Our Succot vort is being sponsored by Haim and Danit Kalb and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh to commemorate the Yahrtzeit of Haim’s Grandfather R’ Efraim ben R’ Mordechai. To the Kalb family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.
Please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
Having emerged from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, hopefully we have all been inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy, successful and meaningful year and years ahead, we find ourselves in the midst of Succot.
During Succot, the B’nai Yisrael, as an Am Segula (a nation apart and unique from the other nations), as Hashem’s special, chosen people, visit, bond, and celebrate our special and unique relationship with HaKodosh Borchu.
Just a note here, we recite Tehillim psalm #27: “L’David Hashem O’ri…” twice daily from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Simchat Torah night (through Shemini Atzeres in Khutz L’Aretz). The Rosh Hashana makhsor (Nusakh Ashkenaz, pages 86-88) explains:
The custom to recite this psalm of repentence is based on the Midrash [Vayikra Rabbah, Perek 21, siman 4] which expounds: “Hashem is my light” on Rosh Hashana; “and my salvation” on Yom Kippur; ” He will hide me in His shelter”… an allusion to Succot. The implication is that Rosh Hashana, Hashem helps us to see the light and repent; on Yom Kippur, He provides us salvation by forgiving our sins. Once we are forgiven, He shelters us from all foes and dangers, just as He sheltered our ancestors in the wilderness.
Various commentators cite the Zohar Vayikra daf 31b which indicates that the final sealing in the Book of Life occurs on Hoshana Rabbah. Thus, one could draw a definitive spiritual connection between this final sealing of one’s future in the coming year on Hoshana Rabbah, and the recitation of Tehillim psalm #27: “L’David Hashem O’ri…” from Rosh Khodesh Elul through Simkhat Torah night.
[Many thanks to R’ Yedidya Kramer of Ramat Beit Shemesh for his help in nailing down the exact sources: [Vayikra Rabbah, Perek 21, siman 4 and Zohar Vayikra daf 31b above]
Prominent in our thoughts during Succot are the Haftorahs where the prophecy of the War of Gog and Magog, Moshiakh, the Ge’ula Shlaima (the Redemption) and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash are pronounced. Or, as the expression goes among baseball fans each springtime — right down to the fans of the most hapless MLB team; “Hope springs eternal!”
But before we can question what the relationship is between the War of Gog and Magog and the simanim of Succot: the Lulav, Etrog, Hadassim and Aravah, and before we approach the simcha, the happiness and light of Succot; fundamental questions still seem, to this author, to need thought and introspection. These questions regard where one’s personal kavanah (intent, concentration and understanding) regarding tefillah is.
With the added insight regarding the parallel between “L’David Hashem O’ri…” and the final sealing in the Book of Life, this author again asks the following questions: Are we collectively and systematically programmed for success or failure by our personal kavanah in tefillah? Why have Shaliach Tzibborim seemingly drawn “a bye”, a free pass in “the system” regarding “Rabbinic injunction” concerning correct, fluent pronounciation and not slurring or running-on words of tefillot, etc. during Chazarat HaShatz? Why are those given Aliyah honors seemingly exempted from Halachic rules concerning pronounciation of Baruch Attah Hashem and Melekh HaOlam during Brachot over the Torah? And why the elaborated, elongated time-consuming khazzanut during Khazzarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemonah Essrei) at the cost of short-shrifting Aleinu? Can any communal leader explain the rationales?
One may well wonder what is meant here. Bluntly, and to the point: Is an individual’s spiritual growth as well as his bonding and kesher with Hashem systemically stifled, stymied, blunted and nipped in the bud by collective peer-pressure to conform to Kehilla-imposed time-limits at each step or section of tefillah? This author views these questions and thoughts as critically important to air, even now, once we have passed Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, lest we begin to back-slide into the old familiar patterns. And to date, there have been no answers received, no answers received from Rabbanim, from communal leaders. Why?? Are they all sooo handcuffed, for fear for their jobs, for their branding, for their overseas donations, of ridicule by their peers that they fear to back up their words about intent and concentration regarding tefillot with concrete actions by systemically imposing changes which address the issues raised here?
This author is NOT a Talmud khacham, but when Rabbanim urge their followers, the Kehillot to “slow down — you are standing before The Melekh Ekhad, The Creator — pronounce the words of tefillah properly — understand what you are davening,” those words are strong, powerful, to be taken seriously. But how does one reconcile the words of mussar with the compelling and disruptive pressure that the individual is made to feel to conform to systemic Kehillah-imposed norms such as “the 6 minute rule” for Shemoneh Esrei, lest his personal concentration be totally shot by the Chazan’s repetition?
And when stam individuals suffer the continual conflict of the mortal race with the Shaliakh Tzibbor to Khazarat HaShatz, imagine the extent of the compelling and disruptive pressure felt by Kohanim who are Halachically compelled to be ready to have their hands washed at or shortly after conclusion of Kedusha in order to be ready to ascend to the Duchan by the Bracha of Retzei.
One could go on and on as to the contradictions in spirit inherent in unrealistic Kehilla-imposed systemic time limits at each stage of tefillah.
And one could add to all of the above contradictions in spirit inherent in break-neck speed tefillohs with this: the unthinking, uncognizant tendencies of those receiving aliyot and Ba’al Ko’reas which could result in damage to a Sefer Torah and substantial monies to the kehillot in repair costs. Both a Ba’al Ko’rea, and the one receiving an aliya should, must have the presence of mind to know where he is, and what he is doing and thus not gruffly rub the letters of the Sefer Torah as he kisses it with his tallit at the beginning and end of the reading of his aliya. This author sees the proper, respectful way as barely touching the sefer on the letters or to touch the back of the Sefer which rolls into the written part. And the Ba’al Ko’rea ought not to shove the rolled sefer onto the hand of the individual aliya as he is kissing the Sefer with his tallit at the conclusion of his aliya.
Finally, and still the “piece d’resistance”, the less than 1 minute Aleinu. No kidding — I’ve timed it myself. Rabbonim have spoken repeatedly, about the Aleinu prayer and its’ significance: the Oneness of Hashem’s Kingship, the reasons for our most-favored nation status, Hashem’s eventual eradication of idolatry from the earth, that eventually the entire world, all of the nations will recognize and submit themselves to Hashem’s Malkhut (Kingship) — again very strong and powerful stuff. But are all of the spoken and written words empty and devoid of content vs the “system”, which the Shaliach Tzibbor is bound by conformance with, which mandates blowing through Aleinu as if shot from a rocket. This author has written at length on this — as if the B’nai Yisrael:
“… fled from the mountain of G’d like a child running away from school.” (Rabbi Artscroll mentions a Ramban on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 10, posukim 35-36)
If the individuals and the Kohanim of a typical Kehal are up against “the system” of time-restrictive tefillot in working to make their davening meaningful and in trying build their kesher with Hashem, imagine, just think — ALL of you FFB’s (Frum from Birth) — have you ever given even a moment’s thought to what these systemic time-limits do to the Ba’al Teshuvah’s psyche? For the Ba’al Teshuvah, more often than not, it is about kavanah (intent, concentration) in merely pronouncing the words of tefillot correctly, let alone having sufficient time to think about and understand the meanings of the tefillot. And don’t give that old, well-worn “tierka b’tzibbor” (burden for the Kehal) noise. It just doesn’t wash and seems coming from the same narrow, singular, me-first mindset which causes us to look after one’s own doorstep first and foremost, and to heck with the next guy — my Jewish brother. Ergo, we were/are collectively soo wrapped up in a me-first mindset that we let the evil regime evict 9,000 of our Jewish brethren. Chas V’Challila it could happen again unless the Kehal gives more thought to the needs of those who make up the Kehal, in short, starting with more realistic, all-inclusive time structures for the various tefillot.
So we ponder why Moshiakh has not yet appeared. And if, as we are told by our Rabbanim, that we must ask, pray to, beseech Hashem in order to receive, it seems likely that our short-comings in tefillah are continuous, built-in to the system and seem directly attributable to not receiving what we seek and denial to our brother of the same opportunity to ask and receive, both on a personal and national level. In essence, it seems as if we have collectively been systemically programmed by “the system” to fail by virtue of time-restrictive prayer.
Is a Kehilla capable of thinking and acting “out-of-the-box” and collectively revising or changing it’s long-engrained davening habits for the collective benefit of all of its members and for the national good? For it seems that just because an act conforms to current societal norms, it doesn’t endow that act as moral, ethical or in an acceptable spirit. And it seems that, just as Rifka had the inner strength to rise above the Levanite societal norms, it seems that the collective needs to break out of systemic unrealistic davening patterns, systems and time-limits.
One need not start radically. Start with the least pressured tefillah of any day — Ma’ariv. Make the Ma’ariv Shemoneh Esrei longer in duration before Kaddish, rather than what seems to be the standard 6 minutes. Slow down the Shaliach Tzibor’s Sim Shalom at each Shacharit and Mussaf davening enabling the Kohen to complete “Ribono Shel Olam” simultaneously with the Shaliach Tzibor and make recitation of Aleinu at least 2 minutes in length at each davening in recognition of the importance of the words. Periodically evaluate and refine the time structure of the collective tefillah.
Make a start toward a more Halachic and meaningful Tefillah with Maariv and make it the main Maariv of the Kehillah which would then be seen in Shemayim as a sincere effort at collective improvement in tefillah, rather than, as Rush Limbaugh would say , “symbolism over substance.” Such a start will give added meaning to the connection between Tehillim psalm #27: “L’David Hashem O’ri…”, the psalm of repentence and Hashem’s final sealing, on Hoshana Rabbah, of one’s future in the coming year.
And so we ponder the War of Gog and Magog:
“When Gog, all his army and all of the nations attack israel, even in a redemption ‘in haste,’ Israel will tremble with fear. Afterward, G’d will rise up and destroy the nations in the final redemption, as in the first one.” (”The Jewish Idea”, by Rabbi Meir Kahane, Z’l, Vol. 2, page 984)
“Our sages said (Tanchuma, Re’eh, 9); “…In the future, Gog and Magog will attack Israel, and they too will be burnt up with one fire, as it says, ‘I will punish him with pestilence,blood and torrential rain […fire and brimstone]. At that moment, I will magnify and sanctify Myself, and make Myself known to many nations.’” (Yecheskel, 38.22-23 in part, as quoted from”The Jewish Idea”, by Rabbi Meir Kahane, Z’l, Vol. 2, page 984)
May it be that there be root changes made to davening systems in B’nai Yisrael such that questions about intent need not be repeated, that we collectively merit being sealed for life in the coming year and always and that we merit Moshiakh and the Ge’ula Shlaima before its time.
May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiakh, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!
L’Shana Tova, Chag Same’ach and Good Shabbos! — may all who read this be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, happy, sweet and prosperous 5774 and every year thereafter to at least 120!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.