Category Archives: Tefillah

Prayers and Mitzvot for the Three Israeli Youth in Captivity


Ready to say Tehillim and Mishebeirach? What can you do to help?

The whole Jewish world is praying for the safe return of three Israeli youth, being held yet another day by Hamas terrorists. Share their faces, and as world citizens demand better of the Palestinian Authority and their already perilous “unity government.”

And do a good deed in the honor of these boys. Pray and say Tehillim (Psalms) their merit, and their names:

Yaakov Naftali Ben Rachel Devorah (Fraenkel, 16 years old)

Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim (Shaer, 16 years old)

Eyal ben Iris Teshura (Yifrach, 19 years old)

Two of the three teenagers abducted are students in Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Mekor Haim Yeshiva High School in Jerusalem. (see “Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz calls for prayers for teens’ return”)

SHAARH FAMILY / FRENKEL FAMILY / YIFRAH FAMILY / HANDOUT/EPA. (from left to right) Gilad Shaarh , Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrah have been missing since last week.

SHAARH FAMILY / FRENKEL FAMILY / YIFRAH FAMILY / HANDOUT/EPA. (from left to right) Gilad Shaarh , Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrah have been missing since last week.

As noted by the rabbi, many of us feel deeply pained and even utterly helpless in the face of such a horrible crime against civilian youth. But is there any way we can help?

Yes! We can prevail over hatred of Jews and the terrorism it promotes by proliferating the world with spiritual acts. Acts of chesed (kindness) to properly shame the values of the cowardly. We are not helpless! What we can do is pray with intentions of peace. And fill this dark world with acts of kindness.

Join people worldwide in prayer and good deeds. Including the Jews and Muslims who are praying at the very site the of the abduction, at the Gush EtZion settlement block in the West Bank. (see “At kidnapping site, Jews and Muslims join in prayer.” Times of Israel)

Need help selecting and pledging a mitzvah? You can find help with both online at, “Mitzvot for the Israeli Students.” (Chabad.org) There are so many things the average person can do. You don’t have to be super-spiritual, just pledge to do a Jewish act that you might know how to do but are a bit out of touch with. Do it with the thought in mind that you are doing this soulful act in the merit of those young boys who are not yet free to do these sacred mitzvot.

Need help communicating your prayers? One of the both centering and unifying things about Jewish prayer is the collective experience. Not that we always pray together as a community and discourage private prayer. But what I mean is that even when we pray on our own, most often we tend to use prayers which unite us through a collective experience of liturgy and language.

Our friends over at the Open Siddur Project have provided the Misheiberach prayer (“May the One who blesses…”) which is being circulated for the speedy and safe return of the three captives. This document also includes Psalm 142 in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Misheberakh for those held in Captivity” (Open Siddur)

As the army and police tirelessly search for the captives in the most perilous of terrains and civil conditions. We also stand with the service personnel and their families. Here is a Mishebeirach Prayers, one for the State of Israel and another for the Israel Defense Forces.

Mishebeirach Prayers for Israel and the IDF” (Hardcore Mesorah)

Please share these prayers with your congregation or chavura group, these are appropriately added during the Torah reading service or at any other times the Misheibeirach is said in your community. Or even during your own personal prayer and meditation.

Do you want to say Tehillim? One of the most common ways for Jews to pour out our hearts is through reciting Tehillim. This is quite possibly one of the oldest and most intimate forms of supplication. But do you know why we engage in the recitation and reflection upon the Psalms? Learn the how and why of saying Tehillim. I have also included several Psalms which are appropriate for those who are saying Tehillim at this time in the following piece:

Saying Tehillim for Israel and the IDF” (Hardcore Mesorah)

It is most common for people to say the following two psalms in time of danger and distress:

Psalm 20

Psalm 142

At this time our rabbis and scholars are also suggesting the following appropriate psalms for these young boys:

Psalm 121

Psalm 143

Lastly, do something completely practical, appeal to peoples humanity! Join in vigils for these youth. Start a community dialogue regarding the peace process. Help the world see this through the eyes of humanity.

And as concerned citizens we need to voice our appall with all who would rejoice and encourage their children celebrate the capture of youth not much older than themselves. It’s not just our boys that are being harmed, it’s also Arab children who are being distorting with this type of hateful brainwashing through social media! (see “More Palestinian Reactions To Kidnapping: The Most Disturbing Of All”)

Remember our boys until they come home! Share their faces and names, remind people these youth are not abstract components of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. They are real youth; with families, friends, and a people who care deeply for them. These are real youth; with dreams, passions and talents.

Related articles:

Do you need a siddur? This blog proudly cooperates with The Open Siddur Project. The project is a volunteer based organization dedicated to documenting and making the wealth of Jewish prayer and prayer resources available with free, redistributable licensing in electronic format and print formats. You can find my contributions of liturgy HERE. Find out how you can also be a part of this worthy cause!

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Is there a Hebrew Thanksgiving connection? Yes, it’s the Turkey!


Interesting Points About the Origins of the Name Turkey in English and Hebrew

This holiday drash is a bit special because it is the first time that American Thanksgiving coincides with the start of Chanukah. Thanksgiving running late and Chanukah seeming to fall early in the season, causes a unique coinciding of two holidays that are very special to me. Add to that my birthday also falling this week, it’s been a week of joy and things for me to be grateful for.

thanksgiving-dinner-holiday-feast-turkey-wallpaper

One of the things I’m most thankful for at this time of year is Turkey! It’s actually one of my favorite foods. It is a symbol of thanksgiving the world over, used as the center of festive meals for many holiday observances. But for us North Americans it holds a special place as being a native bird, it puts some of the best of out bounty on display.

So what’s with then name of the Turkey? How does it get this strange name? English speakers and Hebrew speakers both have legends about how they came up with the strange name for this bird.

The well-known Anglo myth regarding why we call the bird a Turkey is because the bird was mistaken for another type of bird when it was imported into central Europe. They were simply classified as a Turkey Fowl along with guinea-fowl, the name Turkey however stuck in the end. Being named after their assumed place of origin, pointing towards their import location in Constantinople.

Now one might ask themselves, what they call them in Turkish? They call them a “Hindi.” That is where they assumed the wild turkeys came from, from the Indus valley in India. They also did not realize that they Spanish and Portuguese traders who colonized India were importing them from the New World at first. They are not the only people to have made that mistake. This is also reflected in other languages such as Russian, Yiddish, Armenian, Catalan, French, Italian, Polish, etc. Each of these languages still retains a variance of the name India in their proper name for the Turkey.

It is also true in Hebrew, we call it by a full name “tarnegol hodu,” or the Rooster of India. Hodu is also the long-held classical Hebrew name for India. In the end we all drop the first part of the name that states the type of animal it is, and just simply call it a hodu.

Now Jews also hold two urban legends about how they names Turkey and Hodu came to be used. There are those who hold by a legend that Christopher Columbus was a converso-Jew who had some crew expelled by the Inquisition with him, they named the colorful bird after the Hebrew work for a parrot “tuki,” it mistakenly got passed along as Turkey. Yet others also credit him with the name Hodu, saying that he thought the Native Americans were Indians so he called their bird Hodu, after where he thought he had landed; the Indian subcontinent. I can’t vouch for either one of these claims, as they both rely on tall tales. But it’s an interesting connection

Now if that isn’t enough to keep the mind thinking wild connections, I couldn’t help but giggle when I came across the places in our morning Hebrew prayers where we say the commonly used phrase “hodu l’Hashem.”

This is more grandly repeated in rounds on Shabbat and Festival days with the recitation of Psalm 136, “Hodu l’Hashem ki tov, ki l’olma chasdo / thank the L-rd for He is good, His kindness endures forever!” We see and hear the word “hodu” used, here but in a totally different way. Here the word hodu is a call to give thanks. From the Hebrew root holdot, meaning thanksgiving.

Though the word form seems the same, the only distinction that is made between the classical Hebrew word “hodu” and the more modern use of “hodu” is a slight variance by the native speaker. One tends to raise their voice in the prayer; accenting the first syllable, HOdu. In everyday speech though we tend to accent our last syllable, like when speaking of India it’s “hoDU.”

So remember as you say your prayers on Thanksgiving, when we say our prayer. It goes like this:

“Thank the L-rd for He is good,

His kindness endures forever”

| Hodu l’Hashem ki-tov

| ki l’olam chasdo

Psalm 136:1

Not:

“The Turkey of the L-rd is good, His kindness never ends.”

We all know that your bird isn’t going to last that long, not with a full-house of hungry people. The good things is that the chesed of Hashem – the kindness and mercy of G-d is something that is never-ending. It never runs out, it lasts forever. Not just today, but every day of the year. So we can and should also be thankful each and every day as well!

This is Shmu, from Hardcore Mesorah. I want to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving and also a Chag Chanukah Sameach.

Related Articles:


Neilah: Closing the Gates of Repentance


Reflections on Forgiveness from the Yom Kippur Amidah

Neilah

Like most people, I am also battling my body and my will during this fast day of Yom haKippurim. It is a long day, being one of the few full day-long fasts in our calendar. This is especially rare this year, as this very solemn day of rest is also paired with the weekly Sabbath day of rest. Normally we do not fasts on Shabbat. However as our tradition considers this day of atonement a thing of pure joy, the regular festive meals are suspended as we feast on some deep prayers and reflections.

And during this holiday we certainly have many helpings of prayers. This holiday of Yom haKippurim – the day of atonements – we recite our central prayer duty, the Amidah no less that five times (Ma’ariv, Shacharit, Mussaf, Minchah, and Neilah).

I am sitting here considering the words of the final prayer, the Neilah – the closing of the gates of teshuvah (repentance) and heaven. I would like us to explore the concept of atonement, through the aid of this prayer and the scriptural context from which it is drawn.

The liturgy reads as follows:

“Our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, forgive us our wrongdoings, on this Shabbat day and on this Day of Atonements, on this day of pardoning of sin, on this day of assembly; wipe away and remove our transgressions and sins from before Your eyes, as it is stated: ‘I, just I, am He who wipes away your transgressions. For My own sake, I will not recall.’ (Isaiah 43:25)”

אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו מחול לעונותינו ביום השבת הזה וביום הכפרים הזה ביום סליחת העון הזה ביום מקרא קדש הזה מחה והעבר פשעינו וחטאתינו מנגד עיניך כאמור: אנכי אנכי הוא מחה פשעיך למעני וחטאתיך לא אזכר:

Fifth Amidah, Neilah for Yom Kippur

Here we are asking G-d, for the last time, to forgive our avonoteinu – our wrongdoings. To wipe away our p’shaeinu v’chatoteinu – our transgressions and our sins. This prayer is an important one to me, because neilah is always a tearjerker. It has full urgency, as it is our last chance to repent. We don’t want to get left outside of the gates of repentance. But at the same time it comes with all the exhilaration of accomplishment for those who engage it. All the senses are firing at once.

I would like us to look at the basics of why we go through this process at all. We will find the answer provided for us straightaway, here during the height of the High Holy Days, during the pinnacle of our celebration here in the Neilah prayer. There is one simple point that drives this holiday. We do all this simply because G-d wants to forgive us. We aren’t trying to necessarily convince G-d to forgive us, its has more to do with us getting in-line with the spirit of atonement and the theme of forgiveness for ourselves.

One of the reasons that this holiday is so hard to explain to outsiders is that the world often has a very different message about atonement, as does the common culture. In most religions its it is most often about who you go through to get redemption, or more precisely who does it for you. Who is this leader that either commands G-d’s recognition of his pardon, or who is the man who sacrifices himself to pay off your moral dept. How can we repent without such a person? When we say we are atoning the big question is, “Who is going to forgive you? Who atones for you?”

This kind of perplexes us Jews. Because as reasoning people, and knowing the Torah, we understand that the true way to atone is to ask forgiveness from the people that we have sinned against and to remedy the wrong. We have been doing this work of teshuvah (repentance), revisiting the situation and setting it right, for some weeks now. We aren’t atoning by asking G-d to forgive our interpersonal wrongs, nor our lapses in ethics. That we must do for ourselves, with the people affected.

Hopefully at this point most of our ethical and moral issues have been dealt with and considered. So why is it so heartfelt for us at this point in the service? Why does it shake us in such a way through to our very core? This is because what we are dealing with now is the issues that are between us and G-d, and between us and ourselves. Often times these prayers of Yom Kippur are heavy with prayers of forgiveness for the wrongs that we have done against ourselves and G-d alone. The things deep inside of us that need to be settled, the places that are tremendously hard to reach and painful to touch. Things that can only be settled on a heart-level.

As we approach this prayer I would hope that we can say it with all joy, because we have remedied our wrong deeds and are ready to stand atoned and forgiven. We should feel overcome by a sense of relief. Why should we stand upright now with a sense of celebration and awe? It is because we can stand forgiven if we chose to make it so today! Who is the guarantor of this pardon that we should acknowledge it?

Our prayer draws from the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“I,

I am the One who

blots our your transgressions

for My sake,

and your sins I will not remember.”

אָנֹכִי |

אָנֹכִי הוּא |

מֹחֶה פְשָׁעֶיךָ, |

לְמַעֲנִי: |

וְחַטֹּאתֶיךָ, לֹא אֶזְכֹּר: |

Isaiah 43:25

G-d declares to us that He is the one that forgives our sins, it is He alone. And He does this “l’maani / for My own sake.” Just because He wants to! What of the guilt of our sins? Of our sin’s, He says that He chooses to remember them no more.

The text of the prophet Isaiah from where this is drawn actually gives us a good look into not only why G-d wants to forgiveness us in this way, but also why it is important for us to set a day for atonement aside. This verse can be found in the paragraph of Isaiah 43:22-28.

For a moment G-d calls out to us, like a long-lost parents during the holidays. You can hear the almost distinctive tone of a Jewish mother in the voice of G-d here. You haven’t called on me or even bothered to remember me. You haven’t troubled yourself on account of Me, G-d says. Even more interestingly, He starts out by saying in verse 22 that “v’lo oti karata / you haven’t called out to me,” not even when you needed help. That is so like us, to call out only when we need something, so He mentions that form of outcry first. But here G-d is calling out to people who don’t even have the impulse in them for that. Rashi says instead they called out to idols to help them. That’s how distance the relationship has become for some.

G-d also calls out something remarkable to us. He calls out to the people who haven’t been bothered to offer sacrifice. People who haven’t bothered to offer any offerings up for G-d. What is so astounding about this verse is that even as it accuses the people of not sacrificing or giving offerings, G-d says, “I have not burdened you with grain offerings, nor wearied you with incense offerings.” (v.23) In this verse Rashi take the tone a little more directly for us at this point, saying that G-d indeed has not burdened us, in fact even the grain offerings of the Temple itself only required a mere handful. Of being wearied, Rashi chimes on how quickly we can grow tired of our service before Him. We are too tired to care, even when all He is asking is that we show a pinch of conviction and regard in our daily lives.

In the next verse we see the theme follow in the same tone. We have not bothered G-d with our offerings of money and sweet cane, nor have fat meats for offerings been brought; but the people have instead burdened Him with their sins, and wearied G-d with our many wrongdoing we commit. We just can’t be bothered sometimes, except when it comes to doing wrong.  (v.24)

And it is in this context that G-d takes the higher grounds and says to us, “I, even I erase your transgressions for My sake, and your sins I will not remember.” (v.25) G-d thus offers us His means for atonement and pardon. It is He that initiates and calls us to the table to discuss whom has been wronged in this game of life. He calls “hazikraini,” He is calling out, “Remember Me!” He challenges us, “nisaftah yachad / let us reason together.” G-d asks us to consider ourselves and our role in this universe, and the role G-d and our own will both play in our existence. He calls us to saper, to lay it all out and take a true accounting, so that in the end we can come to a just resolution. He calls to you and me. That you may be, “l’maan titz’dak / that you may be accounted just.” (v.26)

And this is really what the majority of the Yom haKippurim is spent doing. Not just feeling penitent for our wrongs, but also focusing on how to “titz’dak,” how to get right. Even if we are already right with other people, sometimes we aren’t exactly right with ourselves and G-d yet. We hold the weight of guilt and shame hanging our shoulders. The pressure of all kinds of wrongs and moral failures that we are grieved over, for which we still hold ourselves accountable for. But we are asked to give it up, because G-d wants to relieve us of that for His own sake.  Just because He wants to, because He thinks it’s best for you to live a life free and justified in your own being. G-d doesn’t want to remember anymore, and neither should you. These words in neilah are one last chance to deliver this message.

For me these are some of the reasons the prayers of neilah are so beautiful. It drives such a beautiful message home for us: Not only do we need to seek out atonement, but we also need to be willing to accept forgiveness for ourselves.

As we approach neilah I would ask us all to just hold on through one more prayer service. We are almost there, we can see the finish line. Put all your energy into the final stretch of this marathon of teshuvah (repentance). As we come together for this last tefillah and service before Hashem, let us fully embrace this prayer with equal joy and awe. And with confidence, knowing that our heartfelt prayers of repentance and atonement have been heard. We can now let these gates close, our work is done. So raise your voices high, this is just an encore!


Mishebeirach Prayers for Israel and the IDF


Misheberach Prayers for Israel and the IDF
What are the prayers of blessing for the Jewish State and Israel Defense Forces?

IDF SoldierWe are quickly coming upon Shabbat. This week we have seen a great escalation of the violence against Israel. In response the military is deploying for defensive and possibly policing actions. One of the best ways we can help our brothers and friends in Israel is to bombard heaven with prayers of mercy and deliverance from this crisis.

After the readings of the Torah on Shabbat we will include Mi Shebeirach prayers of blessing that the One Who blesses us remember those who are in need of healing or help. We petition G-d on behalf of those in the deepest need of help during the hight of the service, before the face of the most holy Sefer Torah itself.

Does you congregation include the prayers for the State of Israel or the Israel Defense Forces regularly? If not, this is surely a good time to remember them in this time of crisis. Here are the traditional prayers to be said by the Gabbai, the one who calls people up to Torah.

Prayer for the Members of the Israel Defense Forces

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Force, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our G-d from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.

May Hashem cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighting men from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavour.

May He lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is Hashem, your G-d, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.

Now let us respond: Amen.

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הָעוֹמְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלהֵינוּ מִגְּבוּל הַלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל עַד לְבוֹא הָעֲרָבָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם.

יִתֵּן יְיָ אֶת אוֹיְבֵינוּ הַקָּמִים עָלֵינוּ נִגָּפִים לִפְנֵיהֶם. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁמֹר וְיַצִּיל אֶת חַיָלֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחְלָה וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵיהֶם.

יַדְבֵּר שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ תַּחְתֵּיהֶם וִיעַטְרֵם בְּכֶתֶר יְשׁוּעָה וּבְעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן. וִיקֻיַּם בָּהֶם הַכָּתוּב: כִּי יְיָ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם איבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם:

וְנאמַר: אָמֵן:

Prayer for the Israel Defense Forces,

This version is according to the decision of the

Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel, 27th of Elul, 5764

Prayer for the State of Israel

Our Father who is in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the beginning of the flowering of our redemption. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it Your canopy of peace; send Your light and Your truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Your good counsel.

Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them, our G-d, salvation and crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants. Remember our brothers, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion, Your city, to Jerusalem Your dwelling-place, as it is written in the Torah of Your servant Moses:

“Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there Hashem your G-d will gather and fetch you. Hashem your G-d will bring you into the land which your ancestors possessed, and you shall possess it; and G-d will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors.”

Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name, and to observe all the precepts of Your Torah. Speedily send us Your righteous Messiah of the House of David, to redeem those waiting for Your salvation.

Shine forth in Your glorious majesty over all the inhabitants of Your world. Let everything that breathes proclaim: “Hashem G-d of Israel is King; His majesty rules over all.”

Amen. Selah.

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ. הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ וּפְרֹשׁ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ, וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.

חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ, וְהַנְחִילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְשׁוּעָה וַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן תְּעַטְּרֵם, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְיוֹשְׁבֶיהָ. וְאֶת אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, פְּקָדנָא בְּכָל אַרְצוֹת פְּזוּרֵיהֶם, וְתוֹלִיכֵם מְהֵרָה קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְצִיּוֹן עִירֶךָ וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם מִשְׁכַּן שְׁמֶךָ, כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה עַבְדֶּךְ:

אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ: וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָ וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ:

וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת שְׁמֶךָ, וְלִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָתֶךָ, וּשְׁלַח לָנוּ מְהֵרָה בֶּן דָּוִד מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֶךָ, לִפְדּוֹת מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ.

הוֹפַע בַּהֲדַר גְּאוֹן עֻזֶּךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל אַרְצֶךָ, וְיאמַר כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ: יְיָ אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֶלֶךְ וּמַלְכוּתוֹ בַּכֹּל מָשָׁלָה.

אָמֵן סֶלָה.

Chief Rabbis Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog and Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel

with the assistance of the celebrated author Shai Agnon; Elul 5708 – September 1948

Want to learn more about the history of saying prayers for the government and state? Want to understand the history of the prayer for the State of Israel? One of the finest articles on the subject is written by Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem simply titled, “Prayers For The Government And The State Of Israel.”

Related Links:


Saying Tehillim for Israel and the IDF


Saying Tehillim for Israel and the IDF
What can the faithful do religiously to help during crisis?

IDF SOldier, Birkat Kohanim

IDF soldiers extending the Birkat Kohanim – the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26).

Often times during seasons of crisis or turmoil people turn to the scriptures for comfort. Probably the most well-known and often read books of the bible is Tehillim – the Psalms. Though the Psalms have many authors, a great bulk of them are attributed to King David who set a standard for combing prayers with poetry. In fact the Psalms are more than just poetry, they have all the makings of true music. They are famous songs of the heart that seem to rise the surface when our peace is ruptured. We turn back to the timelessness of the Davidic tradition, prayers said in deep words by people who truly understood overcoming suffering and hardships. We say psalms in their example and in their merit, that G-d should comfort and answer us likewise.

It is not by accident that we often fall back upon the Psalms, they actually make up a major part of the liturgy for Jews and people of many other faiths as well. This seems to be ideally what it was created for, as a graciously choreographed form of communal prayer that is filled with all the touches of personal devotion. Psalm 23 for example is probably the most known religious chapter in the world, “The L-rd is my shepherd, I shall not want… yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” This one psalm though it speaks of gloom it does not wallow in it, and has become the backbone for both times of grief like funerals and at times of celebration like Shabbat evening. It’s always a good time to say some tehillim because they are just so beautiful and meaningful on so many levels.

But some psalms carry a strong theme. Sometimes we pair certain Psalms together in order to be said in vigil. The most common example is saying tehillim for the sick. In our tradition it is common for people to take up Psalms relating to sickness and healing, or even verses that remind them of the person they are hoping a speedy recovery for. One says them together during our times of prayer in order to hope in G-d for their healing. We cause our prayers to rise up for this person to heaven in psalm. For that there are many methods and suggested lists of Psalms, both long and short. (Need help figuring out which tehillim to say for a sick person? Try this, at DailyTehillim.com)

But psalms can be paired together for all kinds of reasons, some are songs of praise and thanksgiving, while others can be about lamenting and mourning. The Psalms has prayers for almost every conceivable occurrence if we are open to the raw emotion of the words.

Soldier in TefillinBut most often for chassidim the Psalms are said at night or in the darkness of the early morning, during times of reflection and devotion (maybe even paired with Tikkun Chatzot, or the Bedtime Shema). For chassidim and the mystically inclined that are interested in looking inward, the reflection on the words of King David are always appropriate. And as the Likkutei Mohoran of Rebbe Nachman teaches us when we look into the Psalms of King David and we see his pleading regarding being saved from his wars, we should reflect on them our own personal wars with the yetzer hara – our evil impulse. (Likkutei Mohoran 101, 125) This is our most common way of saying tehillim on a day-to-day basis.

But sometimes there comes when the battle is more than just a personal struggle, the war is not the normative internal battle with the self. Sometimes there are seasons of turmoil and violence that disturb world peace. There are times when Israel finds itself in the literally need of salvation and deliverance from the trials of war and calamity. In these cases there are not so many examples of what chapters of Psalms to say, actually there are so many that would be very appropriate and are literally concerning battle. Here are a few that I think would be good suggestions in this time of crisis. We can say one or a few psalms a day after your prayers in order to hope in G-d for the safe deliverance of Israel and the safety of the Israel Defense Forces. One can select any psalm that fulfills the cry of their heart for the circumstances at hand. Here are some suggestions:

Psalm 144 – Deliverance from wars and the enemy’s slander. I would highly suggest this psalm. This song has a seeming chorus to it, it repeats the words “Rescue me, and deliver me out of the hand of strangers, whose mouth speak falsehood, and their right hand is a right hand of lying.” During the past few Israel military offenses it has taken much abuse from the international community because of the bias and lies against the Jewish state. More than ever the people of Israel not only need deliverance from war but also from the slander of her enemies.

Psalm 46 – “G-d is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. We will not fear…”

Psalm 20 – “We will shout for joy in your victory, and in the name of our G-d we will set up our flags; Hashem fulfill all your petitions.”

Psalm 22 – “But You, O Hashem, be not far off; O You be my strength, hurry to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; mine only one, from the power of the dog.”

Psalm 69 – “Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink; let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters…For G-d will save Zion, and build the cities of Judah; and they shall abide there, and have it in possession.”

Psalm 121“I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence shall my help come?” Though sometimes added in part during the Bedtime Shema, it is a wonderful Psalm to consider in time of need.

Psalm 130 – Repentance and reflections from fears in the night. “My soul waits for Hashem, more than watchmen for the morning; yea, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in Hashem!”


Visiting the Grave of a Righteous Person


Visiting the Grave of a Righteous Person
My Visit to the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch

Most of you know that for the most part, I’m a bookworm. Rarely do I escape the house to spend much face-time with people. As my health has been fragile for a long time I spend most of nervous energy working on these Torah learning projects and the transcription of the siddur. But this weeks blog is like no other, because it is taking us outside of the books and into the real world. In fact we are going on a quick tour of one of the most moving sites I have ever visited in my life, the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch, the New York resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbes. We are also going to briefly discuss the significance in Jewish tradition of such a graveyard visit, and its personal significance for me as well. This is a glimpse into the one end of this deeply religious world that many people are never fortunate to see.

Actually before I get started I want to say that my friend and I who came on this trip are observant, but not frum. I have not considered myself full-fledged Orthodox for several years. However, I have a deep connection to Chabad chassidus because it was through it that I learned the most about myself and Jewish life. The teaching and the legacy of outreach started under the tutelage of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, the Rebbe or grand-rabbi of the Lubavitch chassidim. Under his leadership he took a small group of faithful Chassidim from Russia who were struggling for their survival in Brooklyn and turned it into a world-wide movement. In the general Jewish community we are now so used to the presence of Chabad in the furthest reaches of the world we are known to chime in when discussing them, “Where ever you find Coca-Cola you’ll find Chabad.” I am one of the people who has benefited throughout my life because of Chabad’s outreach and easy-going approach helping people find their way in our tradition.

I like most people who have received so much from the teachings and work of the Rebbe, I never had the opportunity to meet him. I was too young and was not yet frum when he lived and passed away in 1994. “The Rebbe” Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the 7th and final Lubavitcher Rebbe was laid to rest in a monument known as the Ohel, the resting place of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson, of blessed memory; they rest side by side. I remember the day The Rebbe passed, seeing the television announce the horrible news, even in my ignorance I knew we had lost a great light of Torah truth in this world and my heart ached. As my learning grew in Torah and I gained so much from his published speeches the feeling grew that I needed to pay my respects to someone I had come to admire greatly.

On some weeks, in fact on some days, there can be thousands of visitors to his grave to show their respects and pray at the graves of the Rebbes. If you don’t believe me all you need to do is see the entire site covered with letters of needs and prayers of people left in hopes that they be answered in the merit of our righteous deceased. People who would ordinarily seek out the advice of the personal rabbi still bring requests of guidance and requests for blessings to him at his resting place.

I was also coming with requests this time, some of my own but also baring the prayers of other friends who had desperate needs. But namely I was coming out of gratitude that just a few years ago I was literally on my deathbed and people came to Ohel to ask for a blessing of healing for my body. I always promised that if I was blessed with life and the physical strength I would visit the site and pray there myself.

Now this tradition of asking advice of the Rebbe was not started by “The Rebbe” Menachem Mendel Shneerson. It was a tradition that he himself did engage in, by visiting the same Ohel regularly to seek the guidance of his predecessor Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak, the Freidiker Rebbe. It is also true that he encouraged others to also bring their written prayers with the confidence that “the Rebbe will find a way to answer.” Even then he was not the first to do this, he followed the formula of the “Ma’aneh Lashon” (“The way one should speak….”) a guide for mourning and addressing the dead. The text he utilized was a slightly stylized version of the one edited by Rebbe Dov-Ber, the Mitteler Rebbe, second Lubavitcher Rebbe. He didn’t create anything, he merely encouraged a long-standing tradition of visiting the grave sites of righteous people and praying in their merit, even encouraging people to do so according to the Chabad minhag.

We know that the custom of visiting the graves of holy men even predating chassidut and was also a well established tradition held by their fellow Lurianic kabbalists, and Sephardim, prior to this. They would visit the tombs of rabbis with the same respect they showed our patriarchs tombs. Actually the history and content of the Ma’aneh Lashon gives us indication of how far back this tradition goes. The order of cemetery visits was originally contained in a larger work compiled Jacob Ben Solomon Darshan in 1615 in Prague, his work titled Ma’aneh Lashon also had prayers for the sick and considering other tragic occurrences. They presented some of the first guides on how to act with decorum in a tragic situation. The sections related to the visiting of the cemetery was composed of blessings, psalms, readings from the Zohar, and prayers of repentance. The kabbalistic Yichud (unification) prayers were added later by Rabbi Aharon Berechiah ben Rabbi Moshe of Modena, who printed them in Mantua in 1626. Later the content was edited and made more concise for the use of visiting the Chabad rebbes in the late 18th to early 19th century by the Mitteler Rebbe.

Now it is obvious that the readings from the Zohar do predate this, and they are a pretty clear explanation of the reasons that a person should visit the graveside of the righteous. It suggests that it is in order to repent. That a person may come with weeping to the graves of the righteous, and if possible after fasting and with the intent to changing their ways. They can make their requests heard, but they must also come with the intent to change something about themselves for the better. (see Zohar Arachei Mot 90b) So this practice has to go back as far as the Zohar, which is arguably the early Middle-ages at the very least if not all the way back to the days of the Talmud itself.

In it the Zohar indicates that Rav Yossi the sage of the Talmud provides us the reason that we can ask and say psalms as prayers in the merit of the righteous who came before us. He quotes the verse of Isaiah 37:35 to support his claim:

“Rabbi Yossi stated:

The righteous shield the world

in their lifetime,

and also after their death

even more than in their lifetime.

This why it is written [in the scriptures]:

‘I will defend this city,

saving it for my own sake

and the sake of my servant David.’

But this was not written about him in his lifetime.”

אמר ליה רבי יוסי |

צדיקייא מגינין על עלמא |

בחייהון |

ובמיתתהון |

יותר מחייהון |

הדא הוא דכתיב |

וגנותי על העיר הזאת |

להושיעה למעני |

ולנען דוד עבדי |

ואילו בחיוהי לא כתיב.” |

Zohar haKodesh, Acharei Mot

The Zohar is making an interesting point in order for us to understand the process of asking for blessings for the sick and praying in the merit of the dead. We ask prayers in their merit, trying to connect to their righteous example and seek guidance for the situation at hand. But even more than this, the Zohar explains that G-d does show gratuitous mercy to people, to save them from catastrophe merely for His own sake. Even more interesting it shows that G-d shows mercy by saving a whole city from impending disaster merely out of consideration for the merit of King David! Rabbi Yossi also states that despite all the psalms we say, this praise of David’s merit to influence mercy for his people Israel was not said about him while he lived. Rabbi Yossi states that the prayers and influence of the saint upon G-d does not end with their demise, in continues on and it influences His decisions in respect to their memory.

Expounding upon this thought the text of the Zohar continues in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, that G-d shows gratuitous mercy to people for their sake and G-d also displays gratuitous mercy in the honor of righteous people as well. He continues on by saying that we cannot say that people are on par with G-d, but the souls of the honorable departed such as David are completely connected to the Unity of G-d’s existence and we connect to G-d in their example, that G-d alone be blessed forever and ever. We seek to have that oneness with G-d that the saints did in their life, and that they enjoy even more so in their afterlife as uninhibited souls. All is connected, Rabbi Yehuda would contend; we just need to find a way of connecting and we can often do that through the example of great people.

Now before I move on I need to touch on one very important point about this tradition, that if not answered can confuse people. Most people are aware of how careful we are to worship G-d alone in Judaism and no other being or manifestation, but here are praying at tombs and invoking the names of our dead. Are we praying to our dead instead of G-d?

Lest we come to any false conclusions I present you with the prayer that is said before we are to leave the cemetery:

“May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d

and G-d of my ancestors

that all that I have asked of You

be in Your eyes like an incense offering.

Deal with me leniently,

beyond the measure of the law,

for You, merciful One,

listen willingly to the prayer of Your servant.

For this reason I have come before You,

for I have no mediator

to intercede with You on my behalf.

Do not turn me away

empty-handed from Your presence,

for You listen to prayers —

for the sake of all the righteous

resting here

and for the sake of Your great glory.

Blessed be He who hears prayer.

May the words of my mouth

and the meditations of my heart

be acceptable before You,

Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

יהי רצון מלפניך יי אלהי |

ואלהי עבותי |

כל מה שבקשתי לפניך |

יהיה העינך כקטורת |

ותעשה עמי לפנים |

משורת הדין |

ואתה רחמן |

שומע ברצון תפלת עבדך|

ובעבור זה באתי לפניך |

כי אין לי מליץ |

להליץ בעדי לפניך |

ונא אל תשיבני |

ריקם מלפניך |

כי אתה שומע תפלה |

בעבור כל הצדיקים |

השוכים בכאן |

ובעבור תפארתך הגדול |

ברוך שומע תלפלה. |

יהיו לרצון אמרי פי |

והגיון לבי |

לפניך, |

יי צורי וגואלי: |

Ma’aneh Lashon, Final Prayer

In our tradition, especially those of us of the mystical schools, we hold the memory and the legacy of the righteous departed as a living thing. Our holy rabbis were so close to the other world in their physical lives already, but now in their spiritual lives they still are sources of inspiration to us and empower us with the strength of generations. For this reason the religious do not speak of our rabbis as “Rashi said…” or the “The Rambam said…” instead we say “The Ramban says…” or “The Baal haTanya says…” They continue to live on through their lessons to us, their merit rising higher and higher as their example helps others reach greater spiritual heights. In this way our saints are still with us.

My Visit to the Ohel Chabad – October 28th, 2012

It’s seems almost ironic that the Zohar text should really center around this one verse from Isaiah about G-d defending this city and saving it for His own sake and that of His servant David. My dear friend and I had come up from North Carolina, I was joining him and making my second leg of the journey from California on my first visit to the Ohel. We had been warned a few days before that hurricane Sandy was approaching off the coast of North Carolina. But having already planned our trip, and considering the fact that hurricanes were common to the warm south and not the cool Northeast we continued on with our trip without much concern. I had vowed before we arrived “I must visit the Ohel, we will do this rain or shine.” Oh how I would be tested in that respect, as it soon became evident that the storm was following us up the coast and was now set to land in New York City in just another day.

As we arrived in the neighborhood surrounding the cemetery we were thrilled to find parking right away, as the wind and darkness was already dominating the sky. Likewise when we came into the welcoming-center building we passed just a few people going about their business. A couple was writing out their prayers on the tables set there just for that purpose. Comfortably out of the cold we sat and watched videos of the Rebbe’s speeches as we transcribed the prayers we were bringing. Some of my friends had dire health situations, others asked a blessing for a relative, and still others to deliver a message in memory of their dearly departed loved ones.

At first I was a bit worried that we would be too far out of our element. It’s one thing to attend your local Chabad, its a totally different situation to step foot in their most holy shrine. And here I came, dressed like a typical Brooklyn hipster, skinny jeans and all. Honestly, people didn’t even give us a second look. Actually my friend and I, being the only non-Orthodox looking people around, were very concerned about not wanting to show any form of disrespect. As we made our way into the complex that is immediately before the entrance to the cemetery we were greeted by a young man who was giving reception and information for the visitors. We explained that it was our first time and asked if there was any customs that we should be mindful of. He relayed the common custom of not wearing leather shoes as a sign of mourning and humility. This is since leather is considered a form of vanity that has no place in the memory of the righteous. Luckily we came prepared with canvas shoes and with our heads covered as a sign of respect.

Now there is a sense of decorum that has surrounded the visiting of the site. When one comes into the cemetery and up the path one can bring a candle with them to light in the anti-chamber of the Ohel. The Ohel itself, which literally means “a tent,” is an edifice that is built as a permanent mourning tent of stone that offers a place of sanctuary to the faithful who come to pray there. In the anti-chamber one will also find copies of the Ma’aneh Lashon and books of Psalms for people to pray from when they go into the second, inner chamber. Men and women each have their own entrance to the main vault of the Ohel. Before one enters into this burial place it is the custom of many to knock first as a sign of respect for the timelessness of our teachers.

As one enters into the inner chamber you cannot help but be struck by the amazing sight of our two Rebbe’s laying side by side, to the right is Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson and the left is the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Surrounding their graves and headstones is an enclosure filled with countless thousands of prayers. Though it is the custom to say the Ma’aneh Lashon and Psalms for the people that you are praying on behalf of, on many days there are lines of people waiting to get a moment of prayer there. Under crowded conditions sometimes visits are limited to a mere two minutes. One does not have to recite the entire 50-page liturgy and many Psalms if they are not able to. But it is suggested that one should at least recite the Psalm 111 which is the Psalm of correspondence to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and also a Psalm relating to ones own age (for example: I am 35 years old, if I was in my first year of life I would start with Psalm 1, but since in am 35 years old I recite Psalm 36). After one says their Psalms, and they make their prayers heard with tears in their eyes, they quietly read their prepared letters, rip them up, and place them in the enclosure. As one exits it is the custom to do so walking backwards as a sign of respect.

With all the needs heavy on my heart and so much to be thankful for in my life I found it very easy to lay my prayers out with tears. I was also very shocked by the appropriateness of the Psalms for my needs and how they offered guidance that I was not expecting. As I exited I backed out of the Ohel and the anti-chamber in order to collect myself, my friend was still inside praying. As I looked up and over to my right my attention was drawn to a couple extraordinary headstones. I realized as I read the name Chaya Mushkah that I was staring at the resting places of the Rebbetzins, the wives of our Rebbes. At their sight I became overwhelmed with emotion once again, contemplating the exemplary character and compassion they possessed in their holy lives. I placed a pebble on the headstone of the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka before leaving.

As my friend exited we once again took to collecting ourselves and commented on the wonder of the experience to finally pray at such a holy place, how palpable the sense of spiritual strength that is pooled together by the prayers of the righteous there. We were among the rest who emerged with true tears in our eyes.

But the visit was not completely somber. For me it was very joyful, and I shared with the other people who were there on their visit why someone not the least bit chassidish looking would come to pray there. I explained how a few years before I was literally dying, I was in the hospital suffering complications from treatment for full-blown AIDS. I was not expected to live, but people had come to the Ohel and prayed for the healing of my body. I was there to keep my promise to daven there if I lived, not for just myself but also for others, because I believed in the power of the prayer in the merit of the righteous that deeply. It wasn’t just something theoretical to me, it was a great source of strength in my life and I was here to extend the blessing and show my gratitude. As I explained not only did everyone become excited, but the shluchim that were there were grateful that I shared my story with them because very few times do people remember to come back after their life improves, people only tend to come when things are bad. I walked away caught up in the rapture of the power of prayer and with a sense of communion with the life-lessons of our beloved teachers.

As got in the car to leave and began to calm our excitement over being able to actually make our seeming pilgrimage to this site we began to become aware that we were in the midst of a truly phenomenal storm. I had kept my vow, to come rain or shine. But by the time we were leaving there was not much sunlight left, and though it wasn’t raining the sky was unusually dark with storm clouds lingering. Wind had become so fierce that few people would venture out that day, making our access to the Ohel very quick and easy. And then during our ride back from Upper Queens to lower Brooklyn we became aware for the first time that we needed to get in on the final search for fuel gripping the city and get to cover because the city of New York and all surrounding roads were closed to traffic because hurricane Sandy was barreling towards the Northeast. We hunted for gas and after a few tries were able to fill up with high-end fuel. But still excited we made a quick stop in Crown Heights, to the former residence of the Rebbe and the headquarters the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Our visit had to be quick because the wind was picking up so quickly by the time we arrive most people were fully engaged in trying to keep standing upright and hold their kippot and hats from flying away. But we were thrilled that we just got to be there, and we made our way back to our hotel for shelter.

Within 24 hours we would find ourselves still trapped as the storm flooded and battered the region. Though in another seemingly miraculous event my friend and I were able to escape the disaster region the morning immediately after the storm and to that safety of North Carolina which had escaped the full wrath of hurricane Sandy. We drove the entire way from New York City to North Carolina on empty roads except for emergency and electrical crews racing towards the disaster zones. The next morning I was also miraculously able to fly across the country all the way back to the safety of Los Angeles, all within less than 36 hours after the storm. As I write this people are barely getting their power restored in the disaster zone and gasoline is still in unavailable at the pumps as people wait in line for miles. My prayers are with you from here, the only way I can explain my safe return is that G-d was aiding us in our travels because we came faithfully to keep our promise. That must be the power of determination and prayer. May G-d continue to bless you all, as I have seen with my own eyes His hand displayed in the great spirit of charity you all have shown to each other in this time of crisis.

Reflections on a Cemetery Visit

Several years ago I found myself in a mess of a situation. As a result of bad decisions and the weight of some emotional turmoil I had found myself outside of religious observance. My Jewish partner and I were both hooked to heavy drugs and really lost in life. After his subsequent arrest one odd night for possession of drugs I was released by the officers to the sidewalk. During my wait for someone to pick me up I was really confused and felt lost as to how my life had come to this point. Wanting to avoid the attention of the police or other lowlifes I needed to get off the streets.

As I walked I looked up and saw a cemetery, noticing a huge Jewish section. I collected myself and went in. The Mexican gardeners kind of stared at me, why was a punk in the cemetery? As I walked and looked at the names I saw the relatives of some people I knew among the many others I had never met. Noticing that some hadn’t been visited for a while I began to clean the graves and people just let me be, soon I was the only person left except for one woman over to the far left of the cemetery.

“You don’t seem like the type to hang out in graveyards,” she stated without looking up. She was taking a charcoal etching of a shiny and beautiful headstone. She explained that it was her mother’s headstone, and asked me to come over and help her get the etching of the inscription. As we worked on getting the face of it transferred on to the paper I explained that I needed to find a place to clear my head and reflect on how things had gotten to this point in my life.

I explained that when I was religious a rabbi once taught me that a cemetery isn’t necessarily a dreary place. Actually, it’s a holy place he contended. He explained to me that when we pray or make vows we often do so on a sacred object. It could be a Torah or even an object that a mitzvah was done on; any sacred object counts. He also explained that in the lack of mitzvah items to make a vow one could make a vow upon their body, in fact a vow was taken by one merely laying their hand on the body part of Abraham upon which a mizvah was performed (see Genesis 24:2, “under his thigh”). The body is miraculous and awesomely created object by G-d. When we cannot find another place of sanctuary and holiness then one may come to a graveyard that holds the bodies of His holy people. We believe that their souls remain close by in order to rejoin their resuscitated body one day; a cemetery isn’t dreary at all, it’s a lively place.

“Why do you need to find a place of sanctuary? Why do you have no place else to turn?” she inquired. As we finished the transfer on to the thin paper she began to listen to my story and ask so many questions that helped me think out my situation. She showed real concern for my needs. After some time of talking and us needing to both get on our way, she turned to me and told me that if I ever needed anyone to talk to then please come and visit her mother. That her mother would have really liked me and would be there to listen.

To this day when I get a chance to pass through that obscure neighborhood I like to stop and pay my respects for the person that was there to listen when I didn’t feel I had anyone in the world on my side. That was a real turning point in my teshuvah, my personal repentance and turn around.

Related links:


Shiviti: Menorah L’MaNatzeach B’Neginot


Shiviti: Menorah L’MaNatzeach B’Neginot
The Menorah Psalm Shiviti

Menorah Sheviti in ColorThese images have been some of the most popular and most requested on this blog. Unfortunately the originals weren’t the best quality, as they were just something I was toying with at the time in order to accompany text; they were more of an afterthought. After being able to get copies of the original software again I was able to do some corrections and updates (you know some Operative System updates are terrible about supporting old packages sometimes!). These new releases are set in a more widely recognizable JPG file-format for you to share across platforms. Thank you to everyone who helped with the corrections and suggestions, including my friend Aharon Varady of the Open Siddur Project.

Menorah Sheviti Milim Corrected (June 2012)You can also download the new three-paged Psalm 67 Meditation Packet, which contains the full-sized images, along a Hebrew/English translation of Psalm 67!

For more information about the meaning of the Shiviti see the following related posts. These lessons go in a systematic order to help you grow in your understanding of this practice:

You can also find a beautiful restored historical Shivit from our friends at The Open Siddur Project, find it here:


Starting off the Spiritual New Year Right


Starting off the Spiritual New Year Right
Mitzvah-making Opportunities for the Spring and Summer

As we came into the month of Nissan we began celebrating the height of our spiritual year, in fact this is the start of the biblical year. (see Exodus 12:2, and Parshat Archarei). Whereas in fall we observe the start of the civil year and consider the concepts of righteousness, justice and repentance, we celebrate the spiritual new year with the joy of the “z’man cheiruteinu / season of our freedom.”

Just because Pesachthe Passover holiday– is over doesn’t mean this season ends. In the Talmud and classical Halachic works Nissan itself is considered an entire month dedicated only to joy and celebration; one big holiday free of mourning. There are a lot of ways to celebrate our freedom. One of the best was is to take advantage of that liberty and work towards our own enrichment. Nothing is more important to work on than our spiritual and emotional state. Coming out from under the effect what ever complications we might have stepped out of in this season should take first priority. There is no better investment we can make than in our own soul.

The spring season comes with unique opportunities for spiritual advancement and self-reflection. One of the best ways is by following along with the Sefirah haOmerthe Omer Count. Learn how to make this period between Pesach and Shavuot work for you. You can find a study and the Blessings according to the minhag Nusach haAri z”l (Chabad) with a counting guide in the links below. Also, part of the reflection is the recitation of the Psalm 67 (I failed to cite the source in the Siddur release, it will be corrected shortly). We can delve even deeper by meditating upon this Psalm as well, learn how:

Also during this season, we have to keep in mind that the physical seasons change as well. That means that the nights are getting shorter, and the days longer. This can effect some people, especially if you live in the far north, where daylight can be as little as as 4-6 hours long at best in the height of summer even if your not in the Arctic Circle. The following guides are how to approach Tikkun Chatzotthe Midnight Rite – during this season, as well as an introduction and the liturgical text:

At of course, in gearing up for Shavuot we again will need the prayers of the Shelosh Regalim, don’t forget to also get the Hallel and Rosh Chodesh packets. We are so grateful to have these resources hosted by our partners at the Open Siddur Project. You can find the link below.

And finally, the month of Nissan isn’t over yet. Have you had a chance to say the Blessing on a Blossoming Fruit Tree? For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we still have a few more days to make this happen. Find out how:

Last but not least, it is important for us to remember when studying the parsha according to the 1-year scheme t – the weekly Torah portion schedule for a single year – that in 2012 it differs outside of Israel from the one read inside Eretz Yisrael. Those who are inside Israel and only observe 1 day of Yom Tov already began Parshat Shemini last Shabbat. For everyone else b’chutz l’aretz outside of Israel, in the Diaspora – we are just beginning it this week as last Shabbat was still Yom Tov. This schedule will remain ahead of us by one week until Shavuot of this year.

With all that said, I want to commend everyone who worked so hard to make a kosher and liberating Pesach. I am proud of all the hard work people in our little learning community have invested in cleaning not just their homes, but their inner self with careful scrutiny and humility. I am even more thrilled to see how much joy and feeling of freedom we are all experiencing for it as well. Now on to Har Sinai!

Do you need a siddur? This blog proudly cooperates with The Open Siddur Project. The project is a volunteer based organization dedicated to documenting and making the wealth of Jewish prayer and prayer resources available with free, redistributable licensing in electronic format and print formats. You can find my contributions of liturgy HERE. Find out how you can also be a part of this worthy cause!


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)



Netilat Yadayim with Asher Yatzar


Netiliat Yadayim with Asher Yatzer
The Ritual Hand Washing after using the Toilet

“Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, |

King of the Universe, |

who has sanctified us |

and has commanded us |

concerning the hand-washing.” |

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ

מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,

אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ

בְּמִצְוֹתָיו,

וְצִוָנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָים:

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haOlam, asher kadishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al netilat yadayim.”

Instructions: One should take a cup and fill it with water, lift it with the right hand, pass it to their left hand and pour the water over the right hand up to the wrist. The cup should then be passed from the left hand and over to the right hand, and poured over the left. One should then continue to wash the hands twice more, passing the cup back and forth so that one has rinsed each hand three times, in an alternating fashion. One should then recite the blessings.

During our study concerning to the ritual Morning Washing we learned that the reasons why we wash immediately upon arising is to purify ourselves of uncleanliness that we might have come in contact with during the night; specifically from touching or scratching our bodies or orifices as we slept. Besides our concern about spreading this to our other body parts, we are taught by our sages that we should begin our service before G-d with pure intentions. However, it was noted that we do not say the blessing of Netilat Yadayim – the blessing for hand washing – during this first washing. This is because we were not going to engage in any spiritual activities immediately, instead we are going to take care of our physical needs. We reserve the blessing of Netilat Yadayim – the blessing for washing – until after we have completed these necessities and are fully dressed, pairing it with this blessing of Asher Yatzar commonly known as “the bathroom blessing” by many.

These are a couple of the most common blessings in Judaism, however their combination during our morning avodah is a unique occurrence. People often feel confused over when one should say either one of these blessings. This is because most siddurim ambiguously place these two blessings among the morning blessings, without any indication as to when it is appropriate for us to say either. Today we will discuss the halachot for these blessings in our morning ritual, and then explore their normative re-occurrence in our daily practice.

The Morning Washing with a Blessing

After Modeh Ani, the next two blessings we will encounter in our day will be Al Netilat Yadayim and Asher Yatzar. The Shulchan Aruch haRav of the Baal haTanya beautifully explains to us as follows:

“According to the law of the Gemara

(Berachot 60b)

it is not necessary to say the blessing

‘Asher Yatzar’ until one relieves himself.

In all places is it the universal custom

to recite each morning,

immediate after the blessing

Al Netilat Yadayim,’

the blessing ‘Asher Yatzar;’

as each day a man becomes

a newly-created being.

Therefore, it is appropriate to

express the blessing

everyday

‘Asher yatzar et ha-adam b’chochmah.’

(“You have made man in wisdom”)

If one wants to remove doubt

one should be careful to take care of his needs

right after

the morning washing.

After leaving the bathroom

one should wash ones hands once finished

[a second time] and bless ‘Asher Yatzar,’

and thereby fulfill his obligation to bless

‘Asher Yatzar’ with this,

even if he was obligated to bless

Asher Yatzar

because he has been made

a newly-created being,

so that one blessing

serves for both purposes.

It is a good practice for one to

say the blessing

Al Natilat Yadayim

after the second washing

so as to wash after exiting the bathroom

especially if one rose to use the latrine,

or else it would be forbidden to bless.”

אף על פי שמדינא דגמרא |

|

אין צריך לברך ברכת |

אשר יצראלא כשעשה צרכין, |

מכל מקום נהגו העולם |

לברך בכל שחרית |

תכף אחר ברכת |

על נטילת ידים” |

ברכת אשר יצר“, |

שבכל יום נעשה האדם |

בריה חדשה, |

לכן |

שיך לברך |

בכל יום ויום |

אשר יצר את האדם בחכמה” |

|

והרוצה להסתלק מהספק – |

יזהר לעשות צרכיו |

תכף אחר |

נטילת ידים שחרית, |

וכשיצא מבית הכסה |

יטל ידיו פעם שהית |

ויברך אשר יצר“, |

ויצא ידי חובתו בברכת |

אשר יצרזו, |

אף אם היה מחיב לברך |

אשר יצר” |

על מה שנעשה |

בריה חדשה, |

כי ברכה אחת עולה |

לכאן ולכאן. |

וטוב שלא |

יברך ברכת |

על נטילת ידים” |

עד לאחר נטילה שנית, |

שנוטל אחר יציאתו מבית הכסא |

ובפרט אם צריך לנקביו, |

שאז אסור לו לברך. |

The Baal haTanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi of Russia in the 18thCentury
Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim: Mahadura Kama – 6:1

For the first washing of the day we primarily concerned ourselves with cleanliness. We are taught that upon awakening we should be careful to not touch any of our orifices with our unwashed hands for reasons of health and hygiene. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, siman 6) However, some of the first activities most people engage in once they get out of bed is to go to the toilet and wash-up in the bathroom.

If one slept at all at night one must wash upon awakening before going about using the facilities, though only a simple washing is required. We do not say a blessing the first time because we are not going to be immediately engaging in any mitzvot. Simply put, we wash the first time to be able to use the restroom and dress ourselves unsoiled.

However, the washing with a blessing that follows later on in our morning duties is not for reasons of cleanliness necessarily, but instead it is in preparation for engaging in prayer. Earlier in the Shulchan Aruch haRav it was expressed to us this way:

ואחר כך |

יבדק נקביו, |

שמא יצטרך לנקביו |

באמצע התפלה. |

אמרו חכמים: |

כל הרוצה לקבל עליו |

על מלכות שמים שלמה – |

יפנה ויטל ידיו, |

ואחר כך יקרא קריאת שמע |

ויתפלל. |

“And after [one is done dressing]

one should check

to see if he might have to go to the restroom

during the middle of prayer.

The sages say:

One who seeks to accepts upon himself

the whole yoke of heaven

should relieve himself and wash his hands

and after this recite the Kriyat Shema

and pray.”

Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim: Mahadura Kama – 2:8

We should use the facilities after we dress because we are going to begin to pray, and we should not interrupt our devotion.

But we also check ourselves for another reason. Based on the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Karo, it is also understood that we should not delay using the facilities because we would be transgressing the Biblical commandment, “bal te’shak’tzu / do not make yourself loathsome.” (Leviticus 11:43) We are also careful to keep in mind that we are not allowed to say words of Torah or prayer in the presence of feces. We should clean ourselves up in order to be appropriate for prayer, learning and worship. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 3:24-25)

Naturally the question arises when we consider his instructions, where are we washing and blessing? Is it at the synagogue or is it at home? The Baal haTanya has us outside of the restroom in his description, naturally some assume this must be at home. The answer is more precisely present by the Maran – Rabbi Yosef Karo in the original Shulchan Aruch.

“There are those whose custom is to bless

Al Netilat Yadayim

and then go to the synagogue

and include it with the

rest of the order of the blessings.

But this is not the custom for us Sephardim.”

יש נוהגים לברך |

על נטילת ידים |

עד בואם לבית בכסת |

ומסדרים אותו עם |

שאר הברכות |

ובני ספרד לא נוהג כך: |

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

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 5:2

The Maran tells us that it is the custom of some to say all their blessings with the congregation at the synagogue; but that is not the custom of the Sephardic community, which he represents. What he doesn’t plainly say is that they instead say their morning blessings at home, so that they only need to say the communal prayers with the rest of the congregation.

In contrast the Ashekazi tradition is to say all the blessings as part of the service, often recited out loud by the shliach tzibur – the person leading the prayer service. This is often helpful for people who are less familiar with Hebrew and the prayers, one would be able to fulfill their obligation by responding “amein” upon hearing the leader recite them, thus partnering oneself in the prayers. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 46:2) The Ashkenazi practice of washing immediately before praying at the synagogue also seems to more closely resemble the ritual washing of the Holy Temple which inspired the rabbinically instituted ritual-washing. People washed at the Temple complex before they engaged in their prayers there, therefore its more logical to wash at shul. In-fact the only reason ritual was instituted in the first place was to serve as a preparation for saying the Shema and davening. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 4:23)

Then why do Sephardim not say these blessing with a congregation? The Rema (our Ashkenazi master who provides the halacha of Eastern-Europe in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch), explains to us that the only time this does not apply is when one is going to learn Torah before he gets to the synagogue. We are not to engage in words of Torah without ritually washing and say the the Torah Blessings. If one is going to discuss or learn Torah at home, they must first wash and bless. It was also a well established custom for Sephardim to say slichot and Tikkun Chatzot, which are said prior to the morning services, most often at home. Sephardim follow the tradition of the Ari z”l, the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (Shaar haKavanot, brought down by the Kaf haChaim 6:3), who prescribes that one say blessings during their morning activities when appropriate at home; to do this we must first wash and bless accordingly.

The Rema explains to us that we are only required to say the Birchot haShachar – the Morning Blessings – once, either way is acceptable be it at home or shul, as long as we do not needlessly repeat the blessings. We bless this way once a day, as we are only newly-created once each day. The Maran tells us:

ועל כל פנים |

לא יברך בפעמים |

ומי שמברכם בביתו |

לא יברך |

בבית הכנסת |

וכן מי שמברכו |

בבית הכנסת |

לא יברך בביתו |

(כל בו סימן ג‘). |

ומי שלומד |

קודם שיכנס לבית הכנסת או מתפלל |

קודם יברכם בביתו |

ולא יברך |

בבית הכנסת |

Either way

one should not say the blessings twice.

And one who says the blessings at home

does not say the blessings

at the synagogue

And also one who says the blessings

at the synagogue

does not say the blessings at home

(Kol Bo, siman 3)

And one who learns [Torah]

before he goes to the synagogue to pray

he first says the blessings at home

and does not say the blessings

at the synagogue.”

Glosses of the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserilis of Kraków, Poland

to the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 5:2 printed in 1578

We should not say the Birchot HaShachar more than once, likewise we only say Netilat Yadayim and Asher Yatzer together once during the day. Though we do wash for other reasons during the day, such as before eating a meal with bread or performing certain mitzvot. But we don’t wash with a blessing each time we go the restroom. We merely wash with water without a blessing and then say Asher Yatzer as our blessing of gratitude. The reason again is because we are not washing for any specific sacred act, just for general cleanliness. We should be decent when we bless so we do a simple washing. This is laid down for us by the Maran:

כל היום |

כשעושה צרכיו |

בין קטנים |

בין גדולים |

מברך אשר יצר |

ולא על נטילת ידים |

אף אם רוצה ללמוד |

או להתפלל מיד: |

“Any time during the day

one goes to restroom to relieve himself

be it to urinate

or be it to defecate

one says the blessing of ‘Asher Yatzar

and not ‘Netilat Yadayim

Even if one wants to learn [Torah]

or daven immediately.”

Maran

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 7:1

The Rema agrees. No matter how “dirty” our hands become we are not required to bless, merely to remove what is soiling them:

היו ידיו מלוכלכות ששפשף |

בהן אפילו הכי אינו |

מברך על נטילת ידים |

(סמג סימן כו מלות עשה) |

“If one has soiled his hands whipping,

even in this case one does not

say the blessing ‘Netilat Yadayim‘”

(The Semag, Rabbi Yitzhak ben Yosef of Corbel; Siman 26)

Rema to

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 7:1

Though the Baal haTanya seems to prefer that one the Birchot haShachar with the congregation according to the Ashkenazi custom that is native to his region (Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim 6:1), he did look favorably upon those who do bless at home:

אבל יש נוהגים |

לברך |

על נטילת ידים” |

ואשר יצר” |

בביתם מיד אחר הנטילה. |

וכשכאים לבית הכנסת |

מברכים כל ברכות השחר, |

לבד מאותן ברכות |

שברכו בביתם |

שאין מברכים אותם פעם שניה. |

ומנהג זה יפה הוא, |

וראוי |

לנהג כן, |

שהרי כל המצות צריך לברך עליהן |

קדם לעשית, |

אלא שבנטילת ידים |

אי אפשר לברך |

קדם הנטילה, |

לכן נדחית הברכה |

עד לאחר הנטילה, |

אם כן כל מה דאפשר |

לקרב הברכה |

שתהא סמוכה להנטילה – |

צריך לקרב, |

ולא להפסיק בינתים: |

“However, there are those whose custom

is to say

Al Netilat Yadayim

and ‘Asher Yatzar

at home immediately after the washing.

When they come to the synagogue

they recite all the morning blessing,

except for the blessings

they already recited in their home,

which are not to be recited a second time.

This is a desirable custom,

and it is indeed an appropriate

to practice thusly.

For all of the mitzvot one must bless

before it is performed.

But since for the washing of the hands

one cannot recite a blessing

before he washes his hands,

the blessing is therefore postponed

until after the washing.

Accordingly,

the blessing should be recited

as close as possible to the washing –

being mindful so that it is immediate

and without any delay.”

The Baal haTanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi of Russia in the 18th Century

Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim: Mahadura Kama 6:5

And this is the halacha by the Chassidim to this day, that one wash immediately before Shacharit – the morning prayer service – with a blessing. However, in actual practice it is more prevalent for one to wash with a blessing at home in order to learn, say slichot, Tehillim, Tikkun Chatzot or take on other personal forms of devotion (and in some cases, to eat breakfast; if ones minhag permits).

The Baal haTanya though again brings up an interesting reason for washing before praying at the synagogue, it is the general halachic principle that one say blessings immediately before engaging in something and not after. We discussed this last week when we considered the kindling of Shabbat candles, which is also a strange mitzvah in that most people bless after the lighting. The Baal haTanya tell us to say our morning blessings before Shacharit because blessings come before performing any mitzvah. This is a wonderful reason.

But notice it does hint at another oddity, we are actually washing and blessing Asher Yatzar after using the facilities. How is this? Consider this, the reason we bless after we wash is because it is not appropriate to bless with filthy hands; we cannot say a blessings before we wash so we say it as soon as we are able to, once they are clean. In the same vein we cannot bless for using the toilet before we have actually done so. In addition it is not appropriate to bless in a restroom either or with soiled hands; so we say Asher Yatzar at the first chance we get, which is immediately after the washing with a blessing once we leave the restroom.

We should not delay in saying our morning blessings, if we are required to bless for any reason we should do so. Yet we must keep in mind that once we begin the process of blessing we must continue with any order of blessings that might be conjoined to the ones we are saying. For example, the Netilat Yadayim should be said along with Asher Yatzer in the morning, and Asher Yatzar is also said along with Elohei Nishma without any interruption in between them, etc.

For this reason Sephardim are a bit more scrupulous regarding the saying of the Birchot haShachar and washing with a blessing at home. It is therefore the custom that all the morning blessings are said together. Though Ashkenazi siddurim most often follow with the Blessings for the Torah immediately after Elohei Nishma, in Sephardi siddurim the Torah Blessings are said immediately after the full set of morning blessings. This makes the approach for Sephardim very straight forward, it is explained to us by the Mekor Chaim haLevi, along with advice as how to appreciate the variance in minhag:

א) אחר שיתלבש כראוי, |

יברך כל הבכות |

מברכת נטילת ידים” |

עד ואני הברכם” |

וכך נוהגים בני |

קהילות הספרדים |

וההולכים על פי תורת |

הארי .|

|

ב) ויש נוהגים לברך |

ברכת התורהתחלה |

ואחכ ברכות השחר, |

וכל אדם ינהג |

כמנהג אבותיו. |

1) “After dressing properly,

say all the blessings,

and bless from ‘Netilat Yadaim

until ‘V’ani habrachem;’

and this is the custom of members

of the Sephardic communities

and those who are guided by the teachings

of the Ari z”l

(Rabbi Yitzhak Luriah haKodesh)”

2) “And there are those who say

the Torah Blessings first

and then the Birchot haShachar,

but everyone should act according to the custom

of his ancestors.”

Kitzur Mekor Chaim, Chapter 4:1-2 (p.12)

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

Thus the Nusach haAri z”l which is based upon the Nusach Sephard, includes all the blessings together, so one can pray completely through until the end of the reading of Numbers 6:22-27 that we read with the Blessings of the Torah. This is also the order of the Siddur Nusach haAri z”l of the Baal haTanya (Chabad-Lubavitch), being arranged according to the teachings of the Ari z”l. However, his halachic approach permits one to utilize the blessings as necessary and then omit their repetition with the congregation during the Shacharit service. His position is very much accommodating to the traditional Ashkenazi representation which haphazardly presents the brachot in siddurim to be use as necessary, instead of in a methodical one-direction fashion like Sephardim. Though there is a great deal of variance as the to the order of the Birchot haShachar, the general rule for Ashknazim is according to the Rema who prescribes that the Torah Blessings are said immediate after Asher Yatzar.  (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 46:9; Rema)

Summary:

Question: Do we bless after we wash our hands when we use the toilet?
Answer: After using the toilet the first time during the day, we wash with a blessing. Only this first time, no matter how many times we go the bathroom during the day.

Question: When do we say Asher Yatzar?
Answer: Every time we use the toilet we should say this blessing of gratitude for our proper bodily functions.

Question: Does it matter if we urinate or defecate?
Answer: If we pass even as much as a drop of water we should bless once finished relieving ourselves, immediately after we wash.

Question: Do we wash with a blessing at home or shul?
Answer: One should follow the custom of their community, Sephardim and Kabbalist at home, and Ashkenazim at the synagogue. However, everyone is required to wash if they intend to engage in Torah learning or sacred acts prior to going to shul for Shacharit.

Question: If one says the blessing at home, should they say them with the congregation?
Answer: No, one should not repeat the blessings. They should merely respond “amein” to hearing them being recited if they are said by the shliach tzibur or the congregation during the service.

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