Dec
8
2013

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Sep
28
2011

A New Fruit, A New Year, A New Blessing

When one takes a glance at all the Yomim Tovim we have throughout the year, they will notice something that is unique to Rosh Hashanah. While on all Yomim Tovim (apart from the last days of Pesach) we make a Shechiyanu during Kiddush, it is only on Rosh Hashanah when we have the custom requiring a new fruit or garment present at Kiddush.

To understand this we have to look at another unique and seemingly unrelated matter that only affects Rosh Hashanah. On all Yomim Tovim, we, in the diaspora observe two days of Yom Tov while in Israel they only observe one. Rosh Hashanah is an exception in that also in Israel they observe two days. (To sweeten the deal, they, the people in Israel will this Rosh Hashanah get a taste of what a three day Yom Tov feels like!)

Both of the aforementioned items are directly related and are a consequence of each other. Before our calendar system was set by Hillel, Rosh Chodesh would be determined based on visual observation of the new moon. The people in Israel being in close proximity to the high court would receive timely notifications regarding the correct date of Rosh Chodesh. This would allow them to celebrate Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot on the correct day of the month. In the diaspora, given the distance from Jerusalem, news would not travel so quickly, resulting in a need to observe each Yom Tov for two days. (This depended on the doubt whether Rosh Chodesh was the 30th or 31st day from the proceeding one).

Since Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first day of the month, even the people living in Israel were not able to be notified which day was the “first day” i.e. Rosh Hashanah. This resulted in a two-day Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah for all, including those living in Israel.

Currently, while our calendar was set with definitive days for Rosh Chodesh etc., we in the diaspora still maintain a two-day Yom Tov policy due to “Minhag Avotenu” i.e. we maintain the same practice our ancestors have, and in Israel they also maintain a two-day Rosh Hashanah.

Without getting into the various details involved, there is a discussion whether to consider the two days of Rosh Hashanah as two days being observed ‘out of doubt’ (similar to all Yomim Tovim), or is Rosh Hashanah unique and to consider it as ‘one long day’. One of the dilemmas arising from this dispute will be whether there is room for a Shechiyanu during Kiddush and lighting Yom Tov candles on the second evening of Rosh Hashanah.

Should you view Rosh Hashanah as two separate days being observed ‘out of doubt’ one would recite Shechiyanu on the second evening just as they would the second evening of Sukkot, Pesach & Shavuot. Should this be seen however as ’one long day’, you don’t make Shechiyanu twice on the same day!

While generally speaking it is ruled that they are in fact considered to be two separate days, we take note of the second opinion. In order to solve the problem we will have a new fruit (which would obligate us with a Shechiyanu regardless) on the table present during Kiddush. While reciting Shechiyanu during Kiddush we’ll bear the new fruit in mind. The same will apply for the women lighting Yom Tov candles. They should light the candles as close as possible (after their husbands return from Shul) to Kiddush, make the Shechiyanu over the candles having the new fruit or garment in mind, and not interrupt with speaking etc. until after they taste the new fruit.

One more noteworthy item as a result of the above discussion is at what point in the meal we eat the new fruit. Generally speaking when one makes Kiddush they need to immediately begin their ‘meal’ (wash for bread etc.) and not have an interruption (hefsek) between Kiddush and the meal. Thus on the first day of Rosh Hashanah the custom of eating the apple dipped in honey is only after we make the bracha on the Challah. The 2nd night of Rosh Hashanah however, being that there might not be a need for a Shechiyanu at all, we make sure to have a new fruit present during (candle lighting and Kiddush). Therefore one would need to eat the new fruit immediately following the Shechiyanu and not wait until after washing and making the Hamotzie on the Challah. One should also not interrupt with other matters between the Kiddush and eating of the new fruit.

Note, that for someone who does not have a new fruit etc. on Rosh Hashanah, they would nevertheless recite Shechiyanu. Likewise it is worth mentioning that there are various customs pertaining to the above discussion.

Sep
16
2011

Fluctuating Mincha times

Why does Mincha time on Fridays change from week to week? Can’t it always be set at 7:00PM during the summer months?
In order to properly understand why there is a need, even whilst making “early Shabbos” to have the time for Mincha change weekly we must introduce the concept of “halachic time”.

We are all aware that Shacharit is prayed in the morning, Mincha in the afternoon and Ma’ariv in the evening. However the question is what constitutes morning, afternoon and evening. While going to work, kids going and coming from school, appointments and shop closings might all be at the same set time on a daily basis, when it comes to davening this is not the case.

In Halacha morning, afternoon and evening is determined by noting the time of sunrise & sunset and then dividing the resulting time span by twelve. Each of these twelve parts is called a “Sha’a Zmanit”, or a proportionate hour, as it is not a set 60 minute hour, rather fluctuates on a daily basis by the span of time between sunrise and sunset.

Using Friday September 9, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario as an example, sunrise is at 6:04am & sunset at 7:40pm, thus when dividing this time in 12, each “sha’a zmanit” or proportionate hour will be 1:04:08 (one hour four minutes and eight seconds).

What difference does it make how long each hour of this halachic time is?
Halacha states for example that the Shema must be recited each morning no later than 3 (proportionate) hours into the day. Likewise Shacharit should be davened by 4 (proportionate) hours into the day.

With regards to the appropriate time for davening Mincha and Ma’ariv there is a dispute in the Mishna (Brachot 26a.) Tana Kama states that Mincha can be davened until evening. R’ Yehuda contends that Mincha can be davened until “plag hamincha” i.e. 1 ¼ halachic hour before sunset. The time for Maariv will thus begin immediately after the final time for Mincha.

This is a most rare case in which Halacha allows us to follow either one of the dissenting opinions. You can follow Tana Kama allowing you to daven Mincha until evening, or you can follow R’ Yehuda’s opinion and daven Maariv from Plag Hamincha onwards. While you may follow whichever opinion you wish, one must be consistent in the opinion they follow. There are some exceptions to this, specifically Bemokom Mitzva such as bringing in Shabbos earlier.

As the days get shorter, the time for “Plag hamincha” moves back earlier. Davening Maariv before sunset Friday evening connotes that one is following R’ Yehuda’s opinion that the time of Maariv begins at “Plag Haminhca” (1 ¼ proportionate hours before sunset). Thus, you will also need to follow his opinion by davening Mincha before Plag Hamincha (before 6:20pm for Sep. 9, 2011 in Toronto).

While for most of the summer 7:00pm is a ‘safe’ time for Mincha, as the summer comes near an end it is no longer so, necessitating making Mincha earlier to the point where the convenience of making “early” Shabbos is lost.

It is important to note that there are various opinions on how this time should be calculated i.e. do you begin calculation from sunrise or dawn etc.

Aug
28
2011

Parshat Re’eh – 27 Av, 5771

Rabbi Dov Schochet on Parashat Hashavua

The Seder Hadoros[i] relates how R’ Yehoshua Ben Levi one of the great Tanaaim requested Eliyahu Hanavi to join him on his journey and witness him in action. With some reluctance Eliyahu Hanavi consented on the condition that ‘no questions asked’. If R’ Yehoshua were to question him and/or his motives this trip would be canceled. As Eliyahu anticpated, R’ Yehoshua could not hold back from questioning what he saw. R’ Yehoshua had witnessed what appeared to be very bizarre behavior on the part of Eliyahu Hanavi. He was perplexed and bewildered. He was seeing action that went against logic and basic decency.

At one place a poor couple invited them in wholeheartedly tending to all their needs. All this couple had was a milking cow which provided them with some income. Yet, R’ Yehoshua overhears Eliyahu praying that this cow should die. In another town where people were not welcoming and hospitable, Eliyahu blessed them that they should all become ‘heads’ – important people. Yet in the city in which they were welcomed warmly, he wished them that only one of them should become a leader. There are numerous other examples listed as well.

R’ Yehoshua was perplexed, it appeared that Eliyahu was repaying kindness with unkindness, and those that should have been treated harshly were receiving blessings instead! Eliyahu Hanavi responded by explaining his actions (the price however was that R’ Yehoshua could no longer accompany him). In the first instance where Eliyahu prayed for the poor couple’s only cow to die, this was due to the fact that there was a heavenly decree for the woman to die. Eliyahu managed to avert this decree by ‘switching’ the fate of the woman with that of the cow. Next he continued, the city which did not welcome them were ‘blessed’ they should all become ‘heads’-leaders. We all are very aware of what happens when there are too many people who feel they should be the leaders. It’s a recipe for disaster and failure. Finally the city which was hospitable was blessed with only having one leader, an assurance for success and prosperity!

To sum up, what on the outset appeared as a curse, as something negative and detrimental was in fact a disguise for blessing and good fortune.

While the Torah is notifying us that there is a choice one could make between two different options, one leading to benediction the other to desecration, I would suggest that the Torah is also instructing us how to look and observe things around us. The pasuk coaches us by indicating that everything around us can be viewed as a blessing or the opposite. We have the ability to view things in a positive and optimistic manner, recognizing quality and character or to look at something and observe what it lacks, its faults and errors.

Further, the parsha notes some vital ingredients in ones happiness meter. Firstly the Torah[ii] describes the animals that are kosher to eat. It describes[iii] the process of slaughtering (shechting) animals and having a good enjoyable piece of prime rib. Next the Torah describes the way one should celebrate joyfully the various holydays that we have. The Torah states (more than once[iv]) how one should rejoice; “you, your son, your daughter, your servant & maid…” etc.

This covers some of the most important elements in one’s life. Food, what could we do without it! Food, nourishment, sustenance, parnassa. More importantly the Torah notes the importance of celebration, rejoicing and experience of the family unit. The festivals & holidays are not the same when not celebrated with family.

How often does it happen, that we learn to appreciate something or somebody after they are no longer here with us. Suddenly after the passing of a loved one, we reminisce about the joyous moments shared together. We ponder the person’s qualities and fine characters, their talents and skills. We might even regret not capitalizing on opportunities to spend more quality time together. We wish that if there was a way to turn the wheel we could do things right this time.

And what happens during this person’s lifetime? It is possible that we miss opportunity after opportunity. Quality time that should be shared together is wasted on other things. We immerse ourselves in our busy and hectic lives and neglect the treasured components contains. We might even argue, fight and quarrel with them. We might have bouts of ‘no speaking’ terms. We might feel cold and removed at a happy occasion shared together.

We have blessing in our hands. We have all reason to be happy and content. Of course everyone has something deemed negative. I pray that no one should be put through a test to try to view something horrible and negative and look for positivity within it. At the same time, I’m certain we can relate to those blessings we have in our life which are not appreciated and taken advantage enough.

I recall once landing at JFK airport in New York after flying all night/day from Tel Aviv. I must have been at least some thirty six hours without a decent rest. Shlepping luggage and travelling with two (by then) cranky and whiny children one could imagine not being in the greatest of moods. When the Customs agent asked me how I was doing I gave some grudgingly half hearted response that lacked life and spirit. He exclaimed in return, “you have a beautiful wife and two gorgeous children, it must be absolutely amazing!” You got nothing to kvetch about.

A chance encounter in an airport crossing borders, yet a powerful lesson to be learned for life. The blessing, the joy, the happiness is all there in front of us, or perhaps under the surface. It may be easier to find the reasons to kvetch and whine about what we lack and miss. The bracha is right there for us to appreciate. Life is too short to moan, we must value and recognize the gifts we’re given.

As the pasuk said “see I place in front of you today, the blessing and the curse”, one could choose how to look at everything they have, they can then transform how they view themselves what they posses and their loved ones near them.

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[i] ערך ר’ יהושע בן לוי, אות ד’ ע’ 192

[ii] דברים יד, ג ואילך.

[iii] דברים יב, כ ואילך.

[iv] דברים יב, ז. יג.יח.יד, כו. טז, יא.יד. טו.

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