mother was from a different background, he didn’t live in the main areas of settlement of אשכנז, and lived among many ספרדים, he still retained this strong אשכנזי identity. The moniker אר”י, by which he is known, stands for אשכנזי רבי יצחק.

Practice

2. He davened in an Ashkenazic Shul in Tzefas at key times of the Jewish year, on ימים טובים such as the ימים נוראים and רגלים, as well as at other times, and darshened there as well (while he davened in a Sepharadic shul at other times, e.g. on regular weekdays, as he desired to recite the additional mizmorim, bakashos, and vidui recited there). Source: שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ה citing קסת יהונתן, דף ה עמוד א (right column, ד”ה גם). Rav Chaim Vital, his talmid, mentions a number of times the מחזור אשכנז that the Arizal used on ימים נוראים.

Attitude

Arizal and Mesoras Ashkenaz: Opponent or Proponent?

3.  Contrary to what many people might think, The Arizal did not renounce or repudiate his Ashkenazic roots, and did not tell his fellow אשכנזים to change their נוסח or מנהגים. On the contrary, he encouraged them to stick with their ancestral minhogim. Here are some words about this from הרב הגדול ר’ יוסף פיאמיטא מאנקונא ז”ל in the ספר פחד יצחק (top of page)

שמעולם האר”י הקדוש לא שלח יד במנהגי הקהלות….והיה מניח לישראל במנהג אבותיהם והיה מזהירם שלא לשנות מנהגם כי היה אומר על כל מנהג יש מלאך ממונה וחלון ברקיע לקבל אותן התפילות וכ”כ בכוונות האר”י 

Free partial translation: The Holy Ari  never touched the customs of the congregations…he would have them continue with the customs of their fathers and warn not to change them….

It is quite possible, or even likely perhaps, based on the above and other material brought in the new sefer, that he davened נוסח אשכנז for the main parts of his davening, and maybe even wore tefillin on Chol Hamoed.

In the zechus of following the מנהגים הקדושים of our ancestors, may we be זוכה to נחמת ציון וירושלים בב”א.

Note: We already wrote a bit about the Arizal in this vein two years ago, but now that a great amount of new information on the topic has come out via the new volume of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, it was felt appropriate and worthwhile to revisit and expand upon it. The above is just a limited taste of the great amount of material on this and other related topics in the new sefer. Those interested to learn more are directed there.

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Dancing Around A Bonfire & Concern Of Foreign Practices: Rav Wosner’s Responsum – רקידה סביב מדורה וחשש דרכי אמורי: תשובת רב וואזנער ז”ל –

May 2, 2018

How do we view dancing around a bonfire through Torah eyes? Are there any issues regarding the practice? Well, believe it or not, there a teshuvah (responsum) from a leading halachic decisor on the issue.

Toras Aba just put up an interesting post discussing a halachic concern regarding dancing around a bonfire, due to similarity with ancient practice of idolators. It is based on a teshuvah (responsum) of one of the leading poskim of our era, Rav Shmuel Wosner z”l, stemming from a תוספתא that states המרקד לשלהבת הרי זה מדרכי אמורי.

Here is the full teshuvah of Rav Wosner (שו”ת שבט הלוי, חלק ז, יורה דעה סימן קלו).

Rav Wosner concludes that there is definitely a מקום (basis) to be מחמיר (stringent) and refrain from doing so. Toras Aba feels that is relevant to the Lag Baomer situation. A matter worthy of serious consideration.

That is in addition to many other reasons for people not to make bonfires, which have been touched on here in the past, e.g. safety, חשש גזל עצים, damaging air quality, refraining from new practices not practiced by our holy ancestors, etc.

May we merit a safe Lag Baomer, בין ברוחניות, בין בגשמיות, both spiritually and physically.

Legendary Chassidic Rebbe Admits: The Noda BiYehudah Was Correct In His Opposition to Lisheim Yichud – אדמו”ר הדברי חיים מצאנז מודה: הנודע ביהודה צדק בהתנגדותו לאמירת לשם יחוד

April 10, 2018

We are now in the period of sefira, when ספירת העומר is recited nightly. Before the actual counting of sefira some recite לשם יחוד קוב”ה וכו, which many others deliberately omit, which sort of puts Lisheim Yichud in the spotlight in Shul.

Additionally, today, כ”ה ניסן, is the yahrzeit of the legendary דברי חיים, the Sanzer Rebbe, progenitor of many Chassidic Rebbes, dynasties and individuals.

So it is a good time to discuss the unique stance in the Chasidic world that the Divrei Chaim held, in terms of lisheim yichud (as well as other matters).

As is well known, the question of whether to say lisheim yichud before a mitzvoh is an old machlokes, with various גדולי אשכנז, most prominently the towering Rav of Prague, R. Yechezkel Landau, known as the נודע ביהודה, opposing the practice (שו”ת נודע ביהודה מהדו”ק יו”ד סימן צ”ג as well as מהדו”ת או”ח סימן ק”ז), and, מאידך גיסא, Chasidim supporting and saying it.

However, what is less well known, is that the Divrei Chaim, despite being a great Chasidic leader, actually said that the Noda BiYehuda was correct in the matter (as stated in שו”ת דברי יציב או”ח סימן ס”ה, in the last sentence on the linked page, as per commenter below), and, based on that, his followers do not say lisheim yichud before sefira (although they do say הנני מכון או הנני מוכן ומזומן וכו). That is the minhag to this day in Sanzer Chasidic circles, such as the large Chasidic dynasties of Sanz, Bobov, Klausenberg, etc.

Interestingly, we even have a report of a specific verbal formulation the Divrei Chaim used to express this iconoclastic (among Chasidim) opinion of his, supporting the Noda BiYehuda. The Klausenberger Rebbe, R. Y.Y. Halberstam, the דברי יציב, reported that he heard that from his father, that the Divrei Chaim remarked in Yiddish ‘Reb Chatzkele iz gerecht geven’ (R. Yechezkel Landau was correct – in his stance against lisheim yichud recitation). That was related (43:10-) in a shiur some months ago given by Rav Asher Weiss, a prominent Rav, who is the poseik of Shaarei Zedek hospital in Eretz Yisroel.

May we be zoche to be מודה על האמת if we err, and reach the proper conclusions in תורה ויראת שמים.

Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz Volume Five Is Here! שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ה’ בענין תפילין בחול המועד הגיע

March 28, 2018

ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מלך העולם שהחינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה

After a long hiatus, ב”ה we have just merited the release of a new chelek of שרשי מנהג אשכנז, volume five in the series. The last previous new volume to be published appeared over ten years ago. Since then Rav Hamburger shlit”a and Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz were occupied with different projects which gave us other valuable seforim, but the continuation of the publication of the perhaps best known work of the machon, שרשי מנהג אשכנז, was delayed, for various reasons.

Therefore it is now with great שמחה (joy) that the new volume, which is devoted to the topic of wearing tefillin on chol hamoed, is warmly welcomed.

To give you a better idea of what the sefer is about, I will share an edited free translation of some words from the Hebrew description at the MMA page for it, along with some words of my own.

An ancient difference of opinion, perhaps the most sharp, pointed, and extended in the history of כלל ישראל, revolves around the issue of whether it is obligatory to don tefillin on chol hamoed, if it is at least a permitted act, or whether  it is a great aveira to do so. Various sages and wise men have already commented about the greatness of the vastness and intensity of this מחלוקת.

This new work lays out before us, in an unprecedented manner, the various Torah perspectives on the issue, from the earliest sources available to contemporary Torah literature, in halacha, minhag, as well as the mystical/hidden side of our heritage, with a historical perspective rare in its scope with regard to differences of opinion and developing processes and trends alongside the saga, in various countries and time periods. In this work come to life many lands and various movements, with their great wise men and leaders.

This special work, which has already merited enthusiastic responses, and is adorned with haskamos (approbations) from leading rabbonim, is a must for the discerning reader.

To see more about it, including the full table of contents and many sample pages, click here.

בברכת חג כשר ושמח

P.S. Other worthwhile Pesach related past posts can be (re)viewed via links on your right, such as this one explaining the minhag Ashkenaz not to say Hallel in Shul on seder night.

 

Torah Blessings of Ashkenaz Explicated: Profundity, Brevity, & Simplicity – להבין ולהשכיל בברכות התורה נוסח אשכנז ובמסורת יהדות אשכנז בכלל

September 19, 2017

In ברכת התורה that individuals recite in the morning, there are a number of small variations in נוסחאות, particularly in the section beginning with the words והערב נא.

Two main differences in text between (historic, classic) נוסח אשכנז and נוסח ספרד are, with the latter having extra words in various spots (typically), as follows.

A) After praying that the words of Torah should be sweet in our mouths, we continue on to ask that our children, וצאצאינו, be Jews who are learned and know G-d as well. In נוסח ספרד this is extended even further to וצאצאי צאצאינו, our children’s children. Why is it done so? The explanation given (brought in the famed סידור עבודת ישראל) is based on a teaching of Chazal in the gemara, that whoever is a talmid chochom, his son is a talmid chochom, and his grandson is one as well, the Torah does not depart from them forever. Therefore the request is extended to that next level, to (seemingly) get a lock-in guarantee of Torah forever in the family.

In classical נוסח אשכנז, however, צאצאי צאצאינו are not mentioned (note: as in some other cases, over time, in some more recent allegedly nusach Ashkenaz siddurim the additional words do appear, in parentheses, or as part of the regular text. But those texts are not the ones that are most reliable with regard to exactness and fidelity in text. The classical, old nusach can be seen, fully, or partially, in various prayer books, of the modern era and earlier years. It is also maintained in siddurim that follow the text of the גר”א מווילנא).

How do we understand the omission in classic nusach Ashkenaz?

Firstly, since the text of the brocho in the gemara doesn’t mention it, it is not a problem for us to omit it. One can always daven for grandchildren in shmoneh esreih or elsewhere. Our first, or main focus is our children, as it says in the posuk ושננתם לבניך. In a typical case, a father teaches his son Torah, while his child handles the grandson. The brocho is based on such a scenario.

We are focused here on our basic short term daily obligation, as opposed to our family legacy. If we take care of the short term, אי”ה the long term will follow and fall into place just fine.

Others say that וצאצאינו means/includes all descendants, not just sons. Although that is disputed by some.

Other approaches could be to cite the teaching of בני בנים הרי הם כבנים (grandsons are like sons), and to say that grandchildren are included in וצאצאי עמך בית ישראל.

Interestingly, the Lubavitcher nusach with regard to this is in accordance with the classic Ashkenaz one.

B) The other difference is that in נוסח ספרד the word לשמה is added just before ברוך אתה ה’ המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל. Why? Presumably due to importance of proper intent in תורה ומצות.

So why does classic נוסח אשכנז omit it then? On a basic level, we can say that it is not in the gemara. Some also cite the famous Chazal that לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפילו שלא לשמה, שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה. However, even if there is a place for שלא לשמה at times, it is not the highest, most desired, preferred level, and can lead to difficulties (ח”ו).

So how can we understand why לשמה is omitted then? לענ”ד a few explanations can be given.

  1. A plain, סתם, mention of learning is assumed to be one of spiritually healthy לשמה. It does not have to be mentioned, it is understood/assumed.
  2. As we just davened/requested that the words of Hashem’s Torah be sweetened in our mouths, in the following words we assume they were so rendered, thereby rendering subsequent Torah learning  לשמה (something sweet is sufficiently attractive without ulterior שלא לשמה motives). This could also be connected/related to the old debate as to what learning לשמה means. As famously expounded upon by Rav Chaim of Volozhin, לשמה means לשם תורה. So if the words Torah are sweet in someone’s mouth, he is presumably learning לשמה. On the other hand, others (for example Chassidim) maintain that לשמה means for דביקות. So for them having the Torah sweet in someone’s mouth doesn’t mean that לשמה would necessarily, ordinarily follow.
  3.  It says ונהיה אנחנו וכו’ כולנו יודעי שמך.  Now what does יודעי שמך (Knowers of Your Name) mean? לענ”ד it can/does signify an exalted spiritual level (e.g. אשגבהו כי ידע שמי, ויבטחו בך יודעי שמך, ןכן). If I recall correctly, R. Aryeh Kaplan understands it in a kabbalistic way, as being someone who is knowledgable in Divine name(s). If so, it might be presumed that someone who has attained such a high level is in the category of לומד לשמה.

Interestingly, it seems that the גירסא of the רוקח is just ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאינו יודעי שמך, without the words ולומדי תורתך following it. Which could be explained לענ”ד as above, that יודעי שמך is a high level of, כביכול, “knowing הקב”ה”, higher than just basic learning. So if someone is on the level of יודעי שמך already, he has already incorporated and passed beyond the basic level of לומדי תורתך, hence it does not need to be mentioned, and can even possibly be seen as out of order/sequence if it follows in the text. And even if it is mentioned, the word לשמה doesn’t need to be added.

In this case, as in other instances, classic נוסח אשכנז seems to generally shy away from adding words, preferring brevity over verbosity. As the expression goes, less is more.

In the זכות of adherence to the great מסורה of אשכנז, may we be zoche to its great תורה heritage.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה – א גוט געבענטשט יאהר

Lag Baomer: Who Is In The Driver’s Seat? ל”ג בעומר: מי הוא הנוהג? להסתכל ולציית לגדולי הדור –

May 12, 2017

In a Torah society, people are expected to look to גדולי ישראל, sages and elders, for direction.

If your Rav, Rosh Yeshiva, Poseik, Rebbe, is not going to Meron on Lag Baomer, and not dancing around a bonfire enthusiastically, that is making a statement. He doesn’t have to shout from the rooftops, or issue a formal letter not to do those things. Real followers understand. Actions speak louder than words.

A major problem with Lag Baomer nowadays, is that certain things some people do seem to be driven by the relatively unlettered masses, the המון עם,  literal youngsters (at times even under bar mitzvah age), PR, and travel agent advertising, or even sometimes low(er) level leaders, rather than by גדולי ומנהיגי הדור. That is a major problem.

In some cases leaders may go along with something begrudgingly, in an attempt to prevent greater damage, ר”ל (e.g. go along with an authorized bonfire to prevent unauthorized, more dangerous ones), as אהרן הכהן did in the episode of the עגל הזהב. Nevertheless, שומר נפשו ירחק מזה. People in the know realize that such situations are not ideal, that the leader’s full heart is not in it, and they recall how things ended in the Torah, ה’ ירחם.

In the zechus of truly following גדולי הדור באמת, may we be zoche to וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת.

א גוטען שבת

 

How to Make Your Kedushah More Heavenly, Angelic, and Powerful – איך לעשות הקדושה בעוה”ז יותר כמו הקדושה של המלאכים בשמי מרום ויותר חזקה

December 1, 2016

                            A look at kedushah in davening

Kedushah is one of the most important, and prominent, parts of davening. So much so, that a typical regular Shul goer will say it  three times each standard weekday morning with his minyan: once in ברכות קריאת שמע, once in חזרת הש”ץ, and once before aleinu (קדושה דסידרא).

It should be noted, however, that the three קדושה recitations are not totally identical  and interchangeable.

The first one, in the ברכת יוצר אור, appears in a context of a more lengthy and more detailed description of the heavenly sphere, and how the angels there praise הקב”ה.

The second one, in the shliach tzibbur’s חזרת הש”ץ, is an attempt by us humans in actual angelic imitation, sanctifying Hashem’s name in this world, as it is done in the heavens above (as per the introductory words to it). To that end, not only do people say it standing, in the manner of מלאכים above (as opposed to the other two, which are typically said seated), but they also customarily recite it with legs and feet together as well, imitating the posture of the angels, as well as rocking up and down on their toes at certain points for the same reason.

The third one, is done by reading the פסוקים (verses) as given in תנ”ך, accompanied by their Aramaic targum (translation),  surrounded by a collection of other verses from various places.

The special status of the kedushah of the שמונה עשרה historically

We have shown so far that the קדושה דעמידה (standing kedushah during the repetition of שמונה עשרה), is special, and different than the other two recitations, being an exercise in actual angelic imitation.

Since it is already treated in such a special manner, it would be quite appropriate to elevate and strengthen it even more, if possible, within the bounds of our tradition, by extending the angelic imitation even further. In fact, if we look into the matter thoroughly,  we will learn that in ancient days (and to this day in part or full in some communities), the קדושה דעמידה was recited differently than the most commonly practiced way of the present.

How exactly was it done, you may ask? The answer is, that as opposed to the congregation saying the introductory segment of נקדש את שמך בעולם, וכו, in addition to the חזן leading the prayers, that segment (as well as other segments not being actual pesukim recited up above) was reserved for, and recited solely by, the שליח ציבור, with the congregation listening to it in absolute silence, in a hallowed hush that came over the assemblage. That extended hallowed hush, a thunderous speaking silence, brought an additional aura of heavenly holiness to the proceedings, cultivating the proper mood for the actual kedushah to shortly follow. Those that have merited to experience this very special and historic manner of saying kedushoh know what I mean.

In ancient times, that was the way of saying this kedushoh. Both in אשכנז and ספרד. In recent centuries, however, many people and congregations departed from it (often in a mistaken belief that they were following an alternate way of the Arizal), to the point where today, it is a practice followed only by a minority. But this venerable, meaningful, and powerful מנהג ותיקין is still practiced, known, and cherished, by connoisseurs of tefillah and old minhogim, and stands waiting, with ancient, venerable dignity for restoration to the position of common practice that it had in the past (as we discussed previously, based on a psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l).

      Some reasons for conducting קדושה דעמידה the ancient way:

1) The angels don’t give such introductions before saying this kedushah on high. So why should we, when claiming to imitate their practice, do so? (ר’ דוד אבודרהם , renowned Sepharadic ראשון).

2) Practical benefits of increased focus it brings to קדושה, with more power, and ancient aura added. For those who have never experienced it, try it sometime. It grows on you too.

To focus in on this a bit more, and elaborate on how it works, I am adding some analysis, as it seems from here, לעניות דעתי, based on a typical נוסח אשכנז weekday קדושה.

a) The introduction, נקדש, וכו, is, by far, the longest segment of the kedushah, at a length of 18 words. The other parts that are not pesukim, namely לעומתם ברוך יאמרו, and ובדברי קדשך כתוב לאמר are an additional 7 words. That computes to a total of 25 words for what we can call the instructional and explanatory segments.

b) The essence of the kedushah, on the other hand, the actual פסוקים, total just 21 words.

Those who make the tzibbur say both parts a and b, are having them recite forty six words. On the other hand, those who limit them to the pesukim only, give them just twenty one words to say. So the second way then, reduces by more than 50% the required recitation, enabling a better focus on the essence that remains. It is known that requiring people to say more words, can lead to increased speed, and a dimunition of kavannah. As stated in the first siman of שלחן ערוך אורח חיים, quality trumps quantity, טוב מעט בכוונה מהרבות בלא כוונה.  

3) Say the קדושה of the מלאכים the way the ראשונים כמלאכים said it. Experience the kedushah of the רא”ש, בעל הטורים, מהר”ם מרוטנברג, מהרי”ל, ריטב”א, רשב”א, רבינו יונה, וכו’, וכו

                       For further study and contemplation

For those who wish to learn more about this, the matter is discussed at greater length in the great שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א (an updated and expanded version of the long out of print volume awaits sponsorship for publication at this time), as well as in the Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz English language synopsis volume.

כידוע למבינים, a slight bit of tweaking, of adjustment, can go a very long way, and bring a huge payoff in the form of greatly enhanced results. That goes for things like a car tune up, a Chanukah menorah, a cooking light, as well as with עבודה שבלב, and our קדושה recitation.

This beautiful minhog has been preserved through the centuries (in greater or lesser measure) by followers of מנהג אשכנז in German lands, as well as some others, for example people who follow מנהג הגר”א מווילנא. Hopefully those in this new seeking generation who are not yet familiar with it, will grant it the consideration and respect it so rightfully deserves.

 

יה”ר שבזכות החזרת עטרה ליושנה נזכה במהרה להחזרת השכינה בשלמות למקומה

א גוטען חודש

Arizal: Ashkenazim Should Follow The Way Of Ashkenaz – האריז”ל: אשכנזים ינהגו כמנהג אשכנז

August 9, 2016

Today, ה’ אב, is the 444th yohrzeit (יום השנה) of the renowned Arizal (מדת האר”י), one of the most influential figures in the Jewish world in recent centuries.

The Ari z”l was born to a Sepharadic mother and an Ashkenazic father. His father passed away when he was eight years old, however, and he grew up in a Sepharadic environment. To give some perspective timewise, he lived about two hundred years before the modern Chasidic movement of Eastern Europe, which views itself as connected to and influenced by him. One prominent way in which this relationship is seen, is with regard to נוסח התפלה, with almost all Chasidim having adopted a new nusach, referred to by some as nusach Sfard, and by others as nusach Ari.

Interestingly enough, however, the Arizal himself, hundreds of years ago, is recorded as having regularly stated that people should stick to their ancestral customs, and that Ashkenazim should stick to מנהג אשכנז.

That teaching of the אר”י is brought by the של”ה in sefer דרך חיים on the words איש על דגלו באותות לבית אבותם in במדבר ב:ב.

A good thing to know. The Arizal respected the way of Ashkenaz.

ובזכות הליכה בדרכי אבותינו ורבותינו הקדושים, יה”ר שנזכה לילך בפעמי אבותינו בארץ קדשנו, בדרך העולה בית א-ל, בנחמת ציון וירושלים בב”א

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Chasidic Leader Articulates Anti-Lag Baomer Bonfire Stance – אדמו”ר נגד מדורה בל”ג בעומר

May 25, 2016

Over twenty years ago, a leading Chasidic leader laid out a case against having a Lag Baomer bonfire in New York at his Yeshiva in a public address. It seems that some in his community wanted to make one, even though it wasn’t the tradition of the group, but he spoke out strongly against such an innovation.

Due to the time of the year we are in now, and the fact that many people are under the false impression that all Chasidim are for lighting bonfires on Lag Baomer, I feel it is timely to share from the address he gave (the address was in Yiddish. A partial recording is online, but is not ideal for sharing due to some problems with it. So I will share some excerpts from it, translated).

The Rebbe said that a Lag Baomer bonfire was not seen or heard, not by their forefathers or Rebbes. Lag Baomer was observed for hundreds of years in Europe (where his Chasidic group originated), by Chasidishe Yidden, who were דבוק בתורת ר’ שמעון בר יוחאי (strongly attached to the teachings of R. Shimon bar Yochai), who celebrated and felt a special elevation on the day they held as his yahrzeit, but it was not with a bonfire that these feelings were manifested.

He then continues on to say that in Eretz Yisroel there is a bonfire custom, which started in Meron, and due to the fact that it was difficult for some people to go there, they did it in other locations there as well.

Lag Baomer, the Rebbe continued, is an Eretz Yisroel Yom tov. The velt says that Lag Baomer was given to Eretz Yisroel Yidden as a compensation for not having Yom tov sheini shel galuyos – יום טוב שני of the diaspora.

The Rebbe states that if we don’t know what to do, we go to the בית מדרש and study what our tradition is. He also points out that there are no ‘halachos’ regarding Lag Baomer bonfires, e.g. how large should it be – one story, two stories, עד לב השמים, how long should it burn, etc., which could bring to a situation of unhealthy competition among some to make a larger fire, add fuel, and so on. There is a danger in innovating customs, as who knows where it could lead in the future, היום אומר לו עשה כך, ולמחר אומר לו עשה כך, וכו, what might happen in future years. He then, warning of innovating practices seemingly under the guise of piety, of a יצה”ר המתלבש בגארטעל, not in accordance with tradition, cited the words from Tehillim  שמרה נפשי כי חסיד אני

The point of sharing this is to let people know (although we have touched on it before, see previous posts) that the Lag Baomer bonfire, especially, but not exclusively in the diaspora, is a point of major contention even among Chasidim, not practiced by certain major Chasidic groups (e.g. Gur, Satmar Williamsburg, Bobov, Lubavitch, etc.), and is by no means a universal practice. They should not be fooled by all the publicity, photos, videos, etc., to think that is a universal custom. All the more so among non-Chasidim, particularly Ashkenazim. No one should think that ‘everyone is doing it’, so they should ‘go along with the crowd’, because that is not the case.

When one adds to the equation the dangers of the fires – see e.g. multiple strong warnings in Eretz Yisroel this year warning of the dangers of the fires, e.g. this strong general warning, this warning specifically re eye danger, these guidelines from מד”א, and this directed to women, based on sad experience of injuries, ר”ל, from the past, the choice for us is clear – stick to your ancestral minhog, מנהג אבות, and stay away from the bonfire custom. The מצוה דאורייתא involving fire of the spring has already passed, a bit over a month ago, on erev Pesach, when the chometz was burned. Lag Baomer is a not a Pesach sheini for fire.

With wishes of a spiritually and physically healthy and safe Lag Baomer…..

P.S. Also noteworthy this year, for those who didn’t see it yet, is the strong statement from the ראשון לציון (echoed by his brother as well) against a mass pilgrimage to Meron. He urges his Sephardic brethren to emulate ליטאים שיושבים ולומדים בל”ג בעומר rather than those others who journey to Meron then.

Spring Mesorah Challenges – מסורה בשבוע אחר פסח

May 5, 2016

We have just finished Pesach, a יום טוב in which our traditions are shared and passed on to children and descendants.

Right afterward, however, we are already confronted with some challenges which test if we have sufficiently internalized the importance of מסורה.

The very evening of מוצאי פסח, some people try to impress upon us their custom of greetings others then with the words “א גוטען זומער” (“a gutten zummer” – “a good summer”). But we know that summer does not start in the month of ניסן, not even in the end of the month. We know that חז”ל comment, referencing the words מוציא אסירים בכושרות – that Hashem took us out of מצרים in a nice month, without extreme weather (not summer or winter, for example), in a time that was conducive to journeying. We also know that חודש ניסן is called by the Torah חודש האביב, the month of spring. In פרשת נח we are told of six seasons of the year, two months for each. It is clear then that Nissan is not the summer. שמור את חודש האביב – watch the month of Nissan – don’t call it something it isn’t, such as summer.

Another example comes a short time later, as the first Shabbos after Pesach approaches. Some of the same circles then are promoting a custom of ‘schlissel challah’ (שליסעל חלה), a practice from outside of מסורת אשכנז that has been questioned on various grounds. While its proponents would like you to believe that “everyone is doing it”, actually, not only it is not part of the mesorah of great segments of כלל ישראל, such as יהדות אשכנז, אובערלאנד, ליטא, ספרד, תימן, וכו, it is not even universally practiced in their own Chasidic camp (for example, אוצר מנהגי חב”ד, p.253, reports that it is not minhag Lubavitch).

No one should be ‘stampeded’ into adopting such practices foreign to their mesorah, in the mistaken belief that ‘everyone is doing it’. Because it just ain’t so. “Everyone” is not doing it. A mythical “everyone” is not our פוסק anyway.

In שיר השירים, which we read on Pesach, we are given guidelines for how we should conduct ourselves. We are told צאי לך בעקבי הצאן – go in the footsteps of your holy ancestors. Our ancestors were not fools, ח”ו. If they did not follow these new practices, we should not either.

In the זכות of going in the ways of our holy מסורה, may we be זוכה to a strengthening and intensifying of our connection with the תורה הקדושה, as we are taught in Pirkei Avos that מסורת סייג לתורה.

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