Thursday, April 30, 2009

Achas L'Maala V'Sheva L'Matta - Revisited

Parshas Acharei Mos is coming up and it goes without saying that it holds a very dear place in my heart right there alongside the other 53 parshiot. This is because this parsha holds in it the source of the title of my magnum opus - One Above and Seven Below a.k.a. Achas L'Maala V'Sheva L'Matta.

In honor of this special occasion, I will present a golden oldie (or a summer rerun, depending on how you look at it), which is a repost of my August 20, 2008 post which explains the connection between the service on Yom Kippur and the main premise of One Above and Seven Below. Yes, this is one of the "Important Posts" that I have featured year-round on the sidebar of this blog in the section designated for important posts, but now that the parsha is upon us, it carries much more significance, as the pasuk says in Mishlei (15:23): ודבר בעתו מה טוב

So, here is the post in iPaper:

Yom Kippur Connection
Yom Kippur Connection binhersh Brief account about the story behind the title of One Above and Seven Below

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yom HaAtzmaut and Mehadrin Motorcycles

I believe in celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut.

No, I do not say Hallel. There is no mention in Shulchan Aruch to do so. Yes, I do say tachanun. There is no mention in Shulchan Aruch not to do so.

Nevertheless, it is a day off of work with full pay and that is certainly something worth celebrating.

Of course, when we do not need to go to work and all the stores, banks, and government offices are closed, and half of your kids (the female half) are home from school, there is more opportunity and incentive to ditch out to the beis midrash and learn and there is little excuse not to. And so, I was able to put in some extra Torah time in the early part of the day.

Still, even a secular holiday can be חצי לה' וחצי לכם and since we do not celebrate July 4th around here, I took up a very close friend's invitation to his mangal (barbecue) in Kochav HaShachar. (I also have a weakness for American kosher hot dogs).

These friends in Kochav HaShachar were actually referenced on page 68 of my book. The husband was my roommate and chavrusa when I was in Mir Yeshiva back in '81 and shared all the adventures that I wrote about. He is most certainly a chareidi by Kochav HaShachar standards (and mine) though perhaps not by Harry Maryles's. He told me that he "accidentally missed" the regular shacharis minyan and didn't have a chance to say Hallel. But he didn't say tachanun, either. There were 2 brissin in Kochav HaShachar this morning. (From 2 different families, a very rare phenomenon in a small Moshav).

Going out to Kochav HaShachar is a breathtaking venture in more ways than one. For one thing it is located on the wild side of the security fence where there have been known to be fireworks even when it is not Yom HaAtzmaut. In fact, along the way, by the turnoff to the Tapuach junction, there is a monument to a woman named Edith Mizrachi, HY"D, at the spot where she was murdered some years ago. This is a bit unnerving for us timid city mice who dwell in the "relative security" of Har Nof. Of course, Kochav HaShachar's most recent casualty was one of the 8 Mercaz Harav Kedoshim who was taken in Kiryat Moshe which is a whole lot closer to Har Nof (like walking distance) than it is to Kochav HaShachar.

But what is more breathtaking is the scenery of the drive. Kochav Hashachar is located smack in the middle of the north Judean Hills and, even if the Judean Hills are not the Alps, they are still very majestic. On one hand it is beautiful to look at a limitless expanse of unmarred and unpopulated natural landscape that seems to be standing guard over Yerushalayim just as Dovid HaMelech says (Tehillim 125:2):

ירושלים הרים סביב לה וה' סביב לעמו מעתה ועד עולם.

On the other hand, it's a bit disconcerting to come out of the congestion of Yerushalyim and see such an expanse of usable inhabitable land that is our nachala and to be forced to neglect it. It's not like the Yishmaelim need it or use it and, regardless, there is plenty of room for everybody.

One interesting thing about the trip is that I noticed that it seems the general population is becoming more G-d-fearing. I noticed a number of motorcycles along the way and - guess what??!! - they were all mehadrin!

That's right! Some of them were men only but even those that were mixed, every one of them kept the same protocol: the men were in the front and the women were in the back. Not only that, but all the women had their hair covered - even if nothing else was - and not with shaitels, mind you. They all had these snoods made out of very hard plastic and they even had lucite shields to cover their faces. For head covering, they put even the women in Saudi Arabia to shame.

What gevaldiga mesiras nefesh for tznius! I saw Kedoshim Tihiyu with every motorcycle. Now, if even the motorcycles can be mehadrin - why not the buses?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Scrooge and the Ghost of Lag B'Omer Past

Well, at least my previous post drew one solitary comment. But I must admit that much of it is over my head and I am having a bit of a time understanding this fellow. Perhaps it's tit-for-tat because I surmise from the comment that he had a bit of a time understanding me.

Perhaps my post was too long (no smirking out there). But, in a nutshell, these are the points I was trying to make:

  1. Any Halachos or hanhagos that are clearly expressed in Tanach, Shas, and Shulchan Aruch (literal text) represent the normative execution of Jewish living and cannot be deemed chumros.
  2. It is inherently dishonest to represent kulos - paricularly those that deviate from literal text - as normative execution to the point of characterizing literal text as chumros and intimating that upholding these "chumros" (i.e., precepts of literal text) are "beyond the norm".

If we are clear on this, let's have a look at part of this anonymous comment and try to figure it out:

Bah humbug! Any serious analysis has to look at halacha psuka in rishonim and achronim. For example, let's look at the conditions under which it's mutar to walk by a river where women are bathing. Or the discussions in rishonim of jousting (yes, on horses) as wedding entertainment. Or the discussion by even the aruch hashulchan about saying kriyas shma in front of women with uncovered hair.
Thanks, Ebenezer. To be honest, I am not up to date on these particular t'shuvos but I gather that what he is trying to point out is that some very prominent poskim have lenient rulings on these things. Regardless, it goes without saying that every authority holds that if any of these things can be readily avoided - they should be. And one who makes more efforts to do so is praised as tavo alav bracha. There is no posek that says that one can l'chatchila walk by a river that is populated by women in compromised positions, hire jousters for weddings, or say kriyas shma in front of women with uncovered hair. Thus, my post was merely saying that it is hard to consider somebody who goes out of his way to avoid these things, even in cases where they are difficult to avoid and there are valid lenient rulings, as being a machmir.

Further, I really don't know where any of these issues are different than Chalav Akum/Yisrael that was duly discussed (except that some of these are d'oraisa).

The following paragraph was even harder to understand:

But you don't want to go there anyway, or else you'd have to address the fact that it's blatantly against gemorah and shulchan aruch for a father not to teach his son a trade, and against the kesuba that we all sign for a husband not to support his wife. You come up with all the terutzim that the shulchan aruch would never consider, and then try to claim that the shulchan aruch is the yardstick!
Did you get that? Neither did I.

For one thing, I am at a loss to understand how a discussion about "chumros" and "kulos" turned into an issue of "for" and "against". I don't see how he addresses either of my points 1 or 2 above.

Let's go over this again:
If it is in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, it is to be upheld. If not, it can be called a chumra.

Now Ebenezer brings up the subject about a father not teaching his son a trade. I know this will probably catch him by surprise (it actually even puzzles me) but there is no Halacha in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch whatsoever that obligates a father to teach his son a trade. At least, I have yet to find it. It is a clear braitha in Kiddushin 29a and, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why the Rambam and mechaber omitted it, but it is not there. Despite this, it is indeed in the gemara so I wholeheartedly maintain that one who teaches his son a trade is not being machmir.

Next he mentions something about a kesuba.

The terminology of the kesuba is designed to reflect obligations of she'er, k'sus, and onah that are mandated in the Torah and are discussed in the gemara (Kesubos 47b-48a) and are codified in Rambam (Hilchos Ishus 12) and Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 69). Yet, the kesuba is a contract and, like any contract, it's function is not to overrule the wishes of both parties that they agree on, it's function is to set the standards that are mandated in case both parties do not mutually agree. In other words, the contract states that the husband is obligated to provide his wife with she'er (ana eflach v'ozin v'echalkel), k'sus (v'okir yasech), and onah (u'lme'al l'vasaichi). The gemara and Shulchan Aruch determine the extent of the obligations. Yet, the husband and wife are free to work out their own formulas as long as there is mutual consent.

Thus, Ramabam clearly writes in Hilchos Ishus 12:6:

התנה הבעל שלא יתחייב באחד מן הדברים שהוא חייב בהן או שהתנת האשה שלא יזכה הבעל באחד מן הדברים שהוא זוכה בהם התנאי קיים חוץ משלשה דברים שאין התנאי מועיל בהן וכל המתנה עליהן תנאו בטל ואלו הן עונתה ועיקר כתובתה וירושתה:

And again in 12:9:

ובשאר הדברים תנאו קיים כגון שהתנה עמה שאין לה שאר וכסות על מנת שלא יאכל פירות נכסיה וכל כיוצא בזה תנאו קיים:

This is also in Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 69:6.

What Mr. Scrooge has taught me in his comment is that he has a hard time with the idea of men committing themselves to long term Torah study while married to wives who voluntarily agree to rough it to maintain this goal. And he supports his position from the "text" of the Kesuba. He calls these things "against the kesuba" and, earlier, "against the gemara", such as the gemara in Kesubos.

Kesubos? Did he ever study masechet Kesubos? Daf Yomi, perhaps?

He must have had the flu at daf 62[b].

Do you know what period this is? This is what we call "Sefiras HaOmer". We do not make weddings or take haircuts during Sefiras HaOmer. Do you know why?

The gemara in Yevamos (62b) explains to us that it all has to do with one man: Rabbi Akiva. The gemara tells us that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students and they all died in one period. And the world was devastated! It was without Torah! The Torah would have been lost from us forever but he managed to rear 5 outstanding disciples: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi, Shimon (ben Yochai), and Rabbi Elazar and they restored the Torah.

Did you hear that? The Romans had effectively destroyed all centers and avenues of learning. Nobody except Rabbi Akiva knew the Torah inside and out. Initially we had 24,000 scholars still available to maintain the flame of Torah, but, suddenly, they all died. And the Torah would have been lost from us forever (and us with it) if not for the erudition, scholarship, perseverence, and mesiras nefesh of this one man. He started over again and brought it all back.

How did he get to be such a scholar, leader, and moser nefesh?

Let's look at the gemara in Kesubos 62b-63a:
Rabbi Akiva was the shepherd of Ben Kalba Savua. He noticed that his daughter was chaste and worthy and said to her, "If you will be betrothed to me, I will study Torah." ...He went to yeshiva for 12 years. He returned with 12,000 students and heard an old man tell his wife, "How long will you accept being a living widow?"...She said, "If he would listen to me, he will stay another 12 years."... He went back for another 12 years and returned with 24,000 students...he sais to his students, "What is mine and yours, is actually hers."
24 years of no she'er, k'sus, and onah to sit and study! 24 uninterrupted years! This was not the YU semicha program. It was the equivalent, if not the superior, of Moshe Rabbenu learning Torah for 40 days and 40 nights. Every minute was needed for him to become Rabbi Akiva. And if he wasn't Rabbi Akiva, we would all be lost!

But wait! Didn't Rabbi Akiva have a wife? Didn't he write a kesuba? Doesn't it say that he must provide for her? Isn't this against the kesuba that we all sign? And he had a well paying job, to boot!

How can he do such a thing? What a skunk! So what if the Jews just underwent a Holocaust and a churban and Torah is being forgotten from Klal Yisroel?! It says in the kesuba you gotta work, remember?? Okay, so all of klal Yisroel will be swallowed up, but at least we won't go with an empty stomach.

This is what my commenter, Ebenezer, seems to think.

Now, of course, no woman is required to forfeit her marital rights and marry somebody who will study and not provide for her. If you don't want to marry somebody who is busy maintaining the Torah and keeping the Jewish people open for business, then don't.

But, then again, nobody will say about you, "What's mine and yours is hers!"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Truth in Harrassment: A World of Kulos

This world is a world of sheker. Sheker is the most plentiful commodity around and thus it is the cheapest thing on the market. I will not cease to be amazed at how many people are in the business of selling sheker but I am more amazed at how many people are buying it.

Why do they buy it? Like most of our made-in-China goods, the price is low and it is made to look like it is worth something. People think they are getting their money's worth. Truth is also available, but you have to know where to find it and it is not cheap. Truth always carries a steep price.

I will not sell any sheker. My book is cover to cover truth (Okay, let's forget about the opening of the Preface). That is why nobody is buying it. Also, Amazon has not discounted the price below $20 in about a year. Like I said, truth carries a steep price.

My book is a consumer's guide. It is meant to help people spot the truth in a sea of sheker. And this is what I have found myself doing in my most recent blog posts. Most shakranim do not really lie - they just bend the truth. And they do it by mischaracterizing concepts and using exaggerated terminology. I struggle to help people see through the mischaracterizations, distortions, and exaggerations.

There is a serious issue when one mischaracterizes concepts and then uses them as ammunition to make the innocent look guilty and the guilty look innocent. Thus, to call Jewish people thugs who do not meet the definition of thugs and people victims who do not meet the definition of victims and to call an event an attack that does not meet the definition of an attack is blatant mischaracterization and has no claim to emes (or to emunah). This was the subject of 2 recent posts (HERE and HERE).

Likewise, in another recent post (HERE), I took issue with somebody who called Bituach Leumi child allowance payments "welfare". This writer wrote that the scale that gives a bit extra to larger families - quite a logical phenomenon - is "punishing" those who do not yet qualify for the increase. A typical distortion: not yet qualifying for a bonus equals punishment!

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

One of the most commonly used mischaracterizations is the term chumra. It is almost always used to connote an activity that goes beyond the letter of the law and is technically unnecessary. For if it meets the letter of the law, how can it be a chumra?

So, how do we determine what is a chumra or not? The answer is we check what it says in the "law". If the law mandates it, or even if it merely "advocates" it, then it is following "law" and not a chumra. Our law is the Shulchan Aruch. So clearly, anything that the Shulchan Aruch tells us we must do or refrain from doing is basic "law". Moreover, even things that the Shulchan Aruch says that we should do or not do, even when there are grounds to circumvent it, is definitely not beyond the letter of the law.

This law is what we call "Halacha". If one is Orthodox and a proponent of emes and emunah, he follows Halacha. An Orthodox Jew who has smicha gets his smicha from studying and taking tests in Shulchan Aruch. It is his job to follow Shulchan Aruch and to teach it to others. It is an undefensible travesty to call anything in Shulchan Aruch a chumra (unless the SA iteself calls it a chumra).

Actually, the opposite is true. Often, the Shulchan Aruch or qualified authorities tell us that we can come up short of the letter of the law when meeting the letter of the law entails difficdulties. What we call shaas hadchak, hefsed merubah, tirchah yeseira, and the like. These are what is known as kulos.

It is a sad day in Israel as well as a distortion of the truth (i.e., sheker) when not relying on kulos are termed as chumros!!

For the past few decades we have been blessed with an extraordinary measure of affluence and religious freedom coupled with substantial technological advances. These have enabled us to become more learned on a general scale, to be better acquainted with the laws of Shulchan Aruch, and in a better position to observe these laws the way that the Shulchan Aruch recommends. This is not called being machmir this is called being medakdek b'mitzvos.

This luxory is a gift from Heaven. It is also a nisayon - a test. Many of our parents and grandparents did not have this luxory of affluence, learnedness, technological conveniences, and communal support. And so, they had to rely on kulos. They were necessary but they were nevertheless kulos.

How do we know?

Because their parents did not rely on them.

Thus, I must take exception to a recent blog post that has the temerity to call itself Emes Ve-Emunah for distorting the truth and terming what is medakdek b'mitzvos as chumros. Here is what he writes:

We now live in the era of the Chumra. I have discussed this phenomenon in the
past. It is not my intention to discuss the reasons. But I do think it is
imortant to look at some of the fallout – particularly as it pertains to parents.

"The era of the Chumra". Is that so? And what, pray tell may be the chumros that he refers to? Let's skip a paragraph:

What about the grandchildren? Grandparents might have a TV in their home. Can
a grandchild be allowed to visit a grandparent lest he be exposed? What about a
newspaper? There are inappropriate advertisements contained even in a
respectable newspaper like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? Should
a parent risk exposure to such material by allowing a child to visit a
grandparent? What about the food? Should a child be exposed to a grandparent who
does not keep ChalavYisroel? What if he is finds a Hershey Bar in the cupboard
and asks if he can have it? Is it worth the chance?

Two issues of note are mentioned here. One is having a TV in the house. The other is Chalav Yisroel. The impression given by the poster is that observing (against and for, respectively) on these 2 issues are to be considered chumras! Of course, it does not say in Shulchan Aruch "Thou shalt not watch TV" but I would assume that the Torah's admonitions of קדושים תהיו and ונשמרתם מכל דבר רע are pretty fundamental. And Cholov Yisroel is mandated in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 115. Yes, we all know that Rav Moshe Feinstein has presented "solid grounds" (his words) to permit American milk, but he himself calls it a "kula". How can anybody with semicha in Yoreh Deah even insinuate that to adhere to Shulchan Aruch פשוטו כמשמעו is a chumra??!!

It is sad that we have come to this – and does not speak well of children
who have these questions. Many of these parents have sacrificed great amounts of
time and money into educating their children to be religious Jews. They have
been sent to some of the finest day schools and Yeshivos. The result is an Olam
HaChumros - a world of religious stringencies that parents never dreamed their
children would become a part of.

If one follows this progression to its logical end, the grandchildren will be even more Machmir. Either that or they will go off the track and become irreligious (The pendulum does swing back).

Olam HaChumros? Our parents and grandparents, through want and through need, created a world of kulos. The kulos were necessary for them and possibly even for us. But when a kula becomes Halacha p'suka, we are in trouble. Thus, I am not worthy to judge the Jews who in 1910 and 1917 had to implement a Hetter Mechira on Shmitta. Yet, as the name indicates, it is a kula - a hetter for what should, in normal circumstances, truly be assur. We know that it is not necessary today. But when somebody who wants to keep Hilchos Shmitta k'dikduko and does not want to rely on this controversial Hetter is called "a machmir" we have truly lost our Halachic compass.

It is a sad day in Israel when being medakdek b'mitzvos and not following kulos are called Chumras! And since the issue at hand is a the opportunity to be medakdek b'mitzvos, what is he talking about that grandchildren will be even more machmir? Shulchan Aruch hasn't gotten a bit more "machmir" in 450 years!!

To be sure, Kibud Av V'Em is a very serious and sensitive topic. The Torah knows in advance that there are going to be conflicts between Kibud Av V'Em and proper observance of mitzvos. This is why the Torah says (Vayikra 19:3):

אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ וְאֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ

Each man must revere his mother and his father; and he must observe my Shabbos.

On which Rashi says:

ואת שבתותי תשמרו. סמך שמירת שבת למורא אב לומר אע"פ שהזהרתיך על מורא אב אם יאמר לך חלל את השבת אל תשמע לו וכן בשאר כל המצות:

He must observe my Shabbos: It juxtaposes Shabbos observance to reverence of parents to tell us that even though I cautioned you on revering your parents, if they tell you to violate the shabbos do not obey them, and so with all mitzvos.

It is a very sensitive and complex task to understand when this limitation applies and how to apply it. Every case must be evaluated on its individual merit. In most cases, there are middle-of-the-road solutions where Kibud Av V'Em will not be readily compromised and dikdukei mitzvos can still be upheld. In some cases, one may be advised to accept a reasonable kula for the sake of Kibud Av V'Em. Halachic guidance is indispensible.

Nevertheless, glossing over the subject by declaring the dikduk in mitzvos that is available to us today as chumros is misleading and dishonest. It makes it look as if there are no grounds at all for challenging the applicability of Kibud Av V'Em.


But I do think a lot of children end up only tolerating their parents and looking down at their Judaism. That sometimes causes them to minimize contact. I’ve seen it happen. I know of one case where a Frum parent is not invited to any of his children’s homes for the Pesach Seder. How sad is that?! What kind of values have his children really learned? What happened to Kibud Av V’Em?

I realize that there might be other factors involved –

No. There must be other factors involved. We all know scores of people who are more medakdek b'mitzvos than their elders and they have no problems interacting with them. These extreme cases are definitely the exception rather than the rule and clearly bespeak mitigating circumstances. Accordingly, I think it is very irresponsible to build any points from case examples where so much is left to the imagination. I honestly don't know where the author gets off on blanket indictments where he admits he does not know the dynamics.

like a parent who constantly criticizes his children’s Chumra filled lifestyles.

There's that dirty word again. Of course he can't say "Halacha filled" lifestyles because that would nullify his entire point.

But honoring one’s parents means biting that bullet.

Sometimes yes and sometimes not (see VaYikra 19:3 and Rashi). How do you know whether this is Yes or Not? There have been buckets of ink spilled on the issues of Kibud Av V"Em and what to do when parents and grandparents are lax in Halacha or accept kulos.

Our parents created a world of kulos. Kulos that their parents never observed. They did it because they had to. And it can be said that without these kulos, so many of us would not be religious today. We needed them. But they were kulos, nonetheless. In today's generation, we do not need many of these kulos any more. We have outgrown them and we can go back to living the lives of our great-grandparents.

If only Rabbi Harry would allow us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chag Kasher V'Sameach

It is now shortly before candle-lighting on Erev Pesach and I wanted to steal a few minutes to wish all my readers a chag kasher v'sameach.

I am certain there are already numerous news reports about how Bichas haChama came off in many parts of the world especially here in Eretz Yisroel so you don't need me to report. It was a spectacular event at the Kosel. As I predicted, I didn't go but 4 of my children went and they all had a lot to say when they got back.

Here in Har Nof there was a temendous gathering at the "summit" of the mountain. My son, Yaakov, remarked that this is the first recital of Birchas HaChama in Har Nof. There was no Har Nof 28 years ago. Maybe they said it here 2800 years ago (Probably not because the first Bais HaMikdash was newly erected around then so why not say it there?) All in all it was a great kiddush hashem and I hope it will be a greart zchus for klal yisroel.

The interesting thing was that it was a clear blue sky with perfect visibility despite certain doomsday predictions of a rainstorm. Lest you think it was all a bunch of hot air, I am reporting that the skies have darkend and there is light rain falling in Jerusalem as I write. My assumption is that the weather people weren't wrong, the clouds were really meant to come but HKBH held them back for us for a bit so we can say the bracha me'omek halev.

In other words, I maintain that by "natural" conditions it should have been dark and overcast and the clear blue skies were a hidden miracle.

Gut yom tov to all.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Where Were You When the Lights Went On?

This post is directed to the 30-plus crowd.

Birkas Hachama is 2 days away and we are all planning on how to make this once-in-a-quarter-plus-century event the most meaningful and memorable it can be. Of course, this got me thinking: how many of us remember if and how we proclaimed the bracha 28 years ago; or even 56 years ago for whom it applies (not me, for sure). How memorable was it for us 28 years ago?

I know that Eretz Yisroel is teeming with observant Jews and there are, ken yirbu, more than ever, who would like to recite the bracha at the center of the world - the Kotel HaMaaravi. I expect that there will be so many people there that it won't pay to brag about it.

"Oh, I said Birkas HaChama at the Kosel."
"Big deal, same here."

28 years ago there were much fewer observant Jews in Eretz Yisroel in general. Aside from that, Birkas Hachama was recited on 4 Nissan, not 14 Nissan so most of those myriads of precious Jews who came to E"Y special for Pesach hadn't yet arrived. So I can assume that the number of Jews who were actually at the Kosel last cycle can't compare with the number who will be there this year.

So, now I can brag.
I was there.

The funny thing is that it wasn't my first choice of spots. I actually wrote a bit about my previous Birkas HaChama experience in the autobiography chapter that I wrote for my book. Only, it's not in the book because I only printed pieces of the autobiography and this part didn't make the final cut. Still, loyal readers of mine were able to see it since it was part of the Menachem Begin exerpt that I posted to the blog on Feb. 9. For those who haven't seen it, I will repost the part about Birkat HaChama now. The section in the narrative was discussing a number of unusual events that took place in the one year that I came to study in Eretz Yisrael before I married; among them was Birkas HaChama. This is what I wrote:

Birkat HaChama (occurs once every 28 years). This is a special blessing that is to be recited when the sun returns to the original position in the firmament that it occupied when it was first created on Wednesday the 4th of Nissan.* This is not much of an event as it entails reciting a blessing that is all of nine words. Yet, since it occurs so rarely, there is a tremendous amount of hype that is generated as the date approaches. As this was shortly after the Camp David peace accords, the border to Egypt was newly opened and I and a few others planned to make a quick tourist pilgrimage to the land of de-Nile so that we could see those big pointy things and experience a true exodus from Egypt by the upcoming Passover. The only problem was that we could only designate the first week of Nissan for the excursion and the nine-word Birkat HaChama was to be recited on Wednesday and who did not want to utter this rare blessing at the Western Wall? As things developed, our initial group of about seven began to dwindle. The first fellow dropped out because he was a Kohen and then another for some other unrelated cause. Then a few others backed out so as not to miss Birkat HaChama in Jerusalem. I was the lone holdout because I had my heart set on the trip and I rationalized that it would be unique if we could tell our grandchildren (and whoever is reading this book) that we recited the Birkat HaChama in Cairo. On this I was completely outvoted, and so, I reluctantly remained in Jerusalem and recited the blessing at the Kotel. As presumed, I never did get another opportunity to go to Egypt.

Like I said, I really wanted to make the event a memorable one. Of course, it was nice to be at the Kosel. I remember that there was one fellow, I believe from the Eidah Chareidis, who was MC-ing the event. There were large scattered clouds and the sun was initially playing hide and seek. We couldn't say the bracha at the scheduled time because of the clouds, so the MC fellow was saying some inspiring words while we were watching the clouds move. Then, it suddenly looked like the sun was coming out so the fellow quickly said, "Luh mehr machen shoin der brucha: Baruch atoh..." And I made the bracha with him as the sun dived back for cover and I must say that I felt somewhat cheated. So much for being memorable! A few minutes later it made a grand appearance and those who held off at the beginning were able to say it with gusto.

With this, I am a bit curious who else has some anecdote to tell related to the previous occurrence of Birkas HaChama. I would be happy to see stories submitted to my email at or in the comments section of this post.

As for this Wednesday's great event, I am certainly not going to Egypt. The question is whether I will try to go to the Kosel. I no longer am situated at Yeshivas Mir which is walking distance and it will be impossible to drive there. I was told that there are supposed to be some #2 buses going non-stop from Har Nof to the Kosel (with separated seating, I hope) but I have a bunch of little kids now (didn't have any then) and after the Bedikas Chametz marathon, I don't know if I will have the strength to get up that much earlier and brave the crowds.

It is a bit tedious saying Birkas Chama at the kosel because the wall itself blocks the sun, so the people there have to wait a bit until the sun is high enough in the sky to see it and l'chatchila, you need to wait until the entire sun is unblocked to say the bracha. This means just standing there and watching it slow-w-wly emerge and muttering to yourself, "Is it all the way out, yet?" From what I heard, this won't be before 7:15 and it depends on how close to the wall you are standing (the further the better!).

All this on erev yom tov!

Oh, and one other thing. They are predicting rain!

Not again!!

*The Birkas HaChama event came out on 4 of Nissan that year and I was led to believe that the date of 4 Nissan is the set date whenever it is said every 28 years. This certainly makes sense since we hold that the Creation took place in Nissan so that if the 4th day of Creation was the 4th day of Nissan that is certainly the Jewish date that the sun was created. I lived with this misconception until the discussion of the current cycle when, after almost 28 years, I first discovered that this is not the case!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Off the Beaten Track

Over at Emes VeEmunah, Harry is back to his preaching in favor of the egel hazahav. He titles his post The Eibishter Vet Helfen and he is trying to tell us that it is not really true. I wonder how he understands the pasuk (Tehillim 55:23): השלך על ה יהבך והוא יכלכלך לא-יתן לעולם מוט לצדיק

Here is how I understood Harry's post:
In order to have the materialistic (goyish) lives that we yearn for, we need to be as much like the goyim that we can allow ourselves. We need to know English (goyish, as Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel, ZT"L, called it) as our first language and we ought to go to goyish bastions of learning to acquire skills so that we can work together with the goyim and share the American dream.

You know what I think? (If you are reading this blog, then you already know what I think). I think that HKBH "had it up to here" with our living with the goyish materialistic mentality and pulled the plug on the whole business. We strayed too far from Vayikra 26:3. I will not elaborate further. My position on parnassah has been clearly articulated in chapter 2 of my book.

What I do want to add is an old favorite of mine that was brought to mind from Harry's post:

One Sunday morning a Jew walks into shul and sees a tattered and despondent looking beggar at the door. A compassionate fellow, this Jew presses a twenty dollar bill in his hand and says: Gut zol Helfen!

The very next Sunday as he goes again to shul he sees the same beggar standing at the door looking much cleaner, a bit better attired and in a cheerful disposition. As he passes him, the beggar presses $600 into his hand and says to him:

"Gut zol Helfen was a longshot, but he came through in the 7th and paid out 60 to 1."

For us believing Jews, parnassah comes from Off the Beaten Track.