Archive for the ‘Minhag confusion’ Category

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

א גוטען חודש

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.

א גוטען שבת און א גוטען חודש

Memories of Seder Night With Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l – זכרונות מליל הסדר עם רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל

April 21, 2016

In an engaging and entertaining presentation last year, R. Yosef Chaim Schwab shlit”a, shared various tidbits from, להבחל”ח, his father Rav Shimon Schwab זצ”ל on Pesach seder night, with various other, related, interesting pieces thrown in for good measure.

Following are some nuggets from the talk (some of you may already be familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, as well as those who might enjoy a chazara, and additional details, we share it). Times in the recording are approximate.

There is a mitzvoh of והגדת לבנך (you should relate to your son about the Exodus) –  in America they changed it to והגדת לאביך (the child tells it to his father). The meaning of the Biblical הגדה is like a monologue, as opposed to a dialogue.

Why is there no ברכה of shehechiyanu recited on biur chametz? Answer given – it is not recited when something is destroyed.

Why is a kittel worn at the seder? (40:00)

Ma nishtana – why is the term rather not למה נשתנה instead, as typically used for questions?

Why is there no ma nishtana on other Yomim tovim, which have unique practices as well?

What Rav Schwab zt”l asked his son after he visited the zoo with his children (about zebra stripes) (18:30).

Why is there no ברכה of בא”י אמ”ה שעשה ניסים לאבותנו בימים ההם בזמן הזה on Pesach? That is what hagada is, as stated re why there is no הלל on Purim (one explanation given), because the megillah reading takes that role.

Why do some people dip four times during the seder, e.g. adding dipping the Koreich sandwich in charoses, as well as matza in salt, when in the מה נשתנה it says that we dip twice? Rav Schwab, and other respected authorities advocated strictly dipping two times only, so he felt should be done to be true to the הגדה and honest.

מעשה ברבי אליעזר, ורבי יהושע, ורבי אלעזר בן עזריה, ורבי עקיבא, ורבי  טרפון, וכו  – Why are these five in Bnei Brak singled out? There were many others doing so, having sedorim, were there not? These were descendants of groups that were not subjugated in mitzrayim, being e.g. Leviim, or in the case of Rabbi Akiva, a ben Gerim.

Meaning of the expression חוטפין את המצות – get to matzos/afikoman quickly – you can be מאריך later 22:35 app. The famous Rishon known as “The Mordechai” says that in olden days they ate first, and then said the הגדה, so the children would be around for the eating. Not to  be overly lengthy in saying the haggodoh before the meal(22:35.

Rav Schwab was opposed to the idea of (even) children (even) playfully “stealing” the afikoman (see here for more on that). That term should be avoided.

A vort from R. Shimon Schwab’s father about צפון (tzafun) (26:50).

Numerological  discussion re the numbers four, seven, and others.

The connection of modern human rights doctrine to יציאת מצרים.

R. Shimon Schwab’s father, החבר ר’ יהודה שוואב ז”ל, asked his five sons  (dubbed by some חמשה חומשי תורה) which one of four types of sons of the הגדה do you want to be? Four gave the same answer, but one son, the later ר’ מרדכי שוואב, differed. Hear why (44:55).

He (R. Shimon’s father) also said to them, I want you to know boys, I love you very much, but if you go against the Torah, I don’t want to know you (quite different from the “unconditional love” doctrine advocated by some educators today) (45:50).

חג כשר ושמח

From Medieval Ashkenaz Techinah Supplication to Iconic Segulah: The Chasidic Transformation of G-d of Abraham – השינוי החסידית של גאט פון אברהם: מתחינה אשכנזית מימי הביניים לסגולה מפורסמת

September 18, 2015

In many siddurim and bentchers nowadays, one encounters a supplication at the conclusion of Shabbos called גאט פון אברהם (God of Abraham) (GFA).  It is often accompanied by words stating that it is from the Chasidic leader Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev (RLY), and that it is a great segulah for success (such as with פרנסה), and should be recited three times by men, women, and children.

While on the surface it seems a simple matter, it actually is quite a bit more complicated, as a number of questions may arise if one thinks about it, such as 1) why is a Yiddish prayer in the standard Hebrew (לשון קודש) siddur?, 2) why is it specifically promoted as a potent segulah?, 3) why the emphasis and detailed instruction that men, women, and children recite it?

Medieval Ashkenaz Origin

Firstly, it should be mentioned that GFA is originally an old Ashkenaz תחינה (supplication) in the vernacular that goes back to hundreds of years before the time of RLY, who was in the early years of the Chasidic movement. See this interesting related discussion at the Musings of a Jewish Bookseller blog, which includes illustrations of the prayer in pre Hasidic printed works. A more clear rendering of an old Ashkenaz version can be seen in a recent siddur here.

However, as a vernacular (Judisch-Deutsch, or Yiddish) תחינה supplication, it is not as formal and set in stone, so to speak, as, for example, sections of the main body of the סידור התפלה. Therefore, there were numerous versions of the prayer extant in Europe in the past. The contemporary scholar and researcher ר’ יחיאל גולדהבר , in his fine work מנהגי הקהלות (v.1, p.267-8), has a discussion of it, in which he cites a work printed a little over a century ago in Warsaw with twenty two versions of it. In many places it was basically a women’s prayer seemingly.

To better understand this, we need some context. Centuries ago, the state of Jewish education for the masses was not at the high level it is at today for some, ב”ה . There were women (especially) that were not proficient in Hebrew. For them, a Yiddish-vernacular prayer was something they might better understand and relate to than one in Hebrew – לשון קודש. Men were typically better learned, so they were more connected to more standard Hebrew prayers, but even among them, due to various pressures, many were weak in Hebrew and Torah learning. So perhaps we could say that it was a supplication with a special connection and appeal to the less educated, who were more comfortable with the vernacular of Yiddish as opposed to Hebrew.

Chassidic Transformation of  Old Supplication

There are some additional discussions online of the topic, which shed much light on it. Firstly, is a page with information from a Rav Gershon Kitzis in לשון קודש, which is very helpful. Also helpful is a discussion at an online forum here. Both of them I credit for helping greatly in researching the topic, from which are drawn the understandings below.

The Yiddish composition of GFA gives it a folksy, informal, populist feel, which fit in well with the populist, anti-establishment, and anti-elitist aspects of the Chasidic movement, especially in its early years. RLY was one of the most popular Chasidic leaders, who spoke to G-d directly and in Yiddish, as seen in some of his other famous legacies, such as ‘א דין תורה מיט הקב”ה, דודאלע, וכו. Anyway, it seems that RLY  or someone else in early Hasidism, took the old GFA and transformed it, by adding aspects related to and stressed by the nascent, early Hasidic movement, such as אמונת חכמים, דבוק חברים טובים, ודביקות בהקב”ה. Though people nowadays may not realize it, those are themes very important, integral to, and stressed by the Chasidic movement, especially in its early days, when RLY lived, when it was under strong attack by its Rabbinic opponents. RLY suppposedly instructed that it should be recited 3x (something seen with some other recitations as well, especially with Chasidic or Kabbalistic connection), by not just women, but rather men, women, and children (‘everyone’). This could be seen as part of Chasidic outreach to the less educated masses, as well as an expression of Chasidic identification and solidarity. The term אמונת חכמים could be understood as referring to Chasidic leaders, while dveykus and dibbuk chaveirim are also well known major Chasidic themes.

Supplication to Segulah

Putting together the above pieces of the puzzle, the above background may solve the mystery of why specifically this prayer (the Chasidic version) was touted as a great segulah. Perhaps it was that basically switching over to (similar to Chasidim changing from נוסח אשכנז לנוסח ספרד perhaps), or saying the Chasidic version of the תחינה (rather than an Ashkenazic version, or not saying it at all) was a way of identifying with, expressing support for, and praying on behalf of the Chasidic movement, something very close to the heart of RLY. That is why he (or whoever it was) assured people that it would be a great segulah. On the other hand, non Chasidim who didn’t go along with that, were/are making a statement as well in terms of their allegiance religiously, as remaining faithful adherents of the great pre Chasidic Ashkenazic path.

As time passed, this background of the prayer became obscured and forgotten. Many Jews didn’t primarily speak Yiddish anymore, and some even translated it into other languages. But the appeal of a great segulah attached to the name of a famous personality still persisted to many.

The Ashkenazic, non-Chasidic versions also continue on as well. Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger שליט”א has a tune for an old version that he sings with it.

Conclusion 

I hope you found this exploration as fascinating as I did.

In the zechus of our following in the ways of our great ancestors, and the גדולי אשכנז זי”ע, may we be zoche that the G-d of our ancestors, אברהם, יצחק, ויעקב protect and bless us.

Thanks to my dear friends for their support.

חתימה טובה, א גוט געבענטשט יאהר

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)

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