Category Archives: Nusach Sephard

Afternoon Prayers: Mincha Gedolah or Mincha Ketanah?


When is the earliest time to daven Mincha and how does a Minyan effect this choice?

Davening Mincha / MaarivA few weeks ago a friend asked a very important, but very basic question. One that got me taken down a long path of consideration. We are going to look at this in-depth. Our question is: When is the best time to say Mincha – the afternoon prayers.

It is most common for people to say Mincha later in the afternoon. Most often the prayers are said at the same time, or just adjacent to, the evening prayers of Maariv (Arvit). This is how it is normally done. This is the halacha (the law) as we will see.

Although often times there is a consideration given to one’s opportunity to say prayers with a minyan – a full congregation, a sufficient quorum. It is ideal to say prayers with a minyan than on one’s own, so people plan their prayer schedule to conform to meeting with this group. Nonetheless there is a time requirement in which to say morning and evening prayers; we say them in the morning and any time at night, if we are close to passing the appropriate time of day then we say them on our own. However Mincha can apparently be said all day long, as long as its past midday, so on some occasions that might leave us up to considering for ourselves when is ideal.

Is it better to say it on our own at the most halachically agreeable time later in the afternoon, or with a minyan even if that means saying it earlier? What is more appropriate? We are going to look at some answers to that question, and explore the reasons why we pray Mincha in this manner to begin with. We also make this even more interesting by taking a look at what some Sephardic poskim have to say regarding the halacha.

A look at the Laws relating to Mincha

Normally when I start presenting instructions for any type of mitzvah I start with the Shulchan Aruch – popularly known as The Code of Jewish Law. It usually is the stopping off place for our consideration of just about every mitzvah. In general, it not only presents us with the Sephardic approach for things as its base text, but it also is augmented with the glosses of the Rema who speaks for the Ashkenazi tradition as well. Very few times do I need to dig much further than that, or needing to do much more than identify halachic sources that clarify the approach for their respective communities based on this text. But today we are going to see a divergence from this, where the Shulchan Aruch is not necessarily giving a definitive voice.

We might need to break this down a bit for this to be understood, but let us start first off with the Shulchan Aruch‘s approach first. This is necessary also because we really need to draw a line of thinking as to why one might deviate from this approach.

The Maran (Rabbi Yosef Karo) tells us one fulfills his obligation of saying their Mincha prayers – which correspond to be our afternoon prayer service – after a half-hour past midday. We mean from when the sun is actually at its zenith, not when it says noon on the clock, this is decided by dividing the day into 12 proportional hour. However he states that the most ideal time to daven Mincha is after 9 hour all the way up until a ¼ hour before the 11th hour. One who discharges his obligation after 6 ½ hours apparently does so “b’deieved,” counting as one that does a make-up, but that the ideal time is later in the afternoon.

The Rema (Rabbi Moshe Issereles) in his glosses for this stresses the point that we are talking about proportional hours, that relate to the actual calculation of daylight and not mere relative hours like we find on the clock, in which all hours are 60 minutes long. If we think about it, simple hours are only the case on the equinoxes in the central temperate zones. But if you go more north or south, or the days drift longer or shorter because of the seasons, this calculation changes; these divisions of time are not static but instead are proportional to the length of day. The celestial hours work out well for people in Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia but it doesn’t really hold true up north in his native Poland and thus needs to be adjusted proportionally to the actual daylight hours, where in winter the days are exceedingly shorter.

The Maran and Rema seem to agree, with the Shulchan Aruch favoring the Ashkenazi approach even down to agreeing therefore that one has until tzet kochavim (the appearance of stars) to discharge their service, which would mean the birth of a new day. There would be little disagreement on this, except the consequential debate as to when this period to discharge Mincha ends; be it actually at tzet kochavim (twilight) or at shkiah (sunset). It would also be debated how early is too early to say Maariv. But thats not necessarily what we are talking about today, so we will pass right on to how this halacha effects us choosing the optimal prayer time. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, Siman 233)

Why is Mincha not said at Noon?

In all my travels I have rarely seen people engage in their Mincha prayers in the height of the midday. It is generally the case that congregations convene a Minyan to pray late in the day to say Mincha and then after a short pause engage in Maariv close to sunset. One may pray three times a day (four times on holy days, when you account for Musaf), but congregations are only made to convene twice a day.

But if we are saying “afternoon prayers” then one should naturally wonder why anyone would suggest that we do not say them until late in the afternoon. Why not near noon?

The confusion, in some ways, arises out of a disagreement that goes all the way back to the Talmud as to who instituted the daily prayer times to begin with. It is a disagreement that would continue to surface up until the middle-ages and even cut into the middle of certain communities themselves. For instance the Rambam and the Ramban (both Sephardic) would also disagree with each other as to the origins of our prayer services, leading each to different views as to if they were essentially biblical or rabbinic in origin. The answer to this defines if one would be transgressing a biblical command or merely failure to live up to a rabbinic custom if not meeting their obligation.

In the Talmud, in the name of Rabbi Yosi ben Chaninah, we are taught that the prayer services were introduced to us by our fathers. Avraham Avinu instituted the morning prayers (Shacharit) and Yitzhak Avinu the afternoon prayers (Mincha). By prayers, we are talking about saying the standing Amidah – which is our duty before G-d. (Talmud Bavli, Brachot 26b) The Gemara notes that Yitzhak prayed and meditated in the field, then stayed there because the sun was setting and then after his devotion he laid down to rest. (see Genesis 28:11)

However, earlier on in the Gemara we are taught that of all the prayer services the one that is the most acceptable before G-d as a spiritual devotion is the afternoon prayers. (Talmud Bavli, Brachot 6b; statement of Rabbi Chelbo in the name of Rabbi Hunah) We are taught to pay special attention to pray the afternoon prayers because even Elijah the Prophet was only heard during the afternoon offering. He prayed for G-d to hear him, and He did, responding with fire from heaven. (see 1 Kings 18:36-37)

This brings up a great machloket (disagreement) between the Sages (if not also dividing the Biblical approach) as to what is the most appropriate time of day for Minchah – the afternoon prayers. What is better, during the late afternoon or during the time of the midday sacrifice?

If we return to our main source text regarding the subject (Talmud Bavli, Brachot 26b), we find that there are rabbis who state that the institution of our daily prayer services are based upon the daily sacrificial offerings, meaning as a substitution for sacrificial offerings presumably instituted by the Sages; so it is stated in the name of Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Levi. We then find that Rabbi Yehuda seems to concur initially in the Gemara, that one can only say similar prayers up until the 7th hour of the day. He gives as his example that the additional (Musaf) offerings of a holy day can only be brought until the 7th hour. This time in the middle of the day therefore seems ideal.

However, as we look at this text we must be reminded that his initial statement that he makes is that one may start Mincha until the middle of the afternoon (plag haMincha). But the Gemara continues and begins to explain something very different in the end. It begins to define what we mean by afternoon. We are then also taught in the name of Rabbi Yehudah that afternoon is divided into two periods; the earlier being Mincha Gedolah that begins a ½ hour after high-noon, and Mincha Ketana that begins 3 ½ hours after high-noon. It is obvious to all that these statements appear contradictory to each other.

Nonetheless when the Talmud apparently goes to rule on this subject it answers the dispute this way: “Come and hear: for it has been taught: Rabbi Yehudah said: They referred to the middle of the latter afternoon-tide, which is eleven hours less a quarter.” In his own name a clarification is offered up.

Still it must be noted that the dispute does not end here. Though there is a seeming ruling being brought down to settle the confusion, this does not detract from the conviction of Rabbi Yosi ben Chaninah. He goes on to retort that though the Rabbis found justification for the services by corresponding them to the sacrifices, he contends that the actual true birth of the prayer services was in the biblical example and age. He contends that the Sages just added on to them by finding justification from our forefathers, and only then added the Musaf prayer services after the manner of the others. Philosophically his point is that the prayer services transcends the mere spirit and rules of sacrifice alone.

The Talmud thus does not offer us a definitive answer for this dispute. It continued well into the middle-ages as a matter of dispute between our Rabbis, in some cases even cutting through communities themselves (as is the case with the Rambam and Ramban’s disagreement on this matter).

However it should be noted that the law, as laid down by the Shulchan Aruch, does not just rule with the latter clarification of Rabbi Yehudah regarding Minchah Ketanah but also keeps in mind other implications, ones revealed to us in great detail by the commentary of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah.

The Mishnah – the raw and unqualified source of the Talmudic text does give us something very deep to consider. The Mishnah of Talmud Balvi for Shabbat 9a, it tells us that before Mincha it is not allowed for a person to get their hair cut, enter a bathhouse (or sauna for cleansing oneself) or a tannery (that processes animal skins), nor engage in eating or even in deliberating a lawsuit. The reasons is so that one will not be delayed in saying his prayers by engaging in a lengthy process.

The Gemara – the commentary of the Talmud, that clarifies the Mishnah it will begin to debate out what this means, and how much engagement in one of these acts has to be done before one finds themselves fully engaged and unable to stop. The Gemara however does bring our attention to the latter clause of Mishnah that tells us that one who is already engaged in one of these acts does not need to break off his actions, but he can continue what he is doing. So as long as there is time for him to continue to prayer after, he need not worry and can be lenient in these matters.

However, if we look at the Mishnah we are clearly told that when we are talking about someone engaging in a distracting or postponing act near Minchah, we are talking about Mincha Gedolah, not the latter Mincha Ketahah.

The Rambam, in his commentary for all of Jewish Law in the Mishnah Torah, cannot ignore this clause. He does rule in agreement with the Mishnah above, and likewise it is brought down to us in the Shulchan Aruch, (Orach Chayim 234) which in unison with him on this matter. However, even the Rambam has to do much work in explaining what is the point of no return for a postponing action, likewise what it mean by eating.

This point here cannot be missed, because as we begin to see our seasons changing this becomes a real concern. If the Mishnah outright says that one should not engage in any time consuming or involved acts after Mincha Gedolah until one prays, this puts a very big constraint on to one’s day. Especially if one is insisting on praying at Mincha Ketana, near sunset. We would be saying that no one can really do any viable business or even eat from midday until after dark. Sure one can rely on the leniency, but this is obviously not the ideal. What we would be saying, for example, is that in a long days like we have in Summer one should wait an enormous amount of time to take on a meal, something that is quite impractical.

The seasons also have another implication, one that is relevant for us now during the middle of winter when the days are very short. Sometimes, because of the shortness of the day, people will often encounter difficulties if they wait until the late afternoon to pray their Mincha. It can often be hard for an individual to even distinguish if it’s daytime or night time already. Though evening prayers (of the Amidah of Maariv) are not a requirement, being only a service of rabbinic institution which does not have any correspondence to a separate sacrifice of its own, the Mincha prayers are required to be said and we would all agree that they correspond to their time of day. Now Maariv does not have a repetition of the Amidah, reminding of the fact that it was not distinct but merely the occasional offering of leftover pieces of the other sacrifices of the day in evening flames.

However it is the custom for many to say a shorted Mincha Amidah, truncated by adding only a partial repetition by the Shliach Tzibur (the prayer leader); the leader starting the prayers himself but cutting off his repetition after the Kedushah, with the congregations then continuing on after that point with their own silent reading of the rest of the Amidah. However keep in mind that the reason is not because of similarity of Maariv and Mincha that might lead one to dispense of a full repetition of the Amidah, its because with days so short it can often be impossible for one to finish their Mincha prayers on time. The Maran cites this as the Sephardic tradition that he was familiar with, but he instead rules in favor of the full repetition of Mincha in agreement with the Ashkenazi approach.

Modern debate among Sephardic poskim regarding the halacha

Now it must be noted that many great rabbis, even among the Sephardic tradition, hold by the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch; it is defined by “the code” and the Mishneh Torah, therefore is the Ikar haDin (the letter of the law). This is made clear to us, even among critical and scholarly poskim such as Rabbi Chaim David haLevi (the famed Sephardi legal expert know as the Mekor Chaim haLevi). In his Kitzur Mekor Chaim, like many who came before him, he saw no reason to break with the position of the Shulchan Aruch and Rambam.

In fact the Mekor Chaim makes some interesting points after defining the names Mincha Gedolah and Ketanah – having to explain away why one is the greater and one is the lesser. He outright says that it is wrong for a person to pray at Mincha Gedolah, especially if there is a time later in the day that is less stressful for a person to pray, presumably during Mincha Ketanah! It is more ideal in the afterglow of the day, and one has up until the Shkiah of Sunset in which to say their Mincha prayers.1

The Mekor Chaim also makes another interesting point, that seems relevant for our modern day. He makes it clearly proper for even Sephardim to hold by this, his reasoning is because it alleviates one having to gather and then scatter at two different times, especially for those who show up to services for joining in with the congregation because they don’t read Hebrew. However, he stresses that for those who pray in Hebrew themselves, they should make sure to not delay so late as to wait until twilight for dispensing their Mincha prayers. Presumably waiting for a later congregation to convene is not justifiable in the case of a literate Hebrew speaker.

However when it comes to explaining how to fit waiting until later into our lives, and the details of the poskim regarding waiting for meals and such he further offers logical explanations for being lenient in this respect. He states that if one is relieving oneself by taking on a small meal (a snack) to make it easier to pray, then one may. Though he says that in the case of large meals such as for a wedding banquet it should be that one pray and then engage in a big meal after their davening. The Mekor Chaim is once again our compassionate conservative, and offers us logical reasons for our modern age. Though we can not ignore that first he outright tells us at the beginning that his position is “afilu meikar hadin / after the essence of the law,” that no one should have more than a egg sized portion of bread or fruit after Mincha arrives without praying. He does not wish to break with the law, even by a letter unless humanly necessary. (see Kitzur Mekor Chaim, Siman כה Tefillat Mincha, pages 56-57)

Interestingly enough, his predecessor as Rishon L’Tzion (Sephardic Chief Rabbi) of Tel-Aviv – Yafo was Rabbi Ovediah Yosef (shelita), who tells us that he too was previously of this opinion, siding harshly with the Shulchan Aruch. He even noted that on days when he saw a congregation going past the seventh hour he would say Musaf on his own and not wait for the congregation.

He asserts that he felt likewise about Mincha, that it should be said at its ideal halachic time. However upon inspection he later rejected this position, noting that a great deal of early rabbinic sources held that saying Mincha Gedolah was “Le’chatehila,” it was the ideal way to fulfill a mitzvah. Among those that he cites the Saadia Gaon, the Rif, the Rosh (Rabbi Ashen Ben Yechiel), the Ramban and the Ritba. This is further supported by prominent legal experts such as the Tur. The Rav tells us that had the Maran been aware of the long list of sources that held by this view, then he would have acquiesced and ruled differently in the Shulchan Aruch. (see Teshuvot Yechaveh Daat)

As we see, when all this comes together we have a very interesting perspective being delivered to us by Rabbi Ovediah Yosef. He says it is thus better to say the prayers at their corresponding times in full with a minyan, and not delay them to wait for a later minyan who says them truncated or even to say them privately at the more halachically agreeable time.

Theoretically this should be optimal from the perspective of people who hold by the Nusach Ari z”l (namely Sephardim and Chassidim). As we see the Rabbi Yitzhak Luria – great kabbalist know as the Ari z”l – did not establish a shorter and easier to say order of prayers. He first off insists that the entire repetition be recited by the leader, which he asserts is the established custom (as cited by the Aruch haShulchan, 223:6); thereby seeming to insist that one not wait until the latest times possible for saying Mincha. But he also further extended the prayers by including readings of the daily Tamid offering of Ketoret (incense) to be said with one’s prayers. To do this one needs more time, starting earlier is more helpful.

Okay, now enough of looking at teshuvot – to legal discourse after the fact regarding this. When we look at the rabbinic literature we find that we have a halacha being brought down – a law to guide us by – but a debate still remains. We would have a legal opinion presented to us by the Shulchan Aruch, supported by the Misheh Torah of the Rambam. However even well respected commentaries upon these such as the Aruch haShulchan and the Mishna Berurah would not attempt to settle the issue of what is better, be it Mincha Ketanah or Mincha Gedolah. They would actually show a curious honesty that even the Rambam had, despite their opinions, and present both arguments. The issue is far from settled, in fact each approach has certain philosophically merits behind it.

Mincha is our “Gift” to G-d

As we look at Mincha I would ask us to finally consider a more elementary definition of what we are talking about, one often noted by our scholars. Sometimes words come layered with legal terminology and idiom, to the point that we often look over the obvious truth about something that is revealed in it’s very name. Mincha more essentially means grain offering in biblical Hebrew, poetically it means a gift, present or tribute.

It can be said that if we really want to reinforce the significance of Mincha as a mindset and not just a mere time of the day that comes and goes, then we should be more interested in presenting our prayers as a real gift before G-d. One can argue that taking time out of their day to daven Mincha Gedolah would be more meaningful. Nothing is more precious than the hight of the day, if used for prayer then it’s a really big gesture.

Nonetheless one who chooses to daven later is also losing out on “prime-time hours.” Probably even more so today considering many of us work until quite late, not being limited by considerations of daylight for operating our businesses. Taking time out of our day in order to offer it up as a gift before Hashem in prayer is a real sacrifice. It has merit also, we should not just dismiss the halacha of the Shulchan Aruch right away either. Our sacrifice in light of halacha doesn’t have to be too oppressive to our daily activity as functioning people. But we do need to give back something.

And that is the real lesson of Mincha, I believe; that we are to take time out of our day and give it in service to G-d. We take time out of when we should be more concerned with making that final dollar or merely getting back to the safety of our homes, and we give it to Hashem. Not trying to make the best of the day for just our uses. We offer part of our day back as a gift to G-d.

The Halacha in Summary

The ideal halachic time for saying Minchah is during the later part of the afternoon, during Mincha Ketanah. One has the entire afternoon in which to say their prayers, but halacha favors the latter for engaging in prayer. However if given the chance to pray with a minyan at a less ideal time during Mincha Gedolah then this is acceptable.

Do you need to find out the halachic times for praying? There are various automated Zmanim resources available online, such as at Chabad.org or MyZmanim.com, that will calculate the halachic times for your location.

1) Kitzur Mekor Chaim, page 56:

טעה להתפלל משש שעות ולמעלה ללא שעת דחק יצא בדיעבד ומצוה להתפלל עם דמדומי חמה, היינו מעט קודם שקיעת החמה


Tikkun Chatzot


Tikkun Chatzot
Do we say the Midnight Rite During Spring and Summer?

When I originally wrote “Tikkun Ḥatzot: Getting Right at Midnight: Introduction to the Midnight Rite as a scholarly and historical piece to accompanist the release of the Nusach haAri z”l (Chabad) Prayerbook text I explained that many people take on this practice during the winter when the nights are long. But I failed to answer the question of how we apply this during the spring and summer when nights are shorter; mostly because this was answered in the actual siddur release itself. I didn’t keep in mind this would not be shown by most search engines, so I’ve received a lot of requests for an explanation.

To help answer this I am posting the actual instructions (with only one additional line of advice from the Tanya, in bold near the end; this will appear in all future editions to be released, bizrat hashem) from the Open Siddur Project release below (written by yours truly). Also see the links below to download your copy today! Hopefully before the seasons change again I will be able to translate a fresh English translation. For a detailed description of the rite, refer to the aforementioned introduction.

There are some general rules to keep in mind, we do not recite Tikkun Rachel on days the Tachanun confession is not said (this applies to the entire month of Nissan, as it is an entire month of celebration). This applies to Shabbat and Festivals – including Pesach and Pesach Sheini, Lag b’Omer, and the period from Rosh Chodesh Sivan until seven days after Shavuot. In the fall/winter months this will also apply from Erev Yom Kippur until the end of Tishrei, all of Chanukah, Tu biShevat, Purim and Shushan Purim. It is the custom of many Sephardim to not say Tikkun Rachel at all during the Sefirat haOmer. Some also choose to omit Psalm 20 and Psalm 51 from Tikkun Leah. On Tisha B’Av most Sephardim say Tikkun Rachel while omitting Tikkun Leah.


“It is, however, appropriate for anyone who is G-d-fearing, and all people of valor whose heart has been touched by Hashem, to rise at midnight and devote a little time to mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence.”

Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav, Mahadura Batra – Hashkamat HaBoker, 1:2
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, The Baal HaTanya

The scriptures tell us “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches, pour out your heart like water, facing the Presence of G-d.” (Lamentations 2:19) It is the custom among the pious to rise up during the night and pray for the rebuilding of Temple and the redemption of Jewish People.

The ideal times appointed for saying this devotional prayer is at the true celestial midnight; which is the actual midpoint of the night. This will vary depending on the season and location. The Baal HaTanya (S.A.HaRav; MB, Hashkamat HaBoker, 1:8) teaches us to calculate this as 12 hours after high noon, when the sun is directly overhead; this is agreed upon by many authorities including the Ben Ish Chai (Vayishlach §4). If one finds they cannot say Tikkun Chatzot at the appointed time then it is appropriate to say it at the first third of the night, or the second third of the night; or the end of the night, up until 1 hour before sunrise. There are various automated Zmanim resources available online, such as at Chabad.org or MyZmanim.com, that will calculate the halachic times for your location.

“The main devotion of the Israelite man is, in winter, to be vigilant to rise for the midnight prayer.And in summer, when the night is very short, less than six hours, and hence we do not rise at midnight, then he should be careful to rise in the morning early at dawn.”

Likutei Etzot, Chatzot §6
Reb Natan of Breslov

If one rises to say these prayers and has slept during the night then one should say “The Morning Blessings” and the “Blessing of the Torah.” If one woke up before it’s time, one should wait until chatzot (true-midnight) to say these blessings. However, if one cannot sleep and has awoken early then one may say the “Blessing of The Torah” and study until chatzot, then say “The Morning Blessings” and repeat the “Blessing of the Torah” together at that time. One will not have to repeat these blessings later, even if they return to sleep; their requirement to say them for that day has already been fulfilled.

Additionally, we should also keep in mind the urging of the Baal haTanya who stated: “Whoever cannot do this nightly should maintain an absolute minimum of once every week, before the Shabbat.”. (Lekutei Amarim – Tanya: Iggeret haTeshuvah §10)

The prayers of Tikkun Chatzot are divided into two sections, Tikkun Rachel and Tikkun Leah. The central theme of Tikkun Rachel is mourning over exile and distress, and therefore is not appropriate to say on days of celebration. However, Tikkun Leah carries the theme of praise and longing for the Presence of G-d.

Tikkun Rachel is only said on days in which Tachanun is said; it should not be said on days of celebration, including Shabbat and Festivals. Tikkun Leah, according to the Ashkenzi tradition, may be said on days even when Tachanun is not said; including Shabbat, Festivals, minor holidays, etc. (it is the custom of Sephardim to not say Tikkun Chatzot at all on Shabbat or Festivals).

When saying Tikkun Chatzot, it is the custom to sit close to a door that has a mezuzah affixed to it. It is to be said in a solemn tone, being sang according to the melody of Lamentations or merely read aloud.


Download:

The Tikkun Ḥatzot of Rav Shneur Zalman of Lyadi (from Siddur Torah Ohr, 1803) graciously hosted by the Open Siddur Project:
PDF | ODT | TXT (v.3.0)



Shabbat Lights: The Tradition of Great Scholars to Light with Olive Oil


Entering the Shabbat through kindling with Olive Oil

The Sephardic custom and what it teaches us about ones temperament
Do Sephardim bless before they kindle their Shabbat lights?

I feel privileged to have a great collection of siddurim (prayerbooks). In fact I have not met a person that owns more siddurim that me in many, many years. Each one of them is important to me because they help shed light on various minhagim. I love to learn about different traditions and the halachic process that led to them.

Shabbat CandlesOne of my favorite prayerbooks is the Siddur Ish Matzliach. It is a Mizrahi/Sephardic prayerbook that conforms to the customs of the near-east and Mediterranean (it refers to itself as “lifnei minhag haSephardim v’Edut haMizrach”). As this is the native nusach (style) of the Land of Israel, it is accepted widely outside of the Sephardic community and holds much weight in the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) circles. However, it should be noted that it goes to great lengths to document the nuances of the North African minhagim, being edited and checked under the tutelage of Rav Matzliach Mazzuz (of blessed memory; 1912-1971) who was a tzadik of the Minhag Djerba of Tunisia.

Many of my Sephardic friends, and those who are newly religious and accept the Sephardi minhag have asked me to relate to them any advice I can give them regarding the lighting of Shabbat candles and how to do it in keeping with the minhag. The Siddur Ish Matzliach is a great place to start, because it does show us some unique ideas regarding how the Sephardic communities approach the tradition of kindling Shabbat lights. With the blessing and prayers related to kindling you will find the following instructions presented (however, the translation is my own as this siddur has never been translated before):

מצוה מן המובחר |

להדליק נר של שבת |

בשמן זית. |

(שוע סימן רסד סעיף ו‘) |

ומעשה באחד |

שהאריך ימים |

ולא מצאו לו שום זכות |

אלא שהיה מדליק |

נר של שבת |

רק בשמן זית. |

(כהח שם אות לה) |

ובמקום |

שמצוי שמן זית, |

צריך ליזהר בו, |

שהרגיל בנר, |

יהיו לו בנים תלמידי חכמים |

|

המאירים בתורה |

שנמשלה לשמן זית. |

(מרן החידא בספרו מחזיק ברכה שם אות ב‘) |

ולכן לאשה |

להתפלל אחרי שתדליק, |

שתזכה |

לבנים תלמידי חכמים |

וצדיקים. |

(כהח סימן רסג א‘) |

A mitzvah done to perfection

is to kindle lights for Shabbat

with olive oil.

(Shulchan Aruch 264:5)

And the act of one

who extends his days;

of him there is not found any credit,

except that he kindles

a Shabbat light

only of olive oil.

(Kaf haChaim 34)

And places where

olive oil is commonplace

it is right to be careful in this,

and to make a habit of [Shabbat] light,

only are sons of Talmidei Chachamim

(great Torah Scholars)

who are illuminated by Torah

compared to olive oil.

(Maran haChida, in his book, part 2)

And if a wife

prays after you light up,

you are credited as one of

the sons of the Talmidei Chachamim

and Tzadikim (saints)

“(Kaf haChaim on Sadia Gaon, Siman 1)

Siddur Ish Matzliach

הדלקת נרות של שבת – “Kindling Shabbat Lights”, page 306

When presented with that, those who are unfamiliar with the Sephardic customs can be thrown for a loop. This is strikingly different from what most of us are familiar with, no matter what our custom or where our community is in the world. Though this is the correct approach for the Sephardic minhag, it is not how most of us understand Shabbat lights if we have any connection to mainstream Judaism. Where do we start?

Hanging Shabbat Oil Lamp

Hanging Shabbat Oil Lamp for multiple wicks from the 19th century

First off, for those of you who studied along with me concerning the lighting of the Chanukah Lights it should come as no surprise to you that it is the Sephardic custom to use olive oil for Shabbat lights. This what the Temple menorah utilized for providing light by which the mitzvot of the Kadosh Kadoshim – the sanctuary containing The Holy of Holies, could be done by. Oils and fats are the standard type of fuel used for providing light, however in some parts of the Ashkenazi world such oils could not be found so out of necessity people began to utilize bees-wax candles. Even citing the Kaf haChaim (Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer; 1870-1939) it is noted that this is the custom where olive oil is readily available, in the third part of the instructions.

The reason given to us by The Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad; 1832-1909) for why we utilize lamps of olive oil is because they burn to produce a clean and steady light, which keeps the house from the harm of a “ruach ra / evil spirit” (Shana Rishon, Halachot Chanukah §12). Of course by this we don’t mean demons or malicious beings, we are talking about a negative spirit; meaning a bad mood, attitude or energy (think of the term “school spirit”). We brighten up the house to encourage shalom bayit – or peace in the home. Sitting in the dark we would be prone to negativity, confusion and mix-ups that lead to arguments. We should brighten up the house to brighten the mood. We use olive oil because of the steady light it provides that does not flicker; this also improves the mood of the home.

The tradition of lighting with oil lamps thus also hints to us the type of person that we should be; ones whose light burns steady, without flair-ups or smoldering out. Flickering of lights is like fighting, instead we want to be a steady stream of light that is peaceful and temperate. Thus it is the tradition of Sephardim, and of many Chassidim who daven by the Nusach Sephard, to light with oil lights for Shabbat. In fact, myself living in a Chabad chassidic community I remember every family I knew to utilize oil or liquid parafin (kerosene) in keeping with this spirit of shalom bayitpeace in the home.

This does not seem hard to understand when we consider it. But there is something curious that is brought down to us second, in the name of the Kaf haChaim. What does it mean about a man not having any “zichut / credit?” If that isn’t confusing enough, the siddur then goes on to provide the blessing for kindling, but it leads with the instructions:

קודם הדלקת נרות של שבת, |

תברך: |

Before kindling the lights for Shabbat,

bless:”

Siddur Ish Matzliach

Any of us who have ever seen people light candles in our local synagogues anywhere in the world know that the overwhelming custom is for a woman to light the candles. The process begins by lighting the candles, then gently putting the match down, waving over the candles three times to welcome in the light of the Sabbath day, then covering the eyes and lastly saying the blessings over the candles. This is the custom that is well known to all of us, no matter what our tradition is. It is what we see regularly practiced in normative Judaism. However, here the siddur changes the method around on us.

Now as with the Chanukah lights, the practice we all know is the normative way as prescribed in the Ashkenazi (Eastern-European) tradition. Just as the Sephardic tradition differs in what we utilize to light, so too the mechanics change. However, unlike the tradition of the Chanukah lights where classical instructions are going to be silent regarding this and leave us to just accept that we have different approaches, this is going to stand out as a striking difference pointed out by siddurim. However, in all honestly, the majority of even Sephardic siddurim and halachic works are going to prescribe that we say the blessing after kindling the Shabbat lights.

Now one might wonder, on what basis does this respectable siddur depart from this tradition? How can a universally known approach stand to be challenged? This simple answer is, this is the ikar ha-din; this is the letter of the law!

To understand the law we should probably start with the Shulchan Aruch (also popularly known as The Code of Jewish Law). This is always our first stop. Our text reads:

כשידליק יברך |

ברוך אתה ה‘ |

אלוקנו מלך העולם |

אשר קדשנו במצוותיו |

וציוונו להדליק |

נר של שבת” |

אחד האיש ואחד האשה |

גם ביום טוב |

צריך לברך |

להדליק נר של יום טוב” |

וביום הכיפורים |

|

בלא שבת |

“When one lights, bless [saying]

‘Blessed are You Hashem

our G-d King of the universe

who sanctifies us with His commandments

and commands us to kindle

light for Shabbat.”

One man, and one woman.

And on yom tov (holiday, festival)

be careful to bless,

“kindle the festival light;”

and on Yom haKippurim

(the Day of Atonements),

and not Shabbat.”

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 263:5

The Maran; Rabbi Yosef Karo, Tzfat, Israel in 1563

Nothing seem apparent to us yet, in fact it will not be the Maran (the Sephardic master who authored the Shulchan Aruch) who would present our position to us, interestingly it is going to be the Rema (the Ashkenazi master that provided the glosses by which Eastern-European Jews hold by) that would do so:

יש מי שאומר שלא יברך… |

יש מי שאומר |

שמברכים |

קודם ההדלקה |

ויש מי שאומר |

שמברך אחר ההדלקה |

וכדי שיהא עובר |

לעשייתו |

לא |

יהנה |

ממנה |

עד לאחר הברכה. |

ומשימין |

היד לפני הנר |

אחר ההדלקה ומברכין , |

ואחר כך מסלקין היד |

וזה מקרי עובר לעשיה |

וכן המנהג |

“There are those who do not bless…

there are those who say

that the blessing

comes before the lighting,

and there are those who say

that the blessing is recited after the lighting.

In order to meet the requirement

as though it was said

immediately before the act

to which it pertains one should not

derive any enjoyment from [the lighting]

until after the blessing.

One should place

one’s hand in front of the light

after the lighting and recite the blessing.

Afterwards, remove the hand.

This fulfills the requirement,

and this is the minhag.”

Glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Printed 1578

Rema; Rabbi Moshe Isserlis of Kraków, Poland

And here the Rema acknowledges that there are those who do not say a blessing over the lights, those who say it before, and those who say it after. Then he goes into presenting the Ashkenazi tradition of blessing after the kindling, and explaining why one should cover their eyes before blessing. Thus the Rema expounds on the different approaches, two of them being Sephardic and one of them Ashkenazi. But how do we know that this is the Sephardic method presented first, when the Maran doesn’t seem to know there is a difference so he doesn’t elaborate and the Rema doesn’t identify who holds by what? Second, and an ever better question, is why is the Rema concerned that we pass this mitzvah off as though we were blessing before the lighting? Notice, and I don’t say this to be condescending in any way, but in reality all one is doing by covering their eyes with their hands is pretending that they haven’t lit yet; why does one go out of their way to do this?

Both these questions can be answered by one text. We turn to the writing of the the Rambam, the Sephardic master who codified all of Jewish law for us in his Mishneh Torah. He explains to us the general principal of fulfilling a mitzvah as follows:

“There is no mitzvah

for which the blessing should be recited

after its fulfillment;

ever.”

אין לך מצוה |

שמברכין |

אחר עשייתה |

לעולם |

Mishneh Torah, Hilichot Berachot 11:9; §7

Rambam, Rabbi Mosheh ben-Maimon, Maimonidies;

the 12th Century Spain and Egypt

The halacha is that we say a blessing before we do something, period. (the Rambam here is citing Talmud Pesachim 7b) This is known, this is accepted law and therefore to circumvent this fact one covers their eyes so that after they say the blessing and they uncover their eyes the lights are now there for them to enjoy.

The Rambam, as a detailed writer, explains the line of thinking to us clearly as to why we should bless first. In paragraph 7, halacha 5 he gives us the sample of tzitzit, tefillin and sukkah. We say a blessing before we even engage in the acts of acknowledging them because the performance of them is ongoing. The act of doing it is not an act in and of itself, but engaging in it was the commandment therefore we say the blessing before. The only time we say the blessing after is if the act requires many steps and then we say the blessing last after all the steps are completed, but this is not one of those cases.

When we Sephardim light for Shabbat we do so for utilitarian purposes, our oil lamps are in order to provide light for our homes throughout the Sabbath. They are dressed with finer wicks and oils than we would use the rest of the week so that they sustain and don’t need to be meddled with, but nonetheless they are just standard lamps and we use them for providing our light. We light lamps shel Shabbat, meaning “for the Sabbath;” to enable us to do our sabbath duties.

This is very different than lighting “Shabbat candles.” The candles in Ashekanzi tradition are a sign and symbol in and of themselves of the Sabbath. Whereas Sephardim just light up the house in order to have light to live, learn and dine by, so that the act is merely utilitarian; to Ashkenazim this is a ritual of the Shabbat customs that symbolizes the start of the sabbath. More precisely, with the saying of the blessing over the candles one symbolically takes on their observance of the Sabbath. The lighting is a mitzah to Ashkenazim, to us Sephhardim it is observing Shabbat that is the mitzvah and having a bright home helps us accomplish that but the candles are no mitzvah themselves.

For this reason many different Sephardic siddurim and halachic works that deal with the welcoming of the Sabbath point out that it’s traditionally the custom of Sephardim to not say a blessing, or say a blessing before kindling the lights; the custom varies by community. But when stating this it is noted that this is in on account that Sephardim do not recognize the beginning of the Shabbat to commence with the saying of the blessing over the candles.

Now lets back up to the statement made by the siddur’s explanation, regarding a man not having any “zichut / credit” when lighting. At first it looks to be the a simple phrase that tells us that candle lighting on Shabbat is not a virtue for a man, but for a woman. But it’s not saying this at all. What it is doing is giving us an example, of a person who takes in Shabbat early (as we can start enjoying Shabbat at any time we like), the custom is often to begin by kindling Shabbat lights to signify taking in the sabbath. However, here the siddur tells us that if one lights a lamp for Shabbat they are just lighting an oil lamp and nothing else. It is not a special demarcation of any sort. However, it calls us to look at the hidur mitzvah – the beauty, the detail of care to which we perform a mitzvah, as a symbol of our temperament and in pursuit of shalom bayitpeace in the home.

However interesting the approach of the Siddur Ish Matzliach is, even more interesting is the number of Sephardic prayerbooks that do not hold by this halacha. Normally I would point to certain books like the Artscroll’s Nusach Sephard siddurim and decry them being a Sephardic approach to Ashkenazi tradition, stating that they are not Sephardi sidddurim in that that don’t follow Sephardic minhag. But even those sources that are firm in Sephardic minhag for ideological purposes tend to favor the blessing after the lighting. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find a halachic work of Sephardi origin that does not explain the kindling of Shabbat lights and follow the minhag of blessing last as prescribed by the Rema. Among the few that are going to champion the approach of the Shulchan Aruch is Maran Rabbi Ovediah Yosef, shelita (1920 – present; Rishon LeTzion, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel).

The majority of the Sephardic poskim would in the end prescribe the blessing as being last, but few who insist on this method contrary to Maran Yosef Karo would be as honest as the Mekor Chaim haLevi in their explanation as to why. He states in his kitzur:

“For all mitzvot one blesses

on their way through,

(before) one does it.

And one must bless “before

the kindling;

and bless ‘Blessed are You…

…to kindle light for Shabbat.’

And so this is the letter of the law,

but instead we are already

accustomed to blessing after

kindling…”

כל המצוות מברך |

עליהן עובר |

(קודם) לעשייתן. |

וחייב לברך קודם” |

הדלקה, |

ברוך וכו‘ |

להדליק נר של שבת. |

וכך הוא עיקר הדין, |

אלא שעתה כבר |

נהגו לברך אחר |

ההדלקה… |

Kitzur Mekor Chaim, Chapter 60:5 (p.127)

Rabbi Chaim David haLevi (1924-1998), Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo

What all this means when we walk through the steps of the halacha and history is we find that the Ashkenazim took on the tradition of lighting as a symbolic ritual act at some point along the way. In reality if you consider the way they lived, their candles were superfluous for use for light anyhow; most people used bonfires, stoves and fireplaces as their primary source of light anyhow. This was a way of them connecting to an age old tradition of bringing light, life and joy into the home. However, the tradition of lighting up the house for Shabbat has always remained a practical act in the Sephadic halachic approach. But our own custom of lighting Shabbat lights is adopted from Ashkenazim, and at this point in history even our lights are also merely symbolic because these lamps are not our primary source of light either; our electric lights are.

Hanging Oil LampMany rabbis do not make a big deal concerning when you say the blessing because in reality there is nothing wrong with follow the ritual lighting of Shabbat lights according to the custom of the Rema since this is a wholesale adoption of this ritual custom anyhow. We became accustomed to this tradition through their practice of it this way, so its okay for us to follow likewise. In fact though the way of Maran Yosef Karo and the Rambam is the ideal way, the only reason that people do not follow the ikar hadin – the letter of the law – is to not show contempt for ones elders, as we are not allowed to change the tradition that we are taught by our forebears.

Some might wonder on what basis does Rabbi Ovedia Yosef and here the Ish Matzliach have the authority to go against hundreds of years of halachic tradition documented by Sephardic sages? Though it is true that some Sephardic communities have been following the tradition of lighting Shabbat lights for hundreds of years, others have only come to know this tradition since becoming reconnected to the greater streams of Judaism once their communities made aliyah to Israel. When adopted by newly established communities it seems only logical that they apply the law as-is. Secondly, there are many people who are newly religious and have only recently taken on mitzvot. For these people, there is no tradition they received regarding this from their parents so for them to adopt the actual custom in accordance to the rule of law poses no problems (people such as anusim, crypto Jews who have recently become religious Jews). In fact, it is best that we not frown upon such people because such individuals have the rare opportunity of applying the ikar hadin without the hangups of trampling a minhag.

Even though the Sephardic tradition has been influenced by the other communities regarding this, there are certain halachic consequences that remain that one must be careful to keep in mind. Even if one decides to light with a blessing after in avoidance of doing a melacha after a blessing, you still have not taken upon the Sabbath and are therefore still able to engage in acts of work or preparation until one officially davens to bring in the sabbath once sundown comes. We do not begin with lights. Likewise we do not end with lights. For instance, Sephardim do not make havdalah before lighting Chanukah candles. As the lighting of Chanukah candles is a mitzvah and making havdalah is not so much so, one engages in the mitzvah first to not put off it fulfilment. And this is permissible because there is no consequences of breaking Shabbat because your havdalah does not break Shabbat any more than lighting begins Shabbat. This is true in all Sephardic communities. But we will deal with this more once its time for Chunukah again.

Though we might adopt traditions from among the different communities, and this is acceptable and has happened over time, the tradition of using oil lamps and the significance of them to us points to how even when we accustom ourselves to new ways we should still be mindful to perform our devotion according to our own style!


Chanukah: The Ner Mitzvah and the Shamash


The Ner Mitzvah and the Shamash
Oil Lamps or Candles?
Do Sephardim Really Light the Shamash Last?
Do We Need A Menorah?
The Mystical 36 Lights of Chanukah
One’s Minhag: Is it Something to be Dogmatic About?

menorahcityshmu

Lighting an oil Chanukah menorah (chanukiah) on top of the classic Sixth Street Bridge in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles.

Today I want us to explore some lessons in Jewish tradition regarding the Chanukah lights. We are going to be looking at our texts with a special eye on the Sephardic tradition. All the while explaining the development of shared Jewish tradition as we know it today. In order to be able appreciate the diversity of Jewish minhag (tradition) and the progression of halacha (Jewish law).

As we come upon the holidays one naturally finds their mind considering all the rituals and customs associated with the celebrations. I find myself going over the liturgy and preparing the mitzvah items to make sure everything is in order.

The liturgy, aside from additional prayers added to our daily davening, is pretty minimal; we have prayers for lighting of the Chanukah lights. There are three blessings, halalu (“these lights we kindle…”), some Sephardim and Chassidim add Yichud (a kabbalistic unification meditation) first and a song of praise such as Psalm 30 (a Psalm for the Dedication for the Temple) last, while most Ashkenazim add the liturgical poem Ma’oz Tzor (“Rock of Ages”). That’s it!

The instructional commentary is also just as minimalistic in siddurim. Both Ashkenenazi and Sephardi prayerbooks tend to contain little more than a few lines related to the blessings, and in which order to light the ner mitzvah (the one commanded candle that was added to the menorah for the current festival day) and the additional candles that might have been added in previous nights. A typical example can be found in the Siddur of the Baal haTanya:

יברך בכל לילה |

להדליק נר חנוכה |

|

ושעשה נסים |

|

ולילה הראשון יברך |

ג״כ |

שהחיינו |

|

ואץ |

להדליק עד שיגמור |

כל‬ הברכות |

|

המנהג הנכון |

לדבק הנרות |

או לתלות |

המנורה |

בעובי המזוזה בחלל הפתח |

ויתחיל להדליק |

בליל ראשון נר‬ ‫הימין |

ומליל שני |

ואילך יברך |

על הנוסף וילך |

משמאל לימין: |

One blesses on all nights

lehadlik ner Chanukah

(the kindling blessing),

and “she’asa nissim.”

(“for the miracles”)

On the first evening one blesses

with three blessings,

she’che’ianu

(“who has granted us life”)

[thereafter] is excluded.

Kindle only after you have recited

all the blessings.”

|

It is the proper custom

to affix the lights

or to hang

the menorah

opposite the mezuzah of the door-post

and then begin to kindle;

on the first night the light to the [far] right;

and then on the second evening

go ahead and bless,

for the additional ones work your way

from left to right”

The Baal Ha-Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Russia;

Siddur Ha-Rav, Late 18th Century

Though there are striking differences between the minhagim of Askenazim and Sephardim, the commentary is generally the same for both communities. This is appropriate because these are the points with which both traditions agree. However, the finer details of the order of lighting the Chanukah lights is curiously not mentioned. It is these unique and often obscure customs that one would hope to have explained to them, not the points that are universally known.

Because most religious people know how to light the Chanukah lights according to their community’s custom, people often tend to overlook the obvious here; it does not tell us what we should be using as a Chanukah light, what it should be lit with, or even who should do the lighting. It is in these specifics that the various communities make departure from one another. Understanding these details in necessary for functional reasons, a person who is unfamiliar with them might find themselves unable to actually perform this mitzvah.

Most of us know the laws and the customs from being taught by our parents or community. Many are familiar with the way to perform the mitzvah through practice, yet very few through actual learning from the halachic sources. The instructions of the siddurim are not as barren to the observant person because they understand the terms and elements in light of their minhag; the words are loaded. Though one my be able to explain the ritual through interpreting the terms for someone as they understand them, implicit meanings do not provide a true reason nor a methodology. Furthermore, as these terms also hold different implied meaning by other communities this type of explanation cannot suffice. We need to provide a textual source, preferably a principal source so that the meaning is clear and free of jargon; then work from there.

We will be exploring some of the halachic works, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi sources, from preferred texts that are widely accepted by their respective communities. Of course, we will start with the Shulchan Aruch (popularly known as The Code of Jewish Law). Not only is the chiefest source in halacha (Jewish Law), it also has the benefit of presenting both Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions. The Maran, Rabbi Yosef Karo hailing from the holy land begins by presenting the halacha, his views accepted by the Sephardi and Middle-Eastern communities. This is commented upon by the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis of Poland; whose glosses represent the Ashkenazi tradition. All these other sources will be examining thereafter will be be interpreting these laws for their own community as well, working our way from the 16th century to present day. All of our text will center around one specific chapter of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Chapter 673. Of course as the material coalesces the chapters mix together a bit, but ill try to keep on target. I will be translating these works, most of them for the first time into English, to help us along.

Do we light a Menorah of oil or candles?

But before we can even begin to discuss the mitzvah of the Chanukah lights we must begin with defining what a ner (a light) actually is. This might seem silly, because it is a common everyday word used in Jewish culture and the Hebrew language; its simply a candle in the vernacular. Though this meaning is correct, it is not actually appropriate for the age and region in which the Shulchan Aruch was written; from ancient times until the relatively recent times a ner meant an oil-lamp, a lantern. Only by starting from this understanding can we begin to make sense of the first clause.

כל השמנים והפתילות כשרי |

לנר חנוכה |

ואעפ שאין השמנים נמשכים אחר הפתילה ואין |

האור נתלה יפה באותם הפתילות |

All fats ( or “oils”) are appropriate

to light the Chanukah lamp

even if the oil is not drawn up by the wick

and the light is not held nicely by the wick.”

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 673:1;

Maran; Rabbi Yosef Karo, Tzfat, Israel in 1563

In an oil-lamp the oil is drawn up by a wick, the wick holds a flame while consuming the oil that is held in the reservoir of the lamp. However, we must understand that though “fats” implies oil, this is a generic term used for any liquid fuel. Though this may also refer to other forms of fats such as tallow, which can also be solidified around a wick to hold a flame in order to produce light as it is consumed.

Logically, as we are lighting the mitzvah lights in order to commemorate and publicize the miracle of the lights Menorah of the Holy Temple which was sustained for eight days with one day’s supply of olive oil, it would seem appropriate for us to light with oil lamps. The Menorah only utilized oil-lamps, and the miracle concerned oil. For this reason we go out of our way to emphasize the significance of the oil, through eating oily foods and similar customs we regard the miracle of the Menorah oil.

It has been the custom since the ancient world for Jews stretching from the near-east to Iberia (Spain) to light oil-lamps of fine olive oil. This is the assumed tradition of the Maran in the 16th century and is sustained as the Sephardic custom.

The fact that this is the most fitting way of fulfilling the mitzvah and remembering the miracle of oil is attested to the by the Rema in his gloss to the Maran’s above statement.

ומיהו שמן זית |

מצוה מן המובחר |

However, using olive oil is the

choices way of performing the mitzvah”

Rema; Rabbi Moshe Isserlis of Kraków, Poland;

Printed 1578

However, we need to take a careful look at the Maran’s statement again in order to understand on what basis is it appropriate for some to light candles. Though lighting an oil-lamp is the best way, the Maran tells us we can use any type of oil or wick to light as a Chanukah light even if it isn’t the choicest method.

In order to make good use of an oil-lamp one must use fine oil, as a unrefined and dirty oil will separate, resulting in it smoking and smoldering; thus failing to produce a steady and sustaining light. Likewise, for a wick to hold a flame well it must be of fine quality and material; the choicest is fine, new cotton wicks.

The Maran seems to be telling us that if the choicest type of oil or wick isn’t available to us then we can use one that is of lesser quality. Whatever we have at our disposal is appropriate. Based on this the Rema also provides the following statement:

ואם אין שמן זית מצוי |

מצוה בשמנים |

שאורן זך ונקי |

ונוהגין במדינות אלו |

להדליק בנרות של שעוה |

כי אורן צלול כמו שמן. |

And if there is not olive oil available

it is a mitzvah with [other] oils

that burns pure and clean.

It is the custom in those countries

to kindle the lights of wax

as they burn clean like oil.”

Rema

From this Askenazim derive their tradition of lighting candles as Chanukah lights. One is permitted to use any type of oil that will produce a steady and clean light according to the Rema. As olive oil, or even other types of liquid oils, are not available in some regions, there some people have become accustomed to light the lamps utilizing wax candles

The Rema appears to be of the opinion that we should use what ever we have at our disposable that is of the finest hidur (quality). If that means another type of oil, it will suffice; do your best. As oil is just not available in some places wax candles has had to suffice, but they do in-fact produce clean and steady light, though this is consequential.

The Maran continues, stating:

ואפילו בליל שבת |

שבתוך ימי |

חנוכה |

מותר להדליק |

בנר חנוכה |

השמנים והפתילות |

שאסור להדליק בהם נר שבת |

Even on the eve of Shabbat

which is in the middle of the days

of Chanukah

it is permissible to kindle

the Chanukah lights

with oils and wicks

that are forbidden to use as Shabbat lights.”

Maran

What do the Chaunkuah lights have to do with the Shabbath candles? They appear very similar because as candles were virtual unknown to Sephardim, the custom was also to light oil lamps also on Shabbat, not just Chanukah. Askenazim generally utilize wax candles on Shabbat and Chanukah. [See: “Shabbat Lights: The Tradition of Great Scholars to Light with Olive Oil.“]

But this is where the similarities end, the mitzvot are not the same.

On Shabbat we utilize only the best we have in honor of the sabbath. The finest of all things are normally set aside for the sabbath use, such as oil; and we do not make ordinary re-use items but instead use fresh materials, like wicks. However, this is not true for the Chanukah lights. We can reuse old wicks, there is no requirement that they be replaced everyday. And the oils used for the Chanukah lights does not need to be of the finest quality, we can even use left over oil from the nights before if some remains to light the next night. Though ordinarily on the sabbath we want the best wicks and cleanest oil for a practical purpose. We need a light that we will stay lit so that we can do our sabbath activities that night and maybe even the next day, we want a wick that will last and a oil that gives us more than just smoke before going out. We need a fine wick that will work, one we will not be tempted to adjust on Shabbat because it tends to extinguish itself. Keep in mind we are in an age where this is the primary source of light, lanterns of candles or oil.

The Rema agrees this is true, but introjects:

אם אינו נותן בנר רק |

כדי שיעור מצותו |

[Thats is] If one puts in enough [oil] in lamp

to fulfill the mitzvah”

Rema

The only real concern we should have is that we supply enough fuel in order for the lights to stay lit for the required amount of time to fulfill the mitzvah. The ideal burning time is one-and-half hours.

Why do we not use longer lasting lights, or utilize oil that provides the best amount of light? The Maran explains it is of no consequence to us because we are not even allowed to make use of the illumination of the Chanukah lights, this is in complete contrast to Shabbat where the sabbath lights are essential for functional purposes of illuminating our home. The Maran explains:

לפי שאסור להשתמש |

בנר חנוכה |

בין בשבת בין בחול |

ואפילו לבדוק מעות |

או למנותן לאורה |

אסור אפילו תשמיש |

של קדושה |

כגון ללמוד לאורה |

אסור |

ויש מי שמתיר בתשמיש |

של קדושה |

ונוהגים להדליק נר נוסף |

כדי שאם ישתמש לאורה |

יהיה לאור הנוסף שהוא אותו |

שהודלק אחרון |

ויניחנו מרחוק קצת |

משאר נרות מצוה.|

For it is forbidden to make use

of the Chanukah lights

both during Shabbat and weekdays;

even if to see if [the wicks] are twisted

or to examine [the intensity] the light.

It is forbidden to use them for even

sacred purposes,

such as learning [Torah] by its illumination;

it is forbidden.

There are those who permit this

for sacred use.

But the proper custom is to light an additional light

so that if the light is utilized

it is from the light of the additional one that

was lit last;

it should be placed a small distance

away from the mitzvah lights.”

Shulchan Aruch, O.C., Perek 673:1; Maran

We cannot make any use of the Chanukah lights, we should not even examine the elements of the Chanukah rituals by means of it’s light to see if it is crooked, distorted or twisted (ma’ot); or as others more simple suggest, we cannot check or count money, as ma’ot (ma’ah singular) are small coins in Talmudic terminology. Either way, we are not allowed to make personal nor sacred use of the Chanukah lights for any reason. Not even for the most lofty of purpose of such as studying Torah. As we will come to see, the difference between Shabbat lights and Chanukah lights is that whereas we use the light to enable us to do our Shabbat mitzvot (we use the light to make Shabbat in our home), during this holiday the lights are the mitzvah (our only requirement is to kindle, nothing more).

The Ner Nosef and the Shamash: The Customs Regarding the Additional Light

In paragraph one of the Shulchan Aruch the Maran acknowledges that there are others who do not hold by this opinion, being lenient concerning sacred use (though he doesn’t identify anyone). However, he goes on to express that it is not the custom of his community to be lenient in this matter, stating that the “proper minhag” (presumably meaning that of the Sephardic community) is to instead light a ner nosef; an additional light. He states the purpose of this additional light is so that one does not make use of the Chanukah lights, instead providing them another light. And by being set apart from the Chanukah lights, one is not prone to make use of the sacred lights but instead use this light. He then says this additional light is lit last.

The Rema continues on to presents the minhag of his community, stating:

ובמדינות אלו אין נוהגים |

להוסיף רק מניח |

אצלן השמש |

שבו מדליק הנרות |

הוא עדיף טפי |

In these countries it tends not to be the custom

to add an additional [candle]

but to delegates the Shamash

with which he kindles the lights;

this is preferable.”

Rema

The Rema takes a personal tone, saying that in region from which he is writing (he is in Poland) it is the custom not to add an additional light. Instead one uses the Shamash for this purpose of providing light. The Shamash is also used to kindle the Chanukah lights. Logically, if you light the festival lights with the Shamash then it must be lit first and not last. By virtue the word shamash means “the servant,” suggesting that it is used in service of kindling the other lights. This is our first mention of the Shamash, it’s purpose is suggested by the name that is ascribed to it. Though the idea that it is lit first is not yet explicitly stated here.

In this line the custom of Ashkenazim to light the Chanukah lights with the Shamash is documented for us here in the 16th century by the Rema. It also provides us from where the custom of placing the Shamash light right next to the Chanukah lights is derived. The word preceding is also generally understood figuratively, according in its literary form as “azal” meaning to place close by or near to something, instead of “eh’zel” (same spelling, different pronunciation) which means to delegate and utilize. Whereas, the Maran says a light should be a bit away, this figurative understanding of the Rema’s words suggests “close by” instead.

So now not only do we have two varying minhagim relating to the type of lights, Askenazim lighing candles and Sephardim lighting oil lamps, but we also have two different types of auxiliary lights. Askenazim lighting it first and the Sephardim lighting it last.

PM Netenyahu and Defense Minister Barak at army base lighting for the first night

The Rema will also go on to tell us that this auxiliary light should be longer than (יותר ארוך) than the rest of the lights so that one makes use of it. Though this explicitly means longer-lasting, not taller or higher, it is the custom of many Askenazim to also place this light above the mitzvah lights, on a single candelabrum with one branch rising higher for this auxiliary light to be placed upon. For practical reason this is helpful, to make better use of the light we should place it higher. It is the universal custom to not place the mitzvah lights too high so that we are not tempted to make ordinary use of them, but any additional lamps in the home are placed at a good and sufficient height to better illuminate the room. Though this does not need to apply to the Shamash, it is still appropriate and helpful.

All of this might seem confusing to some, virtually then entire Jewish world only knows the custom one way. Even the gentile world knows the symbol of the menorah through the lighting of the chanukiah – the 9 branched (8 arms, 1 Shamash) candelabrum that is lit for Chanukah. From the White House to your local shopping center you will find menorah lighting ceremonies to celebrate the holiday. We think of candles being lit. It seems self explanatory, you get a candle and you light the rest of them with it. If you had to pick which one was gonna to single out, it’s obviously going to be the Shamash.

Now lets try considering the Sephardic custom to light the Shamash last, and try to work through the mechanics of that with candles. And here we have a really big problem. That extra-candle is all good and well for extra light, but now it’s really close to the rest of the mitzvah lights so we are now prone to use them by using it. But is something that should be more drastically obvious to us to struggle with. This extra light is not even used for lighting the other candles so its superfluous; it doesn’t serve any real purpose. It doesn’t make any sense. Furthermore, it would seem frustrating because now we don’t know what we are supposed to be lighting the rest of the candles with.

As most of American Jewry is Eastern European (Ashkenazi) their custom is the most prevalent in our society. We understand this method. Being in America, it is true that olive oil in this day and age is not hard to acquire. And it is relatively affordable, though not necessarily inexpensive. However, candles are very inexpensive and we all know how to use them. If olive oil was as common to America as it is in the Mediterranean and middle-east, we would most likely make use of oil lamps for economical reasons instead.

The Chanukiah Candelabrum is not a Menorah

We do not need the finest olive oil to light. Nor need to have a special menorah to light Chanukah lights upon. All that is required is that we light the right amount of lights for the day and the Shamash. In the east it is the custom to use individual oil-lamps without placing them on a candelabrum. One does not even need separate lamps, one can use a single reservoir lamp with one wick for each night. Likewise, it is permissible for us to just light the right amount candles without use of a menorah. All that is required is we keep the ner mitzvot at the same height. This is true in any community.

We are not commemorating the Menorah, we are keeping the mitzvah of the miracle of the lights. We fulfill our obligation by lighting the lights, not by lighting a menorah. The two are very distinct from one another. This is expressed to us by the first words of the next paragraph in the words of the Maran:

| הדלקה עושה מצוה

The kindling is the mitzvah.”

Shulchan Aruch, O.C., Perek 673:2; Maran

Sure there are some Askenazim that do make use of olive oil for Chanukah lights. Sometimes the oil-lamps are placed in the form of a menorah, but one needs to be careful not to confuse the two. In relations to what we have already discussed, we cannot make use of the lights for any purpose; whereas the Menorah of the Tabernacle and the Second Temple period was utilized explicitly for lighting inside the sanctuary. The Menorah of the Temple had seven branches for oil-lamps and were regularly refilled with oil. At the center was an offset ner meharav (the western light) thats was perpetually kept lit, and it was utilized to relight the other lamps.

Though it is the stringent custom of some to relight Chanukah candles that are accidentally extinguished, it is also the stringency of such communities to not allow kindling one light off another: This is the sustained Ashkenazi opinion, despite being allowed by the Maran (674:1). The opinions of the Rema and subsequent Ashekenazi poskim are blatantly presented as stringencies. Naturally if one was using candles this would be reasonable as you want to use as much of the candle as possible and not waste it, and relighting is easy as one has an available Shamash with which to do so.

This opinion would be presented to us clearly in the mid-19th century by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried of Hungary in his widely celebrated Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (also popularly known as The Abridged Code of Jewish Law). This work of Ashkenazi scholarship is the single most well known reference for Jewish law and is considered the most accessible of all the halachic works. He would also reaffirm the points also established by the Rema. But notice he is going to add one extra statement before he explains to us the placement and the usage of the Shamash as an auxiliary light:

יג) ונוהגין להחמיר

שלא להדליק מנר לנר,

אלא מדליקן מן השמש

או מנר אחר.

|

יד) כל זמן

מצוותן,

דהיינו חצי שעה,

אסור ליהנות מאורן.

ולכן נוהגין להניח

אצלן את השַמָש

שהדליקן בו,

כדי שאם ישתמש אצלן

ישתמש לאור השַמָש.

וצריכין להניחו

קצת למעלה מן הנרות,

שיהא ניכר שאינו

ממניין

הנרות.

It is our custom to be stringent |

not to kindle from lamp to lamp, |

but to kindle it with the Shamash |

or another light. |

|

During the time of |

fulfilling the mitzvah, |

for an hour and a half long, |

it is forbidden to make use of it’s light. |

For this reason it is our custom to place |

near it the Shamash |

with which you kindle it, |

so that if one uses the light |

one is utilizing the light of the Shamash. |

You must place it |

a little higher than the [other] lights |

so that it is not considered among |

the count |

of the [mitzvah] lights.” |

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfied (1804 to1886), of Hungary

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 139:13-14

Now for a moment I need us to step back and consider this for a second. All the commentaries up until now have relayed the information related the laws of Chanukah lights in a specific order. Naturally since all these works are themselves are commentaries and pretty much the “Cliff’s Notes” of the Shulchan Aruch, we expect the information to flow in accordance with that. The Rema who first comments on the Shulchan Aruch even keeps in complete step with the order of the Maran. In fact the Maran himself is following an order and line of thought already set up by the Tur (in the late 13th to early 14th century). But here Rabbi Ganzfried gets ahead of himself and starts interpreting the text broadly. Surely he knows whats coming up in the next chapter by the Maran so he has to make a pre-emptive statement; be stringent, do not light one light off of another light, but instead use the Shamash or another light. Though this should only really apply to relighting candles (which the verses immediately before this concern themselves with), he is making a blanket statement about lighting and relighting in one solid swoop.

I say “pre-emptively” because the next whole chapter of the Shulchan Aruch is going to be the Maran explicitly telling us that we are permitted to light one light from another. He says that we are actually even allowed to light one light right from the other without having a candle in between them to light with. However, he admonishes us that one is not allowed to light with an ordinary light; an ordinary candle (ner shel chol) / a weekday light. Though he admits some permit this, as long as there is not the fear that the light will go out in between lighting the Chanukah light with the ordinary candle (ha-ner shel chol).

20151213_181646The Rema and Ashkenazi tradition will disagree with this. The reason that is given to us by the Rema is based on a true assumption; only one of the candles is actually a mitzvah light, the one light for that specific night. The rest to the right of the light are to aggrandize the mitzvah, but in reality only one of the candles is necessary. We all know the story of how we came up with the lighting in this fashion, it was a debate of lighting one candle, or changing the order to correspond to 8 days in either by adding or subtracting lighting. In the end the tradition implemented by the Rabbis of the Talmud was that of adding lights so that we would come to an honored climax. (Talmud Shabbat 21b) On account of this it is felt that the other lights are less holy, because in essence we only really need one candle per day. If we were to light the first light then light the additional lights off of it, we are using the light of the mitzvah for something that is not necessary for a mitzvah, we are cheapening the mitzvah light by using it for a lesser act.

But like I said, I want to deal with only one chapter of the Code (though the text and translation for the section cited will be listed in the footnotes below), so I cannot go into more detail at this time for the sake of time. But there are some details we have to cover in order to understand why the next work also jumps the gun as well as.

First off, the reason that the Maran seem concerned that we do not take any ordinary object and take fire for the Chanukah lights for it is also in order to not appear to cheapen the mitzvah as well. He thinks its better practice to light one Chanukah light directly from another if necessary. First off there is a subtle assumption made, that by lighting up another candle from a sacred light in order to light another one thereby designates that item for sacred use and it should not be treated like an ordinary item from that point on. The other cause for concern seems to be that if one uses an intermediary candle, then one must be sure that the light is not likely to go out before completing the process of transferring the flame. If there is such a risk (like heavy wind for instance) attempting a transferring of the light for kindling is not permissible. We want it to be clear we only use the flame for a mitzvah and not for personal use in the interim of lighting, which would appear to be the case if the light went out before we actually lit another candle. Nachon, are we following along so far? It seems the Maran is making a stringency saying we shouldn’t use an intermediary candle, though some permit this.

The Sacred 36 Lights

Though a reason is provided above by the Rema, concerning the lesser “importance” of the other lights aside from the single light intended for that day; this will not be the final halacha for even Ashkenazim. In the end it is going to be tempered by generations of rabbis who are going to attest to the fact that because the other lights of the Chanukah count are set aside for a sacred use, they also have holiness imparted to them. They must be treated sacredly. By the time of Rabbi Ganzfied with his Kitzur the halacha is going to be established as such, and signified by us keeping all the mitzvah lights at the same height to signify they are for the mitzvah, and the Shamash we raise a little bit higher. This is the custom in all communities.

In the minds of many people the halachic process ends at this point. The halachic reasons presented up to now are sensible to us. Here we see the evolution of a halachic processes taking place in how we perform this mitzvah, it is natural for many to think that we should follow the rulings that is most contemporary; in this case the urgings of our Ashkenazi rabbis such as the honorable Rabbi Ganzfried. Some also see this as keeping in step with progress, we are moving from oil lamps to standard candles so the halacha shifts. However, Rabbi Ganzfried’s positions represent the Ashkenazi tradition in as much as he follows the ruling of the Rema. And furthermore, there is a voices even more contemporary that shares the Sephardi position.

We will find our Sephardi/Mizrahi position provided to us by the Ben Ish Chai, Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad. The Ben Ish Chai, one of the highest regarded “oriental” rabbis:

Do not light some oil lamps and some wax

so that it can not be said

two people have lit [sets of lights]

therefore this is not

a completed [also. elegant] mitzvah.

Therefore it is good that the entire set

of lights are equal;

in size, appearance and kind.

As one complete mitzvah.

It is good that this additional light,

called the Shamash,

be made distinct (Lit. strange)

from the Chanukah Lights

so that it is evident

that it is not part of the Chanukah lights.

And this is my custom.”

|

It is forbidden to light

from a sacred item

for [lighting] an ordinary item.

But from the additional light

it is permissible.

And there are the stringent

who also allow with an additional candle.”

יג) אין להדליק קצת נרות משמן וקצת משעוה, |

כדי שלא יאמרו |

שני אנשים הדליקו |

ועוד אין בזה |

הידור מצוה, |

ולכן טוב שגם גוף |

הנרות יהיו שוין |

בגודלן ומראיהם ומינם |

משום הידור מצוה, |

וטוב שזה נר הנוסף |

שקורין שמש |

יעשהו משונה |

מנרות חנוכה, |

כדי שיהא ניכר |

שאין זה בכלל נח |

וכן אני נוהג: |

|

יד) אסור להשתמש לאורה |

בין תשמיש קדושה |

בין תשמיש חול, |

אבל לנר הנוסף |

מותר |

ויש מחמירין |

גם בנר הנוסף… |

The Ben Ish Chai, Rabbi Yosef Chaim (1832 – 1909) of Baghdad

Shana Rishon, Halachot Chanukah

First off, before I get any further I must note that in the paragraph before this one (paragraph 12) the Ben Ish Chai who is a only 25 years the junior to Rabbi Ganzfried attests that we in the “orient” and near-eastern lands still use olive oil, he says of both Chanukah and Shabbat lights; only differences really is the quality of the wicks. He begins this by quoting the already discussed words of the Rema himself, “shemen zait mitzvah min ha’muvchar / olive oil is the mitzvah done to perfection.” But this shouldn’t be anything shocking to us, because this is also agreed upon in the Kitzur (139:4).

But instead of immediately going into making the argument and mechanics for using wax like the Kitzur does, here the Ben Ish Chai is going to say that its okay to use candles without making an argument for it. But he will present us with certain guidelines concerning this advancement. If we are going to use oil, then we use all the lights oil. If we use wax then all of the lights should be wax. This is because the lighting is one complete mitzvah. We need to keep the candles not only level with each other, but of the same kind so that it is obvious and apparent we are completing one whole mitzvah with these lights.

Now the Shamash should be distinct so it can be different from the rest of the lights. It seems to be suggested that it can not just be set aside, but be a strange candle or light that is different from the rest. We should raise it a little bit higher, or set it aside from the rest.

But what about lighting and relighting? He says we should not light weekday or ordinary lights from the sacred Chanukah lights, but from the additional light it is permissible. Sacred lights sacred, ordinary lights ordinary. But then he throws a zinger at us here. The stringent of the Sephardic custom allows one to light with an even additional candle yet. This is the light that we utilize for lighting the initial lights (which we light before we recite the blessings and light the number of lights for the day). We can take this third-party candle and use it to light; then put it out. If we relight, we can use this third-party candle again. Yes, we can even relight from the other Chanukah lights for another Chanukah light. But we should only light sacred with sacred, and non-sacred with non-sacred.

But what about the concern on transferring sacredness to the intermediary candle or temporarily using the light in the interim? The answer will be provided for us by another chacham, but this is one more closer to our day and age; in the voice of Rabbi Ovediah Yosef, shlitah, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader to the Mizrahi and Sephardi communities to this day:

אסור להשתמש לאור

נרות חנוכה,

ואפילו תשמיש עראי

כגון לבדוק מעות

אולמנותן

לאורה אסור,

כדי שלא יהיו

המצוות בזויות עליו

(שבת כב.).

|

א) ותשמיש עראי של

מצוה מותר.

ולכן אם נסתפק לו דין

שהוא צורך חנוכה,

מותר להשתמש לאורה.

|

ב) ואפילו תשמיש של קדושה

כגון ללמוד

לאורה אסור

ולכן נוהגים להדליק נר נוסף

שנקרא שָׁמַשׁ

כדי שאם ישתמש לאורה,

יהיה לאור הנוסף,

שמדליקים אותו לאחרונה,

ונוהגים לתת הנר הנוסף יותר גבוה

מנרות המצוה,

ורמז לדבר:

|

ג) שרפים עומדים ממעל לו”,

שמנין נרות המצוה

בכל הלילות ביחד הם שלשים וששה

כמנין לו

ואם אי אפשר

להניח נר השמש

גבוה יותר משאר הנרות, יניחנו רחוק קצת מהם,

כדי שיהיה ניכר שאינו

מנרות המצוה.

It is forbidden to utilize the illumination of |

the Chanukah lights |

even if for a temporary use |

for things such as counting coins |

or examining; |

from the illumination is forbidden |

so that there is no |

contempt for the commandment. |

(Talmud Shabbat 22) |

|

Use of a temporary item for a |

mitzvah is allowed; |

therefore if we are satisfying a law |

that is necessary for Chanukah, |

the light may be used. |

|

Even for a use that is sacred |

such as learning, |

by the illumination it is forbidden. |

Therefore we kindle an additional light |

that is called the Shamash |

so that if we make use of the illumination |

it is from the additional light. |

So kindling it last, |

the additional light tending to be taller than |

the commanded candle lamps |

hinting to its meaning |

|

‘Seraphim stand above “it” [or Him]'(Is. 6:2)|

as the total lights of the mitzvah |

of all the nights together is 36 |

like the word ‘it.’ |

If you cannot place |

the Shamash light above |

we place it aside a little distance from them |

so much that it is not considered as a |

mitzvah lamp.” |

Rabbi Ovediah Yosef, (1920 – ) shelita; Rishon LeTzion (Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel)

Yalkut Yosef, Yayikra Yosef, from the “Kitzur Edition;”

Halachot Chanukah, Chapter 1- “אסור להשתמש לאורה

Herein he also provides us with a beautiful understanding of the mitzvah lights. Using a mystical understanding of the lights he notes that if we combine the amount of mitzvah lights that we light it comes to a total of 36. It is not just the single light for the night that is sacred, but mystically all 36 of the mitzvah candles we light over the eight days have spiritual virtue. They are like the holy seraphim, whose name literally means “the burning ones.” They stand around the Throne of G-d and proclaim the holiness of G-d (see Isaiah chapter 6.)

It also spells it out for us plainly. We can use any temporary item in order to light or relight the candles with, what ever is necessary in order to perform the mitzvah. Though we are not allowed to make use of the fire or illumination for any other purpose, even for fulfilling another mitzvah; but for the mitzvah of lighting or relighting the Chanukah lights we may temporarily use that light, or use a temporary item in order to accomplish that. It can be another match, or another candle. Generally we use another candle that is able to aid us with this, then when we are done using it we extinguish it, it does not need to be kept contentiously burning like the rest of the lights.

And here, as late as the 20th century despite innovations in halachic approach and even the instruments we utilize as Chanukah lights; the tradition of the Maran that was present in the Shulchan Aruch still holds true for Sephardic and Middle-eastern Jews up until the present day, at the urging of rabbis of our own tradition.

One’s Minhag: Is it Something to be Dogmatic About?

After Rabbi Ovediah Yosef left office as Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo, Rabbi Chaim David haLevi took the position, in which he served for over 25 years. He was a widely respected rabbi who was known for his temperance, wisdom, modernity and keen insight. His Kitzur Mekor Chaim (named after the larger 5 volume halachic work, the Mekor Chaim haLevi, which would also become his nickname) became a standard text used in the Israeli religious education system and in Religious Zionists yeshivot. He is uncompromisingly Sephardi in tradition, but is bold in bridging the gap between the customs of the Jews of the East Orient and those of Eastern Europe by even including Ashkenazi halacha in his conclusions when appropriate. It’s this balance that made it a widely accepted work.

He would not be very explicit about the order of the lighting of the Shamash. Notice the vagueness of the language in the conclusions he provides us, he tries being true to each tradition by applying an open-ended statement that is applicable no matter which school you are hailing from:

On the first night

kindling one

and adding one more each night,

as is well know.

Therefore, it is the custom

that each member of the household

light his own.

And it is forbidden to utilize

the light of the Chanukah lights

even for a sacred use

such as learning Torah;

for this reason it is the proper custom

to light an additional light

called the Shamash;

so that if you use it,

it is from the illumination of the

additional light

which we place a small distance

from the rest of the lights.”

ו) בלילה הראשון |

מדליק אחד |

ומוסיף אחד בכל לילה |

כידוע. |

ויש נהגים |

שכל אחד מבני הבית |

נר לעצמו. |

ואסור להשתמש |

לאור נרות חנוכה |

אפילו תשמיש קדושה |

כגון למוד תורה, |

ולכן נוהגים |

להדליק נר נוסף |

הנקרא שמש, |

כדי שאם ישתמש |

יהיה זה לאור |

הנר הנוסף, |

ויניחנו רחוק קצת |

מיתר הנרות. |

Rabbi Chaim David haLevi (1924-1998), Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo

Kitzur Mekor Chaim, Halachot Nerot, p.282

There is one interesting feature though in this statement. He would interestingly seem to not stand behind the already established Sephardi customs of permitting only the head of the house to kindle the Chanukah lights, appearing to side with the Ashkenazi tradition that each person old enough has to light their own Chanukiah.

Though one might assume that his approach of balancing both traditions left him with a choice regarding the application of the clause referring to who is obligated to light the Chanukah lights. Some have incorrectly assumed that he has sided with the Ashkenazi approach, as this custom is choicest and more logical. They disregard various passages from the Maran himself, were he twice he suggests to us that one who is old enough to learn is obligated to light too.

His opinion seems to be that everyone should light, nonetheless we must keep in mind that the obligation of lighting is performed by the head of the household only in the Sephardic tradition.

It should be noted that all Sephardic poskim prior to this have ruled that one should not allow children to light the mitzvah lights, but they are permitted to light the Shamash or any other additional light. This was first provided in clarity to us by the Ben Ish Chai:

It is good that one should give

to his small sons

a little extra candle to light for themselves,

so that they can be educated in the mitzvot.

So with this small extra light

they can perform a small mitzvah.

And this is my custom,

and it is proper to do so.

However, do not let them kindle

the obligatory lights…”

טוב ליתן לאחד |

מבניו הקטנים |

להדליק בידם נר הנוסף |

כדי לחנכם במצות, |

שגם בזה הנר הנוסף |

יש קצת מצוה, |

וכן אני נוהג |

וראוי לעשות כך, |

אבל לא יתן להם להדליק |

מנרות של חיוב… |

Ben Ish Chai, Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad

Halachot Chanukah, Paragraph 12

However regarding the type of lights we should use, he will be a bit more explicit concerning them. He would present the words of the Maran and the Rema almost exactly, choosing only to simplify the grammar of the text. He would also add an opinion regarding the use of electric lights. Here the Mekor Chaim brings us into the modern age:

ט) כל השמנים והפתילות כשרים לנר חנוכה, |

ושמן זית מצוה מן המובחר. ונהגו מהדליק בנר |

שעוה כי אורו |

זך וצלולץ. |

ואין יוצאים ידי חובה |

באור החשמל |

להדלקת נר חנוכה. |

All oils are permissible for Chanukah lights,

and olive oil is a mitzvah done to perfection.

There are those who light

wax for a pure and clean light.

But there is no fulfillment of an obligation

with a electric light

lit as a Chanukah light.”

Kitzur Mekor Chaim, Halachot Nerot, p.283

The Kitzur Mekor Chaim is an ideal example of modern scholarship, presenting halachic opinions necessary for our current age. It brings down law without disregarding the halacic opinions of those who came before us.

His approach is very much like that of the Baal haTanya, who presents to us a mixture of both Sephardic and Ashkenazi tradition. Whereas the Baal haTanya sought to produce a nusach and siddur that was applicable for all Israel, the Mekor Chaim sought to produce a halachic reference that was also applicable for all Israel. They both present us what is true and necessary in the broader sense. Their statements are most often purposely left open to interpretation. This is not a fault, but instead another example of their brilliance in that they were able to produce a text usable by the general public; without the pitfalls of dogmatism. That is not to say that they don’t have opinions, as they were both prolific halachic commentators who published extensively; but this just isn’t the place for it. That which is not mentioned here should be understood according to our own minhag, we are not allowed to disregard our own tradition. This is because of the general legal principal that:

The custom of Israel is Law”

מנהג ישראל, תורה הוא |

Chida, Mihazik Beracha 261:7

Now if we want to understand our minhag, that requires more than just a passing reference in a single volume. That requires an honest and deeper look at the halachic process. Once we do that, it is very apparent that we are actually a lot more alike than we are different.

Need the blessings to light your Chanukah lights? Get them HERE


1] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 674:1

מדליקין נר חנוכה מנר חנוכה ודוקא להדליק זה מזה בלא אמצעי אבל להדליק מזה לזה על ידי נר של חול אסור ויש מתירים גם בזה אאכ הוא בענין שיש לחוש שיכבה הנר של חול קודם שידליק נר אחר של חנוכה:

MARAN: We [Sephardim] many kindle one Chanukah light from another Chanukah light, in fact kindle one from another without without an intermediary, but to kindle one from another through a non-sacred light is prohibited. However, there are those who permit even this, unless there is the feeling that the non-sacred light will be extinguished before he kindles the other Chanukah light.”

הגה: ונהגו להחמיר בנרות חנוכה שלא להדליק אפילו מנר לנר דעיקר מצותו אינו אלא נר אחד והשאר אינו למצוה:

REMA: We [Ashkenazim] have adopted the custom to be stringent regarding the Chanukah lights; not even to kindle one from another; because the main mitzvah is one light, and the rest are not so much for the mitzvah.”

2] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 671:2

סעיף ב — כמה נרות מדליק? בלילה הראשון מליק אחד. מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך, אחד בכל לילה, עד שבליל האחרון יהיו שמונה. ואפילו אם רבים בני הבית, לא ידליקו יותר.

MARAN: How many lights should one light? On the first night light one. And then continue on adding additional; one every night until he ends with eight. And even if there are many more members of the household, one should not add more.

הגה: ויש אומרים דכל אחד מבני הבית ידליק (רמב”ם), וכן המנהג פשוט. ויזהרו ליתן כל אחד ואחד נרותיו במקום מיוחד, כדי שיהא היכר כמה נרות מדליקין.

REMA: But there are those who say that each member of the house should light; (Rambam) and therefore it is the widespread custom. One should be careful to place their lights in their own separate space, so that one can recognize how many lights they have lit.

Shulchan Aruch O.C. 675:3

סעיף ג – מי שאומר בקטן שהגיע לחינוך מותר.

MARAN: There are those who say that small children old enough to be educated are permitted [to light].

הגה: ולדידן דכל אחד מבני הבית מדליק בפ”ע קטן שהגיע לחינוך צריך להדליק ג”כ.

REMA: And for us, each member of the household [is obligated to] light. There are those who say even a small child that is old enough to be educated must light.

Shulchan Aruch O.C. 677:2

סעיף ב — קטן שהגיע לחינוך צריך להדליק:

MARAN: A small child that is old enough to be educated must light.


Sheviti Hashem: The Unspoken Declaration


Sometimes The Siddur Has Silence that Speaks Louder Than Words

If one was to ask a class of observant Jewish students what the first prayer in the siddur (hebrew prayerbook) is just about every hand would go up in the air. It’s seems like an obvious answer for most of us. But of course, if this was a real classroom I would be pulling a Lisa Simpson and complicating the matter by pointing out some geeky fact that turns the questions on its ear. You know the type, the preschool kid that tells the teacher she’s wrong because it was Copernicus that proved the world was round. No one likes a know it all. But, truthfully the answer is not quite as cold cut as it seems. And my reason for pointing out my odd fact is not to be an intellectual elitist, holding on to some more stringent view. Let me explain. First off, it would be helpful if before we start talking about liturgy we understand what we are discussing.

The Development of Liturgy

Liturgy has always existed within our tradition. The most published portion on the holy scriptures, probably more so than any book, is the Book of Psalms which is clearly written as a collection of musical and liturgical standards. Repeating holy scriptures was our first stab at formal prayer, and in some cases fixed prayers later became enshrined in holy scripture. The influence went both ways as scriptures and Temple prayers developed.

When the Temple era came to an end, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. prayers took center stage as prescribed in Isaiah chapter 1, to offer sacrifice of the lips instead of animals. Fixed prayers from the Temple were now elevated in significance, and new prayers were added over time to deliver something worthy of saying for just about every occurrence and season. But the siddur, the prayerbook we know today would not make its rise until around the 15th century at best and not widely available as a complete work until the mid-to-late 19th century. For most of our history people have just repeated prayers they knew from their common recurrence in our life-cycle events. And when in doubt people would turn to their rabbis for advice. Through out the ages we have learned these prayers like one learns a song, that is our liturgy. The tune and delivery I use my be different from yours, but that’s the nature of song. But no matter how it’s delivered, it’s a homelike tune we all relate to on some level.

The Development of the Nusach Ha-Ari z”l

As the treasury we know today as the siddur was being developed, so too the school of Jewish mysticism was on the rise. The mystics were a group of elite rabbis who collected prayers, but for a different reason than to just know what to say on a given occasion. They knew the prayers by heart, they didn’t need a script. Prayers collected by the kabbalists were incorporated in their own siddurim, but these books mostly served as commentaries on selected prayers. The commentaries contained many diagrams and instructions on how to focus the mind in a meditative way though kavannot (Heb. “Intentions”).

As I briefly touched upon in my last weeks look a the kavannah of Psalm 67 for the Sefirat ha-Omer, the Baal haTanya – Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe – was one of the first of the great rabbis to really take the mystical traditions of the Lurianic kabbalists (the followers of the ARI Z”L, the great mystic of the 16th century) and present their customs in a complete liturgical work for congregational prayer and daily devotion. The Baal haTanya’s siddur was intended to teach the common man how to pray, a much needed aid that was starting to take root during the late 18th century in Europe. His simplification came by focusing on documenting the things that needed to be said, and leaving out silent meditations.

The Baal haTanya provided his chassidim with a siddur that made full use of the richness of Jewish prayer that Eastern European Jews enjoyed and carefully conformed it to the teachings of the ARI Z”L. The text the holy Ari adopted and taught from was the Sephardic tradition, the liturgy documented by the Jews of Iberia and intern favored by the Jews of the near-east. The Baal haTanya conformed his text to that style and incorporating many of it’s unique prayers.

However, interestingly, prayer books like Eastern Europeans enjoyed were not at all common in Sephardic and Oriental Jewish communities. There was more documentation about their prayers and customs in classical legal works and kabbalistic commentaries they called “siddurim” than in any book dedicated to how to say your prayers or lead a service. Simply put, it wasn’t as needed because there was greater familiarity with the Hebrew prayers for the Jews of the near east. In the end as Sephardim and Mizrahi Jews began to formulate true prayerbooks for their prayer services like Ashkenazim (Eastern Europeans) invented, they brought in the silent meditations presented with their highly involved diagrams. Why? Partially because of their familiarity with them. Secondly because, in the days before the prayer books the diagrams were often enlarged and displayed in synagogues and holy shrines for one to use as prayer aids. It just seemed right that they belonged.

The Shviti: Placing Hashem Before Us

Those of you who have visited any Jewish shrines know exactly what I’m talking about when I mention charts and mystical diagrams. We call them Shvitis, they often take on the form on an enlarged writing of the Four-Letter name surrounded by verses of Psalms or prayers. The most famous of these is probably in the form of the Psalm 67 menorah. Others incorporate many mystical ways of reading Divine Names, but that are not meant to be pronounced. Why do we call them Shvitis? Because they usually bear the words of the Psalm that says:

“I have set

Hashem

before me at all times.”

| Sheviti

| Hashem

| l’negedi tamid

שִׁוִּיתִי |

יְהוָה |

לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד |

Psalms 16:8

Now one might ask, how intrusive into the text of the siddur can these mandala like meditations be? I mean, if they are useful why are they left out of the Baal haTanya’s siddur? You might say, who is he to leave out these things that are so authentic and sacred? Well, if we use a siddur as a seder (an order) of prayers and devotions, and go through it from waking up to going to sleep, then the first occurrence of shviti is at the beginning of the siddur. That’s right. When one wakes up they are to immediately have in mind this verse “I have set HASHEM before me at all times.” For this reason in many Sephardic and Edut haMizrach siddurim the first words you will see is these words “sheviti Hashem l’negedi tamid.”

If this was a real classroom I would hear just about every western, observant Jew gasp. This is problematic because at this point in history we all accept that the first words of out of our mouth and before we open our eyes is the prayer Modeh Ani, that we greatly thank G-d. Of course we also obsess over the different customs of washing among the different sects of Judaism, but we all accept in unity that we don’t intone the Four-Letter Name of Hashem in the first prayer we say of the day and instead wait until we get around to taking care of our business. So we all start with this prayer that refers to G-d, but without explicit use of the Four-Letter Name (יהוה).

So ingrained is it into the mind of observant Jews that this prayer is taught and known by the children as some of their first words. Really, before some Jewish toddlers can tell you answers to simple questions they already know how to say this prayer by heart. Though in our different communities we might truncated the prayers to make them easier to say for children at first, Modeh Ani is not one of them as we want them to learn it in full. This is our first confession of the day. I don’t want to spend too much time of it, as we will get to this prayer next week, and I’ve already taken us the scenic route to the point of all of this.

At this point, many would say “Oh, okay, I understand now why the Baal haTanya would leave it out. You don’t want to confuse people so that they might say the words of sheviti Hashem. Good thinking.” But still there will be the few who will grumble, and whisper to each other “See I told you those sephardim, chassidim, and kabbalsists are playing fast and loose with orthodoxy.” Considering myself to be the product of all of the above I would ask someone to cough up their copy of the Shulchan Aruch for a second. I’d hold it up and make the point that there is nothing more Orthodox than the Shulchan Aruch, which would become known to anglos as The Code of Jewish Law. I wouldn’t even site the words of Rabbi Joseph Karo, the Sephardic Kabbalistic master known as the Maran who first authored the work. Ironically I’d cite the words of the Rema, Rabbi Moses Isserelis – who wrote the Ashkenazi glosses to the work:

“I have placed Hashem before me

at all times:”

This is a paramount principal

of the Torah

and attribute of the steps of the righteous

who walk before G-d.

שויתי הלנגדי |

תמיד:” |

הוא כלל גדול |

בתורה |

הורה ובמעלות הצדיקים |

אשר הולכים לפני האלהים: |

Shulchan Aruch: Rema 1:1

We don’t need to turn far. If we take “the book” when it comes to Jewish practice and turn to the very first reference page and paragraph, and here we have it. This would also be repeated by the Baal haTanya in the Shulchan Aruch haRav, Mehadurah Batra 1:5, just with the quote of our biblical verse at the end instead of being the leading words. According to the “code” the first thing we are supposed to think in our mind at the start of the day is “I have placed Hashem before me at all times.” Here the Rema is himself quoting the Rambam – Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the 12th century Sephardic scholar, master rationalist, and first exhaustive codifier of Jewish law (see Moreh Nevuchim – The Guide for the Perplexed 3:4)

Now, there is probably a reason other than just typesetting that explains the juxtaposition when the Baal haTanya repeats this law; to make it clear to his reader that this is a thought and not a statement he moves it to the end and adds the words “k’umo shekavut / as it is written.” He wants his chassidim to know this is a thought, it’s not spoken words. Like it’s written, it remains written but not said. As I have pointed out, when he created his siddur the Nusach Ha-ARI Z”L known as Siddur Torah Ohr (the precessor to Siddur Tehillat Hashem) he focused on the spoken words and not the meditations. However, if you look closely, it was not a forgotten point. It just became mentioned in the notes (which are exact quotations from his Shulchan Aruch).

Nusach ARI Z”L as a Process, Not a Possession

And this is primarily the differences between the Nusach ha-Ari (Chabad) tradition and the Nusach ARI Z”L siddurim of either Sephardic or other Chassidic origins. The nusach of the Sephardim/Mizrahim and other Chassidim have been heavily influenced by the teachings of the ARI Z”L and following his teachings so their prayers are Nusach ARI in their own right as well. However these other texts tend to contain many meditations and silent things that are not meant to be spoken out loud, and contain local variances and customs. This pretty much sums up the differences. The ARI Z”L never wrote a siddur of his own, and for that matter never wrote any writings for himself. Instead we learn of his wisdom through his student Rabbi Chaim Vittal and his other disciples, so we all just copy his teachings. Thus no one can lay claim to having “the” Nusach ARI. The Nusach Ha-ARI Z”L is a way, not a thing.

I say all of this because as we start to step into the study of the siddur I am going to be presenting the text according to the Nusach Ha-ARI Z”L. This is most often going to be based on the text of the Lubavitcher Chassidim, the text I have adopted and utilize in my daily prayers. Though at other time I will mention the Nusach Edut haMizrach, the tradition of the Sephardic and Middle-Eastern Jews; which is my tradition by birth. I do this to be intellectually honest, I can only share what I know. This is what I understand so that’s all I feel free talking about. But I will try to touch on other unique aspects of the different traditions when possible. But I hope we all understand that when we talk about the siddur we are talking about a growing and living thing that we all need to be flexible and giving towards. Because it’s something different to us all. And that is okay and possible, without compromising anything! Nachon, got it?

The Kavannah: How to Sheviti Hashem

Now on to the fun part. As we have discussed, the generally universal tradition today is to always start our day with a prayer of thanks; this is the Modeh Ani. It is the custom to not open one’s eyes nor say any other word in the morning until we give thanks. But we don’t say any Divine Name until we wash out of respect of G-d and in respect of our need for self-care right away. However, before we open our eyes it is a good practice for us to mentally make ourselves aware that Hashem is before us at all times. We can even visualize the Four-Letter Name (יהוה), but not say it. This is something we should all be able to agree on, it is appropriate.

But why should we do it? If it’s a kavannah – an intention – what is it’s purpose? What do we want to achieve or recognize by this? To find the answer lets continue looking at the text of the Shulchan Aruch:

“For the manner that a person sits,

moves and conducts himself

when he is alone in his house,

is not the manner one sits, moves and deals

when before the presence of a great king.

Likewise, in the way one chats openly as

he wishes while he is among his household

and relatives, is not the same way as when

he speaks in the court of a king.

How much more, if a man strongly takes

to heart that the great king,

The Holy One, blessed be He,

whom the whole earth is filled with His glory,

stands over him and observes his deeds.

As it says, “If a person hides

out of sight, will I not see him” says Hashem.

[Considering] this he will respect

and surrender to awe

of the Holy One, blessed be He,

and be bashful before Him always.

One should not be ashamed

before people

who mock his service to Hashem.

Even secretly when lying in ones bed

know before whom he is lying.

Immediately arouse oneself from slumber

with agility to serve the

praised and exalted Creator.”

כי אין ישיבת האדם |

ותנועותיו ועסקיו |

והוא לבדו בביתו, |

כישיבתו ותנועותיו ועסקיו |

והוא לפני מלך גדול; |

ולא דיבורו והרחבת פיו |

כרצונו, והוא עם אנשי ביתו |

וקרוביו, כדיבורו |

במושב המלך. |

כל שכן, כשישים האדם אל |

ליבו שהמלך הגדול, |

הקבה |

אשר מלא כל הארץ כבודו, |

עומד עליו ורואה במעשיו, |

כמו שנאמר: “אם יסתר איש |

במסתרים ואני לא אראנו נאם ה‘”, |

מיד יגיע אליו היראה |

וההכנעה בפחד |

השית |

ובושתו ממנו תמיד. |

ולא יתבייש |

מפני בני אדם |

המלעיגים עליו בעבודת השית. |

גם בהצנע לכת בשכבו על משכבו |

ידע לפני מי הוא שוכב |

ומיד שיעור משנתו, |

יקום בזריזות לעבודת |

בוראו יתברך ויתעלה |

Shulchan Aruch: Rema 1:1

The Rema, does such a great job of explaining this concept so it’s hard to top that. But he gives us a lot to think about. Everyday as we consider this the meaning of it grows. Let’s take a few minutes to walk through some of these thoughts together, these are just a few ideas of what we can think about:

Make The Name of G-d Apparent – even before we have opened our eyes or moved to get up we are to think about G-d. Placing G-d before us means that we make a mental commitment to act as though we are in the presence of G-d. Just like if we were in the presence of a king or judge we would want to behave becomingly, we should recognize our lives are watched over by G-d. This comes with a benefit, on one hand we have G-d looking out for us to administer liberty and justice. But we also have a responsibility, to recognize that G-d demands that we behave as decent people in our dealings even when we think that no one else is watching. Before we open our eyes, we determine to behave as noble and dignified people in our dealings; both in public and private. If we can do it in our private lives we won’t have slip ups of bad actions in public.

Choosing to Use Noble Speech – what’s funny about the wording that the Shulchan Aruch uses is that it describes a person that is in their own home, among their own guests and surrounded by their own family and feeling free to speak openly he just “blabs” with his mouth widely letting loose whatever he feels like without regard. Before we say a single word we determine to employ noble and becoming speech. One of the terrible things about lishon hara – evil speech – is that most of us would never allow ourselves to say the types of things publicly that we say privately, we would be too ashamed. So we should think about being in the presence of the greatest King, G-d Himself, then we would watch what comes out of our mouth and speak in a dignified way. This means, even in the way we speak to ourselves in our thoughts. Think about it, some of us say demeaning things about ourselves that we are too considerate to ever say to another human being

Consider Where G-d Is At In Our Lives – the entire world is filled with G-d. We understand, in kabbalistic principal, that G-d is the Ain Sof; without limits, without end. But that also means that though G-d is not one thing or a person, His very sustenance and glory fill the entire universe. G-d’s glory exists in everything and everywhere, no matter how much any of us try to take credit or mold things our way. We need to consider that there is nothing outside of His realm of influence or where His rules of goodness need not apply. We need to think, how would we act if G-d was a person standing over us and observing our deeds? It’s not that G-d is watching over us like a prison guard waiting for us to slip up. Actually, the relationship is one in which G-d is given credit for everything we enjoy and every opportunity we have through a blessing. In order for us to do something that is wrong most people out of seeming shame decide that they will not say inappropriate blessing for whatever action or item they are illicitly enjoying. But just because we don’t mention G-d doesn’t mean His ways don’t exist; that’s as silly as pretending your spouse doesn’t existing if you turn around their portrait. We should discipline ourselves to know that godliness is displayed through creation, progress, wisdom, prosperity, etc. Everything we see is a manifestation of G-d’s order, if we understood that then everything we see will begin to remind us of G-d and His ways.

Be Bashful Before G-d – often times when people speak in the English vernacular we refer to this concept as being “ashamed before G-d.” Though this is not a mistranslation, it’s not exactly a one-for-one rendering. Even before we get up out of bed and out of the sheets we need to understand that we are completely exposed before G-d. But its more than that. As we begin to engage in our daily needs and we assess the day we can stand amazed at how brilliant the Creator is. Everything we begin to do and enjoy has blessings traditionally associated with them. Sometimes the truth of it just hits us, we just have to say “wow, it really is amazing that all these things necessary for life work out for me day after day.” Life is a complex function, with many dependencies for us to just to wake up let alone get through the day. G-d  is called Chai haOlamim – The Life of the Worlds – all the universe and  life within it is an extension of Him and sustained by His will. Even us. We are just a small part of this big universe, yet even as simple people we benefit from so much that we can be humbled. We feel so small before G-d and the universe that we become like a child with a surprise gift that is so bashful for being remembered that they want to hide shyly. We should always try to retain this type of wonder with the world.

But Don’t Be Ashamed Before Men – even before we move from bed, to get out from under the sheets we make a conscious choice to not feel embarrassed or foolish for our wonder of life and our respect to honor the little things in life, realizing that all these small things when they come together make our world so much better. There is nothing mature or smart about taking for granted the gift of life and the wonders of the world as the self-proclaimed intellectuals of our age like to flippantly do. They say that nothing you do as an individual matters that much. Some suggest that religious people thinking G-d considers their needs and betterment to be egotistical. Others suggest a faithful person is needlessly groveling and that his humility is a sign of mental weakness. Either way, it can be hard to face the world some days because people are so jaded that many will attack your devotion for reasons of humility or ego; you just can’t do anything right. But we aren’t supposed to hide from the world, we are called to transform it. That mean’s we also aren’t to conceal our service to G-d and pride in being our true selves, because it is through those things that we exemplify the truth of our values. Our actions speak louder than words.

Wake Up With Enthusiasm – if we really took to heart the idea that G-d watches over us then we would realize that we are laying before the Great King. Just as people jump up from bed with excitement if an important guest suddenly showed up, we need to wake to the day in order to serve G-d. We wouldn’t leave a king waiting at the foot of our bed, no we would jump up quickly and honored to be of service. How do we do accomplish this? By arousing ourselves to get up and wake the day. It means more than just getting up. The battle of our day starts even before we open our eyes or say a word, it starts when we actually wake. We should arouse ourselves to wake with all the agility and excitement that a youth would show toward their beloved.

When we begin the day by placing Hashem before us we recognize that G-d is present. As the day and world unfolds before us we begin to see that G-d is present in the world, in our deeds, and in our happenings. If we want to encounter G-d then we need to get up and see Him in action. As we lay there without saying a word we begin to arouse ourselves to rise up and meet G-d where He is, emulating G-d’s passion to be active in the world. This gives meaning to the scriptures when it says “has kol basar mif’neh Hashem ki naior mim’on kadsho / be silent all flesh before Hashem, for He is aroused out of His holy habitation.” (Zechariah 2:17)

Related Articles:


%d bloggers like this: