Friday, April 21, 2006

Tefillah, Torah Reading, and Talking

Imagine: You are in the courtroom, accused of a capital offense. The prosecuting attorney has just concluded a scathing attack on your case. You turn to your defense attorney, only to find him speechless.

All seems lost. As a last ditch effort you arrange a meeting with the judge. The meeting is scheduled in his chamber at 8:45 am, sharp.

You, along with a friend, arrive at the chamber early. You strike up a conversation with your friend. You are so entrenched in the conversation that you fail to recognize the judge entering the chamber. After a while of chatting, you turn up only to notice the judge turning around, leaving the chamber, and closing the door behind him.

We, the Jewish People find ourselves in a dire situation. Whether it be from Iran or some other source, we are being attacked from all around. The only way we can be saved from the situation is to turn to HaShem (G-d). The Jewish way to turn to HaShem is through prayer.

The zohar says that when people talk in shul (synagogue) during prayers and the Torah reading, they may cause the Shechinah, HaShem's Divine Presence, to leave the sanctuary. Furthermore, for the sin of talking during times of the prayer when speaking is forbidden, the Satan (Prosecuting Angel) is permitted to prosecute against the speakers, unimpeded.

One must learn when it is forbidden to talk. Briefly, during the following parts of tefillah, one may not talk (with the exception of a potentially life-threatening situation and one who is about to sin unless immediately told what they are about to do is forbidden):

1) Kaddish
2) Chazzan's repetition of Shemonah Esrei (lit. the 18 blessings recited are the shema prayer).
3) Kedushah
4) Torah Reading
5) Pisukei D'Zimrah
6) Blessings of the Shema
7) Shema
8) Haftorah Reading

Note: Although the above consists of most areas where it is forbidden to speak (even Torah matters), it is not a complete list.

All Jews should merit to be silent during prayers and Torah Reading (aside from the two exceptions listed) and thereby merit to a salvation from our dire situation, speedily is our days! Amen!

Addition: June, 11 2006 - 16 Sivan 5766 - Even one who organizes the prayer service, such as the rabbi and gabbai, may not speak - even to arrange for people to take part in the service. One may talk to prevent a potential danger to life or health.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Smoking in Jewish Law

According to the Torah, it is absolutely forbidden for one to do that which harms oneself. How much more so is it forbidden to do something which often leads to an early death. Smoking is one of those actions that causes harm to people, as scientific studies consistently show. No wonder it says on cigarette packs, "Smoking Kills".

The source for (one of) the Torah prohibitions against smoking: "ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם" - "Guard your souls exceedingly" (Devarim: 4; 15)

Smoking is forbidden and those who smoke must do all that is in their power to stop. Doing an action that runs contrary to HaShem's Law (the Torah) seems to show that they view that action as supreme over the Torah. If one refuses to stop smoking (or decides to start smoking), they are, in effect worshipping the cigarette as their master. Even if they act as if HaShem is their Master in all (or almost all) other areas, they make the cigarette their master if they decide to continue smoking. Eliyahu HaNavi said (Melachim I: 18; 21) to the people that they should not "sit on the fence" but, rather, should decide if they would like to worship Ba'al (lit. master) or HaShem. The MaLBi"M explains that the people would worship Ba'al in general, and, when they were desperate for Heavenly Help, would cry out to HaShem. If one decides to worship two masters, it is a great desecration of HaShem's Holy Name.

To see another site with a lengthier discussion of smoking in Jewish law, click here. To see Rabbi Brody's page on smoking (and health), click here. Also, for a recent post about smoking and assimilation, click here.


(Note: The following quotes were translated and compiled in 'Smoking and Damage to Health in the Halachah - by Rabbi Menachem Slae.)

The following contains a sampling of Torah leaders throughout the generations who explain that one who smokes is violating the Torah.

Chofetz Chaim: "...How well do I know that people will rationalize: 'We are powerless; we are unable to break the habit!' The question is - Who caused this situation in the first place? You yourselves! Had you not gotten yourselves used to it, it would be easy for you to stop. Only you are responsible for what you have done to yourselves." (Zechor L'Miriam) "My question is: Who ever allowed you to begin smoking?... [The Rabbis in the Talmud] have ruled that one is not permitted to injure himself. This is first of all because of the mitzva, 'and be diligent in the care of your soul'. Second, the whole world belongs to the Creator, and He has created us to honor Him. In His mercy, He grants each person the strength he needs to study the Torah and achieve his goals in this world. How then can we, His servants, take the liberty of doing whatever we want to our bodies, which belong to the Creator? If a man diminishes his physical strength through smoking, he will be called to judgment for this on Judgment Day, for this was done of his own free will, and not by duress...

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,
zt"l, in a 5741 (1981) ruling on smoking (Chosehn Mishpat 2: 18): "Those who cannot tolerate cigarette smoke are not being petty and particular; it causes them real physical discomfort and is also downright dangerous to their health. Therefore smoking is not permitted if it may cause others discomfort or damage. Even worse, those who smoke are performing an act of orally-caused tort in the damage they cause to the non-smokers by their cigarette smoke... It seems obvious that if we could take such cases to a rabbinic court (Bet Din), and if the Bet Din today were qualified to award tort payments for damages (such as those found in the Mishna), smokers would have to pay compensation for the discomfort (tza'ar) incurred, as well as for the damage to health (ripui), even if the damage were not reflected by days taken off from work."

There are some who believe that they have a
halachic (Jewish legal) right to smoke based on a 5741 ruling by Rabbi Feinstein in which he quoted the verse "G-D watches over the simple" (Psalms: 116; 6). Though on the surface, many people who justify smoking often "appear knowledgeable" about Jewish law, they, in reality, display their crude lack of knowledge of Jewish law (at least in the area of smoking) when they attempt to defend smoking. Those who use Rabbi Feinstein's 1981 legal ruling to justify smoking are taking Rabbi Feinstein's ruling out of context, failing to explain the reasons behind the ruling that allows (though discourages) smoking. Furthermore, by taking Rabbi Feinstein's ruling out of context, they transgress the great sin of bizui talmidei chachamim (shaming Torah scholars).

So, why did Rabbi Feinstein rule that smoking was permitted?

Rabbi Feinstein, in 1981, (see Choshen Mishpat: 2; 76) believed that only a small minority of people actually became sick from smoking, and "the chances of contracting cancer or other dangerous diseases is even smaller".

Since that statement, scientific studies have consistently concluded the great and widespread health-dangers directly related to smoking. Therefore, Rabbi Feinstein's reasoning behind his ruling allowing (though discouraging) smoking does not apply.

Rabbi M. Halperin: "Today, when it has been indisputably proven that smoking always causes some physical damage, and the only question is how much, Rabbi Feinstein would probably rule differently, particularly in the light of the shocking number of deaths directly attributable to smoking."

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler (not a direct quote): Rabbi Feinstein today would rule that smoking is forbidden in light of the known widespread dangers of smoking. Furthermore, in light of the campaigns opposed to smoking, smoking is no longer considered something that is "common". Therefore, the two reasons for Rabbi Feinstein's ruling permitting smoking - 1) It is not so dangerous, and 2) it is common, no longer apply. Therefore, it is dishonest, at best, for one to rely on the decision by Rabbi Feinstein to justify their smoking.

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg: The principle, G-D watches over the simple does not apply, "for it only applies in those cases where the danger is not obvious and there is no empirical evidence of a dangerous situation. On the contrary, it applies to cases in which the majority do not suffer injury... but in this case... in the last decades, smoking has been found to cause major and serious damage in an alarmingly high proportion of smokers... Furthermore, the Rambam's ruling (in Hilchos Rotzeach 11: 5) clearly applies here: 'Many things have been prohibited by our Sages on the grounds of danger, and anyone who allows himself to transgress, saying, 'What does it matter to anyone else if I endanger myself'?', or 'I don't care what happens to me', is liable to the punishment of Makkas Mardus (lashes for rebelliously transgressing the words of the Sages).

Levush: Smoking is forbidden according to the Torah.

RaMCHa"L (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) who lived in the 1700's: In his discussion of the dangers of unhealthy eating and smoking said as follows: "...If one considers the many sicknesses that are able to come upon him because of his eating, and, at the very least, the heaviness that he feels after eating and the SMOKING THAT CONFUSES HIS MIND. Behold, a person would definitely not desire these things (eating unhealthily and smoking), since its "good [benefits]" are truly not good, and its bad [effects] are truly bad. And all of the pleasures in this world are similar. If one were to contemplate regarding them, he will see that even the apparent "good" one derives from them only lasts for a short time, and the bad that can come about as a result of these "pleasures" is harsh and lengthy, to the point that no one who is in control of his mental faculties would place himself [at the "mercy"] of these evil dangers [in exchange] for that little good that is profited [from the pleasure]. This is obvious. Once one accustoms himself, and constantly investigates this truth, behold, he will, little by little, free [himself] from the prison of foolishness, which the darkness of the material imprisons him, and he will not be tempted at all by the temptations of these false pleasures. Then he will be disgusted by them and he will know to only take from the world that which is necessary..." (Mesillas Yesharim - Chapter 15)

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, shilt"a: One who sells cigarettes is like a rodef (one who pursues someone with the intent to murder).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sleep and Torah

From the beginning of the Torah, one can see how having a productive day is largely influenced by what they do at night. The Torah says, "וי-הי ערב וי-הי בקר..." - "and it was night and it was day..." The Jewish day begins with the night. The secular calendar says the day begins at "12 am", while most people would probably say that the day begins when they wake up. Maybe the "daytime" begins when they wake up, however, the day begins at night.

According to the RaMBaM (Maimonides), eight hours of sleep should be sufficient. The RaMBaM recommends that the person go to sleep just over eight hours before the sun rises. (Hilchos Deos; 4, 4) One of the great rabbis of our generation, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shilt"a, says that a person will be a more effective Torah scholar if they get sufficient amounts of sleep. The Chofetz Chaim was careful to turn off the lights in the Beis Medrash (study hall) of his yeshiva early enough at night in order to try to encourage his students to get a sufficient amount of sleep.

At the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law compiled by Rabbi Yosef Caro), we read that in the morning one should "strengthen himself like a lion to stand in the morning for the service of his Creator". When a lion strengthens itself, its vigor is self-evident. The lion often wants to accomplish a goal, such as catch prey. The lion needs to sleep to maintain that strength. So too, we should learn from the lion about the importance of sufficient sleep and healthy sleep hygiene. However, it is best to get all the necessary sleep at the night time.

Scientists recommend about 8 hours of sleep for the average person. There are those who may require as little as 4 hours, while some require 12 hours. In order to know one has had enough sleep, they should not require an alarm clock in the morning and should feel sharp throughout the day. Getting enough sleep is an issue of "guard your soul exceedingly". May we all merit to have restful nights and productive Torah learning.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Perek Shirah - What is it?

In previous posts I have made comments on Perek Shirah (Chapter of Song), never having sufficiently explained what it is and its significance.

It is attributed to King David and his son King Solomon. It is also known as the "Song of the Universe" by some. "Perek Shirah" consists of six chapters and 84 parts of Creation are represented. As to why such crea
tures as bees, for example, are not represented, would require a separate discussion. Parts of Creation represented include the inanimate objects, or "domeim", including the earth, sun, moon, plants, or "tzomeiach", such as dates, figs, and apples, and living creatures, or "chai", such as birds and dogs. For a separate discussion of "Perek Shirah" on Rabbi Lazer Brody's web page, please click here.

If one wants a free pdf. "Perek Shirah", click here. [IMPORTANT NOTE: IF YOU WISH TO PRINT OUT THE

Some of the creations who take part in "Perek Shirah":

Dove - יונה

כסוס עגור כן אצפצף, אהגה כיונה; דלו עיני, למרום:אדני, עשקה לי ערבני.

"Like a swallow, a crane, so do I chirp, I moan like a dove; I raise my eyes up on High: HaShem, snatch away [my illness], be my guarantor." (Yeshayahu: 38, 14)

אומרת יונה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא. רבונו של עולם י-היו מזונותי מרורים כזית בידך ואל י-היו מתוקים כדבש על ידי בשר ודם:
עירובין י"ח ב

"The Dove says before The Holy One, Blessed is He: 'Master of the Universe, may my sustenance be bitter like an olive in Your Hand, and not be sweet like honey by way of flesh and blood." (Eruvin: 18b)

The dove teaches us that we should strive to not be dependent on the gifts of fellow people, but rather recognize that all comes from HaShem and to know that we are dependent upon Him. The dove also teaches sexual modesty. Doves are not promiscuous, but rather remain loyal to one mate throughout their lives. Furthermore, the purity of body and the souls of the Jewish People are compared to the dove. (From Knaf R'nanim)

(Picture courtesy of Ariel)


Pomegranate - רמון

כפלח הרמון רקתך, מבעד לצמתך...

"...Your cheeks are like a slice of pomegranate, from behind your veil." (Shir HaShirim: 4, 3) - translation courtesy of Artscroll

The pomegranate teaches that every part of the Jewish People is necessary in order to be considered whole. Those members of Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish People) who are less intent on following the Torah are compared to the peel of the pomegranate, while the seeds are compared to those who strive to lead the Jewish People in the Torah. They are what makes the Bnei Yisrael into a People intent on accomplishing its mission on Earth. However, without the shell, the pomegranate would fall apart, no longer considered to be a fruit. The protection afforded by the physical strength of those who are less inclined in the Torah, help hold the Jewish People together.
(Knaf R'nanim) It is through their hishtadlus (physical effort) to defend their fellow Jew that we are all held together. Just as the pomegranate is one, so too, the Jewish People should strive to becomes one, not disassociating from a fellow Jew because of their lack of knowledge or lack of commitment to Judaism. Through increasing achdus (oneness) among the Jewish People, may we merit to make the "peel of the pomegranate" serve as well as the "fruit inside". By doing so all of our enemies will have all the more to fear.


Frog - צפרדע

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

"Blessed is His Honorable Name of Kingship forever and ever."

We learn in the introduction to "Perek Shirah", that upon completing writing the Book of Tehillim, King David pridefully asked if there was any other among HaShem's Creations that says more shirah than he had. Whereupon, HaShem brought the frog to King David. The frog told King David that he, the frog, says more shirah and praises to HaShem than does King David. The frog says that for each song he sings, there are 3,000 parables that can be based on that individual song. The frog says that he sings 1,005 songs. Doing the math, there are 3,015,000 parables that can be made just on the songs of the frog! One of the things we can learn from the frog is that one should devote ones' entire being to the service of HaShem. The above quote, which the frog "sings" in "Perek Shirah", is the pasuk (verse) one says quietly, immediately after the introductory verse of the "Shema". One says the verse quietly (with the exception of Yom Kippur). It is the Malachei Ha'Shareis (HaShem's Ministering Angels) that recite the above pasuk. They are the ones who devote their entire being to HaShem. So too, we should devote ourselves, both physically, through our daily actions, and spiritually, through learning Torah and tefillah (prayer), trying to follow in their example of complete service to HaShem. They make their desire to serve HaShem known (aside from their actions) by reciting the pasuk, "ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד".

There is so much to write about "Perek Shirah". I am in possession of a "Knaf R'nanim" which is a sefer (book) about "Perek Shirah".


The great Kabbalist, the AR"I Z"L: He recommends that one recite "Perek Shirah" every day, for every creation in the world has an angel in Heaven. This follows that which our Sages of Blessed Memory said that every blade of grass is dependent on the spiritual influence in order to grow. Through the ministering angel, appointed as HaShem's messenger over that part of Creation, the creation gets its sustenance and life. However, that ministering angel is unable to relay the sustenance to that creation until they say shirah (song) to HaShem.

As noted above, there are 84 types of creation represented in "Perek Shirah". As we see from the following quote, it is only through the power of the persons' recital of "Perek Shirah" that all the parts of Creation benefit. This is the case as the person composes all of the various aspects of Creation in his being. Furthermore, it is only the person who has a mouth "to sing shirah", thereby acting as the "representative" of the various parts of Creation. It is therefore no surprise that with the person singing shirah, there are 85 parts of Creation singing to their Creator. The gematria (numerical equivalent) of "פה" - "mouth", is 85. It is the person who unites all of Creation with his/her song, thereby providing the "mouth" for Creation.

Rav Ya'akov Emden - Zimras Ha'Aretz: "It is fitting to know that all of the creations, even though they have an angel in Heaven appointed over them, they do not have a mouth to say shirah, except through the person, who they are all dependent on [for the shirah], as it is written in "Chesed L'Avraham".

MaBI"T in his Sefer "Beis Elokim": "Reciting "Perek Shirah" carries more weight and [is on a higher level] from [reciting] Sefer Tehillim (The Book of Psalms)." By reciting "Perek Shirah" one can merit all sorts of salvation from troubles, attain a portion in the World to Come, and it helps one to achieve their purpose in life. It is recommended to say "Perek Shirah" in the morning, as that is when one tends to attain the most pleasure from Creation.

In conclusion: We should learn to better our lives from fellow people as well as from all aspects of Creation. That is one of the powerful lessons we should derive from "Perek Shirah" - to take a lesson from the Creations. The above was only a sampling of a sampling of what can be learned from Creation.

The world is referred to by HaShem, as "טוב" - "good". The Torah is also referred to as "טוב". This makes sense, for, as we learn in the Zohar, HaShem Looked in the Torah and Created the World - the Torah being the "blueprint" of the universe.

What else is good? Birds.

What do I mean? Why specifically birds?

Well, first of all because the Torah (HaShem) says so: ויברא א-להים, את התנינם הגדלים; ואת כל נפש החיה הרמשת אשר שרצו המים למינהם ואת כל עוף כנף למינהו, וירא א-להים, כי טוב, “And G-D Created the big Taninim; and all of the souls of creeping animals that swarm the water, according to their type, and all of the winged bird, according to its type, and G-D Saw that it is good.” (Bereishis: 21, 3)

Birds are mentioned 17 times in “Perek Shirah” – the equivalent of "טוב".

The incessant praise that birds offer HaShem can teach us the importance of devoting our power of speech to sanctifying HaShem in this world. This can be done through Tefillah (prayer), learning Torah, and speaking kindly and respectfully, always refraining from speaking that which is forbidden. By devoting usage of our mouth to further sanctifying HaShem’s Name, we also help protect ourselves from any possible impediment.

We can see this from the word "צפור" – “bird”. Other words which share the same letters as "צפור" are "צרוף" – “combination” and "רצוף" – “continuous”. Furthermore, the gematria of "צפור" is 17 more than "שטן" – “impediment”. By learning from the birds and devoting our mouths to the Service of our Creator, we can strengthen our protection against the "שטן", thus helping protect ourselves against any impediment, with the Help of HaShem. May we merit to say “Perek Shirah” and continue to learn from animals, thus helping to add to our sanctification of HaShem’s Name.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Solar Eclipse - "Natural Disasters" | Relationship?

As I noted in a previous post and based on the gemara (Sukah 29a), a solar eclipse, depending on its appearance (color) and where in the sky it is visible, indicates the general type of negative event that would occur as well as the time it will take to happen upon the earth (i.e. whether it will happen very soon or will "delay" in coming).

The "solar eclipse" occurs always at the time of a "molad". A "molad" literally means "birth", referring to the time when the "new moon" is "reborn", approximately at the beginning of the new Jewish month. Furthermore, this past solar eclipse, the biggest (as viewed from Eretz Yisrael) for the past 70 years (approximately) covered over 80% of the sun at its height.

The two solar eclipses that preceded the devastating 1999 and 2005 earthquakes in Turkey and Pakistan, have the following in common. Both major earthquakes occurred on the fifth of the Jewish month following the eclipse. The fifth of Nissan is tomorrow (April 3, 2006). Let's see if something big happens, maybe in the Mediterranean.

Blossoms and Birds

This month of Nissan, one may make a special blessing upon seeing fruit blossoms. To see the bracha - Birchas HaElanos - "The Blessing of the Trees" - click here (English), (Hebrew). One should make the blessing when seeing fruit blossoms - preferably two or more. It is the time of the year when many of the trees blossom. Earlier today I took part in saying Birchas HaElanos with a few other people from the local (synagogue). It was a very worthwhile experience. I would recommend that one find a commentary on this blessing to get a better understanding of what they are doing.

As we know from Perek Shirah (Chapter of Song), each part of creation has a very important part to play in the world. It is the person, however, who has the ability - the spiritual and physical make-up - in order to combine all the songs of each of the 84 parts of Creation mentioned in Perek Shirah, thus acting as a messenger for these parts of creation.

After reciting Birchas HaElanos this morning, I saw a beautiful orange bird. In Perek Shirah, there are 17 different birds. 17 is the gematria (numerical equivalent) of the Hebrew word "טוב" - "good". Torah is also referred to as "טוב". Just as birds continuously praise HaShem by singing their songs, we too can learn from them. Our life should be devoted to HaShem, whether by learning Torah,
Tefillah, involving ourselves in (prayer), and always making sure to act in accordance with the Torah.

Take advantage of what we can learn from all aspects of Creation and take some time out of your day to say Birchas HaElanos:

ברוך אתה ה' אלקינו מלך העולם, שלא חיסר בעולמו כלום וברא בו בריות טובות ואילנות טובות ונאות כדי להנות בהן בני אדם

"Blessed are You, G-d, our G-d, King of the Universe,

Who left nothing lacking in His world,

and who created in it good creations and (specifically) good trees

for human beings to enjoy (benefit from)." (Translation courtesy of OU website)