Friday, October 30, 2009

Return of the Dead?

The relationship of the living and the dead is an oft debated topic by the sages. Judaism firmly believes that, post mortem, a person's neshama (soul) goes to an afterworld known as Olam Habah, the world to come. But do the dead play any role in Olam Hazeh, this world, when they are gone? Many Talmudic sages were sure that the dead visit this world, especially cemeteries.

Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Jonathan were walking in a cemetery and the blue fringe (tzitzit) of Rabbi Jonathan trailed on the ground. Said Rabbi Hiyya to him: “Lift it up, so that they [the dead] should not say: ‘Tomorrow they are coming to join us [as they too shall die] and now they are insulting us [by showing off their ritual garments]!'” Rabbi Jonathan replied: “Do they know so much? Is it not written, ‘But the dead know not anything?'” (Berachot 18a). A long argument ensues in which different Biblical verses are cited. In the end, however, Rabbi Jonathan agrees with Rabbi Hiyya that the dead do visit this world.

This is supported by an earlier statement (Berachot 18a):
“It has been taught: ‘A man should not walk in a cemetery with tefillin on his head or a Torah on his arm, and recite the Shema,' and if he does so, he comes under the heading of ‘He that mocks the poor blasphemes his Maker' (Proverbs 17:5)." A person studying Torah or fulfilling mitzvot in a cemetery is mocking the dead who can no longer perform those mitzvot.

Whether one believes that the dead are watching and interacting with this world or not, halacha (Jewish law) puts great stock in respecting the dead, if only to teach the living to be more sensitive to the living people around them.

Careful Of Your Words

Remember, one must be as careful about gossiping (saying unkind words) about the dead as about the living.

Sabbath Prayers: Birkat Ha’banim/Blessing the Children

On Friday nights, it is traditional for parents to give special blessings to their children. There are different blessings for boys and girls, but they share the same concluding verses: the priestly blessings.

For Boys:
Y’simcha Eh-lokim k’Ephraim v’chi'M’nasheh
May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe.

For Girls:
Yi’see’maych Eh-lokim k’Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, v’Lay’ah
May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

Continued for both:
Y’va’reh’ch’cha A-donai v’yish’m’recha.
Ya’ayr A-donai panav ay’leh’cha vee’chu’neh’ka.
Yee’sah A-donai panav ay’leh’cha, v’yah’saym l’cha shalom.

May God bless you and watch over you.
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May God be favorably disposed to you and grant you peace.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

But Mom, You Promised

Parenting is no easy task. From a very early age, children demand and seek gifts and concessions from their parents. And particularly in our overly-materialistic society, children want a lot of things. Far too often a parent finds him/herself placating a crying or misbehaving child by promising them a special treat or a toy, or some other reward, if they’ll just behave.

Whether or not this is the appropriate way to handle the rearing of one’s child, is not Jewish Treats' place to judge. However, it is interesting to note the importance of what one does with those promises made in the middle of the grocery store.

The Talmud states (Sukkah 46b): “Rabbi Zeira said: One should not say to a child, ‘I will give you something,’ and then not give it to him/her, because that teaches the child to lie, as it is stated: “They train their tongue to speak falsehood’ (Jeremiah 9:4).” This is not only a problem because one is teaching a child that it is okay to tell a falsehood, but because it could actually involve several other prohibitions as well.

For instance, just as one must pay a worker on time, so too one must pay one’s child on time for mowing the lawn, or reward one’s child with the promised treat that same day--unless otherwise specified. And if one fails to fulfill the promise...alas, it could be considered a form of stealing!

So to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and all other adults who spend time with what you say and be careful of any promises. ( “Maybe,” “I’ll think about...,” “later,” etc. are ambiguous enough to avoid such problems!)

I'll Take Care of It

If you promise a co-worker that you will complete a project, or give any assistance whether large or small, make certain to fulfill your promise and let the co-worker know the task was completed.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Requesting Forgiveness

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. If we want God to accept our repentance, as mentioned in the fifth blessing, we begin the process immediately in the sixth blessing by asking for forgiveness.

S’lach lanu Avee’nu kee cha’tanu, m’chal lanu Malkaynu kee fa’sha’nu, kee mo’chayl v’so’lay’ach Ah’tah. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, chanun ha’mar’beh lis’lo’ach.

Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned, pardon us, our King, for we have transgressed; for You pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, Lord, the gracious One who repeatedly forgives.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Requesting Forgiveness

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. If we want God to accept our repentance, as mentioned in the fifth blessing, we begin the process immediately in the sixth blessing by asking for forgiveness.

S’lach lanu Avee’nu kee cha’tanu, m’chal lanu Malkaynu kee fa’sha’nu, kee mo’chayl v’so’lay’ach Ah’tah. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, chanun ha’mar’beh lis’lo’ach.

Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned, pardon us, our King, for we have transgressed; for You pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, Lord, the gracious One who repeatedly forgives.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gad, the Son of Jacob

The patriarch Jacob loved his wife Rachel, but it was his wife Leah who initially made him a father (since Rachel was unable to conceive for many years). When Rachel presented her handmaiden Bilhah to Jacob as a wife, in order that she might serve as a surrogate mother to Bilhah’s children, Leah felt herself put at a distinct disadvantage. While she had already borne Jacob four sons, she had not conceived recently and worried that her children would become outnumbered.

Leah therefore followed her sister’s example and presented her own handmaiden, Zilpah, as a wife to Jacob. Zilpah quickly conceived. When Leah saw that her plan had been successful, she announced: "Good luck has come!" and named the boy, Gad.

"Luck," however is only one interpretation of the name Gad. The Biblical commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra (Spain 1089 - c.1164) maintained that the name Gad was related to the word g’dood, meaning troop, and commented that Leah now had a “troop” of children. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 1808-1888) brought the two meanings of Gad together when he noted that a g’dood is a raiding troop, one that moves swiftly and unexpectedly. Rabbi Hirsch noted that since gad also means chance (luck), "here too bah gad probably means: an unexpected piece of luck has come. This son was one for whom, in ordinary circumstances, she could not have reckoned."

The interpretation of Gad as a troop is also related to what Jacob stated at the end of his life. When Jacob blessed his children on his death bed in Egypt, he said of Gad: "Gad, a troop shall troop upon him; and they shall troop upon their heel" (Genesis 49:19), which implies that Jacob saw in his son significant military characteristics and aptitude.

Order Up

When taking food at a buffet, take only what you realistically expect to eat. You can always go back for seconds.

The Morning Blessings-Blessings #3: Freedom

Every morning, a set of 15 blessings are recited to express our thanks to God for all the things that we, as healthy human beings, are capable of doing.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam sheh’lo asanee ah’ved.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a slave.

Well, obviously no one wants to be a slave. In truth, this blessing is related to the fact that one who has a human master cannot serve God in the proper manner. A slave’s time is not his own, his possessions are not his own, etc, and therefore a slave cannot commit to be actively involved in mitzvot.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Company You Keep

Immediately following the morning blessings, there is a short prayer that asks God for protection from “arrogant people and arrogance itself, from a bad person, a bad companion, a bad neigbor, a bad mishap, a destructive adversary, a harsh trial and a harsh opponent...”

In this short prayer, we learn the importance of guarding our social environment. And while this supplication requests that God not lead us into situations in which we might be tempted to err, we are, after all, free to choose our circle of friends and acquaintances. It is therefore extremely important to think carefully about the people with whom we associate.

It may seem obvious to say that we should choose friends who share our values. Yet people often find themselves in difficult situations when a social acquaintance acts in a less than admirable manner. What does one do about a cousin who shoplifts or a co-worker who gossips?

Ideally, we should separate from that person. Such was the example set by Abraham when he chose to separate from his nephew Lot after discovering that Lot allowed his herds to graze on other people’s property. (Genesis 13)

Unfortunately, separating yourself from such situations is not always feasible. Sometimes the best we can do is to try to avoid them (e.g. not going shopping with a would-be shoplifter or staying away from gossipers). Since walking away from such situations can take a great deal of emotional strength and fortitude, and is sometimes impossible, we ask God to help us avoid them in the first place.

Jewish Friendship Circle

Organize a small group of friends with whom to study an interesting Jewish topic once a week.

The Blessings Over Food: She’ha’kol/The Other Foods

The she’ha’kol blessing encompasses all things that do not grow from the ground: water, meat, fish, eggs, dairy, processed foods such as candy and most drinks.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam sheh’ha’kohl nee’yeh bid’varo.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, by whose word all things came to be.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Thirty-Six

How many truly righteous people do you know? People who not only dedicate themselves to living religious lives but who really strive to serve God, and succeed.

The true inner righteousness of another person is almost impossible to know because we have no way of assessing the inner workings of the heart and soul of another person. We may look around and see people whose apparent righteousness we admire and whom we might strive to emulate, but to know who is truly and purely righteous...

According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b), in every generation there are thirty-six uniquely righteous individuals whose very presence maintains the world. “Abaye said: The world must contain not less than thirty-six righteous people in each generation who merit to see the Shechinah [God’s presence]...”

It is generally assumed that these lamed-vav tzadikim, the thirty-six righteous ones, are “hidden.” By far, the majority of the “lamed-vavniks” (as they are affectionately referred to in Chassidic writing) are unknown, often living simple lives and bringing little attention to the acts of kindness that they perform or the level of spiritual knowledge that they achieve.

Why thirty-six? Abaya notes that the Hebrew word lo - Him--used in Isaiah 30:18 (Ashrei kol chochay lo -“Praiseworthy are all they that wait for him.”) has the numerical value of thirty-six. This phrase begins a section in Isaiah that describes the coming of the Messiah and the salvation of the Children of Israel: “For, O people that dwell in Zion at Jerusalem, you shall weep no more; He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry, when He shall hear, He will answer you” (Isaiah 30:19-20).

The “him” who is awaited is the Messiah, one of the thirty-six tzadikim of his generation who will emerge from anonymity to guide the Children of Israel back to the paths of righteousness.

Right of Way

Smile when giving pedestrians, bikers or other drivers the right of way.

Friday, October 23, 2009

With What May We Light

The Friday night synagogue service is actually two separate services, Kabbalat Shabbat (Greeting the Shabbat) and Maariv (Evening Service). Those attending Friday night services in traditional synagogues (but not Chassidic) will notice a brief interlude between the two that is filled with subdued mumbling. This is the recitation of Bameh Madlikin, the second chapter of the Mishnah tractate Shabbat.

Bameh Madlikin literally translates as “With what may we light?” This chapter deals, primarily, with the appropriate kindling material to be used for the Sabbath lights. While candles are commonly used today, in Talmudic times oil lamps were the norm. The Mishnaic discussion includes what type of wick (one made of a material that burns evenly) and oil (those that burn well and are not malodorous) may be used. There is also a discussion of when one may possibly extinguish a flame (e.g. fear of bandits) and when not (to save a few cents).

The seventh section of the chapter notes that “a person must say three things in his home on the eve of Shabbat just before dark: ‘Have you tithed? Have you prepared the eiruv? Kindle the [Shabbat] lights’...” Most congregations recite this section before the evening Maariv service, while others have the custom of reciting Bameh Madlikin after the evening service or during the meal itself so as to fulfill the mitzvah of studying the laws of Shabbat.

Candles Set

Make it a habit in your home to arrange the Shabbat candles on Friday morning so that they are ready for lighting before sundown.

Sabbath Prayers: Va’y’choo’loo / And they were finished

A direct quote from the Torah (Genesis 2:1-3), this paragraph is recited aloud in synagogue by all present following the completion of the silent Amidah, (after having been recited silently as part of the Amidah). Va’y’choo’loo is considered as testimony to God’s creation of the world, and is recited aloud so that the testimony is heard and confirmed by the others in the room. It is recited at home as the first part of kiddush as well.

Va’y’choo’loo ha’shah’ma’yim v’ha’ah’retz v’chol tz’vah’ahm. Va’y’chahl Eh’lo’him ba’yom ha’sh’vee’ee m’lach’to ah’sher ah’sah, va’yish’boht ba’yom ha’sh’vee’ee mee’kol m’lach’toh ah’sher ah’sah. Va’y’vah’rech Eh’lo’him et yom ha’sh’vee’eeh va’y’kah’daysh oh’toh, kee vo shah’vaht mee’kol m’lach’toh ah’sher bah’rah Eh’lo’him la’ah’soht.

The heavens and the earth were finished, with all their complement. On the seventh day, God had completed His work which He had undertaken, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had been doing. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all His creative work, which God had brought into being to fulfill its purpose.

(Translation from NJOP’s Spirituality At Your Fingertips, Kiddush and Ha’Mo’tzee)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Here's The Beef

Adam and Eve were vegetarians. When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, the Torah tells us that God said: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat...” (Genesis 2:16). While God had granted Adam dominion over all creatures, only the plants were marked for human consumption.

Vegetarianism, in fact, was the only diet of humankind until after the great flood. Following their departure from the ark, Noah and his family are informed by God that "Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green herb, I have given you everything. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, you shall not eat” (Genesis 9:3-4). Thus there was only one caveat to their completely carte-blanche could not eat an animal while it was still alive (including cutting off a limb from a live animal).

Why did God allow omnivorism after the flood? The exact reason is unknown. Some say that it was related to the fact that Noah saved the animals from destruction and was therefore entitled to benefit from them. Others note that the spiritual greatness of humankind in general had diminished over time, and since humans were now less spiritual and more physical, they needed the extra nourishment provided by meat. In fact, the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush, Eastern Europe, 1809-1879) suggests that the physical nature of both humankind and the world in general was altered after the flood. Not only did produce no longer supply the same level of nutrients, humans themselves were now weaker physically.

While God initially allowed all creatures to be used for food, after He selected the Children of Israel to be a “Holy Nation,” He commanded them to limit their intake of meat/poultry/fish to kosher species, which were deemed spiritually beneficial, or at least not spiritually polluting.

Butcher Block

Support your local kosher butcher by purchasing only kosher meats.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Closeness to God

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. Having recognized that God is the source of wisdom in the fourth blessing, the fifth blessing beseeches God to draw us closer to Him.

Ha’shee’vay’nu Aveenu l’Torah’techa, v’kar’vaynu Malkaynu la’avoda’techa, v’ha’cha’zee’raynu bit’shuvah sh’laymah l’fah’necha. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, ha’rotzeh bit’shuvah.

Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah. Draw us near, our King, to Your service. Lead us back to You in perfect repentance. Blessed are You, Lord, who desires repentance.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Get Out!

The history of the Jews in Europe can almost be read as a timeline of expulsions. At one time or another, Jews have either been expelled from, or prohibited to settle in, almost every country in Europe, both eastern and western.

While the Spanish expulsion is by far the most famous, the expulsion of the Jews from England was one of the longest legal expulsions on record. The initial Edict of Expulsion was issued by King Edward I on July 18, 1290 and was not removed from the books until 1656 (although individual Jews were sometimes given permission to visit, while others entered as conversos fleeing the Spanish Inquisition).

Many historians believe that a majority of European expulsions had, at the heart of the matter, a financial incentive. More often than not, the expelled Jews were forbidden from taking their wealth with them, and their possessions greatly enriched the crown. In the case of King Edward I, however, the financial incentives were minimal. The Jews of England had already been drained dry through extensive taxation and by the 1275 Statute of Jewry, which outlawed all usery/money-lending, a primary Jewish occupation. The Statute also mandated other anti-Semetic measures such as restrictions on Jewish settlement and a law requiring Jews to wear a yellow badge. While the Statute of Jewry was meant to encourage Jews to enter other professions, the local population was not receptive to Jews entering their guilds and crafts.

Religious zeal and political manuvering were also strong motives for the European expulsions. Edward I had already fought in one crusade in the Holy Land and was politically supporting another.

The Edict of Expulsion and ban on Jewish settlement is often examined by Shakespearean scholars. After all, if no Jews lived in England, on whom did Shakespeare model his infamous Shylock? (Opinions welcome)

Pick Up A Pen

Write a letter to a grandparent or older relative.

The Morning Blessings-Blessing #2: Gratitude for Being Jewish

Every morning, a set of 15 blessings are recited to express our thanks to God for all the things that we, as healthy human beings, are capable of doing.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam sheh’lo ah’sanee goy.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a heathen.

This blessing addresses a thought that is best articulated by the Yiddish phrase “It’s hard to be a Jew.” Sometimes it is tough being a Jew, and sometimes a Jew might wish that he/she would be just like everyone else. The purpose of this blessing is to make us pause and reflect on why we are proud of our Jewish heritage and would not want to be part of any other people.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Colonial Outreach: Alliance Israelite Universelle

North American Jews often hear of organizations created for the benefit of both Judaism and Israel, such as Hadassah, Bnai Brith, the Jewish National Fund, etc. And while these organizations have had a profound affect on the Ashkenazi Jewish world, the Alliance Israelite Universelle played an exceptional role in the Sefardi Jewish communities of the Mediterranean.

Born of the French spirit of liberation and emancipation and the desire to fight anti-Semitism, the Alliance Israelite Universelle was founded by a cohort of young Jewish liberals--Charles Netter, Narcisse Leven, Isidore Cahen, Eugene Manual, Aristide Astruc, and Jules Carvallo--and was backed by the finances of the French Jewish statesman Adolphe Cremieux. The founding text of the Alliance called for the creation of "a corporation of Jewish idealists and militants" to unite and fight for those who are oppressed because of their Judaism or any other prejudice. Their call to action reads as follows:

"If you believe that this would be an honor for your religion, a
lesson for the people, progress for humanity, a triumph for the
truth and for universal reason, to see all the lively forces of
Judaism, small in number, great in love and good-will,
join us, the Alliance Israelite Universalle."

Indeed, the Alliance became a premiere human rights advocacy organization. Beyond the protection of religious freedom, however, the Alliance promoted the importance of access to culture and education. In time, the Alliance played an indispensable role in opening Jewish schools and social service organizations. Their educational institutions, established in Morocco, Palestine, Italy, and indeed throughout the countries of the Mediterranean, were a critical factor resulting in the improvement of living conditions for the many Jewish students who attended their schools.

Not Quite A-B-C

Test your Hebrew letter knowledge at If you don't know Hebrew, but want to, or simply need a review, check out the National Jewish Outreach Program's Read Hebrew America/Canada

The Blessings Over Food: Ha’ah’dama / Vegetables

The blessing recited over produce that grows from the ground is ha’ah’dama. Certain produce that are called fruit actually receive the ha’ah’dama blessing because of how they grow - for instance, bananas.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam bo’ray p’ree ha’ah’dama.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the ground.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Month of Cheshvan

Today is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, the first day of the month of Cheshvan, which is the eighth month of the Hebrew calendar. (The count of the months begins with Nisan.)

During the month of Cheshvan, the Jews celebrate...well, actually nothing. The uniqueness of the month of Cheshvan is that it has no festivals, no days set aside for rejoicing, and not even a single fast day. In fact, because of its lack of holidays, Cheshvan is often referred to as MarCheshvan; Mar means bitter.

The eighth month was not always called Cheshvan, which is a word most probably of Babylonian origin (as are many of the names of the months). When mentioned in Biblical sources it is referred to either as “the eighth month” or Bul (see I Kings 6:38), a word closely related to the Hebrew word mabul, meaning flood.

According to tradition, the 17th of Cheshvan was the start of the great flood that took place in the time of Noah and destroyed the world. Just over a year later, on the 27th of Cheshvan, Noah and his family discovered that the waters of the flood had completely receded.

The kabbalists also believe that Cheshvan is the month in which the Messiah will arrive. However, in Talmud Sanhedrin 97a, Rabbi Zeera tries to discourage such calculations by quoting an earlier teaching that “Three things come from nowhere: Moshiach (the Messiah), a found article and [the bite of] a scorpion.” The mention of the scorpion is interesting because Cheshvan is associated with the zodiacal sign of the scorpion. (The Jewish concept of constellations/zodiac will be discussed in a future Treat.)

The month of Cheshvan begins today and continues through November 17th.

In Honor Of...

Do something to honor the new month: buy a bouquet of flowers, try a new food, wear a special outfit, etc.

Friday, October 16, 2009

How Does God Rest?

On the first six days of creation, God created (Day 1) the heavens and earth, light as separated from darkness; (Day 2) the firmament to separate the water (Day 3) dry land, a bringing together of the waters of the earth, plant life (Day 4) the sun and moon, the motion of the luminaries in the heavens (Day 5) the creatures of the sea and the creatures of the air, (Day 6) animals of the land, and, finally, Adam and Eve. And then God rested.

According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), God created the world by contracting and limiting Himself. The world maintains itself by God continuing to limit Himself. It is therefore understood by the kabbalists that every moment of the world's existance is only because God so wills it in His continuing act of creation.

What, then, does it mean that God rested on the seventh day, since God is always in a continual state of creating the world? Obviously God didn’t simply put up His feet and take a nap.

The feat of creation is described by the commentators as “yesh may’ayin,” meaning something from nothing. Before God created the world, there was nothing. In every act of creation, God fashioned something that had never existed before. When the Torah states that on the seventh day God rested, it means that God ceased to create anything completely new. Henceforth, all things that came into the world were built upon something that had previously existed.

While humans can be quite ingenious, people are only able to create from matter that already exists. Refraining from m'la'chot, the creative work prohibited on Shabbat, is a gift from God for the Jewish people to let us relate, on some level, to what it means to “hold back” and let the world run its normal course.

Shh! Not Now

This Shabbat, make no plans for the week to come. Don't think about business, the things you want to buy or the home-repair projects that await you. Live in the moment of Shabbat.

Sabbath Prayers: V'Shamru/And They Shall Guard

A direct quote from the Torah (Exodus 31:16-17), the following two verses are often recited aloud as part of the Friday night service. It is a reminder that Shabbat is a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

V’shamru v’nay Yisrael et ha’Shabbat, la’asot et ha’Shabbat l’doh’ro’tam b’reet olam. Bay’nee u’vayn b’nay Yisrael oat hee l’olam, kee shay’shet yameem a’sah Ah’doh’nai et ha’sha’ma’yim v’et ha’aretz, u’va’yom ha’sh’vee’ee shavat va’yee’nafash.

The children of Israel must keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath in every generation as an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever, for in six days God made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He ceased work and refreshed Himself.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Personal Responsibility

In the beginning, there was...taking responsibility for one’s own actions. This important lesson is found in the very first portion of the Torah not once, but twice.

Adam and Eve were given total dominion over everything in the Garden of Eden with one exception: the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent lured Eve to the tree and seduced her into eating the fruit. Eve took one bite and immediately offered a bite to Adam. God approached them and they hid, until finally God accused them of their crime.

Adam’s immediate response to God’s accusation, however, was to pass the blame and say: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Not only did Adam blame Eve for giving him the fruit, but he tried to blame God for giving him a mate who gave him the fruit.

Eve’s response was a little better: “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). Eve only blamed the serpent for convincing her to taste the fruit. While admitting to eating the fruit, both of their confessions were preceded by excuses. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden.

And then there was Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, who famously responded to God’s inquiry about his recently slain brother Abel’s whereabouts,“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Not only did Cain not admit to killing Abel, he, in fact, denied knowing where his brother was.

What would have happened if Adam, Eve or Cain had admitted their guilt and immediately repented their actions? We will never know. But stories found later in the Torah demonstrate that forgiveness is granted to those who properly acknowledge their misdeeds and amend their actions. (Judah and Tamar, David).

I Did It

When you've made an error, admit it in straight-forward language, fix it (if you can), and then move on.

The Blessings of the Amidah: Understanding

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The fourth blessing recognizes God as the source of our own ability to understand the world.

Ah’tah cho’nain l’adam da’at um’lamed leh’enosh beenah. Chanaynu may’itcha day’ah beenah v’has’kayl. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai cho’nayn ha’da’at.

You grace humanity with knowledge and teach mortals understanding. Grace us with the knowledge, understanding and discernment that come from You. Blessed are You, Lord, who graciously grants knowledge.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear Yenta: The Matchmaker (Shadchan)

Matchmaker, matchmaker / Look through your book / And make me a perfect match...” (Fiddler on the Roof).

Despite the widespread proliferation of internet dating sites such as eharmony, and JDate, the idea of a shadchan, a matchmaker, appears archaic and primitive to most modern Jews. Yet, at one time, the shadchan played an important role in Jewish life, and in many traditional circles, he/she still does.

Anyone who is single, or who remembers life before they found their special someone, will admit that finding the proper mate “isn’t easy.” This sentiment is not new. In fact, as far back as the Talmud (and most certainly before that) people bewailed the difficulty in finding a proper mate. Rabbah bar Channah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: It is as difficult to pair them [couples] as was the splitting of the Red Sea! (Talmud, Sanhedrin 22a). In fact, the Midrash tells the tale of a Roman matron who paired a thousand male slaves with a thousand female slaves to prove that matchmaking was not so difficult. The next day, battered and bruised, they all begged her to release them from their marriage vows.

One of the important functions of a shadchan is to narrow the playing field. After extensive interviews, the shadchan has a good idea of what a man may be looking for and will suggest women to him who meet that criteria. (In more traditional circles, the criteria are set by the parents). A shadchan is also there to guide the couple as they get to know each other, to help them see the important things about each other.

Because the shadchan facilitates such an important event in a person’s life (marriage), it is considered proper to pay the shadchan for his/her time and effort. At the very least, one should give the matchmaker a significant gift.

Emergency Services

Explore opportunities to volunteer with a local emergency service organization (i.e. volunteer ambulance service, the red cross, etc.)

The Morning Blessings-Blessing #1: Night and Day

Every morning, a set of 15 blessings are recited to express our thanks to God for all the things that we, as healthy and capable human beings, are capable of doing. The blessings start with thanking God for giving us an understanding of time, the ability to know day from night.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam asher natan la’sechvee veenah l’hav’cheen bain yom u’vain lailah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who gives the heart (literally, the rooster) understanding to distinguish day from night.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Rabbi of Pressburg

Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762-1839) received his honorific title, Chatam Sofer (Seal of the Scribe), posthumously, after the publication of his acclaimed halachic (Jewish legal) rulings in a book of the same name.

Long before his death, however, Rabbi Sofer achieved great renown throughout the European Jewish community, both for his exceptional Torah erudition and for his dedicated work on behalf of his community in Pressburg (Bratislava).

Born in 1762, in Frankfurt, Germany, Rabbi Sofer assumed the prominent position of Chief Rabbi of Pressburg (formerly Germany, now Slovakia) in 1806, and remained there for the rest of his life.

One year into his new position, the city of Pressburg experienced a period of great upheaval. In 1807, a great fire ravaged the city, leaving many in the community homeless. Then, in1809, Pressburg was besieged and conquered by Napoleon. In 1810 and 1811, two more fires caused additional suffering to the people.

As the Chief Rabbi, the Chatam Sofer was responsible for helping the Jews of the city survive these traumatic events, both spiritually and by assisting with their significant physical needs. His memoirs of Napoleon’s siege and the miraculous survival of Pressburg's Jewish population were published as a book, known as Sefer HaZikaron.

In 1812, the Rabbi suffered his own personal challenge when his wife of 25 years, Sarah, died. The couple had no children. Rabbi Sofer remarried, however, and he and his second wife, Saril, had 11 children together.

The Chatam Sofer passed away in 1839 (on the 25th of Tishrei). He left a legacy of great scholarship and piety, as well as a vigorous commitment to increase the religious devotion of his community, at a time when many were walking away from traditional life.


Now that the Jewish holiday season is over, find out what other options you have to stay involved with your synagogue/community.

The Blessings Over Food: Ha’etz / Fruits

The blessing recited over fruit, including tree nuts, is Ha’etz.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam bo’ray p’ree ha’etz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

Monday, October 12, 2009

In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

On August 3, 1492, Columbus’ three ships set sail from Spain. But did you know that August 2, 1492, was Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the 9th of Av, and the date by which all Jews were required to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain, as proclaimed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella?

The strange coincidence of dates has resulted in much speculation regarding Columbus’ possible Jewish origins (of which there has been no substantial proof). Others have suggested that Columbus’ crew included Jews trying to escape the wicked decrees. This seems unlikely given that the one known Jewish member of Columbus’ crew, Luis de Torres, had undergone conversion in order to join the Spanish exploration party.

Columbus chose Luis de Torres as his interpreter because of his knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Latin and some Arabic. It seems that the great explorer expected to encounter descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes in Asia.

When they arrived at what is now Cuba, the first inhabited island they found, Columbus sent Luis de Torres and Rodrigo de Jerez to explore the island. Thus a Jewish man was one of the first to interact with the native residents of the New World.

Unfortunately, one of Columbus’ three original sailing vessels, the Santa Maria, ran aground. While most of the crew of the Santa Maria were transferred onto the Nina (the Pinta had already been lost at sea), 39 men, including de Torres, were left behind to establish La Navidad, the first European settlement.

History is unclear regarding Luis de Torres’ fate. While some historians believe they have found records of annual payment to him from the Spanish government, most believe that he was massacred along with the other settlers after being accused of accosting the native women.

In The Beginning

Begin to follow the weekly Torah portion. This coming Shabbat, the Torah portion is Genesis (Bereshit).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 oxen were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests offered sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is never-ending.

On the night of Simchat Torah, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.

During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously.

For more information on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, click here.

*This Treat was originally published on Monday, October 20, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

Simple Joy

Take your son/daughter, grandchild, niece/nephew or the child of a friend to a Simchat Torah celebration.

Sabbath Prayers: Mizmor Shir L’Yom Ha’Shabbat / A Song for the Sabbath Day

While much of the Kabbalat Shabbat service (service to greet the Sabbath) was implemented by the Kabbalists in Tzefat in the 16th century, Psalm 92 has been recited on Friday nights since ancient times. This Psalm focuses on how the world that God created can bring much joy to one who truly seeks righteousness.

Mizmor shir l’yom ha’Shabbat. Tov l’hodot la’Ah’doh’nai ul’zamayr l’shim’cha ehl’yon. l’ha’geed ba’boker chas’deh’cha veh’eh’munateh’cha ba’laylot. Ah’lay ah’sohr va’ah’lay na’vel ah’lay hee’ga’yon b’chee’nor. Kee s’mach’tanee Ah’doh’nai b’fa’ah’lecha b’ma’a’say ya’decha a’ra’nayn. Mah god’loo ma’a’secha Ah’doh’nai m’od amkoo mach’sh’vo’techa. Eesh ba’ar lo yay’da u’ch’seel lo yah’veen et zoat. Bif’roach r’sha’eem kmo ay’sev va’yah’zi’tzu kol po’ahlay a’ven l’hee’sham’dahm ahday ad. V’Ahtah ma’rom l’olam Ah’doh’nai. Kee heenay oy’veh’cha A’doh’nai kee heenay oy’veh’cha yo’vaydu yit’pardu kol po’a’lay aven. Va’tarem kir’aym kar'nee ba’loh’tee b’shemen ra’a’nan. Va’ta’bayt aynee b’shoorai ba’ka’meem a’lai m’rayeem tish’ma’na aznai. Tzah’deek ka’ta’mar yif’rach k’erez bal’vanon yis’geh. Sh’tooleem b’vayt Ah’doh’nai b’chatzrot Eh’lo’hay’nu yaf’reechoo. Ohd y’noovoon b’sayva d’shayneem v’ra’a’na’neem yee’yu. L’hagid kee yashar Ah’doh’nai tzooree v’lo av’la’ta bo.

A psalm. A song for the Sabbath day. It is good to thank the Lord and sing psalms to Your name, Most High – to tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For You have made me rejoice by Your work, O Lord; I sing for joy at the deeds of Your hands. How great are Your deeds, Lord, and how very deep Your thoughts. A boor cannot know, nor can a fool understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, it is only that they may be destroyed forever. But You, Lord, are eternally exalted. For behold Your enemies, Lord, behold Your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered. You have raised my pride like that of a wild ox; I am anointed with fresh oil. My eyes shall look in triumph on my adversaries, my ears shall hear the downfall of the wicked who rise against me. The righteous will flourish like a palm tree and grow tall like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the Lord’s House, blossoming in our God’s courtyards, they will still bear fruit in old age, and stay vigorous and fresh, proclaiming that the Lord is upright: He is my Rock, in whom there is no wrong.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment, the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (III:31b): “This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King.”

The days of judgement are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot. (Which is why some perform the tashlich ceremony until Hoshana Rabbah.) What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor. Because Hoshana Rabbah is considered a day of judgment, selichot (penitential prayers) are added to the morning service, in addition to the special prayers of Sukkot.

One On One Shmooze

Dedicate five or ten minutes tomorrow morning (Friday) to a special conversation with God.

The Blessings of the Amidah: God’s Holiness

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The third blessing is a declaration of God’s holiness.

Ah’tah kadosh v’shim’cha kadosh, uk’doshim b’chol yom y’hal’loo’cha selah. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai ha’Eh-l ha’kadosh.

You are holy and Your name is holy, and holy ones praise You daily, Selah! Blessed are You, Lord, the holy God.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's In The Book: Judges

Once in the promised land (Book of Joshua), the Israelites formed a commonwealth of 12 tribes loosely ruled by judges and elders. After the first generation, the Israelites fell into a pattern of idolatry, subjugation by foreign power, repentance and deliverance by a Judge/leader appointed by God.

The Judges were:

1) Otniel ben Kenaz defeated Chushan-Rishatayim king of Aram.

2) Ehud defeated King Eglon of Moab by tricking him into a private meeting and then attacking him with his left hand. Returning to the territory of Ephraim, he led a victory over 10,000 Moabite soldiers.

3) Shamgar ruled with Ehud at the end of the latter’s leadership. When the Philistines oppressed the Israelites, Shamgar killed 600 Philistines with a cattle prod.

4) Deborah was both a prophetess and a Judge. Together with Barak, she led the nation into war, and was victorious over the Canaanite General Sisera.

5) Gideon defeated the Midianites with 300 men, a deliberately small number meant to prove that God was with the Israelites.

6) Avimelech ben Gideon declared himself his father’s heir. His three year rule ended in insurrection.

7) Tolah led Israel for 23 years.

8) Yair led Israel 22 years.

9) Jephthah of Gilead is most famous for his terrible vow that, should he defeat the Ammonites, he would express his gratitude to God by sacrificing the first thing that emerged from the doors of his house. Tragically, it was his beloved daughter.

10) Ibzan led Israel for 7 years.

11) Elon led Israel for 10 years.

12) Avdon led Israel for 8 years.

13) Samson is famous for his Herculean strength attributed to his uncut hair. A Nazirite from birth, he was betrayed by Delilah, who cut his hair and thus allowed his capture. Samson led Israel for 20 years.

Sukkot Surprise

Surprise a friend or spouse with lunch in a local communal sukkah.

The Morning Blessings: Eh’lo’hai N’shama/The Soul That You Created

Expressing gratitude to God for our lives and our souls is an essential part of the morning prayers.

Eh’lo’hai n’shama sheh’na’ta’ta bee t’hora hee. Ah’tah v’ratah Ah’tah y’tzar’tah, Ah’tah ne’phach’tah bee, v’Ah’tah m’sham’rah b’kirbee, v'Ah'tah ateed l'telah meemeni, oo'l'ha’cha’zeerah bee leh'ateed la'vo. Kol z’man sheh’han’shama b’kirbee mo’deh anee l’fa’neh’chah, Ah’doh’nai Eh-lohai vey’lohay avotai, reebon kol ha’ma’ah’sim, adon kol han’shamot. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, hamah’chazir n’shamot lif’gah’rim may’tim.

My God, the soul that you placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me, You guard it within me, and you will take it from me, and restore it to me in the time to come. All the time that the soul is within me, I gratefully thank you, Lord my God and the God of my ancestors, Master of all deeds, Master of all souls. Blessed are You, Lord, Who restores souls to dead bodies.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought “For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world.” Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, “To bring forgiveness for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world.”

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as “Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu,” the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.

Why does Rashi specify “so that rain shall fall all over the world”? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all.

Giving For All

Donate your gently used clothing to a local shelter.

The Blessings Over Food: M’zo’note / Baked Goods

The blessing recited over baked goods other than bread is M’zo’note;

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam bo’ray mee’nay m’zo’note.

Blessed are You, the Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the various kinds of nourishment.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur,
© Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chol Hamoed

Most holidays in western society last for a single day, which is often extended into the weekend. And while most people are aware that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days, many people are surprised to learn that both Sukkot and Passover are also week-long holidays. The Torah explicitly states (in Leviticus 23) that these two holidays shall be observed for seven days. (Note: The holiday[s] following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are independent of Sukkot.)

The first two days of Sukkot and Passover (only the first day in Israel) and the last two days of Passover (only the last day in Israel) and the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival that immediately follows Sukkot (observed as one day in Israel, two days elsewhere) are observed as Yamim Tovim, Festival Days. Yamim Tovim are observed in the same manner as Shabbat except that one may cook (using a pre-existing flame) and carry in public areas. The remaining days in between are known as Chol Hamoed - weekday of the festival.

During Chol Hamoed, it is customary to continue the holiday spirit and avoid unnecessary work. Many people refrain from mundane chores such as laundry. Some people do not work and avoid shopping except for essentials for the holiday. In synagogue, the Torah is read and Hallel (festive Psalms of praise) and Mussaf (the additional service) are recited.

On Sukkot, the requirements to dwell in the sukkah and the mitzvah of the four species continue throughout Chol Hamoed. On Chol Hamoed of Passover, one maintains the prohibition against eating chametz, (leaven) but it is not a requirement to eat matzah.

During Chol Hamoed people offer special greetings to each other by saying either “Gut Moed,” which is Yiddish for “Good Festival,” or “Moadim L’Simcha,” which is “Holidays for Happiness,” or “Chag Sameach,” which is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday.”

This Week

Do something special each day to celebrate Sukkot: For example, dress in nicer clothing, eat on china, try a new wine...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Two Days of Festival

Leviticus 23:34-36: “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month is the Feast of Tabernacles ... On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no manner of creative labor. For seven days you will bring a fire offering to God; on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation for you ... it is a day of solemn assembly; you shall do no manner of creative labor."

According to Leviticus 23, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, including Shemini Atzeret) lasts for eight days. Creative labor, however, is prohibited only on the first and the eighth days. Why then will Jews around the world (except in Israel) celebrate the first two days and the eighth and ninth days as festival days, refraining from creative labor?

The rabbinically ordained Yom Tov Shaynee Shel Galuyot (the second festival day of the diaspora) is the result of our people’s geographic spread. As Jews moved farther from the sphere of influence of Jerusalem (considered what would then have been a ten day journey), maintaining an accurate Jewish calendar became more difficult.

Before the Jewish calendar was fixed by mathematical calculation in 350 C.E. (approximately), the new month was determined by the Sanhedrin based on the testimony of witnesses who had seen the new moon. As the diaspora spread, it became impossible to inform all distant communities when the new month had been declared, so a precautionary second day was added for those distant locations. Far better to sanctify the extra day than to risk violating a day that was actually Yom Tov.

After the calendar was set, it was decided that the custom of Yom Tov Shaynee Shel Galuyot be honored by remaining in practice. To this day, Jews in Israel celebrate one day of Yom Tov, while Jews throughout the rest of the world celebrate two.

Foodies's Delight

On Yom Tov it is a mitzvah to have a festive meal both in the evening and in the daytime. Enjoy five festive meals (dinner, lunch, seudah shlishi, dinner and lunch) this weekend (but try to eat them in a sukkah, weather permitting).

Shabbat Prayers: Lecha Dodi

Written by the 16th century kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz, Lecha Dodi is one of the best known songs of the Friday night service. There are nine full stanzas that create an image of the sages greeting the Sabbath, as described in the Talmud (Shabbat 119a). At the same time, Lecha Dodi also anticipates the coming of the Messiah and the glory that it will bring to the holy city of Jerusalem.

Between each stanza, the line of Lecha Dodi is repeated:
Lecha dodi, likrat kallah; p’nai Shabbat n’kah’b’lah
Come, my Beloved, to greet the bride; let us welcome the Sabbath.

“Observe” and “Remember” in one act of speech,
The One and Only God made us hear.
The Lord is One and His name is One,
For renown, for splendor, and for praise.

Come, my Beloved, to greet the bride; let us welcome the Sabbath.

To greet the Sabbath, come let us go,
For of blessing, she is the source.
From the outset, as of old, ordained:
Last in deed, first in thought.

For the rest of the verses, please visit

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Four Species

The waving of the four species is one of the most beautiful and symbolic mitzvot of the year. Indeed, there is a special commandment (Leviticus 23:40) that one make a specific effort to enhance and beautify this mitzvah.

The mitzvah of taking the four species is performed by taking a frond of a palm branch (lulav), 3 myrtle stems (hadassim) and 2 willow branches (aravot) in one's right hand and the citron (etrog)--held upside down--in one's left hand [lefties should reverse hands] and reciting the blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech Ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b'mitz’vo’tav v'tzee’va’nu al n'tee’laht lulav.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to take the four species.

(Those performing the mitzvah for the first time this year should recite the blessing of Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu.)

The etrog is then turned upward and the four species are waved together three times in each of the 6 directions: forward, right, backward (toward oneself ), left, up, and down.

Waving the four species is a symbolic recognition of God’s omnipresent kingship over the world and everything in it. As it says in the Talmud, in Sukkah 37b: “It is as if one is taking the species and bringing them to God who possesses the four directions. One raises them and lowers them to God who owns the heavens and the earth.”

Acknowledging God’s ownership of the world is particularly appropriate during the harvest season, when people might be tempted to rejoice exclusively about their own personal success. Surely, people are entitled to celebrate their own achievements, but always with the understanding that behind it all is God.

For previous Jewish Treats on Sukkot, click here.
To learn more about the holiday of Sukkot in general, visit
National Jewish Outreach Program’s Sukkot Pages.

More Than Sharing

If you own your own lulav and etrog set, after performing the mitzvah yourself, give the lulav and etrog as a gift to someone who doesn't have his/her own. The mitzvah cannot be performed on a lulav and etrog that one does not own. (Don't worry, they'll "gift" it back to you.)

The Blessings of the Amidah: God’s Might

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The second blessing is a meditation on God’s might and His role in the basic flow of life.

Ah’tah gibor l’olam Ah’doh’nai, m’chayeh maytim Ah’tah, rav l’ho’shee’ah. M’chal’kayl chaim b’chesed m’chayei maytim b’rachamim rabim, somaych nophlim v’rofay cholim u’mateer assurim, u’mi’kayem emunato lee’shay’nay afar. Mee kamocha ba’al g’vurot, u’mee doh’meh lach, melech may’meet u'm’chayeh u’matz’meeach y’shuah.

V’neh’eh’man Ah’tah l’ha’chah’yot maytim. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai m’chayei hamaytim.

You are eternally mighty, Lord. You give life to the dead and have great power to save. He causes the dew to fall. He sustains the living with loving-kindness, and with great compassion revives the dead. He supports the fallen, heals the sick, sets captives free, and keeps His faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of might, and to whom can You be compared, O King who brings death and gives life, and makes salvation grow? Who is like You, compassionate Father, who remembers His creatures in compassion, for life?

Faithful are You to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Lord, who revives the dead.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.