Tag Archives: Siddur

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.


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 light 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

light for Shabbat 

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,


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;


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 who are going to champion the approach of the Shulchan Aruch to bless first before lighting 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 that is 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


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 fulfillment. 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!

Parshat Shemini (2011)

Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Does the Torah and Prayerbook Mess Up This Story?

As we come upon the month of Nissan and Pesach (the Passover holiday) the Torah details the erection of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) for the first time in the desert. The first chapter of our parsha concerns itself with the procedure for dedicating this sacred space.

TabernacleThis procedure for consecrating the Mishkan is something that most religious Jews are familiar with if we think about it for a second, as it is detailed in the liturgy of the daily Shacharit and Minchah services. The section relating to the Ketoret (the incense offering) quotes Exodus chapter 30 concerning this process. Noticeably, however, this reference is not presented in the biblical order when it appears in the Siddur (the Hebrew prayerbook) the verses are juxtaposed, starting first with verses 34-36 and then it returns back to verses 7-8. Why is this?

Surely the sages who codified our prayers were more knowledgeable than we are, and knew that this was presented out of order. Every word, in-fact every letter, was chosen for the purpose of teaching us something. There must be a lesson in this. The siddur presents the text as follows:

“And Hashem said to Mosheh [Heb. Moses] take for yourself sweet spice, stacte, and onycha with galbanum; sweet spice with pure frankincense; they shall be of equal weight. And you shall make incense of it, a frankincense like a perfumer makes; with salt, pure and holy. You shall take a portion of it, and grind it finely; and you shall place the portion before the testimony by Tent of Meeting, that I shall meet you there; holy of holies, it shall be to you.

And it is said: Aharon [Heb. Aaron] shall burn therefore incense of sweet spice, every morning, when he dresses the lamp he shall burn it. And when Aharon lights the lamps at dusk, he shall burn it; a perpetual incense before Hashem, throughout your generations.”

וַיֹּאמֶר יְיָ אֶל מֹשֶׁה, קַח לְךָ סַמִּים, נָטָף, וּשְׁחֵלֶת, וְחֶלְבְּנָה, סַמִּים, וּלְבֹנָה זַכָּה, בַּד בְּבַד יְיָ: וְעָשִׂיתָ אֹתָהּ קְטֹרֶת, רֹקַח מַעֲשֵׂה רוֹקֵחַ, מְמֻלָּח טָהוֹר קֹדֶשׁ: וְשָׁחַקְתָּ מִמֶּנָּה הָדֵק, וְנָתַתָּה מִמֶּנָּה לִפְנֵי הָעֵדֻת בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, אֲשֶׁר אִוָּעֵד לְךָ שָׁמָּה, קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים תִּהְיֶה לָכֶם

וְנֶאֶמַר: וְהִקְטִיר עָלָיו אַהֲרֹן קְטֹרֶת סַמִּים בַּבֹּקֶר בַּבֹּקֶר, בְּהֵיטִיבוֹ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת יַקְטִירֶנָּה: וּבְהַעֲלֹת אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַנֵּרֹת בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם יַקְטִירֶנָּה, קְטֹרֶת תָּמִיד לִפְנֵי יְיָ, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם

 From the Siddur, Seder Ketoret, Exodus 30:34-36, 7-8

If we look at the text we see that these selected verses from Exodus 30 are all related to the incense offering, whereas the rest of the chapter is about the materials of the Mishkan, how to acquire them and used them for the construction. This is appropriate to be said at that time because twice a day incense was offered in the tabernacle, during the morning service which is Shacharit and the afternoon service which is Mincha.

The reading presents us first with Mosheh Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) being commanded to make incense; it then explains what the composition of the mixture was and how to process it. (v.34-35) We are told that Mosheh himself is commanded to grind some incense down and place it before the tent, and that when this was done G-d would appoint a time to “meet you.” (v.35) The place would then become most holy. (v.36) Notice he is not told to burn it.

The siddur digresses, reminding us that it is was first written that Aharon was the one actually commanded to burn the incense, (v. 7) he was to do it in the morning and the afternoon (v.8).

This is important for to know in order to understand what is going on this parsha, as it presents us with a very disjointed story. All kinds of things seem to happen out of order. Surely the holy Torah, written by the hand of Mosheh Rabbeinu as given by G-d, should be expected to be more logical and sensible than even the siddur composed by our sages. Surely there is a reason for the seeming juxtaposition of the biblical narrative.

“And he [Mosheh] said to Aharon,

‘Take for yourself a bull-calf

for a sin offering,

and a ram without blemish for a burnt-offering,

and offer them before Hashem’”

| Vayomer el aharon

| kach lach eigel

| ben bakar l’chatat

| v’ailu l’olah tamim

| v’hakereiv lifnei Hashem

Leviticus 9:2

We read that on the 8th day of the month of Nissan that Mosheh is said to have called Aharon, the Kohen Gadol – the High Priest, his sons who served as priests unto the people, and the elders who are representatives of the assembly of the people. They are to meet in front of the ohel moed (the Tent of Meeting). Aharon was to bring a bull-calf and a ram to offer for his own self. Notice that it says a bull “l’chatat/for a sin offering” and a ram “l’olah/for offering.”

The people are then commanded by Aharon to bring a male goat for their sin offering, and a first year calf and sheep for a burnt offering. Next the entire congregation was to provide for a bull and a ram for a peace offering, and a meal offering mixed with oil. They were to do this, in order that G-d would appear to them. This is presented in the same tone as given to Aharon, that they were bring the goat “l’chatat/for a sin offering” and the other two young animals “l’olah/for offering.” Of course we understand that the people of the general population did not offer these items themselves. Clearly the peace offering and the grain offering was only allowed of priests. It merely says what they were for, not that the people offering them up themselves.

However, when we think of the priests one tends to automatically assume that the offerings that Aharon brought were actually offered at that moment in the flames, because that was his function as High Priest. But the wording itself does not explicitly say that he actually burned them. The text seems to suggests that he merely brought the items, just like the congregation did; it uses the exact same wording.

As we read through chapter 9 we read that the animals were slaughtered and all the offerings were offered up on the altar outside of the tent. Then Aharon blesses the people, and steps down from the altar. Next Mosheh and Aharon together go into the Tent of Meeting, then they come out and bless the people again. We are told that G-d then appears to the people and that fire came down from heaven and consumed the offerings on the altar.

Now here is where we run into our problem with the text, how is that the offerings and the fat of the various animals is only then consumed by fire? We clearly read that Aharon did slaughter the animals and dismembered them as an offering. We then read that after he blesses the people he steps down from offering the items. They next go into the ohel moed – Tent of Meeting, outside of the partition veil – for some unexpressed reason. When they exit from there the people are blessed a second time. Then presence of G-d only then appears, along with fire from heaven to consume the items of the offering.

From a critical perspective of the narrative, and even in light of our tradition there is something very wrong. If the items were offered, there would be nothing for the fire to consume at the end of this chapter. Secondly, we know that the task of the priests was to bless the people after the offering. (see Parshat Nasso 2012) But here in both cases we see that a blessing comes before the items are consumed by fire as an offering. Thing seem to be stated all out of order when we walk ourselves mentally through the procedure of sacrifices step-by-step.

However, if we look at this chapter in light of the instructions given in Exodus 30 we see things very differently. The instructions that they received was that even though Aharon was to burn the offerings himself everyday, that Mosheh was appointed to offer the incense in front of the Tent of Meeting. Normally the incense was offered inside, in the place only the high priest could go. In our parsha we see Mosheh going inside with Aharon. This also seems perplexing, their going inside together seems unnecessary and was normally not allowed.

When Rashi deals with the text of Exodus 30 he sees it as Mosheh being told to instruct Aharon in how to perform his service. That is why he makes the incense, even though we are told at the start that Aharon was going to actually burn the incense on a daily basis. So when Mosheh goes inside with Aharon, he sees it as Mosheh physically instructing Aharon in how to perform his service. Rashi’s makes sense, as they did not go in to actually offer incense that day. Instead it tells us that Mosheh offered it upon the altar “lifney haeidut vohel moed / before the testimony of the Tent of Meeting.” (Exodus 30:35) Their trip inside was only a dry run, they didn’t offer anything at all and just went through the motions as instruction in the priestly service.

It is very likely that the offerings of Aharon, the grain and the fat of the animals which was offered up outside, was just him going through the motions as well. It details how he separated the animal parts, wash and placed them so they would go up in smoke with the other offering of incense; then the blood was dashed on the altar in the normative fashion. But it says nothing of any actual fire at that time.

The closest thing we have to any implication that they were burned is the use of the word “hiketir” over and and over again, which in biblical Hebrew normally means “to burn completely as a sacrificial offering.” However, this word plainly means “to light incense” in everyday speech. Keep in mind, the incense offering was a tamid offering; it was a perpetually burning offering upon the altar that was lit in the morning, with more incense to sustain it added in the afternoon. Elective offerings were then placed on top of that burning tamid offering. Here in our parsha we do not read anywhere that Mosheh lit the incense offering. The only thing we have Mosheh doing is speaking to the people, instructing them. How could Aharon burn these other offerings on the smoldering incense offering if Mosheh had not yet burned it? We don’t read of anything burning until verse 11 when the skin and flesh was “saraf b’eish/burned by fire” outside of the camp. We will not find any other mention to burning or fire again until the end of the chapter.

I believe Mosheh did not burn the incense; he merely placed it upon the altar outside. Likewise Aharon did not burn his offerings, but only placed them upon the altar.

If this is true, then we have a perfect reason for why the elements of the offerings were still on the altar at the end of this entire procedure, to be consumed by fire from heaven. They could not, and did not act until G-d Himself consecrated the Mishkan. G-d was the one who started the fires of the offerings, providing for it miraculously. Mosheh was not out of place in doing the task of offering the incense, because he merely present it and G-d lit the fires that consumed it. Aharon then followed the example of Moses, presenting but not burning his offerings. And thus the incense offering and the sacrifices of the animals are present on the altar at the same time just like it says, to be offered up in smoke.

So now as we read the text it is logical why all the details are presented in this order. In verse 5 we see the people bringing everything that Mosheh commanded them, and assembles before them outside of the tent. As they stood there, in verse 6, Mosheh speaks to everyone telling them what to do in order that the presence G-d be reveal to them. He showed them specifically how to do it when he says “zeh ha davar asher tziuah Hashem ta’asu/this is the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do.” Which is when Mosheh places the incense upon the altar.

Then in verse 7, Mosheh calls to Aharon to draw close to the altar and offer up the elements of the sacrifices and offerings. In verse 8, Aharon goes up to the altar and offers up the bull sacrifice for himself. In verse 9, he places the blood upon the altar outside. In verse 10, the fats and the organs he added to the incense offering that was upon the altar “as G-d instructed Mosheh;” which hints that Mosheh was instructed by G-d, and now Aharon was instructed by Mosheh. In verse 11, the flesh and skin are burned outside the camp. In verse 12 begins the offering of the ram, with Aharon placing the blood upon the altar. In verse 13, we learn that the sons of Aharon then bring each of the offerings piece-by-piece to him to be offered. Verses 13-21, he does the tasks of offering all the items upon the unlit altar. In verse 22, he blesses the people and leaves the altar with the items still on it. Verse 23, they go into the Tent of the Meeting for Aharon to be instructed on the tasks relating to the service of high priest in the holy sanctuary; when they come out the people are blessed again, and G-d then appears to all the people. Thus in verse 24, all the sacrifices and offerings are taken up by fire from heaven together at once as a sign of their acceptance.

They went through all the tasks of the tabernacle service, in a unique place and in a unique way. It was done this way in order to learn how to perform it. They took every element of it seriously, even down to the detail of blessing the people in this dress rehearsal (thought we are not sure what the words of these actual blessings were). When G-d saw their faithfulness in fulfilling their duty, G-d accepted Mosheh’s incense offering and Aharon’s sacrifices. Through this act G-d also accepted the sacrifices to sanctify Aharon, and received the sacrifices and offerings to sanctify the people; to forgive their sins so that they could enter into the sacred space. Only then did G-d make the Mishkan holy, now that they were able to come in and knew how to perform the holy functions as commanded.

This also provides us a reason for the juxtaposed presentation of this text in the siddur. It was necessary to first understand that Mosheh was the one who was doing the offering of the incense in that example, and it was Mosheh that first created the incense mixture in order to show this thing to Aharon. Though this task would be given to Aharon to do on a daily basis from that point on. When placing this section of scripture in the Ketoret reading the rabbis presented it in the most logical fashion. Mosheh’s role as instructor presented first, going through the motions that Aharon would do in the Mishkan after dedication. It is very appropriate, because in our morning prayers and in our Mincha prayers we too merely mentally go through the motions of this service and recite the laws pertaining to them from Talmudic sources until the Holy Temple of G-d is reestablished (may it been soon and in our days!).

Something to think about:

  • The Duchan, the Blessing of the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing)  that is said on holidays, is a extension of the blessing give by Aharon as prescribed in Numbers 6:24-26. This is said at the end of the Musaf offering, at the end of the Amidah because it was given after the sacrifices were offered. If the offerings were not yet completed until fire came from G-d, Aharon must have said some other blessings. Rashi tells us that Aharon recited Psalms 90:17 when they came out of the ohel moed, a verse of a Psalm written by Mosheh. Maybe Aharon composed his own blessing too when he blessed the people the first time, one that was appropriate to the situation. What do you think he said?

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