Monday, September 30, 2013

“The Seventh Descendant”

A popular theme among writers of fantasy is the special nature of the seventh son. In works of this genre, this child is often blessed with a natural gift of magic, or a destiny for greatness.

While the magic of such novels will always be just fantasy, the special nature of “the seventh” is an idea straight out of Jewish tradition. It is written in the Midrash: “All sevenths are favorites in the world ...” (Leviticus Rabbah 29:11).

The Midrash goes on to identify several well-known sevenths, such as Moses (seventh-generation descendant of Abraham) and David (seventh son of Jesse). The most fascinating of these examples, however, might be the lesser-known Enoch. About him it is written: “The seventh is a favorite among the generations. Thus: Adam (1), Seth (2), Enosh (3), Kenan (4), Mahalel (5), Jared (6), [and] Enoch (7)” (ibid).

Enoch’s appearance in the Bible is quite brief: “And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years...And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (5:22-24).

With these few verses, Enoch became an enigma about whom even the sages were divided:
“Rabbi Hama ben Rabbi Hoshaya said that he was not inscribed in the roll of the righteous but in the roll of the wicked. Rabbi Aibu said: Enoch was a hypocrite, acting sometimes as a righteous individual, sometimes as a wicked man. Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, said: While he is righteous, I will remove him” (Genesis Rabbah 25:1).

As the leader of the seventh generation of humankind, Enoch had incredible potential. Thus, while he was a man who could “walk with God,” the great commentator Rashi notes that “he [Enoch] could easily be swayed to turn to do evil.”

The Midrash explains why Enoch’s days were cut short, but what does it mean that “God took him”? The only other time this term is used in scripture is when describing Elijah the Prophet’s last moments on earth. It is thus understood that Enoch and Elijah were both taken, body and soul, into heaven.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Stay Strong

 
If you made personal resolutions during the High Holiday season, verbally reinforce your commitment to them. 
  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Shemini Atzeret and 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 bulls were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests brought 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 neverending.

On the night of Simchat Torah (which is the second night of the holiday outside of the land of Israel), 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.

*This Treat was last posted on Monday, October 5, 2012. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

What Is Isru Chag?

The day after vacation is often a time of distraction and disorientation. The same is true of the day following a religious holiday, especially after one of the week-long holidays (Passover and Sukkot) during which one focuses for an entire week on spiritual, rather than mundane, matters. 

In recognition of the challenge of transitioning from a religious festival to everyday life, a semi-holiday known as Isru Chag follows each of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.) Translated literally as "bind the festival," the term Isru Chag comes from Psalms 118:27, which reads "Bind the festival offering with boughs to the corners of the altar." From this verse, the sages determined that, "Whoever makes an addition to the festival by eating and drinking is regarded by scripture as though he had built an altar and offered a sacrifice" (Talmud Sukkah 45b).

In truth, the celebration of Isru Chag has little effect on the day-to-day conduct of most people...unless one is a parent of a child in a religious school (which may be closed for Isru Chag). Isru Chag also affects some aspects of the daily prayer service, in that tachanun (a supplicatory prayer) as well as memorial prayers are omitted, and private fasts are generally not permitted. (Example of a private fast: an Ashkenazi couple who is to wed on Isru Chag will not observe the custom of fasting before the chuppah). 

The idea of Isru Chag is that one draws some of the holiness of the festival celebration into the less spiritually elevated reality of everyday life. Since feasting is one of the ways in which Jews celebrate festivals, it became customary to eat and drink a little something extra on Isru Chag to continue the feeling of celebration.

This Treat was last posted on April 7, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate


If you can't join in a Simchat Torah celebration, do something special to mark the beginning of the new Torah reading cycle.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Beating the Willows

During Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to wave the four species (lulav, hadassim, aravot and etrog - palm, myrtle, willow and citron) every day except on Shabbat. In addition to this mitzvah, the four species are grasped together while special prayers are recited as congregants march around the Bimah (central platform) of the synagogue during the daily Sukkot Hoshanot service and during Hallel (with the exception of Shabbat). On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, there is an additional ceremony performed known as the Beating of the Willows.

The history of this mitzvah is less clear than the other mitzvot of Sukkot, but its performance is described in the Talmud (Tractate Sukkot 44a). Actually, it is written therein that "the [beating of] the willow branch and the water libation [ceremony] were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” The fact that the ceremony continued after the destruction of the Temple and outside the land of Israel is considered to be of Prophetic origin.

The performance of the seven hakafot (circles around the bimah) and the beating of the willows is universal, whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi - although there are different customs as to when in the service they are performed.  Following the hakafot of the hoshanot, a bundle (although a single branch may be used) of willow branches* is taken and beaten five times on the floor.

Because the origins of this ceremony are so cryptic, the meaning of beating the willow branches is the source of great conjecture, ranging from a connection to the Sukkot prayers for rain to an association with humility.

*The bunch of willow branches is also referred to as hoshanot.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hoshana Rabbah

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), 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 (3:31b): "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 judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot, which is why  the tashlich ceremony may be performed 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.

On Hoshana Rabba, extra hakafot (circles around thebimah) are added to the service, as well as the beating of the willows (see above). In some communities, it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah. Additionally, many people eat a light, festive meal in the afternoon.

Hoshana Rabbah 5774 begins tonight.

This Treat was last posted on October 5, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

One More Day



If you haven't already done so, make certain to go to a body of water and recite Tashlich.

Monday, September 23, 2013

More Than A Harvest Festival

Few people refer to Sukkot by the name Chag Ha'Asif, Feast of the Ingathering, but the Torah specifically states: "And you shall observe...the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34:22). Perhaps this term is avoided lest the holiday be mistaken as a simple agricultural celebration. But, Sukkot is indeed an agricultural festival celebrated at the time of the harvest, when farmers bring in the fruits of their labor, and everyone prepares for the onset of winter. There is no question that, as a result of witnessing the miracle of harvest in the field, people are moved to be thankful to the Creator of all things. 

Sukkot, however, is more than a harvest festival, because it isn’t actually about the crop. It is a festival meant to help Jews focus on the Source of those crops. This is why Jews move out of their comfortable homes and into their temporary dwellings (the sukkah) just as the weather grows chilly. It is a striking reminder that there is a more powerful Force in charge of one’s success. One can plant and sow and fertilize at all the right times, but one can only reap if God provides all of the right natural factors (good soil, proper amounts of rain at the right time, the farmer’s health, etc.).

While we today may not live in agricultural settings, that does not mean that we are not constantly dependent on a force greater than ourselves. No matter what profession one practices, one’s success is affected by thousands of different factors each day. While we may not personally gather our crops, we must always celebrate and be grateful for, and aware of, the Source of our sustenance.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Everyone Does The Wave

One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews:

The fruit of a "beautiful tree" (etrog) has both taste and scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah and who have performed many good deeds.

The branch of the palm tree (lulav) has taste but no scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah but have not performed good deeds.

The boughs of myrtle (hadassim) have scent but no taste, and are symbolic of those Jews who have performed many good deeds, but have not studied Torah.

The willows of the stream (aravot) have no taste and no scent, and are symbolic of those Jews who have neither studied Torah nor performed good deeds.

When the four species are brought together, they represent the complete spectrum of the Jewish people. Acknowledging our different strengths and weaknesses is critical not only in creating harmony among people, but in creating a unified nation.

Creating a unified nation represents the ideal state of the Jewish people. It was in a state of true unity that the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and it can only be as a unified whole that we can reach our full potential once again.

For more information on the four species (lulav and etrog) of Sukkot, click here.


This Treat was last posted on October 3, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Apples Plus

Celebrate the wonderful fruits of the fall season and make certain to recite the blessing "bo'ray p'ree ha'etz."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Water, Water Everywhere

Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the Water Libation ceremony, during which the priests ceremoniously drew water from the spring of Shiloach and poured it into the designated bowl attached to the altar. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, the Celebration of the House of the Water Drawing.

The Simchat Beit Hasho'evah was such a joyous and wonderful event that the sages wrote of it in the Talmud (Sukkah 51a), "Whoever did not see this celebration [the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah] never saw a real celebration in his days."

Here is a description of how it was celebrated in the Temple: The Temple was set up for the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. Three balconies were erected in the women’s section and the men would stand in a courtyard below, allowing more people to attend. Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard that gave off enough light to illuminate the entire city. In the courtyard, men would dance as the Levites played instruments and sang praises to God. The kohanim, the priests, would then go to the spring of Shiloach and draw the water to be used.

It is customary today, during the week of Sukkot, to attend or host a Simchat Beit Hasho'evah party, which generally takes place in the sukkah. 

This Treat was last posted on October 4, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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 seventh 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. Mundane chores such as laundry are postponed. If possible, 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 Hamoedof 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 Treat was previously published on April 9, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate


If you have a sukkah, invite friends and family over to make your own Simchat Beit Hasho'evah.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Sukkot Hoshanot Service

Walk into a traditional synagogue in the middle of morning services during the week of Sukkot and you might have to take precaution not to be trampled upon by the circle of attendees walking around the bimah (central table where the Torah is read) holding their lulavim.

The Hoshanot service has been part of the celebration of Sukkot since the days of the Holy Temple, when, according to the Mishna: “It was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day” (Sukkot 4:5). 

In the Talmud, the later sages debate whether the original Hoshanot service was performed with the lulav and etrog or with willow branches alone. Today the entire lulav (four species) is held throughout the service. Each day a different piyut, religious poem, is recited as the congregants circle the bimah on which the Torah is held. (On Shabbat-Sukkot, the piyut is recited, but there are no lulavim and the bimah is not circled.)

The name of the service, Hoshana, is derived from the opening word that is repeated throughout the first prayer: Hoshana. This word is actually a contraction of two separate words and means “Please save!” The congregants open the ceremony by beseeching God to save His people “For Your sake, Our God!”; “For Your sake, our Creator!”; “For Your sake, our Redeemer!”; and “For Your sake, our Attender!” Each cry is preceded and followed by “Hoshana” (Please Save!).

The Treat was last posted on October 3, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Vanity of Vanities

Most people are unknowingly familiar with the third chapter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) because of the 1962 hit song by The Byrds:

"To everything - turn, turn, turn/There is a season - turn, turn, turn/And a time for every purpose under heaven."

Kohelet is one of the five megillot (scrolls) read on the different Jewish holidays (for a complete list, click here). Kohelet is read on Shabbat Chol Hamoed (intermediary days) of Sukkot. 

The scroll begins: "The words of Kohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem," and thus the name of the book. As King David had no son named Kohelet, the author has traditionally been identified as King David’s heir, King Solomon.

If there is one thread that binds the twelve chapters of Kohelet together, it is the phrase: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (1:2). On the surface, this seems to be a rather depressing thought. However, that is not the message of Kohelet. It is the nature of humankind to not only take pride in one’s success, but to also take full credit for it. Certainly, people succeed as a result of their hard work, but only because this success is enabled by Divine Providence. 

The message of Kohelet is perhaps best summed up in the following verses: "I have seen the task which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised. He has made everything beautiful in its time;... man cannot find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end....But also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy pleasure for all his labor, is the gift of God" (3:10-13).

This too is one of the central ideas of Sukkot. Moving into a temporary dwelling emphasizes that the success of every person is, ultimately, in the hands of the Divine.

This Treat was last posted on October 4, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Call Out

When you need help, don't hesitate to call out to God. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Room For Creativity

A few years back, The Atlantic Magazine featured a story about a project that came to be known as “Sukkah City” held in New York. Sukkah City challenged architects to create unique sukkot with only one guideline: halacha, Jewish law.

A basic sukkah is really quite simple: three walls and a bunch of branches overhead. (For a more detailed review of the laws, click here.) However, any of the Sukkah City architects who looked to the Talmud for design inspiration must have been quite surprised by the creative sukkot described therein. For instance, while a sukkah’s roof must be made of detached tree branches, can the sukkah itself be built in a tree? The discussion, which begins on page 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, presents different rulings, depending on the nature of the walls.

Also on age 22b of Talmud Tractate Sukkah, the sages discuss a sukkah built on a wagon or on a ship - the issue being whether it can withstand a normal wind. It is easy to understand why they ask about a wagon or a ship, since these common means of transportation would have an obvious place to build a sukkah. But, the Talmud also discusses building a sukkah on the back of a camel. (And people were impressed at the innovation of the modern day pop-up sukkah, which works like a tent!)

Speaking of animals, the sages ruled that a securely-bound elephant would be valid as a sukkah wall. This was due to the elephant’s size, so this rule applies to no other animal. No one in this day and age would ever contemplate such strange building materials (indeed, most probably, no one ever used an actual elephant as a sukkah wall), but these passages demonstrate the flexibility and creativity that are inherent in Jewish tradition.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their redemption” (Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the psalms are actually much older. These psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of these psalms that pre-dated King David are those psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?”(Pesachim 117a).

*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel. is recited.

This Treat was last posted on April 10, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Question Asked

If you have a question about Jewish law, ask a rabbi before assuming that something can or cannot be done. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

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. (The order may differ depending on custom.)
 
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.

This Treat was last posted on September 28, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Perfect Species

At this time of the year, Jews around the globe head out in search of the perfect lulav and etrog (Lulav refers to the grouping of lulav, hadassim and aravot, which, together with the etrog are referred to as the four species.) Since the lulav and etrog are used for the mitzvah of waving the four species, it’s important to find a set that is as perfect as can be.

So what makes a lulav and etrog “perfect”?

Lulav/Branch of a Palm Tree: A lulav is actually the closed frond of a date palm tree. A nice lulav is green, with no signs of dryness. It should be straight, without any bends or twists near the top. The tip and top leaves of the lulav must be whole, and not split. It is placed in center of the hadassim and the aravot with its spine facing inward.

Hadassim/Three Myrtle Branches: The hadassim, which are bound on the right side of the lulav, should have moist, green leaves grouped in level rows of three. There should be no large, uncovered section of stem. The stem and the leaves should be whole, without any nips at the top and the leaves should cover the entire branch to the top. There should not be more berries than leaves and there should be no large twigs.

Aravot/Two Willow Branches: The aravot, which are bound to the left side of the lulav (slightly lower than the hadassim) should have reddish stems with green, moist leaves. The leaves should be long, narrow and smooth-edged, with no nips or tears.

Etrog/Citron: The Torah describes the etrog as “the fruit of a beautiful tree” (Leviticus 23:40). Ideally, the skin of this yellow (or green when not ripe) citrus fruit must be clean of spots and discolorations. It should be bumpy, not smooth like a lemon, and should be broad at the bottom and narrow toward the top. (Please note that the etrog is very delicate and should be handled with care. If dropped, the etrog can be damaged and rendered unfit for use!)

This Treat was originally posted on October 10, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Special Purchase

Try to buy your own lulav and etrog.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

But Wait, There's More

Now that the Jewish people have repented on Yom Kippur and, hopefully, received Divine forgiveness, it is time to sit back and relax...

Just kidding!

It is time to celebrate! Just five days after Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot begins. On this most festive of holidays (it is known as "Z’man Simchataynu," the time of our rejoicing), Jews live in temporary dwellings called sukkot (singular - sukkah) with a roof of branches or wooden boards. This temporary "hut" becomes the Jew’s home for seven days, and, therefore (weather permitting), everything that we would do in our homes, such as eat, sleep or study, is done in the sukkah.

The sukkot are a reminder of our origins, of our wandering in the wilderness after being redeemed from slavery. In fact, this reminder is both of the physical state in which we lived and the spiritual environment in which we sojourned. Symbolically, the sukkah represents the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, in which God enveloped and protected the wandering nation after the Exodus from Egypt.

A strange holiday? Perhaps, but by moving out of our permanent domiciles, especially at the beginning of the rainy/cold season, we demonstrate our faith in God as the provider and sustainer of all life.

So if you thought you had nothing to do next week, take a look around and find the nearest sukkah in which to dwell. Or, of course, you can always build your own! 

This Treat was last posted on September 27, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Build Your Own Sukkah

Webster's Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling--which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.

THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material--wood, plastic, even canvas--as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28") and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40") tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).

THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.

For the sukkah to be "kosher," there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It may not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate. 

PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree).

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Wednesday night at sunset. 

This Treat was last posted on September 28, 2012.


Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friends and Loved Ones

Sukkot is an excellent time to get together with friends and loved ones, so make plans to celebrate together.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Neilah: The Final Serevice

While one may make requests of God or atone for transgressions at any time of the year, the first ten days of Tishrei (from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur) are considered particularly propitious for repentance. In fact, it is said of this time period that the heavenly Gates of Mercy are cast open to more readily receive the prayers of penitents.

Although the “gates of heaven” are a poetic metaphor, it is one that makes a metaphysical process easier to comprehend. Indeed, in many ways, this imagery reflects the process and urgency of the Yom Kippur Neilah service. The final service of the Day of Atonement, Neilah means “closing,” an allusion to the fact that, as Yom Kippur draws to a close, the Gates of Mercy are closing.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that many people find the Neilah service to be incredibly emotional and inspiring.

In the days of the Temple, a Neilah service was added to all public fast days, the fasts of the ma’amadot (the priests at the sacrificial offerings) and on Yom Kippur. Today, Neilah is a service unique to Yom Kippur. But, even in Talmudic times, the Yom Kippur Neilah had its own special instructions: “On Yom Kippur, as it becomes dark, one reads the seven benedictions (the holiday Amidah) and makes confession and concludes with confession”(Yoma 87b).

Following the conclusion of the Neilah Amidah, is a series of powerful call-and-response declarations that include the words of Shema, the pronouncement “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” (three times), and the proclamation “The Lord - Only He is God” (seven times). Then, as the sun’s rays fade into darkness, the shofar is sounded and the congregation joyfully declares “Next year in Jerusalem!”





Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does one "afflict one's soul"? The oral law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No eating or drinking) - From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill, as well as pregnant and nursing women, should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur, as decided by their rabbi in consultation with their doctor. In such cases the rabbi should also be consulted about specific details of eating on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing - During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure, but one may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). One may also bathe a baby.

Anointing - It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.

Wearing Leather Shoes - During the fast it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials (i.e. Crocs).

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make one focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However such discomforts are temporary and, in fact, turn one’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that we can transcend physical discomfort in order to connect with the spirit of the day. 



This Treat was originally posted on September 25, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Last Moment

Use this auspicious time to pour out your heart to God.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lose The Leather

Once a year, Jews around the world make a unique, and not always attractive, fashion statement by wearing clunky sneakers or fuzzy slippers. (The Talmud records that the sages wore sandals of bamboo, reeds and palm branches on Yom Kippur - Yoma 78a-b.) Indeed, Jews in contemporary times often choose sneakers over even today’s synthetic materials that look like leather in order to uphold the prohibition against wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Leather shoes are avoided on Yom Kippur as a means of fulfilling the commandment to "afflict your soul"--"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

What does wearing leather shoes have to do with atonement? The sages recorded numerous Talmudic sources in support of the practice of not wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur. For instance, in Yoma 77a, "Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac said [it is derived] from: ‘Withhold your foot from being unshod, and your throat from thirst’ (Jeremiah 2:25), i.e., withhold yourself from sin lest your foot become unshod; withhold your tongue from idle speech, lest your throat become dry [faint with thirst]."


The prohibition of wearing leather on Yom Kippur applies only to leather shoes. According to Raba, "Is [all footwear] forbidden on the Day of Atonement because of the pleasure it affords, even though it cannot be regarded as a shoe? Surely, Rabbah son of Rabbi Huna used to wrap a scarf around his foot and so went out!--But [in fact], said Raba, there is no difficulty: The one Baraitha refers to a leather sock; the other to a felt sock" (Yevamot 102b).

Of the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur (eating/drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations), only wearing leather shoes is prohibited for children as well as adults. Eating, drinking, washing and anointing are all permitted to minors because they are considered necessary for the children’s health (Yoma 78b).

This Treat was last posted on September 24, 2012.


Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Food of Yom Kippur

Food on Yom Kippur? Isn’t Yom Kippur the most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar?

"One who eats and drinks on the ninth, is considered by the Torah to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth" (Yoma 81b).

This principle is derived from a strange allusion to afflicting one’s self on the ninth of the month in Leviticus 23:32 ("... and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month in the evening ..."), even though only 5 verses earlier the Torah commanded that we must afflict ourselves on the tenth (Leviticus 23:27).

As on all holidays and on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is also a holiday. Since one may not eat on Yom Kippur, the festival meals are advanced to the preceding day. The first meal should be eaten early in the afternoon so that one may later have the special seudah hamafseket, the final meal before the fast.

To be considered a festive meal, challah (or bread) must be served. Many people serve kreplach, dumplings, because the hidden bits of meat in dough are symbolic of our desire that God will hide our sins.

The seudah hamafseket is usually eaten after the afternoon service, closer to evening, but while it is still daytime. It is recommended that one eat only light foods which are not too salty (therefore it is customary not to eat fish at this meal) and to avoid intoxicating beverages.

Different families have their own customs how to best celebrate the successful conclusion of Yom Kippur with a festive meal and "break fast." Many Ashkenazi families have dairy meals, while Sephardi families will eat a meat meal.

An Interesting Recipe: Pepitada is a traditional Sephardi post-fast drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey.

This Treat was last posted on September 23, 2012.


Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Personal List


Tomorrow night is Yom Kippur. Tonight, sit down and review the actions about which you want to ask atonement.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

For The Sin We Committed...

One of the main steps in the process of teshuva (repentance) is confessing one’s sins and verbalizing one’s errors. In so doing, a person admits committing a sin, not so much to anyone who happens to hear, but, more importantly, to one’s self.

On Yom Kippur, there is a special service of confession, known as Vidui, that is an integral part of each of the five prayer services that are recited during the day. The great sages recognized how difficult it is for people to recall all of their actions over the past year, so they created a formula to help people understand the consequences of some of their actions.

The most prominent section of the Vidui is the section known as Ahl Chayt. Each verse begins with the phrase Ahl chayt sheh’chah’tah’noo l’fah’neh’chah... “For the sin we committed before You...” and then enumerates a general transgression. While reciting the Vidui service, it is customary to stand in a humbled position, with one’s head lowered. Upon reciting each Ahl Chayt, the supplicant strikes the left side of his/her chest with his/her right hand.

Due to space, Jewish Treats can provide you with only a sampling of some of the confessions from the Vidui service:

For the sin we committed before You without knowledge, and for the sin we committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin we committed before You with wicked speech, and for the sin we committed before You by scoffing.

For the sin we committed before You in business dealings, and for the sin we committed before You in eating and drinking.

When the prayer leader repeats the confessional service out loud, the Ahl Chayt section of the Vidui is divided into three sections. Between each section the prayer leader, and then the congregation, sing: “And for all of these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, grant us atonement.”


Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.