Friday, June 27, 2008

Praying in a Cemetery

(Daf Yomi: Sotah 34b) And they went up by the South and he arrived at Chevron. Shouldn’t the Torah have stated: and they arrived at Chevron? Rava said: It teaches us that Calev separated himself from the plan of the spies and went and prostrated himself upon the graves of the Patriarchs, saying to them, “My fathers, pray for mercy on my behalf that I may be spared from the plan of the spies.”

The Gemora in Taanis (16a) states that it was the custom to visit a cemetery on a fast day. One reason given is that the Jewish people were saying that they consider themselves like corpses and this will stimulate them to repent. Another reason is that this will enable the deceased who are buried in the cemetery to pray for them. According to the second reason, they would not visit a cemetery that contained the graves of gentiles.

The Ritva writes that they didn’t go to the cemetery in order to daven there because that is forbidden on the account of “loeg lerosh” – it is considered mocking to the dead who cannot perform the mitzvos; rather they davened in the streets and went to the cemetery afterwards. The Ran adds that they did not take the sefer Torah with them when they went to the cemetery.

The Noda B’yehuda (O”C 2:109) was asked on a year that there was no rain and there was tremendous suffering; if they would be permitted to go to a cemetery with a sefer Torah and daven there for rain.

He cites a Zohar (Acharei Mos) which states that davening by a cemetery inspires the souls of those buried there to inform those that are buried in Chevron (Patriarchs and the Matriarchs) who subsequently will arouse Hashem’s compassion.

However, there is a Gemora in Brochos (18a) which rules that a person should not enter a cemetery with tefillin on his head or read from a sefer Torah in his arm. We can infer from this Gemora that reading from the sefer Torah is forbidden but holding it would be permitted. The Kesef Mishna in Hilchos Sefer Torah (10:6) learns that both are forbidden; reading from the sefer Torah or holding it.

The Noda B’yehuda concludes that although he is not an expert in the hidden portions of Torah, the Zohar cited does warn against bringing a sefer Torah that might be missing letters into a cemetery since this can cause terrible consequences.

The sefer Igra D’taanisa wonders why the Noda B’yehuda makes no mention of the Gemora in Taanis, which would indicate that one can go daven by a cemetery.

The Minchas Elozar discusses the permissibility of people davening by Kever Rochel. Some say that we are not mocking Rochel since she was living before the Torah was given; she was never obligated in mitzvos.

The Netziv rules that in his days, it would be permitted because the custom was to bury them deeper than ten tefachim from the ground and it is considered like a different domain.

The Rama (O”C 581:4) writes that there are places that have the custom to go to cemeteries on Erev Rosh Hashanah and to recite lengthy Tefillos there. The Chidah asks on this Rama from the Ritva in Taanis that states explicitly that one should not daven in the cemetery.

There are those that create a distinction between a compulsory tefillah and a tefillah which is only voluntary.

The Elya Rabbah (581) quotes from the Maharil that one should be careful when going to the graves of Tzadikim that your tefillos should not be directed towards those that are buried there, rather one should daven to Hashem and ask for compassion in the merit of these Tzadikim. Some say that you can ask the dead to be an advocate on your behalf.

The Bach (Y”D 217) rules that it is forbidden to daven to the dead because of the prohibition of being “doresh el hameisim.” He points out that even though we find that Calev did daven in Chevron by the Meoras Hamachpeila, he wasn't davening to the Avos. Rather, since a cemetery is a place of holiness and purity, the tefillos davened there will be more readily accepted.

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Shema is Torah

The Gemora (Daf Yomi: Sotah 33a) asks: Shall we say that Rebbe holds that the Torah (the Torah reading on Shabbos according to Rashi, or on special Biblically mandated occasions according to Tosfos) may be read in any other language, for if it would enter your mind that it must be recited in the Holy Tongue, why would it be necessary for the Torah to write And they shall be to teach us that shema must be recited in Hebrew?

The Gemora states that this is not necessarily the case. It is necessary to teach that the shema must be recited in Hebrew, for since it says Shema, we might have thought that it could be recited in any language (even though the Torah must be read in Hebrew).

The commentators ask: What is the connection between the reading of the Torah and the mitzvah of kerias shema? Perhaps the Torah must be recited in Hebrew, and yet kerias shema can be recited in any language.

The Keren Orah answers that it is evident from our Gemora that the mitzva of reciting kerias shema every day is actually a mitzvah of “Talmud Torah.” The obligation is to recite portions of the Torah twice daily. Obviously there is a mitzvah of accepting the yoke of Heaven by reciting these portions, but the commandment of the Torah is to learn these portions once in the morning and once at night.

This is why the Gemora states that if one merely recited kerias shema in the morning and evening, he has discharged his obligation of studying Torah day and night.

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Angels, Aramaic and Language of Tefillah

Rav Yehudah said: One should not ask his needs in Aramaic, because Rabbi Yochanan said: If one asks his needs in Aramaic, the ministering angels do not assist him, for they do not understand Aramaic!?

The Gemora explains: Rav Yehudah was discussing a prayer of an individual (which requires the assistance of the angels), whereas the Mishna is discussing a congregation’s prayer (which may be recited in Aramaic, for they do not require the angel’s help).

The Gemora asks: Do the ministering angels not understand Aramaic? But we learned in the following braisa: Yochanan, the Kohen Gadol heard a heavenly voice issued from within the Holy of Holies announcing, “The young men (Kohanim) who went to wage war in Antioch (against the Greeks) have been victorious.” It also happened with Shimon the Righteous that he heard a heavenly voice issued from within the Holy of Holies announcing, “The army that the enemy had said that they would send out against the Sanctuary has been eradicated.” And Gaskalgus (a Greek king) was slain and his decrees annulled. They noted down the time (when this heavenly voice spoke) and it coincided with the exact time that these events occurred. Now it was in Aramaic that it spoke! [Evidently, the angels do understand Aramaic!?]

If you wish I can answer that it is different with a heavenly voice, since its purpose is to notify people (and this angel knows Aramaic), or if you wish, I can say that it was the angel Gavriel who spoke, for a Master has declared in a braisa: Gavriel came and taught Yosef the seventy languages.

*** Does the prohibition against requesting one’s needs in Aramaic only apply to Aramaic, or to all languages? (Meiri and Rosh Brochos 13a)

*** Do the angels know the thoughts of a person? (Tosfos Shabbos 12b; Maadanei Yom Tov on the Rosh in Brochos 2:6; Reb Yosef Engel in Gilyonei HaShas Shabbos 12bSfas Emes ibid)

*** Must a private individual pray in Hebrew? (Shulchan Aruch O”C, 101:4; Bartenura on our Mishna; Ri”f , Rabbeinu Yonah and Rosh Brochos 13a; Chachmas Shlomo O”C 101:4)

*** Do our tefillos require the assistance of the angels? (HaKoseiv in Ein Yaakov Shabbos 12b; Introduction to Siddur Otzer HaTefillos; Or HaChaim Shmos 3:9; Ra’avad in Tamim De’im 184)

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008


The Mishna (Daf Yomi: Sotah 32a) lists statements that must be made in Hebrew. One of them is the bikkurim (the first ripe fruits which had to be brought to the Beis Hamikdosh in Yerushalayim) recitation. When he brings the fruits to the Beis Hamikdosh to be given to the Kohanim, he recites several verses from Devarim. Rashi writes that he says the verse beginning with Arami oved avi, An Aramean tried to destroy my father [Devarim 26:5], and he continues until the end of the passage.

In truth, however, he does not complete the entire passage. As a matter of fact, he stops in middle of verse 10, when he says asher nasatah li Hashem, that You have given me, Hashem. The Rambam in Hilchos Bikurim states this explicitly.

The commentators ask that the last words of this recital conclude in middle of a verse and this is against the dictum of stopping in a place that Moshe did not stop. The Gemora Brochos (12b) rules that any place in the Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu did not pause; we are forbidden to pause as well. How could they institute to stop the recital in middle of a verse?

Reb Yaakov Kaminetzky in his sefer Emes L’Yaakov in Parshas Ki Savo answers that this ruling does not apply by mitzvos, such as bikkurim. It is only a concern when verses are being recited because of Torah.

There are other examples where this principle may be applicable. The Gemora in Rosh Hashanah (31a) discusses the hymns that were recited by the Levites in the Beis Hamikdosh on Shabbos. The Gemora concludes that they would divide Parshas Haazinu into six segments, and one segment was recited each week by the korban mussaf.

The Turei Even asks from the aforementioned Gemora in Brochos. How were the Leviim permitted to stop in places that Moshe did not stop? He answers that since they intended to complete it the next week, it is not regarded as interrupting the portion (even though there will be different Leviim the next week). According to Reb Yaakov, we can suggest that the hymns of the Leviim were not being sung as Torah; but rather, as a part of the mitzvah of the bringing of korbanos. They therefore were permitted to stop and start in the Torah, even in the middle of a passage.

Magan Avrohom (O”C 282) asks this question as well, inquiring into different verses from the Torah that we recite during tefillah which are incomplete. He also answers that we only apply the principle that one cannot interrupt in middle of a verse when one is engaged in Torah study or reading from the Torah. If, however, one is reciting verses for the purpose of prayer or mitzvah observance, there is no prohibition of interrupting in middle of a verse.

Rav Nosson Grossman states that perhaps through this principle, we can answer the Turei Even’s question. The Leviim are not reciting these pesukim as Torah, rather they are being said on account of shirah, song, and therefore it will not be subject to the prohibition of stopping in an incorrect place. However, it would seem evident that the Magen Avrohom will not concur with this, since he states that principle, and nevertheless, does not apply it to the Leviim’s shirah.

It would seem that many other Acharonim do not agree with this qualification of that rule. The tefillah which is recited when the Sefer Torah is raised in shul is a combination of two different verses. There are those who stop after saying, “lifnei B’nei Yisroel,” for the next part (al pi Hashem b’yad Moshe) is not a complete verse. This reason is brought in the name of Reb Chaim Volozhiner. Once again, according to the qualification mentioned above, we could have explained that there is no concern during tefillah; it is only when we are reciting Torah for the sake of Torah where the dictum applies.

The Chasam Sofer in his Teshuvos (O”C 10) discusses why during kiddush, do we begin with the verse, Va’yehi erev va’yehi boker,” when that is the middle of a verse in the Torah. He explains that the first part of the verse has a reference to “death,” and we did not want that alluded to during kiddush. It is evident that the Chasam Sofer as well did not concur with this qualification.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Love and Fear

The Gemora (Daf Yomi: Sotah 31a) cites a braisa: Rabbi Meir noted that the verse describes both Iyov and Avraham as “G-d fearing.” He therefore derives that just as we know Avraham served Hashem out of love, so too, Iyov served Hashem out of love. How do we know that Avraham served Hashem out of love? This is evident from the verse, “The offspring of Avraham who loved Me.”

The Stepler Gaon in Birchas Peretz notes that by “Akeidas Yitzchak,” it is written: For now I know that you are fearing of God. It would seem that Avraham performed the binding of Yitzchak out of fear of Hashem; yet we know definitely that he performed this commandment out of love for Hashem. This is clearly evident from the Gemora in Sanhedrin (105b), which states: Love disregards the rule of dignified conduct. This is derived from Avraham, for it is written, And Avraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his donkey. Our Gemora is a proof to this as well. If so, why does the Torah at the end of this portion point out that Avraham was a God-fearing man?

He explains that the “fear” mentioned in reference to Avraham Avinu was not merely a fear of retribution, but rather it was a “yiras ha’romemus,” a fright on account of the realization of the unlimited Greatness and Strength of the Omnipresent. The Rambam writes that one who analyzes the Greatness of the Ribbono shel Olam, leads him to love Him. The love that Avraham Avinu had towards Hashem inspired him to fear Him, for through the love, he realized that if he should make a mistake in his service to Hashem, it will weaken the connection of love that existed between them.

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Song by the Sea

The Gemora (Daf Yomi: Sotah 30b) cites a braisa: On that same day Rabbi Akiva expounded: At the time that the Jews ascended from the Sea, they desired to utter a song. And how did they recite the song? It was like an adult who reads the Hallel for a congregation and they respond after him with the chapter headings. (If one does not know how to recite Hallel by himself, it is preferable to have a male adult recite Hallel for him and he should respond after him the refrain of Hallelukah after the completion of every phrase.) Accordingly, Moshe said, “I will sing to Hashem,” and they responded, “I will sing to Hashem”; Moshe said, “For He is exalted above the arrogant,” and they responded, “I will sing to Hashem.” Rabbi Eliezer son of Rabbi Yosi HaGlili said: It was like a minor who reads the Hallel for a congregation and they repeat after him all that he says. Accordingly, Moshe said, “I will sing to Hashem,” and they responded, “I will sing to Hashem”; Moshe said: “For He is exalted above the arrogant,” and they responded, “For He is exalted above the arrogant.” Rabbi Nechemia said: It was like a schoolteacher who divides the Shema in the Synagogue, where he begins first and they respond after him.

The Maharsha explains the opinion of Rabbi Yosi HaGlili: Although Klal Yisroel would have discharged their obligation by merely saying the chapter headings, for who is greater than Moshe! If an adult recites it for them, they would certainly fulfill their obligation. Nevertheless, the reason they wanted to recite it themselves was because there was an element of publicizing the miracle, and that they wanted to actively participate in.

Reb Chatzkel Abramsky in the Chazon Yechezkel on the Tosefta explains differently. He says that when the listeners are not obligated in the recital, they can not be yotze with the recital of the leader. That would only be effective if they would be obligated to recite it as well. Klal Yisroel were not required to utter a song at that time, and therefore, when they did recite it, they sang it themselves.

Reb Dovid Goldberg asks: Why weren’t they obligated to praise and thank Hashem at that time? We have learned in Pesachim (117a) that the Chachamim said: The prophets among them instituted that Hallel should be recited for every season, on every special occasion and for every crisis that might come upon them, and when they are redeemed from it, they recite it over their redemption. If so, they certainly would be obligated to recite Hallel after being saved by the Sea!

He answers that it is evident from the Gemora in Pesachim that they did recite Hallel immediately after ascending from the Sea. Afterwards, they desired to recite even more, and that wasn’t an obligation.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kal Vachomer

The Gemora (Daf Yomi: Sotah 29a) states that something which may be derived through a kal vachomer (literally translated as light and heavy, or lenient and stringent; an a fortiori argument; it is one of the thirteen principles of biblical hermeneutics; it employs the following reasoning: if a specific stringency applies in a usually lenient case, it must certainly apply in a more serious case), the Torah may anyway take the trouble to write it explicitly.

The Bnei Yissoschar explains the reasoning for this: A kal vachomer is based upon logic. One might say that the reason this halacha (derived through a kal vachomer) is correct is because it is understandable to me; it makes sense. The Torah therefore goes out of its way to write it explicitly in order to teach us that the halacha is correct because the Torah said so; regardless of whether it is understood or not.

The Ra”n in Nedarim (3a) notes that this concept is applicable by a hekesh (when the halachos from one topic are derived from another one) as well. The Gemora in Bava Metzia (61a) states that it also applies to a gezeirah shavah (one of the thirteen principles of Biblical hermeneutics; it links two similar words from dissimilar verses in the Torah).

According to the explanation of the Bnei Yissoschar, we could say that the concept should only apply to a kal vachomer, for that is based upon logic. The Torah would not find it necessary to state explicitly a halacha which is derived through a hekesh or gezeirah shavah, for they are not based upon logic at all, and it would be superfluous to write it.

The Yad Malachei writes that if the Torah does explicitly write a halacha which was derived through one of the thirteen principles of Biblical hermeneutics, we must treat it more stringently than an ordinary halacha. This is comparable to a Rabbinical prohibition, which has a slight support from something written in the Torah. Tosfos in Eruvin (31b) rules that such a prohibition is stricter than an ordinary one, which does not have any Scriptural support.

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