Category Archives: Judaism

A Prayer for Integrity

Berachos Daf 28

מתני׳ רבי נחוניא בן הקנה היה מתפלל בכניסתו לבית המדרש וביציאתו תפלה קצרה. אמרו לו: מה מקום לתפלה זו? אמר להם: בכניסתי אני מתפלל שלא יארע דבר תקלה על ידי. וביציאתי אני נותן הודאה על חלקי

גמ׳ תנו רבנן: בכניסתו מהו אומר? ״יהי רצון מלפניך ה׳ אלהי שלא יארע דבר תקלה על ידי, ולא אכשל בדבר הלכה, וישמחו בי חברי, ולא אומר על טמא טהור, ולא על טהור טמא. ולא יכשלו חברי בדבר הלכה, ואשמח בהם״.

MISHNA: In addition to the halakhot relating to the fixed prayers, the Gemara relates: Rabbi Neḥunya ben Hakana would recite a brief prayer upon his entrance into the study hall and upon his exit. They said to him: The study hall is not a dangerous place that would warrant a prayer when entering and exiting, so what room is there for this prayer? He said to them: Upon my entrance, I pray that no mishap will transpire caused by me in the study hall. And upon my exit, I give thanks for my portion.

GEMARA: The Sages taught in a baraita the complete formula of Rabbi Neḥunya ben Hakana’s prayer: Upon his entrance, what does he say? May it be Your will, Lord my God, that no mishap in determining the halakha transpires caused by me, and that I not fail in any matter of halakha, and that my colleagues, who together with me engage in clarifying the halakha, will rejoice in me. He specified: And that I will neither declare pure that which is impure, nor declare impure that which is pure and that my colleagues will not fail in any matter of halakha, and that I will rejoice in them.

This beautiful Tefilla of Rebbe Nechunia Ben Hakana is explained beautifully and thoroughly in the introduction of the classic, Ana B’Koach, by Rav Chaim Cohen Zt’l, known as the Chalban. I would like to share a snippet from his words that I felt were so powerful.

The focus of this Tefilla appears, at first glance, to be about appreciating our peers and not reaching the wrong conclusions in Halacha. The Chalban explains that we are praying that our Middot should be refined to a point that they are not negatively impacting our intellect. We need to build a strong bridge between our heart and our brain, built on strong character. Many times, we can be a bit untruthful or upset and let that deficiency in our character impact our decisions. We can be in an argument and even when we realize that the other person is correct, we still argue our point, even though we know it is wrong. We just cannot concede. 

This tefilla, is a tefillah to build our character and integrity and be able to apply it on an intellectual scale. This will enable us to understand and give over the Torah correctly, with wholesomeness in character and spirit. 

We should all merit this Shleimut and be able to be genuinely happy for another and unbiased towards ourselves.

The Details of a Tradition

Berachos Daf 27

אמר רבי זירא אמר רבי אסי אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא אמר רב: בצד עמוד זה התפלל רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי של שבת בערב שבת

כי אתא עולא אמר: בצד תמרה הוה, ולא בצד עמוד הוה. ולא רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי הוה, אלא רבי אלעזר ברבי יוסי הוה, ולא של שבת בערב שבת, הוה אלא של מוצאי שבת בשבת הוה.

Rabbi Zeira said that Rabbi Asi said that Rabbi Elazar said that Rabbi Ḥanina said that Rav said: Alongside this specific pillar before me, Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, prayed the Shabbat prayer on the eve of Shabbat before nightfall.

But when Ulla came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, he related a different version of this story. He said that he had heard: This transpired beside a palm tree, not beside a pillar, and it was not Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, but it was Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yosei, and it was not the Shabbat prayer on Shabbat eve before nightfall, rather it was the prayer of the conclusion of Shabbat on Shabbat.

What is the difference, in this regard, between a pillar and a palm tree?

The Bnei Yissaschar in his sefer Magid Taluma writes, that the Tannaim were careful to note the place that a Torah thought was shared, as the association to that place is good for the memory. He continues, and quotes the Zohar, that when one mentions words of Torah a Tzaddik said, in the place it was originally said, the soul of the Tzadik comes to that place, as an impression was made by his words of Torah. Therefore, Ulla was careful to correct the Mesorah and specify the exact place of the Tefilla in question. 

We see from here the importance of Mesora and making sure each detail is correct. 

I am curious if there is a deeper approach to this, that the Gemara is coming to teach us. I will update this post as I further understand this. If you have any thoughts, I would love to see them in the comments below. 

The Three Components of Tefilla According to Rav Kook

Berachos Daf 26

איתמר, רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר: תפלות אבות תקנום…  אברהם תקן תפלת שחרית, שנאמר: ״וישכם אברהם בבקר אל המקום אשר עמד שם״, ואין ״עמידה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר: ״ויעמד פינחס ויפלל״.

Abraham instituted the morning prayer, as it is stated “And Abraham rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood” (Genesis 19:27), and standing means nothing other than prayer, as this language is used to describe Pinehas’s prayer after the plague, as it is stated: “And Pinehas stood up and prayed and the plague ended” (Psalms 106:30). 

יצחק תקן תפלת מנחה, שנאמר ״ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה לפנות ערב״, ואין ״שיחה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר ״תפלה לעני כי יעטף ולפני ה׳ ישפך שיחו״.

Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer, as it is stated: “And Isaac went out to converse [lasuaḥ] in the field toward evening” (Genesis 24:63), and conversation means nothing other than prayer, as it is stated: “A prayer of the afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint [siḥo] before the Lord” (Psalms 102:1).

יעקב תקן תפלת ערבית, שנאמר: ״ויפגע במקום וילן שם״, ואין ״פגיעה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר: ״ואתה אל תתפלל בעד העם הזה ואל תשא בעדם רנה ותפלה ואל תפגע בי״

Jacob instituted the evening prayer, as it is stated: “And he encountered [vayifga] the place and he slept there for the sun had set” (Genesis 28:11). The word encounter means nothing other than prayer, as it is stated when God spoke to Jeremiah: “And you, do not pray on behalf of this nation and do not raise on their behalf song and prayer, and do not encounter [tifga] Me for I do not hear you” (Jeremiah 7:16).

Berachos 26 – Sefaria

We see from the Gemara above that we learn the concept of Tefila from the Avos. It is interesting that although the conclusive proof is that the Avos indeed prayed to God, there are three different terms for their three different prayers. 

AvrahamAmidaShacharit
YitzchakSiachMincha
YaacovVaYifgaArvit

What are the different terminologies for?

Rav Kook explains that these 3 terminologies are reflective of 3 different components to our Tefilla. 

He explains that the key concept of prayer is the gathering together of all the spiritual elements within a person, that would otherwise be lost in our world of materialism. Prayer enroots these spiritual elements to create a strong connection to the Creator of the world. In the event that one is caught up in other things and is sinking in his Ruchnius, those deeply rooted spiritual elements will keep him afloat.  

As morning is when one is getting ready for a day of work and other activities, it is a crucial time to make sure your spiritual roots are intact ready for the day ahead. This is called Amida, to stand, as it is helping you to stand tall spiritually.. This is also reflective of Avraham, who as the founder of Monotheism, was able to withstand all the trials and tribulations that came his way. 

Sicha, this name for Tefilla shares its name with Sichim, the trees and flowers of the natural world. Sichim are called this as they sprout up and instill new emotional energies into a person. Mincha takes place towards evening, when a person is worn down from a long day and the soul can then thrive in its best habitat. Also, hiis natural spiritual energies kick in to help him thrive in his Avodas Hashem and add more and more to his “tree”. Rav Kook explains that this growth process is the root of Middas HaDin, which is what keeps nature going in its correct path. Yitzchak represents Middas HaDin, therefore it is appropriate that he should compose this Tefila about the natural aspect of our spiritual growth. 

There is also a higher element of Tefila, in which through that, a person can connect to Hashem in more advanced ways; perhaps even reaching the level of prophecy. This is referred to as Tefillat Leila.  This is also called Pegiya, as one is going off the chartered path of Nature, or Din and stumbling into new realms which are beyond the grasp of one’s simple intellect. This is reflective of Yaacov who had a vision with a ladder and angels going up and down after he found himself at Har HaMoriyah and is most appropriate for nighttime.

AvrahamAmidaShacharitWithstand all that comes before you
YitzchakSiachMinchaTake what you have and grow from it
YaacovVaYifgaArvitReach Higher

This may also explain the opinion that one is not obligated to say Arvit, as it is just a Reshus. Tefilla is to help foster a spiritual firewall to protect you from slipping into too much materialism. Per this explanation of Rav Kook, this is accomplished during Shacharit to plant the roots and in Mincha to sprout upwards and bear fruits. Arvit is a higher level, beyond our comprehension, of reaching beyond the treetops. For this, it is not a Chovah to reach so high, rather it is a Reshus.

The Names of Our Fathers

Day 24 – Daf 25

The Gemara mentions a tradition said over by Rav Acha Bar Abba Bar Acha – Rav Acha the son of Abba, the son of Acha. This is a bit unusual that the Gemara goes to tell us the Yichus of an Amora. 

Rav Elchanan Shoff in his Birchasa V’Shirasa brings a Midrash:

Rav Yosi said that the earliest generations, all lived at the time of their ancestors, therefore they named their children based on events that were happening at the time of their birth. 

However, our ancestors no longer live for many generations, therefore we name our children after them. Rav Shimon ben Gamliel said that the earlier generations before the Amoraim used Ruach HaKodesh and therefore named their children after events when they were born. However, since the times of the Amoraim, we can’t tap into that Ruach Hakodesh, therefore we name after our ancestors.

Bereishis Rabba 37

I find it interesting as when one is naming a baby, we are often told that we have a glimpse of Ruach Hakosdesh when choosing a name. This often helps us feel comfortable with the name we chose. According to this Midrash, this does not seem to be the case. Another point is that many times we name our children names we like or based on specific events surrounding the birth of a child. For example, we may name our child Bracha or Chaim if born during a tumultuous time. According to this Midrash, we are no longer meant to be naming our children based on the events surrounding the birth, so why are we doing this?

 May we all be remembered by the Torah of our grandchildren.

Kol Isha in the Yam Suf

Day 23 – Berachos 24

The Gemara is explaining what one can recite Shema in front of and gets into a tangent and starts discussing the laws of Tznius. The Gemara goes on to state that a person may not glare at even the finger of a woman, as it is considered “Ervah”. The Gemara continues to list other characteristics of “Ervah”, including a woman’s hair, leg, and voice.

While there is much halachic discussion centered around this, that has shaped the culture of Jewish communities for centuries. I came across an interesting connection to this week’s Parsha, Parashas Beshalach. 

The Torah tells us that after the Jews sang the Shira in the Yam Suf, Miriam took all the women and they sang their own Shira accompanied by drums and dancing. 

Why does the Torah mention that the women had drums, yet does not mention any musical instruments by the Shira of Moshe? Furthermore, the Torah tells us that Miriam sang the Shira “to them”, why does the Torah need to say again “to them”, we know from the pasuk earlier that Miriam was with all the women?

The Shl’a teaches us that as soon as the women started their celebrations, all the young guys came to watch the spectacle. The Uheler Rav in his classic, Yismach Moshe, explains that the women, upon noticing this, immediately took to their instruments in order to drown out their voices, so that the men will not hear them. Miriam had to sing the Shira at the top of her lungs in order for it to be heard over the music. The Torah tells us, although Miriam was singing uber loudly, it was only “to them”, it was only heard by the women. 

However, we understand these Halachos, may we always merit to continue to praise Hashem for his immeasurable goodness. 

The Hypocrite and His Tefillin

Day 22 – Berachos 23

The Gemara is discussing the laws of entering the bathroom with one’s Tefillin. In the midst of this discussion, the Gemara relates a tragic story:

וּמַעֲשֶׂה בְּתַלְמִיד אֶחָד שֶׁהִנִּיחַ תְּפִילָּיו בַּחוֹרִין הַסְּמוּכִים לִרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים, וּבָאת זוֹנָה אַחַת, וּנְטָלָתַן, וּבָאת לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ וְאָמְרָה: רָאוּ מַה נָּתַן לִי פְּלוֹנִי בִּשְׂכָרִי! כֵּיוָן שֶׁשָּׁמַע אוֹתוֹ תַּלְמִיד כָּךְ, עָלָה לְרֹאשׁ הַגָּג וְנָפַל וָמֵת. בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיְּהֵא אוֹחֲזָן בְּבִגְדוֹ וּבְיָדוֹ, וְנִכְנָס.

And an incident occurred involving a student who placed his phylacteries in the holes adjacent to the public domain, and a prostitute passed by and took the phylacteries. She came to the study hall and said: See what so-and-so gave me as my payment. When that student heard this, he ascended to the rooftop and fell and died. At that moment they instituted that one should hold them with his garment and in his hand and enter to avoid situations of that kind.

Rav Menachem Taksin in the Sefer Ateres Chachamim, brings down a similar story related in Shabbos (13) 

תני דבי אליהו מעשה בתלמיד אחד ששנה הרבה וקרא הרבה ושימש תלמידי חכמים הרבה ומת בחצי ימיו והיתה אשתו נוטלת תפיליו ומחזרתם בבתי כנסיות ובבתי מדרשות ואמרה להם כתיב בתורה כי הוא חייך ואורך ימיך בעלי ששנה הרבה וקרא הרבה  ושימש תלמידי חכמים הרבה מפני מה מת בחצי ימיו ולא היה אדם מחזירה דבר פעם אחת נתארחתי אצלה והיתה מסיחה כל אותו מאורע ואמרתי לה בתי בימי נדותך מה הוא אצלך אמרה לי חס ושלום אפילו באצבע קטנה לא נגע [בי] בימי לבוניך מהו אצלך אכל עמי ושתה עמי וישן עמי בקירוב בשר ולא עלתה דעתו על דבר אחר ואמרתי לה ברוך המקום שהרגו שלא נשא פנים לתורה שהרי אמרה תורה ואל אשה בנדת טומאתה לא תקרב

The Sage in the school of Eliyahu taught a baraita that deals with this halakha: There was an incident involving one student who studied much Mishna and read much Bible, and served Torah scholars extensively, studying Torah from them, and, nevertheless, died at half his days, half his life expectancy. His wife in her bitterness would take his phylacteries and go around with them to synagogues and study halls, and she said to the Sages: It is written in the Torah: “For it is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). If so, my husband who studied much Mishna, and read much Bible, and served Torah scholars extensively, why did he die at half his days? Where is the length of days promised him in the verse? No one would respond to her astonishment at all.

Eliyahu said: One time I was a guest in her house, and she was relating that entire event with regard to the death of her husband. And I said to her: My daughter, during the period of your menstruation, how did he act toward you? She said to me: Heaven forbid, he did not touch me even with his little finger. And I asked her: In the days of your white garments, after the menstrual flow ended, and you were just counting clean days, how did he act toward you then? She said to me: He ate with me, and drank with me, and slept with me with bodily contact and, however, it did not enter his mind about something else, i.e., conjugal relations. And I said to her: Blessed is the Omnipresent who killed him for this sin, as your husband did not show respect to the Torah. The Torah said: “And to a woman in the separation of her impurity you should not approach” (Leviticus 18:19), even mere affectionate contact is prohibited.

The Ateres Chachamim asks why did this woman go around with her husbands Tefillin? He then explains that in our Gemara, the student died while giving respect to the Tefillin, and it was a rather unusual form of death. Therefore, his wife walked around with those very same Tefillin to ask why her husband got punished for seemingly respecting his Tefillin.

Only Eliyahu HaNavi was able to answer her that it was not about the Tefillin, but about the prostitute. He explains that this is the same student as the story in our Gemara. Because he was not careful regarding Taharas HaMishpacha, he was punished with an unusual death by way of a prostitute.

We see from here how much one must be careful to maintain an equilibrium between how he practices and acts in public and how he does so in private.

I had a teacher who often used the term NFY – Do Not Fool Yourself. Hypocrisy is a serious issue and if we act one way in a public setting and not as pious when nobody’s looking, we are merely fooling ourselves. When an incident arises where the actions one does in private becomes known, the humiliation can lead to death. Better to avoid it by remembering that we are only fooling ourselves.

Of Secrets and Stringencies

Day 21 – Berachos 22

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה שֶׁרָאָה קֶרִי, וְהָיָה מְהַלֵּךְ עַל גַּב הַנָּהָר. אָמְרוּ לוֹ תַּלְמִידָיו: רַבֵּינוּ, שְׁנֵה לָנוּ פֶּרֶק אֶחָד בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. יָרַד וְטָבַל וְשָׁנָה לָהֶם. אָמְרוּ לוֹ: לֹא כָּךְ לִמַּדְתָּנוּ רַבֵּינוּ, שׁוֹנֶה הוּא בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ?! אָמַר לָהֶם: אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁמֵּיקֵל אֲנִי עַל אֲחֵרִים, מַחְמִיר אֲנִי עַל עַצְמִי.

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: בַּעַל קֶרִי שֶׁנָּתְנוּ עָלָיו תִּשְׁעָה קַבִּין מַיִם — טָהוֹר. נַחוּם אִישׁ גַּם זוֹ לְחָשָׁהּ לְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא לְחָשָׁהּ לְבֶן עַזַּאי, וּבֶן עַזַּאי יָצָא וּשְׁנָאָהּ לְתַלְמִידָיו בְּשׁוּק. פְּלִיגִי בַּהּ תְּרֵי אָמוֹרָאֵי בְּמַעְרְבָא, רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר אָבִין וְרַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר זְבִידָא. חַד תָּנֵי: שְׁנָאָהּ, וְחַד תָּנֵי: לְחָשָׁהּ.

מַאן דְּתָנֵי שְׁנָאָהּ, מִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל תּוֹרָה וּמִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה. וּמַאן דְּתָנֵי לְחָשָׁהּ — שֶׁלֹּא יְהוּ תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים מְצוּיִים אֵצֶל נְשׁוֹתֵיהֶם כְּתַרְנְגוֹלִים.

The Gemara is discussing the laws of when a Baal Keri, one who had a seminal emission, can learn Torah or daven. In the midst of this discussion the Gemara relates numerous incidents to prove different points.

I have quoted above two of these incidents. In the first, Rebbi Yehuda had taught that a Baal Keri can learn or teach only the laws of Derech Eretz. However, when he himself was a Baal Keri, he immersed himself for purification before teaching the Halacha. When confronted over the self contradiction, he said he is being stringent on himself. 

In the second incident we find a tradition passed down secretly that one who is a Baal Keri, need not immerse himself but can have a measurement of nine Kavin of water thrown over him and then he can learn Torah. This seems to be about 2.9 gallons of water, or about a 90 second shower. This tradition was passed secretly from Nachum Ish Gamzu to Rebbi Akiva to Ben Azzai, who went ahead and said it in public.

There are different traditions as to what actually happened: There are those that say that he publicized this in order to increase intimate relations and procreation. As he himself was a bachelor, this was something that was important to him. There are others that say that he indeed passed it over to his students in a secret, in order that they do not get too intimate with their wives and thereby distracted from their Torah studies.

From these two incidents, it is apparent that there are two or more levels of Torah. There is the level of the general populace, that which may be more lenient at times, but we see Rebbi Yehuda was stringent on himself. Conversely, we see that there was a level for the general populace to be more stringent and only those in on the secret knew about the lenient ruling. 

Why is this? If we have a lenient ruling, why is that only kept as a secret tradition amongst the Tannaim? Additionally, if Rebbi Yehuda ruled leniently for everyone why is that leniency not good enough for himself, and if it was not good enough for himself, why is he letting others be lenient?

It seems that there are two tracks here, one for those in the know and one for the general population. I am curious where this idea comes from and why this is so. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.