Tiqanta Shabbos

This week I’d like to discuss three seemingly unrelated questions about the words of the tephillah:

  1. The focus of Shabbos Mussaf davening is the paragraph that begins “Tiqanta Shabbos…” What most readily jumps to the eye about the tephilla is that the 22 words it opens with are an anagram of the Hebrew alphabet in reverse. (“Tiqanta” starts with a tav, “Shabbos” with a shin, “ratzisa” — a reish, and so on.)While many tephillos are written with an alphabetic motif, it is far more rare for the alphabet to be presented in the reverse. What concept were the authors trying to express with this sequence?
  2. Yeshayah quotes Hashem, saying: “I am the first and I am the last; and besides me there is no god. And who is like Me…” (44:6) This same sentiment is found a number of times in tephillah. The pasuq is associated in the siddur with the similar declaration of G-d’s unity of the Shema. For example, in the paragraphs following the “short Shema” of Birkhos haShachar, as well as in the berakhah of ge’ulah [redemption] after the morning recitation of Shema “Emes Atah Hu rishon, ve’Atah Hu acharon — It is true that You are The First, and You are The Last…”The Kuzari makes a point of explaining that by “The First” and “The Last” we don’t mean that G-d has a beginning or an end. But this begs the question. First and last are terms that refer to a sequence. Something can be the first of a list, or the last in a collection. What is the list here? Of what is Hashem first and last?
  3. The Torah has two terms for “because”: “ki” (which also has 6 other translations, according to Rashi) and “lema’an“. These words also come up frequently in tephillah. We don’t expect Hebrew, since it was written by G-d, to have superfluous words. The two words must differ by connotation. But what is that difference?

Cause and Purpose

Aristotle lists four kinds of causes (Physics II:3). For example, consider a coffee table:

  • Material cause: What is it made out of? Wood, nails, glue, stain, varnish…
  • Formal cause: What is the form and function, the essence? It provides a place to put things down near the couch that is easy to reach when sitting on it. It therefore has a top, legs raising it to the desired level, it’s strong enough to hold a mug (remember to use a coaster!) or reading material.

These first two categories correspond to Aristotilian notions of Substance and Form, chomer vetzurah. The nature of the object being caused. The next two relate more to time.

  • Efficient cause: What produced it? This is what we usually think of when we speak of causality. The table exists because a carpenter converted the wood etc… into a coffee table.
  • Final cause: For what purpose, telos? The carpenter needed an income. The homeowner needed something to break up the space in her living room, to hold those nice pictorial books to give the room just the right look.

He therefore has two separate studies of events — causality (efficient causes; hereafter simply “cause”, matching common usage) and teleology (final causes). He believed that every event has a cause, an event that preceded it that forced it to happen, and a telos, an following event that was the purpose for this one.

Teleology is in disfavor today. Particularly in the era of Darwin, when life was seen to be the product of accident, the concept of telos was attacked, called a “fallacy” of the classical mind. For the Jew, however, there is no question. G-d created the universe, He did it for a purpose, and He insures that the purpose will be met. People have free will, and therefore act in order to place our plans into effect.
Everything has two reasons for happening: its cause and its purpose. This is provides us an answer to our last question. “Ki“, when used for because, introduces the cause. Therefor, in the Levitic song for Tuesday, we find “Let us greet Him with thanksgiving, with song let us shout for joy with Him. Ki — because G-d is a great L-rd…”

Lema’an” is associated with purpose. In the words of the Shema, “lema’an yirbu yemeichem, viymei bneichem — so that you will have many days, and your children have many days….”

Two Sequences
Aristotle was convinced the universe was infinitely old, and that it would last forever. Part of the reason for this belief is because of his concepts of “cause” and “telos”.

The cause of an event always happens before the event itself. For example, because the wind blew a leaf off the tree, it fell. First is the wind, then the falling. But every event has a cause. The wind too is an event, and it too has an earlier cause. We can keep on chasing earlier and earlier causes, and notice that the universe must have been older and older. This gives us a sequence of events, cause to effect, cause to effect…. In fact, Aristotle saw no end to this chain, and there for couldn’t believe the universe had a beginning.

The Rambam, in the Guide to The Perplexed (vol. 2, ch. 14), points out the flaw in this reasoning. He defines G-d as the First Cause.

We can now approach our second question. G-d is first of the sequence of causes. “Atah Hu rishon — You are The First [Cause].”

Aristotle has a similar argument that the universe could have no end. The purpose of an event, what the event should accomplish, comes after the event. The purpose for G-d providing wind to blow was that He wanted the rock to fall. Again, every purpose is also an event, and we have another sequence we can chase forever, in this case later and later in time.

This answers the second half of the question. G-d is The Last, The Culminating Purpose of all of creation. “All is called in My Name, and for My Glory I have Created it.” (Isa. 43:7)

The Day the is Completely Shabbos

In Birchas Hamazon, in the “harachaman” we add for Shabbos, the culmination of human history is called “Yom Shekulo Shabbos“, the day/time that is entirely Shabbos. Shabbos is called “mei’ein olam haba — the image of the World to Come”. This concept is also the subject of the Shemoneh Esrei for Shabbos Mincha.

Shabbos is not only testimony to creation, that Hashem is the First Cause. Shabbos is also intimately connected to, and preparation for, relating to G-d as the Culminating Purpose.

Rav Yaakov Emden connects the reverse alphabetical ordering of Tiqanta Shabbos with the concept of Mei’ein Olam Haba. We can suggest that this is the reason why. The sequence of letters in the alphabet are used to represent the sequence of events of history. The order of letters shows how we are viewing that sequence.

Normally, we can only see G-d’s hand in the world as First Cause. We look around and see “how great are your works, Hashem.” The alphabet of this world starts with alpha, the one-ness of G-d, and unfurls to the plurality of creation. Shabbos, however, we reverse the order — we start with the plurality of the universe, and end with the one-ness of G-d.

The zemirah says, “mei’ein olam haba, yom Shabbos menuchah — in the image of the World to Come, the day of Shabbos brings rest.” When we realize that everything that happens to us is for a purpose, everything is part of that pursuit of the Culminating Purpose, then we are at peace.

HaKel HaGadol HaGibbor veHaNora


In this week’s parashah Moshe describes Hashem as “… haKel haGadol haGibor vihaNorah — the G-d, the Great, the A-lmighty, and the Awesome …”. These words were incorporated by the Anshei Kinesses Hagedolah into the opening of the Shemoneh Esrei.

The same phrase is also found at the conclusion of the poem “Nishmas”. There, the poet goes even further and gives each one an explanetory phrase. This yields the strange result that the very same poem that says that “even if our mouths were filled of poetry like the sea, and our tongues – joy, like the many waves, and our lips – praise like the expanses of sky … we would still not be sufficient to praise you”, this same poem then praises G-d in four words!

A student who lead the congregation as Chazan before the tanna Rabbi Chanina once embellished on these four simple adjectives. After he was finished, Rabbi Chanina corrected him, “Have you finished all possible praise of your Master?” No list of complements could completely describe Hashem. Had Moshe not spoken these words, and Hashem not told him to write them into the Torah, we would not have the chutzpah to use these four. (Brachos 33b)

According to the Vilna Gaon, “haKel haGadol haGibor vihaNorah” is not only included in the first brachah of the Shemoneh Esrei, but it is the basis for the structure of the rest of the brachah too.

To the Vilna Gaon, these four names of G-d form a progression. They summarise how man approaches G-d.

Kel means not only G-d but judge or legislator. To be HaKel, THE Legislator, means that Hashem rules over the entire universe, His authority is all-inclusive.

Rabbi Yochanan (Megilah 31a) said, “Where ever you find G-d’s greatness, that is where you find His humility”. Perhaps we can understand this apparent paradox by comparing G-d’s properties to those of humans. Schools have a problem of overcrowding. There are just so many students a teacher can adequately pay attention to. As the number of students grows, each one can only get less and less attention. Not so Hashem. His infinity is not just that He is a “Kel“, G-d over all, but also “Gadol“, great enough to give personal attention to each person.

HaGibor. We said already that Hashem Legislates to all, and that He is not limited to looking only at the universal picture, but can pay attention to each and every one of us. The combination of these two facts yields “HaGibor“. G-d has the power and uses it to guide each of us in our daily lives.

VihaNorah. There are two types of Divine intervention, the behind-the-scenes subtle activity, that the non-believer dismisses as mere luck, and the flashy miracle that defies the law of nature. While the former is more common, it is the miracle that inspires awe.

These thoughts are elaborated twice in the brachah, once before the quote of the pasuk, and once after. They provide the structure for the entire blessing.


Baruch. Chazal write often that “‘brachah‘ is a term of increase”. The relationship between the idea of “increase” and G-d is unclear. We can’t really be claiming that G-d is missing something, and requires, increase — can we?

One resolution, in line with the Gaon’s approach to the b’rachah as a whole, is to say that it is a statement of fact; we are saying “You are maximally increased”. This is “haKel“.

A second is to define the word as, “You are the Source of all increase”; a statement that we recognize that all of our blessings come from G-d.

Third, Rabbiner Hirsch’s approach, is to focus on the one thing we can contribute to G-d. Since He allows us to make free choices, by choosing to support Hashem’s goals we are adding our efforts to his. By this approach, “baruch” means “I commit myself and my resources to You”.

Ata. It is incredible that man has the gall to talk to G-d, to refer to the Creator as “You”. What grants us that power? HaGadol, He is big enough to attend to each of us.

Hashem, the tetragrammaton. Chazal note that this name of G-d is used in Tanach to refer to Him when his actions appear merciful to us. Alternatively, we can look at the root of the word. The word is normally seen as a contraction of “Yihyeh – Hoveh – Hayah” — “Will be, is and was”. A G-d who is above time. The Trancendent Deity. A third alternative is that of Rabbiner Hirsch’s who sees it as the causative form of “havah“, to exist. G-d who sustains our existence.

Pairing off each of these three with the commentary’s corresponding translation for “baruch”, we can render “Baruch Ata Hashem” in these three ways:

  • You are inifinitely increased, You who are even above time.
  • You are the source of all blessings, You, the G-d of Mercy.
  • I commit myself to increase your influence in this world, you who gives me and the world our continued existence.
  • Ata Hashem. You are so trancendent, you even have the ability to be immanent. G-d is not too great to care about a single inhabitant of some uninteresting planet in some typical galaxy. No, because He IS great, because he IS above limitation, is why we can say “Ata“, “You”.

    Elokeinu. The Vilna Gaon teaches that this corresponds to “HaGibor“. Elokeinu, our G-d, is different than HaKel, The G-d. There is a possessiveness, this might and authority of HaKel doesn’t only apply to the big picture, but he guides each of us, our fates and destinies.

    Hashem Elokeinu. Two paradoxes. Our G-d, like Ata, reinforces the idea of an Immanent Deity.

    But also, we unify the Merciful One with the G-d of Justice. As Nachum Ish Gamzu would say “Gam zu litovah“, “this too is for this best. Or in the words of his pupil, Rabbi Akiva, “All that G-d does, he does for the good.” All that G-d does is good. Some seems harsh and punishing, some is more obviously merciful. But it’s all one. The difference is in our perception, not in the One who acts.

    Elokei Avoseinu. In our lives, Hashem’s intervention is subtle. However, for our forefathers He performed miracles. Whereas Elokeinu, our G-d, refers to Hashem’s constant guiding of history, Elokei Avoseinu, G-d of our Fathers, asserts that the same One can work outside of the laws of nature. In order to work toward the day when we too will merit an age of miracles, we next recall each forefather, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, by name, to recall and resolve to emulate their character strengths.

    Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are seen as archtypes of three different types of divine service. The Maharal (Derech Hachaim on Avos 1:2) finds them to be the masters of Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassadim.

    Elokei Avraham. G-d of this world, the world where people interact, feel hunger, pain. Where we need a society to support each other. The G-d who commanded us to be kind to each other.

    Elokei Yitzchak. Yitzchak was otherworldly, nearly a sacrifice entirely to G-d. Elokei Yitzchak is the G-d of Avodah, of prayer and Temple service. G-d of our spiritual selves.

    Elokei Yaakov. The G-d of the “whole man, who sat in tents” of study. Perfection of that third world between the spiritual and this one, the mind which must decide which is to be the source of inspiration, and which to be the means to get there.

    When you say Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v’Elokei Ya’akov, you not only acknowledge that this G-d that we relate to on these three different levels is one and the same, but also we commit ourselves to improve in all three pillars of our life.


    Next we repeat the four names of Hashem, and then elaborate on the themes in a different variation.

    Kel Elyon. This is an elaboration of “haKel”, G-d above all. Again, we declare that He commands everything. Even the other’s deities, the embodiments of nature, represent subjects to His Will.

    Gomel Chassadim Tovim. Hashem supports us through His kindness. As we said, “haGadol” means that He not only looks at the universe as a whole, but that He also is “big” enough to pay attention to each and every one of us.

    Gomel. To support, not just a single act of kindness, but like its root “gamal”, a camel, a continued source. Chassadim. Chessed, to go beyond the call of duty. Tovim. As we said above, ALL that he does is for the good, whether we can percieve that good or not.

    ViKonei Hakol. The consequence of being the G-d above all, and able to relate to the individual is that this means He touches each of our lives – HaGibor. The Vilna Gaon translates “konei” in our context from the root of “litakein”, to fix. Konei hakol, Hashem fixes all, heals the sick, raises the downtrodden and the depressed.

    “Konei” has two other meanings, to make or to acquire. These two meanings are related, for as R YB Soloveitchik zt”l teaches, the root of ownership is that people own what they make. From there, they barter or buy to transfer the ownership to others in exchange for ownership something they couldn’t make.

    Hakol, THE all, in distinction to “kol”, all. “Hakol” should be translated as “the universe”, not as “everything”.

    ViKonei Hakol can therefor also be rendered Owner or Maker of the universe.

    Zocher chasdei avos. VihaNorah. Hashem remembers how our fathers went beyond the call of obligation. We are only “bnei bineihem”, the children of their children, twice removed from their stature. But whatever of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov we carry, may it be enough that we too merit miraculous intervention, that Hashem bring us our redeemer.

    Umeivi goel livnei vineihem. Umeivi — lehavi, to bring, not lishloach, to send.

    Another thought that hit me is how aptly these words literally apply to my generation. Two generations before me, “chasdei avos” our ancestors were pushed beyond the call of duty, to sanctify G-d’s name in Aushwitz, Treblinka, Babi Yar and dozens of other infamous locations. Umeivi go’el livnei vineihem. May Hashem bring the redeemer to us, their children’s children.

    Lima’an sh’mo, for the sake of His name. Not for our sake. G-d, don’t wait for us to merit it, to earn the redemption. For your sake. “Sheim”, name, is from the same root as “sham”, there. Both are references to another thing. The Jewish People are one of G-d’s names. People see us as Your People. Redeem us to redeem your name, so that people will think highly of the ideals of ethical monotheism.

    Bi’ahavah. With love. Maimonides defines the term as a perception of one’s unity with the beloved. In redeeming us “lima’an sh’mo”, for the sake of His name, G-d shows that we are His and He is ours.


    Melech. King. Not a “moshel” a dictator, but one who rules with the support of His people. “Ki lashem hamluchah umoshel bagoyim — for G-d has the Kingship, but he is a dictator over the nations”. Until the day that they accept Hashem’s rule, “And G-d will be King over the entire land, in that day He and His name will be one/unique”.

    Ozer. Helper. Beyond being just a king, one who organizes society, G-d also helps the individual.

    Umoshia. Savior, one who gets us out of trouble, even when we are not putting in effort for Hashem to be considered a helper.

    Umagein. Even further, a sheild, one who prevents the trouble to begin with.

    Although the Gaon doesn’t say so, the “Melech Ozer uMoshia uMagein” progression matches his approach to “haKel haGadol haGibor viHanorah”. Melech, like keil, is a legislator who takes the global view. Ozer implies the one-on-one of haGadol. uMoshia parallels His intervention in our lives, in contrast to uMagein, how he protects those who go beyond the call of duty on His behalf.

    Baruch ata Hashem…. As above.

    Magein Avraham. Protector of Abraham, the one who mastered the idea that this world is the tool, not the goal. That we are in this imperfect world together to help eachother, and to perfect it.

    Abraham would tell his guests, “Don’t thank me, thank the Creator of heaven and earth, who is truly the one who gave you this food.” This is the Protector of Abraham.

    Atah Qadosh

    “You Are Kadosh, and Your Name Is Kadosh, and kedoshim praise You every day. Selah! [For you are G-d, King, Great and Kadosh. –Sepharad] Baruch Atah … the Kadosh G-d.”

    The question of kedushah is also central to the opening phrase of one of last week’s parashiyos. “Kedoshim tihyu… – Be kadosh for I Am Kadosh.” (Vayikra 19:2) But what is kedushah? Translating it as “sanctity” or “holiness” falls short as the meaning of the English words is not too clear, nor are we sure that they truly capture the connotations of the Hebrew original.

    The Toras Kohanim (Sifra) on the pasuk writes “‘kedoshim tihyu’ – perushim tihyu, you shall be separated”. Along these lines the Ramban writes “make yourself kadosh with that which is permitted to you” by refraining from the permitted. It would seem that they are defining kedushah as separation.

    However, Rav Shimon Shkop (Shaarei Yosheir, introduction) notes that this definition fails for the clause – “for I am kadosh”. There is no purpose or meaning in Hashem restraining Himself.  (For that matter, it is arguable that such perishus on Hashem’s part would mean the item in question would cease to exist!) Perhaps we could also note that the Ramban could not be defining kedushah since he uses the word “kadosh” in the definition. Rather, the Ramban is suggesting the way in which to obey the pasuk and become kadosh to someone who already knows what kadosh is.

    What we do know about Hashem is that He desires leheitiv, to bestow good upon others. The entire universe exists so that Hashem could have someone to receive His gift. Rav Shimon translates “ki Kadosh Ani” as “for I am fully committed to helping others.” The call to be kadosh is the call to live one’s life for the sake of bettering others. To be kadosh is to avoid that which serves no one but the person himself.

    Returning to the recurring theme of the opening berachos of Shemonah Esrei…

    If we turn to the phrase inserted in nusach Sefarad, we find kedushah associated with Hashem being King, and being Gadol, Great. These are both words that the Gra finds very significant in understanding the first berachah. Moshe’s praise, “haKel haGadol haGibbor vehaNorah – the G-d, the Great, the Mighty and the Awe Inspiring” finds reiterating development throughout that berachah. We therefore enter this berachah after having defined Gadol as “gomeil chassadim tovim – supports through good acts of kindness.” Hashem is Great because his Good fills all of creation. The total commitment to giving to others that Rav Shimon uses to define kedushah.

    So, our berachah becomes, “You are committed to being meitiv others, and your reputation (shimcha) is that of being meitiv others, and people who do good to others praise you. Selah!” It is not simply that the class of people who are committed to working for others rather than being self-focused also praise Hashem. It is working for the betterment of others which itself is praise.

    It is not coincidence that there are three clauses, and three iterations of the word “Kadosh” in the verse at the heart of Kedushah (Yishayahu 6:3). As we say in UVa leTzion, Targum Yonasan explains the pasuk as follows: “Kadosh in the heavens above, the home of His Presence; Kadosh on the earth, the product of His Might; Kadosh forever and ever is Hashem Tzevakos – the whole world is full of the Radiance of His Glory.” The “home of His Glory” is where Hashem is Kadosh. The earth, is where Hashem’s name, how people perceive him, is Kadosh. And the kedoshim, the people who allow others to experience Hashem’s good, fill the world with His Glory – their sanctity is his praise.


    We recently concluded Mesukim MiDevash, a weekly collection of divrei Torah on the subjects of machshavah, mussar, and the meaning of various teflillos. If you’re curious about what I was thinking about before starting this blog, many of the articles there are mine. Before that, mainly around seven years ago, I wrote the Aspaqlaria column you find in this directory. Most of those articles appeared in Yitz Weis’s Toras Aish.My current forum for sharing these kinds of thoughts is through public speaking. However, I wanted to spark a broader dialogue on the fundamental issues of our lives, so I started this blog. Feel free to comment, correct, and challenge the ideas in these “pages”. It is important to think about and grapple with these issues, even though many of them resist a full resolution. The intent behind this blog is to start the ball rolling, not to present prepared and simple answers to an inherently complex subjects.As I see it, the most fundamental things lacking from contemporary expressions of traditional Judaism are the philosophical underpinnings that give that observance context and structure, and the proper focus on tikun hamidos — realizing that the purpose of mitzvos is to enoble the self, and the goal of enobling oneself is to better one’s observance, to become a better eved Hashem.

    Hispa’alus, or: Yismach Moshe

    One of the critical tools of Tenu’as haMussar is hispa’alus, “learning ‘with lips aflame.'” Literally, the word is the reflexive of “to work”, in other words “to work on oneself.” Hispa’alus is such a useful practice it even became part of their davening, tefillah behispa’alus.What is hispa’alus? The Alter of Kelm describes a four-step process:

    1. Intense and single-minded concentration on a single thought. One phrase, sentence or paragraph, repeated out loud and with a tune, to help keep away extraneous thoughts.A beginner should start with five minutes and work his way upward.
    2. That much focus on a single thought creates an emotional response. As does the use of melody and chanting.The Alter of Novorodok focuses on this emotional component. In his version of hispa’alus, the melody and volume are more critical.
    3. Through the extended concentration, one can find a chiddush a new insight into the thought.As many corporate managers learn, if you want your employees to “buy into” a new project, you hold a brainstorming session. By getting each person to contribute ideas to the project, they get a sense of possession. The project becomes “theirs”.

      Through this chiddush the person develops an attachment and “takes ownership” of the idea.

    4. Last, the person deepens the insight into profundity on Torah, one’s own nature, and the interaction of the two. How the Torah speaks to my condition, and how the uniqueness of who I am and how I see things speaks to the Torah.

    How does this become a style of prayer? Obviously, saying every line of the siddur with five minutes of concentration apiece (and that’s just when you’re starting out!) is impossible, both humanly, and because of the finite time of the day. Instead, certain parts of tefillah call for this kind of attention: the first berakhah of the Amidah, the first line or paragraph of Shema, maybe the verses in Qorbanos about bitachon (trust in G-d) which the siddur rells us to repeat three times each, whichever tefillos speak to you and where you’re up to in life. In adapting hispa’alus to contemporary prayer in a contemporary synagogue, perhaps Kelm’s style of hispa’alus that is quieter then Novorodok’s passioned cry would be more useful.Perhaps it’s best to explain by inviting you to experience it. I ask you to try the following next Shabbos morning, and write about your experiences on the “comment” section for this post.

    The middle blessing of the Shabbos Amidah begins:

    Yismach Mosheh — Moses will be happy
    bematnas chelqo — with the giving of his portion,
    ki eved ne’eman — because a reliable servant
    qaraso lo — You have called to him.

    The line looks simple enough, however riches lie underneath, with a little concentration. Rather than spell out what they are, and my opinion on what they mean, I am going to list some questions to think about and give you a chance to find your own chiddushim, your own relationship to the text.

    Why does it say “yismach” in the future tense? Wasn’t Moshe’s happiness at the time?

    “Yismach” is from the word “simchah”. Think of some of the other words for happiness: sason, gilah, etc… How do they differ in usage? What does the choice of “yismach” here indicate?

    “Bematnas” with the giving of his portion. What does it mean that Moshe is happy with the giving of his portion, his lot in life, rather than referring to the happy is caused by the portion itself? The mishnah says “Who is wealthy? One who is samai’ach bechalqo — happy with his lot.” Nearly the same phrase, but without “bematnas”. The lot itself. Am I to be happy with my lot, or with the giving of it?

    “Ki eved ne’eman — because a reliable servant…” Rashi says the word “ki” has 7 meanings, “because” is only one of them. The others are: rather, when, that, perhaps, if, reason. Why did they choose a potentially ambiguous word? What happens to the meaning of the phrase if we try some of these other translations?

    “Eved ne’eman.” What does it mean to be an “eved Hashem”, servant of G-d. What’s the added point of being “ne’eman”, a reliable servant in particular?

    “Karasa lo” — You called to him. Why not “qarasa oso”, that Hashem called him, why “to him”?

    Why does being a servant make Moshe happier with his lot? Or, in light of the above questions, why does being called to as a reliable servant make him happy — and the kind of happiness we call simchah — with the giving of his lot? And is “because” and “why” the only connection implied?

    And most important, what does this say of my worship and my happiness?

    Look! “Treasures buried in the sand”, repeated with minimal or no thought every week holds worlds of meaning about ourselves and how we should relate to G-d. Through hispa’alus we can not only find them, but use them to enrich ourselves.

    As I wrote, I invite you to explore this line of the siddur yourself. See what hispa’alus can bring to your middos and your prayers. And, if you’re comfortable, share your experience with the other readers. (Recall that you can always post anonymously.)

    Saying Shema Together

    When I was in High School, we would all say Shema together, with trop. Since then, I’ve only seen this practice a few times; amongst a minyan of descendents of students of the Gra in Yerushalayim, at R’ Feldman’s shul in Atlanta, and a couple of other places. When learning Alei Shur this morning, I found this beautiful description of the value of the minyan reciting Shema as one.From Shir haShirim Rabba, translation mine:

    “She who (fem.) dwells in the gardens, friends are attentive to your voice; let me hear. Flee my beloved, and liken yourself to a gazelle, or a young hart on the mountain of spices.” (Shir haShirim 8:13) When Israel enter the sysnagogue and say Qeri’as Shema (lit: the reading or calling of Shema) with concentration of thought (kavanas hada’as), in one voice, with a single thought and meaning, Hashem says to them “She who dwells in the gardens, when you call friends, I and My retinue are attentive to your your voice; let Me hear!” But when Israel say Qeri’as Shema with their attention cut short, this one earlier, that one later, and do not concentrate their thought in Qeri’as Shema, the divine inspiration flees and says “Flee my beloved, and liken yourself to a gazelle, a tzevi, the tzava, the army of above who give likeness to Your Glory in a single voice, in a single breath, on the mountains of spices, of besamim, of the shemei shamayim, heaven of heavens above!”

    A quick but beautiful thought on tefillah

    From a more neglected (compared to Adam I vs Adam II) part of The Lonely Man of Faith by R’ JB Soloveitchik zt”l (pg 58). R’ Soloveitchik describes the perspective of Anshei Kenesses haGedolah:

    At a later date, when the mysterious men of this wondrous assembly witnessed the bright summer day of the prophetic community, full of color and sound, turning to a bleak autumnal night of dreadful silence, unillumined by the vision of God or made homely by His voice, they refused to acquiesce in this cruel historical reality and would not let the ancient dialogue between God and men come to an end.

    Tzitzis, Advance and Retreat

    There are two descriptions of the mitzvah of tzitzis. First, from parashas Shelach (and Qeri’as Shema):

    … [T]hey should make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments (bigdeihem) throughout their generations, and that they put on the tzitzis of each corner a thread of blue wool (techeiles). And it shall for you tzitzis, and you will see it and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem… (Bamidbar 15:38-39).

    There are a few points I want to stress about this quote:

    1- The term for garment used is beged. Hebrew has a number of terms for clothing. That it’s called a beged rather than a kesus or a levush is significant. The uniform of the kohanim is called the bigdei kehunah. By saying the mitzvah is on our begadim is to cast the mitzvah in terms of the uniform for a role. (For an analysis of these terms with respect to bigdei kehunah and all the mentions of clothing in Megillas Esther, see “The Natures of Clothing“, and with respect to the clothing of Adam and Chava see “Ki Arumim Heim“.)

    2- The term for the tassel is tzitzis. Tzitzis is actually an agricultural term, it means “sprout” or “small growths”. Tzitzis implies human growth. It is associated with the idea in Menachos 39a that “the beauty of techeiles (meaning tzitzis in general -Rashi) is 1/3 gedilim (knotted cords), and 2/3 free.”

    3- Hashem describes techeiles as a thread of blue wool on the tzitzis. From this phrase, the Rambam and Raavad (as opposed to Rashi and Tosafos, see below) conclude that only one of the strings should be blue. The Rambam defines that as one of 8 string-ends coming out of the knotted portion. The Raavad, that it’s one of 4 strings, i.e. two ends are blue. (The Vilna Gaon writes that he is convinced that one of these two positions should be followed, but couldn’t determine which.)

    From the Rambam’s position, R’ SR Hirsch explains techeiles as the Jew’s higher calling. It is the eighth string, going beyond the six days of physical creation and even the seventh day of the sanctity imbued within this world. It is sky-blue, the primary color most associated with spirituality — beyond the physical red (adom, red= adamah, earth= dam, blood), and even the green of growth.

    The techeiles, then, imposes spirituality on the growth of the tzitzis. As Rav Hirsch describes it, human growth must be expressed freely — represented by the 2/3 of free-string tassel, but only after it was channeled by that blue thread. )I discuss this idea in more detail in Toras Aish for parashas Shelach.)

    4- Hashem gives a motivation and purpose to the mitzvah. It’s a mnemonic device to remember not to chase aveiros, and to do mitzvos.

    But there is a second presentation in the Torah of the mitzvah. The mitzvah is repeated in Devarim 22:2, to appear next to the laws of shaatnez. This teaches that techeiles, which is definitionally blue wool, is put on a linen garment despite the laws of shaatnez. There the Torah reads:

    You shall make for yourself gedilim (cords) on the four corners of your covering (kesusekha), with which you cover yourself.

    In this presentation, all three points that I stressed above are different.

    1- The term for clothing is kesus, a cover. And in case we missed it, the pasuq continues by saying “which you cover (mekhaseh) yourself in it.” As opposed to the uniform of the beged, this is clothing that one wears to hide. The beged is an appointment to a duty, the kesus, a retreat from shame.

    2- There is no mention of the free strings of the tassel, only of the gedil, the knotted part. This is in concert with the notion of it being a kesus. There is no emphasis of human creativity and individuality.

    3- It’s from this pasuq that we learn there are eight ends of strings in each tassel. A gedil, a term for a cord or rope from the root /gdl/ – large, must be more than one string. Gedilim, in the plural, is therefore at least 2 pairs of strings, four in all, or eight ends. In fact, Rashi and Tosafos conclude from this pasuq that there is one gedil of white strings, and one of techeiles, i.e. two full strings (four ends) are blue.

    The image of the mitzvah of techeiles, then, is that it’s one of man’s forces — with no description to its role in binding and guiding the others.

    4- Hashem doesn’t say why we should wear it. Gedilim are worn simply because Hashem said so.

    In R’ JB Soloveitchik’s terms, a beged is worn when one is in a state of advance, a kesus, when one seeks retreat. We’re not looking at man advancing, but his withdrawing in order to re-aim himself at the higher goal. Thus, we only speak of the gedil, the channeling of forces.

    To use another of R’ Soloveitchik’s models, we can say that Adam I, majestic man, is given begadim with which to accept the responsibility that comes with his ability, and to aim his mastery of the world in positive directions. Adam II, covenental man, is given a kesus with which to hide his needfulness, to help him retreat long enough to find G-d.

    Therefore, in Bamidbar, the beged is associated with human creativity, with instructions how to sanctify it, and with a personal motivation for keeping the mitzvah. Whereas in Devarim, the focus is not on our sanctifying ourselves, but in our accepting G-d’s role in sanctifying us.

    Both relationships are true. As Rabbi Aqiva asked “Before whom do you make yourselves tahor, and Who makes you tahor?” There are times when we should take the initiative, and times when we are unable, and allow Hashem to do it for us.

    In general, I’m trying to explore the concept of clothing, of uniform, and the proper use of chitzoniyus(externals). Like it or not, others do form their first impressions of us from our clothes. While we all know it’s silly to judge people by their clothing, it happens preconsciously and we can’t stop ourselves from forming that first impression. Nor can we change the entire human race from forming such impressions of us.

    And there is no neutral clothing. Wearing a black fedora means that people’s first impression of you is “he’s yeshivish”. Not wearing one, though, equally creates an impression, the person will conclude you’re not all that yeshivish (assuming you’re a man, of course). You’re judged in comparison to the stereotype of people with similar clothing. To avoid wearing clothing of any particular subculture marks you as an outsider, an oddball. Etc… But the point is, you’re always marked. There is no non-uniform.

    The other contrast to a beged is a levush. (I’m using the terms as I see them in Tanakh. When Chassidim call their clothing “levush”, it’s obviously based on a different understanding of the differences in connotation between the words.) Achashveirosh’s royal robes are “levush malkhus”. Not begadim, because he wasn’t inherently a royal person. Achashveirosh is portrayed in the megillah as a real follower, being lead around by his advisors, a drunkard, and not the swiftest thinker. Begadim help one assume a role. Levush helps look like they are in a role they really aren’t.

    We often end up viewing ourselves and trying to remake ourselves to live up to our clothing. That’s the role of beged, raising our self-image to motivate us to improve. However, without knowing the proper time for begadim, one could try to don a beged only to have it devolve into a levush, a means of fooling ourselves into thinking we are holier than we are.

    The key is knowing when is a time for advance, and when for retreat. Knowing that is knowing when we’re using chitzoniyus constructively, and when not. But most of us are not in the habit of even noticing the choices we make, never mind working toward improving them. At risk of getting overly repetitive, I see no way of knowing when to don the beged and when the kesus without keeping a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

    Yismach Moshe II

    As an example for explaining the idea of tefillah behispa’alus, I raised a number of questions about the meaning of the phrase “Yismach Mosheh“. I wrote:

    Yismach Mosheh — Moses will be happy bematenas chelqo — with the giving of his portion,
    ki eved ne’eman — because a reliable servant
    qaraso lo — You have called to him.

    The line looks simple enough, however riches lie underneath, with a little concentration. Rather than spell out what they are, and my opinion on what they mean, I am going to list some questions to think about and give you a chance to find your own chiddushim, your own relationship to the text.

    Well, some time went by, and during the intervening nine months, we raised a number of issues that shed some light on one of many kavanos possible when saying these words. But there is one last piece.

    Why is Sukkos called in our tefillos “zeman simchaseinu“? Why is simchah associated more with Sukkos than with Pesach or Shavu’os? If anything, I would have thought the reverse: we still have the peoplehood granted us on Pesach, and the Torah given on Shavu’os. But the mun is gone, the cloud of glory that protected us have dissipated, Hashem’s guiding pillar no longer shows us the way. Yes, we can still get food, shelter and guidance from the natural means He gave us — but the same was true before the desert! What is so special about the things celebrated by Sukkos?

    This past yom tov, R’ Ron Yitzchak Eisenman repeated an idea he saw in two very disparate sources: the Satmar Rav, and R’ Avraham Yitzchak haCohein Kook, a cousin of the more famous Rav Kook who is of this generation, but also of the same school of thought. (As Rabbi Eisenman put it — if the Satmar Rav and a Rav Kook agree, it must be true!)

    As we say in the Yom Tov Amidah, “Atah bachartanu mikol ha’amim — You chose us from all the nations, you loved us and desired us…” Being the chosen people required national identity and freedom from servitude to Egypt. It required the Torah, the articles of our mission. However, it did not require being cared for during the trek through the desert. What did we get on Sukkos that was so special? We got the giving itself; the manifestation of Hashem’s Love and Desire. “It’s the thought that counts”, the act of giving is itself more precious than the thing being given. Especially when we find no other motive.

    What then causes Moshe’s joy in our quote? Not only the portion Hashem gave him. Yes, “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.” But even greater was that Moshe was happy with the pure fact that Hashem gave him something. We analyzed ahavah using Rav Shimon Shkop’s idea that love is the unity between I and Thou, and extension of the idea of “me” to the realization that you and I are parts of one whole. The act of giving is the bridge across the wall between us. Giving is therefore both the embodiment of and the cause of love.

    Yismach Mosheh. In the entry on Hebrew grammar, I presented the notion that the future tense in Hebrew is actually derived. The more primary idea is the imperfect tense. The “yi-” prefix is more about the fact that the simchah is not yet finished than when it began. Moshe’s joy is continuous.

    Why? Because man is not a static entity. On parashas Mas’ei, we looked at “the journey as the name of G-d” and the existential idea that man has the ability to change his essence. The ideal is becoming, not being. See also the contrast between people, who walk, and angels, which are portrayed as only having one foot. Or, to again paraphrase the Kotzker Rebbe put it, man’s measure it not the height of the rung on which he stands, but whether he is climbing the ladder or descending it.

    What is Moshe’s happiness? It’s the emotion we more specifically call simchah. In looking at idealism, joy and mourning, our focus was on Rav Saadia Gaon’s definition of simchah. To him, it’s related to laughter, which in turn is a sudden perception of the deeper truth. Simchah comes from a focus on ones ideals, on knowing that there is a reason why one has what one has, and a purpose to living through what one has to endure. In a different entry, we looked at how this focus provides a connection between one’s heart and one’s observance of halakhah.

    We also looked at the burning bush, and why this moment was what marked Moshe as Moshe Rabbeinu. The anavah that it took to see Hashem similarly “constraining Himself”, an act of tzimtzum, to the center of the bush. That this anavah is what it took to hear the voice within rather than the original flashy image of a bush totally aflame.

    When you combine anavah, a tzimtzum-like constriction of oneself to make room for another, with that notion of life as a journey, one gets avdus, a life of service.

    How then can we say these words this Shabbos morning?

    Yismach Mosheh — The ultimate humble one, who moves himself aside to hear the Divine calling, is continuously joyous, in a happiness that will continue into the future. That calling is the only true source of simchah, because it alone gives our lives meaning.

    What causes this joy?

    Bematenas chelqo — Hashem expressed his love of Moshe in giving him his portion in this world. Not only in the fact that we have lives that are scripted to fit that meaning and calling, but also in that Hashem Himself gives it to us.


    ki ‘eved ne’eman’ qarasa lo — Hashem called Moshe His “reliable servant”. One who takes that continuous simchah and anavah and combine them into reliable and continuous service. But again, not only in the opportunity to have such a life, but also that Hashem called him such.

    As such, the opening words of the berakhah are a very powerful statement. They are a realization that happiness only comes from a meaningful life. That a meaningful life comes from both anavah, which makes room to live for a higher purpose rather than the self, and simchah from a full awareness of that meaning. That such a life is one of constant progress and growth — and therefore of constant happiness, even through the struggles that growth often requires. And last, that such a life is lived in a partnership with the A-lmighty. Moshe is His eved in a relationship of Love and giving.

    What is a Berakhah?

    Today’s topic: How to make your morning coffee the religious high point of your day.After Shema, which is Torahitic, what is the next most important tefillah? Bentching is also deOraisa, but the text was written by man. But neither Shema nor bentching are said nearly as often as we say the formula for a berakhah in general. Chazal expected us to strive for a minimum of one hundred berakhos each day! What a powerful statement that the sentiment expressed is central to Judaism, that we must reinforce it 100 times daily.Shehakol in particular is worth looking at, since first, it is among the more frequently made berakhos, and second, because it is so difficult after running through its syllables so many times since we were so young to say Shehakol slowly and with thought. If we start slowly, say by choosing the first Shehakol of the day, we can add so much to our avodas Hashem (service of G-d) by taking the process of tefillah and continue it from shul into the rest of our lives. Take a few extra seconds over that first cup of coffee to say the words meaningfully before picking it up and putting it to your lips.


    The power to make berakhos is given to us in parashas Chayei Sarah. First, Hashem bequeaths it to Avraham. “Ba bayamim, veH beirakh es Avraham bakol — [Avraham] gets on in days, and Hashem blesses Avraham with everything” (Bereishis 24:1; compare “bakol” and our “shehakol“) Then, it is passed on. “Vayitein Avraham es kol asher lo leYitzchaq — And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchaq.” (25:5; again, with the word “kol“). Rashi comments that Avraham passed the berakhah on to Yitzchaq, and what is the berakhah? He writes it is the ability to bless others.


    The basic problem when trying to explain the concept of making a berakhah is that the root /brk/ deals with increase, which makes the idea of making a berakhah with G-d as the subject difficult. How can we say “Barukh Atah Hashem“? How can the Absolute, Who is also above time and change increase? This problem has two parts: Understanding the word “barukh” in the beginning of the text, and understanding the concept of berakhah when used to refer to this kind of prayer as a whole. In this section, I look at the word in theory. Next we will look at the meaning in the context of “barukh Atah“. And then finally, we will look at the concept of berakhah as a whole.

    First, a linguistic attempt at the word: In Matisyahu Clark’s Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s etymological comments, R’ Clark has this entry for BRK:


    1. power growth; spur prosperity explanation/commentary:
    2. blessing (Gn 2:3 “vayvareikh E-lokim es yom hashevi’i” also Gn 9:27, 14:19)
    3. bowing (Gn 41:43 “vayiqre’u lefanav avareikh”)
    4. kneeling (Gn 24:11 “vayevareikh hagemalim michutz la’ir”)
    5. unhindered prosperity (Dt 11:26 “berakhah uqelalah” also Gn 8:21)
    6. knee joint that propels (Dt 28:35 “al habereikhim v’al hashoqim”)
    7. pool; reservoir (Ec 2:6/Soncino Press)

    cognate meaning: separate and develop
    [phonetic cognates (B40): PRQ divide; PRK separate; BRQ flash light]

    Rav Hirsch’s approach is based on the idea that phonetically related roots have related meanings. /brk/ is most like other words relating to separation and development.

    Brown Driver Briggs, a dictionary often used by bible scholars, gives the translations of “kneel” and “pool/pond”. But it also has “bless” and the cognates it lists from related languages are given with that translation. It gives the Aramaic “birkah” as a cognate (and the Aramaic “bereikh” [praise]). There are also Arabic and Amharic cognates that I can’t read, but “Steg” writes in a comment to this post are “baraka” (which is the simple conjugation, as opposed to Hebrew’s pi’el, “levareikh”) and “bäräkä” respectively. Last, the BDB has a long list of quotes from chumash where this is clearly the meaning intended. Combining the two, it would seem that the primary meaning is blessing. The best I could guess is that from there we get to praying postures — kneeling and bowing, and from the concept of kneeling, we get to “knee”. A bereikhah, a pool of water, is a more physical source of prosperity, particularly in the Middle East.

    A Survey of Translations

    When looking at sources from within our tradition that explain the word “barukh“, I found no less than six different translations, which I grouped into three basic approaches.

    1- A Statement of Fact

    1a- A statement of fact. “You are maximally increased”. I understand this to be the opinion of Radaq (Seifer haShorashim — bareich), R’ Yonah ibn Janach (Seifer haShorashim — bareikh), Or Zaru’ (Hilkhos Qeri’as Shema), and Chizquni (Bereishis 24:27).

    1b- There are two versions of the text of the Avudraham. In one, he translates”barukh” as “You are the Source of increase.” The role of making a blessing is to acknowledge and thereby thank and appreciate (the Hebrew word is “hakaras hatov“, recognizing the good of…) Him.

    2- A Request

    2a- Rabbeinu Bachya (Kad haKemach pp 77-78, Mossad haRav Kook edition) understands barukh as a request, give us increase; Atah Hashem — for You are the Source of increase.

    2b-The Rashba (Shu”t 1423, end) and the other version of the Avudraham hold that “barukh” is a request for an increase of the revelation of Hashem’s Presence. So we are asking for an increase, but of G-dliness in the world, not G-d Himself.

    In both versions of #2, the idea that barukh is a request, the concept of berakhah therefore includes an implied praise, by taking His Omnipotence and Beneficence as givens. Rabbeinu Bachya adds that the verse “Barukh Atah Hashem lamdeini chuqekha” is itself an expression of praise, but the word barukh itself is not. Since You are the One Who taught me Your chuqim, I turn to You to grant me the increase in Divine Influence (shefa) to understand them.

    3- A Declaration of Intent

    3a- “May Your presence in this world be increased” — through my efforts (R’ SR Hirsch). A declaration of commitment. Since HQBH restrains Himself (so-to-speak) to allow for free will, by choosing to act according to His Will, we can increase His influence.

    I would surmise that this understanding is implied by R’ YB Soloveitchik in his monograph “Qol Dodi Dofeiq”. The Rav uses the rabbinic dictum “just as we bless [G-d] for the good, so too for the bad” to give the appropriate response to tragedy. (This quote is why one says “Barukh Dayan emes” (blessed be the True Judge) upon hearing that someone died.) He says the Jewish question of tragedy is not “Why?” but “What should I do?” The Rav therefore implicitly identifies “blessing for the bad” with my doing Hashem’s Will.

    3b- Nefesh haChaim (sec II) gives a synthesis of the last two of the above approaches. “May Your presence in this world be increased through my very realization that You are the Source of increase.”


    A berakhah has 4 components:

    Barukh Atah — We discussed the word “barukh” in the previous section. But note that this is written in the 2nd person, “Atah — You”.

    Hashem Elokeinu — There is a contrast between these two names of Hashem and their implication. This topic alone would require multiple essays, so I will simply sketch a couple ways of viewing this contrast:

    1- The tetragrammaton is a contraction of “Yihyeh, Hoveh, veHayah — Will Be, Is and Was”, referring to Hashem being timeless and beyond the created. An el, when used in the secular sense, is a legislative ruler, so that Elokeinu, is a declaration that He is our Lawgiver — the Author of both moral law and physical law. Havayah denotes connotes a vision of Deity that is very Other, the philosopher’s G-d; Elokus is One who relates to man.

    2- The very remoteness of the name Havayah also implies Divine Mercy. This is not intuitive, however, the need to create law comes from a person’s limited ability to deal with many individual cases. A teacher with few students is effective, one with more students, less so. To manage a country, we need laws and policies, since we do not have infinite time and attention to cover every decision on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, it is only because Hashem is Infinite that Divine Mercy is possible. Therefore, this expression can be seen as a declaration of the unity of G-d, despite the different appearances of Mercy and Strict Justice.

    Melekh ha’olam — Halachicly, a berakhah must contain sheim umalkhus, the name of G-d, and a declaration that He is King. The previous component and this statisfy that requirement. By calling Him “Hashem E-lokeinu Melekh ha’olam“, we proclaim our allegiance to the central concepts of Shema: the Hashem’s unity despite our various perceptions of Him, and our accepting Him as King.

    Closing — this varies from berakhah to berakhah. In contrast to the “Atah” with which we begin a berakhah, we conclude in the 3rd person: “asher qidishanu bemitzvosav — who sanctified us with His mitzvos“, “shehakol nihyeh bidvaro — that everything exists through His word”, etc…. Why is this? Wouldn’t we think that we end the process of berakhah closer to Hashem than we began? So then why are we speaking as though He is more distant? As we shall see, this shift is a significant part of some approaches to making a berakhah.


    Now we’re finally ready to make a berakhah and enjoy the cup of coffee…

    But first, put the cup down. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, in his book Passionate Judaism, recommends accepting upon oneself to keep the food at least one tefach (handbreadth) away from your mouth when making a berakhah. If it is said in the same smooth motion as bringing the food up to your lips, the berakhah is turned into a mindless slur of syllables: “Barukh Atadnoilokeinu Melekholam shehakolnihyedivo.

    Why are there so many approaches to the meaning of a berakhah? I would suggest that it’s not merely a dispute, but an intentional richness of meaning by the coiners of the formula. A berakhah can mean different things at different times during the day and during parts of our lives. I will therefore provide three different threadings of an approach to the word barukh extended to flow through the berakhah as a whole.

    Using the “statement of fact” or “request” approaches to the word “barukh”, the purpose of a berakhah is one of praise. Think about the coffee. The amazing properties of water, of plants, sunlight, the ecosystem, all of the elements in place from which human beings were able to build a global economy and get that coffee from Columbia to your cup, in short — ponder all the Divine Wisdom underlying the things from which this cup of coffee was made. Including the amazing fact that human beings live and think! From that mindset, one is ready to say, “You are truly and maximally Great…” or “Please grant me some of Your greatness, Hashem the Creator of Nature, Who runs the universe, look at the glory of everything He has made! Thank you!”

    Rabbi Shimon Schwab, unsurprisingly, develops Rav Hirsch’s approach. Jon Baker summarized his thoughts in and essay in Mesukim miDevash. To Rabbi Schwab, a berakhah vacillates between my committing myself to serve Him, and Hashem’s absolute remoteness and inapproachability. To take his ideas as a kavnah, it would be something like “I declare my desire to use the fluid, joy and energy that I get from this cup of coffee to increase Your impact in this world. Despite the presumptuousness of trying to partner with He Who is Above Time, because it is through that Infinity that He is My G-d personally. He created the laws of nature and the laws by which I should choose to live. Therefore, He And yet He is King over everything, not simply a personal friend, and all of existence crowns Him. And everything — including myself and this cup of coffee — exist through His word, so I wish to utilize it for that which He created it.”

    I gave a follow-up to Jon Baker’s article based on Rav Chaim Vilozhiner’s understanding, applying it to understanding the berakhah of Shehakol in particular. Rather than declaring the tension between Transcendence and Immanence, Rav Chaim sees it as a progression. We start by contemplating the lofty planes of heavenly existence and follow the Shefa, the flow of Divine Emanation down to the item before us or the action we are about to take. Our awareness of the Shefa is what opens the “channels” by which it flows. Man, combination of body and soul, is the conduit — because He has free will and can dedicate his physical action to His Goals. Thus, Rav Chaim Vilozhiner takes the notion that eating without a berakhah is tantamount to theft to mean theft from the world, theft from the Shefa that we could have made manifest and did not.

    We open, “Hashem, You are the Source, from You everything flows.” One step down toward the mundane world, “Hashem, You are the Cause of existence.” Not Source, Cause. And further steps, “Our Lawmaker, King of Everything.” Now the progression is less descent from Hashem as approaching the world. We take the same concepts in the reverse: paralleling “Melekh ha’olam — King of Everything”, is “shehakol — that everything” — the King’s subjects and domain. “Nihyeh — exists (in the passive conjugation)”, because Hashem is Y-HV-H the Cause of Existence. “Bidvaro — through His Word”, it flows from the Barukh, His “Thought” uttered.

    So much to think about. The process of berakhah truly imbues the entire day with an attitude of avodas Hashem.

    Vetaheir Libeinu

    We say in the Amidah for Shabbos and Yom Tov, “Vetaheir libeinu le’avekha be’emes”, usually translated simply as “And purify our hearts to serve You in truth.””Vetaheir libeinu” provides an interesting contrast to “veyacheid levaveinu li’ahavah ulyir’ah es shemekha — and unify our hearts to love and be in awe of Your name”, said in the last berakhah before the morning recitation of Shema. Libeinu stands distinct from levaveinu, the same two-veis “levav” that we find in Shema, “And you shall love Hashem your G-d bekhol levavekha, with all your heart.” There, Chazal interpret the word as “beshnei yitzrekha — with both your inclinations”. In “veyacheid levaveinu” we speak of unifying the warring urges of a complex heart, which notably has one veis for each inclination, “levav”. Here we ask for surcease from that complexity, that Hashem render the single-veis “leiv” tahor, pure of other inclinations. (While many question the accuracy of “tahor” as being defined “pure”, “zahav tahor” does mean “pure gold”.)

    “Le’avdiacha”. Rav SR Hirsch explains the root /ayin-beis-dalet/ as a more intensive form of /aleph-beis-dalet/, to be lost (just as an ayin is like an alef, but is supposed to be voiced). To lose one’s goals to another’s’, working entirely for another person. Here we speak of taharah from inappropriate goals so that one can work entirely toward the aims Hashem spelled out for us.

    I would think that a Ba’al Mussar would focus on “vetaheir libeinu”, while the Chassid would read them as secondary to the next — le’avdikha. True to the fork in the hashkafic road between Litta’s focus on sheleimus, wholeness and completion, and Chassidus’s focus on deveiqus, cleaving to G-d.

    Bi’emes — in/through truth: At first I took this to be an adverb for le’avdekha. However, I want to draw attention back to the first thing I skipped in this quote, the opening letter, “vav — vetaheir”. It begins with a prefix meaning “and”. This makes our phrase part of a list, along with, “qadsheinu bemitzvosekha, vesein chelqeinu beSorasekha, sab’einu mituvekha, vesamcheinu biyshu’asekha”. In all of those cases, the noun at the end of the phrase is the means by which we ask for the thing described by the rest of the phrase; for example “Sanctify us through your mitzvos”. (The mem in “mituvekha” deserves comment. Another time.) So, here too, emes would be the means, not a modifier for le’vadekha.

    Taking the phrase all together: We are asking for Hashem to give us emes, by which we will get the taharas haleiv necessary to answer only one calling — His.

    Modeh Ani

    WARNING: Recording sound quality is poor!
    Attached is an audio shiur on the subject of Modeh Ani.The topics covered:
    • The meaning of the words and problems with the naive translation
    • Two roles for prayer
    • Yehudah and Modeh — connectedness
    • Hakaras haTov — thankfulness and the nature of chesed

    Al Netilas Yadayim

    The audio recording (b”H, much clearer than my first attempt at recording a shiur) attached is from the “Tefillah: Beyond the Words” class, a discussion of the berakhah of “Al Netilas Yadayim“.

    • The class starts with a discussion of berakhos in general:
      • Various opinions of the meaning of the word “barukh”,
      • the structure,
      • three conceptions of how to make a berakahah.
    • Approaches to doing mitzvos:
      • To obtain holiness
      • to fulfill the commandment of G-d
      • Perspectives on the reason for morning hand-washing, and how it relates to holiness.

    Asher Yatzer

    This week’s shiur began with a continuation of last week‘s discussion of qedushah (as in “asher qidishanu vemitzvosav”) and taharah (“al netilas yadayim”).The discussion of qedushah’s “separation for” and taharah’s “separation from” was used to flow into discussing the various vectors of human personality — with a detour into the Beis haMiqdash. (That parallel between man and miqdash actually comes up later in the shiur.) These three vectors can be seen as addressing the next triad of berakhos: Asher Yatzar, E-lokai Neshamah and Birkhos haTorah. (Other reasons for the structure were also given.)The rest of the shiur was a textual study of Asher Yatzar in light of the themes that recur in the various rishonim — often the same theme is associated by different rishonim to different parts of the text. Themes of birth, the wisdom of creation as a whole, Torah and human wisdom, maintenance of health vs being cured, and the wonderous fact that an intangible soul can be associated with a body. The major issues were:
    • Is the berakhah one of praise? If so, why do we sayor one of action?
    • What is the chokhmah being referred to in “who formed man with/of chokhmah”?
    • How do chalulim differ from neqavim, that the berakhah lists both? Does Hashem create holes, or does He allow them to exist by creating around them?
    • Why do we say “before Your throne of honor”, rather than “before You”?
    • Why do we speak of opening and closing holes in particular?
    • What’s the debate over wnether one should say “afilu sha’ah echas” (even one moment/hour)?
    • If the closing of a berakhah must always address one theme, how do “afilu sha’ah achas”, “rofei khol basar” and “umafli la’asos”?

    With berakhos for the best of health and an enjoyable Shavu’os!

    E-lokai Neshamah

    This week’s class was on E-lokai Neshamah. Some of the topics discussed:
    • Different opinions about why the berakhah doesn’t begin with the word “barukh”
    • The berakhah’s possible connection to Hamapil said before going to bed or Asher Yatzar
    • Is the berakhah primarily about waking up, or the resurrection?
    • Who is the “me” saying “the soul which You put within me”? Aren’t I my soul — how can it be placed within “me”?
    • More on the “anatomy” of the soul
    • The connection between the soul and the body
    • Different opinions on the nature and role of the resurrection.

    Birchos haTorah

    This week’s shiur (audio recording) concludes a series on aspects of the soul. With Asher Yatzar we looked at man’s ability to exist in and relate to the physical world. This is followed by E-lokai Neshamah, and our connection to heaven and man’s higher calling. Now we look at the universe we hold within our heads, our ability to change and grow, and become better at existence on all three planes.

    Some topics:

    • Who is holier: people or angels? Who is loftier?
    • Being and becoming
    • Hislamdus — self awareness, life as a learning experience
    • The ruach
    • On empty cups: cleaving to G-d and self improvement
    • The importance of saying birkhos haTorah
    • How many berakhos are there (is ha’Arev its own berakhah), and what kinds of learning require the berakhos?
    • Is the berakhos on learning Torah, or on the Torah lifestyle as a whole?
    • Meaning of the words and phrases.
    • The progression from learning, “sweetening”, remembering, carrying to future generations, and getting protection by being the Torah’s guarantor.
    • Torah as a means of growth — a tool for “becoming”.

    Nishmas. part I

    This week’s shiur skips to Nishmas, under the assumption that davening in shul runs too quickly for slow and careful recitation, and it would be more practical to skip to around the point where we switch Chazanim and assume a more contemplative pace.Just some of the discussed subjects:

    • Who wrote Nishmas? The Peter connection and what it says about the content of Nishmas.
    • Why do we speak of Nishmas kol chai, veru’ach kol basar, but say nothing about the nefesh? (see previous three weeks’ shiurim for discussion of these three aspects of the soul.)
    • The symbology of Shabbos, tefillin and tzitzis according to the Maharal and R’ Samson Raphael Hirch.
    • The moral duty to praise Hashem, and the mention of those things for which we must say Birkhos haGomeil. Being saved in and of itself vs being saved by reexperiencing an aspect of yetzi’as Mitzrayim.
    • The need to thank Hashem for giving us challenges in measures that we can handle, and moreso, from which to grow.
    • The impossibility of expressing His praise and therefore of the need to praise Hashem implicitly through action and ontologically, since we embodying His Wisdom.

    We concluded at the beginning of haKeil, and should pick up at that point.

    Nishmas, part II

    This week’s shiur picks up from “HaKel besa’atzumos uzekha”, the point where the Chazan begins on Yamim Tovim.Some of the key topics raised:
    • The impossibility of understanding Hashem, and the resulting consequence of tending to describe Him in conflicting dialectics. Immanence — Hashem is everywhere; Trancendence — Hashem is in shamayim. The impersonal G-d of nature, and the G-d of miracles. Etc…
    • How are we permitted to praise Hashem in just four words?
    • Gevurah and nitzchon (eternal in time). Man’s ability to bring nitzachon to Hashem’s will because Hashem’s gevurah gives “room” for us to act. The creative partnership in history and in halakhah.
    • What is means to be a Melekh (king) as opposed to a Mosheil (dictator). What is Hashem’s “Throne”?
    • Idealism and happiness: The concepts of simkhah, yesharim, tehillah (hallel), avodas Hashem (serving Hashem), aveilus and even humor according to Rav Saadia Gaon.
    We then started discussing Barekhu, discussing the source for needing a minyan for devarim shebiqdushah (declarations of His sanctity, including Barekhu, Qaddish and Qedushah.

    Yotzeir Or, part I

    (I was on vacation and so there was no shiur last week.)This week’s shiur picks up with Borkhu and the question of what makes it, or any other prayer (including at least Qaddish and Qedushuah) a davar shebiqdushah (a declaration of holiness).The majority of the shiur was dedicated to opening of the berakhah of Yotzeir Or. We discussed the structure and topics of the berakhos that surround Shema and their relationship to Shema itself, some of the basic thrust of this particular berakhah, and the history behind its opening sentence. The opening of the berakhah was explained in relationship to the pasuq which it paraphrases, a message Hashem gave the prophet Yeshaiah to record for King Cyrus of Persia to eventually receive.

    The bulk of the shiur was a discussion of evil, the nature of evil — both as the tragedy in people lives and the evil people do, the question of what defines evil (one Jewish resolution to Plato’s Euthyphro’s Dilemma), and finally four different ways in which tragedy forces us to respond. (The last point is expressed also in my essay “The Four Sons Confront Tragedy“, relating these responses to the responses each of the four sons of the Hagaddah have to the seider.)

    Yotzeir Or, part II

    In this second of three parts on the berakhah of Yotzeir Or we continued our look at the problem of evil. (The shiur was given during the Three Weeks.) The previous shiur focused on tragedy, the evil that we experience. This week we look at the interplay of the sun, and what it symbolizes, and the moon, and its symbology, and how the story of creation includes a naarative of how evil became a component of human nature.We also looked at the first half of the berakhah, the themes of creation flowing throught the letters of the Torah, of the future state when everyone will acknowledge that flow of creation (mentioned in the Shabbos version of the berakhah), the notion of being unique in quantity (ke’erqekha) vs unique in quality (ve’ein zulasekha).Next shiur we will be”H conclude the berakhah, as well as the series of classes until after the yamim tovim.

    Yotzeir Or, part III

    See the previous discussions of Yotzeir Or here (part I) and here (part II).

    This week we concluded our discussion of the berakhah of Yotzeir Or, as well as the shiur’s run until after the yamim tovim.

    Some highlights:

    • The process of creation is continual, and thus the berakhah is about the end of evil more than evil itself. There will always be more opportunities tomorrow even if all is bleak today.
    • The structure of the berakhah.
    • The angels’ Qedushah, and man’s role in it.
    • Creation continuing through today and into the future. Things continue to exist through His Will.
    • Does this concept necessarily mean that individual Divine Providence (hashgachah peratis) need apply to every event?
    • Various opinions on the subject of Providence, and a modern take on the idea.
    • A tiny review of the 10 shiur series, taking some points from each shiur and tying them into a single picture.

    Coronating G-d, part II — Pragmatics

    I was recently discussing the ideas in my essay “Coronating G-d“. In it I utilized the Vilna Gaon’s distinction between a melekh (king) and a mosheil. A melekh rules with the support of his people, a mosheil rules by strength. I suggested that the reason why accepting Hashem as Melekh is such a central part of Rosh haShanah is that a Melekh has more room for mercy. By accepting Him as king ourselves, we enter the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah without the need for Hashem to impose His Will despite us.The person I was talking to asked what should have been an obvious question. “Okay, so how do we go about doing that?” And I surprised myself by realizing I didn’t know. How can I have ever said Shema, a tefillah described as qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim (accepting the yoke of [the One in] heaven), and not know what it is I’m supposed to be doing?

    So, I put some thought to the subject.

    Looking at Shema, we start by joining the community of Jewish (Shema Yisrael), and then proclaiming that despite our disparate perceptions of Him, Hashem is one and unique. This is an awareness of G-d’s uniqueness and power. True of a melekh or a mosheil, although here we’re actively acknowledging it. We accept the fact of Hashem’s rule.

    And then, before the list of pragmatic mitzvos for keeping this message an active part of our day, we are told to “Love Hashem with all your heart (kol levavekha), all your soul, and all your resources.” Willingly bowing to that rule. This is the step of which we’re speaking, the shift from realizing Hashem is Mosheil to accepting Him as our Melekh.

    Chazal comment (and quoted by Rashi) perhaps on the word “kol”, perhaps on the use of the two-veis word for heart “levavekha” rather than “libekha”, that this is with both of our inclinations — our good inclination and our evil one.

    … veyishtachavu lefanekha kol haberu’im,
    veyei’asu kulam agudah achas la’asos Retzonekh beleivav shaleim,
    kemo sheyadanu, H’ E-lokeinu, shehashalton/shehashilton lefanekha…

    … and all those who were created will bow before you, and they will all be made into a single union to do Your Will with a whole heart. For as we know, Hashem our G-d, that the rule/scepter is before You…

    – Amidah for Yamim Nora’im

    Bowing before Hashem because we acknowledge His rule is obvious. However, note again that this global union of worship is “with the whole heart”, a two-veis heart. Both inclinations. This to is because we know that He rules. But how does that cause us to engage our baser inclinations?

    On Shabbos we say, “Yismekhu beMalkhusekha shomerei Shabbos veqor’ei oneg… — They shall rejoice in Your Kingship, those who keep Shabbos and call it pleasure..” It’s not enough to keep Shabbos. To be happily a subject of Hashem as King, we must find it an oneg, a pleasure.

    It would seem that qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim involves accepting the idea that following His plan is what is best for you life. Not just fulfilling the mitzvos, but seeking to do so beleivav shaleim and with qeri’as oneg.

    How does one do it? I must start with the first mitzvah that I don’t do and think I can. And with the first mitzvah I do begrudgingly and search the sources and the experiences it brings me to find its beauty. Then the second…

    That is working toward the day when our teshuvah is rewarded, and “vehayah Hashem leMelekh al kol ha’aretz — Hashem will be Melekh over the whole world.” Bimheirah beyameinu, amein!

    A Fallen Soldier’s Prayer for Peace

    Modified: Transcription of text in Hebrew added. – 30-Sep-2006.(Hat tip to the One Family Fund. May they be put out of business soon!)

    Benaya Rein Hy”d fell toward the end of the war on Saturday night (yahrtzeit: 19 Av). He and four others were part of a unit that went in battle to rescue wounded soldiers and soldiers in distress. 24 hours a day, often without sleep or pause, he went into battles, braving heavy fire.

    Sunday, the very day after he was killed, his sister went into labor and had a son. Shiv’ah ended, the family went to the cemetery, and from there to the beris of the new grandson, a new Benaya. An emotional roller-coaster. Finally, it was time to go through Benaya’s belongings, and among the things he often took into war they found the following tefillah:

    יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱ-לוֹקֵנוּ וְאֱ-לוֹקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,
    שֶׁתְּבָתֵּל מִלְחָמוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָמִים מִן הָעוֹלָם,
    וְתַּמְשִׁיךְ שָׁלוֹם גָדוֹל וְנִפְלָא בָּעוֹלָם,
    וְ”לֹֽא־יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל־גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹֽא־יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָֽה,”
    רַק יַכִּירוּ וְיֵדְעוּ כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל הָאֶמֶת לַאֲמִתּוֹ
    אֲשֶׁר לֹא בָּאנוּ לְזֶה הָעוֹלָם
    בִּשְׁבִיל רִיב וּמַחְלֹקֶת חַס ושָׁלוֹם,
    וְלֹא בִּשְׁבִיל שִׂנְאָה וְקִנְאָה
    וְקַטֵגוֹר וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָמִים חַס ושָׁלוֹם,
    רַק בָּאנוּ לָעוֹלָם כְּדֵי לְהַכִּיר
    וְלָדַעַת אוֹתְךָ יִתְבָּרַךְ


    May if be the Will before You, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers,
    That You anull war and bloodshed from the world,
    And spread out great and awe-inspiring peace in the world ,
    And “No longer will one nation life against another a sword, and they will not again learn war”,
    Just they will “recognize and know, all who live on the earth” “the truth for truthfulness”
    That we didn’t come to this world
    for fighting and dispute chas veshalom,
    and not for hatred and jealousy
    and accusations and bloodshed chas veshalom,
    we only came to this world in order to recognize
    and know You, may You be blessed.

    I put in quotes those phrases that I recognized were quotes. I also refrained from translating the idiom “chas veshalom”, as I can only think of the longer “[may Hashem grant] pity and peace”, which would distract from the flow of ideas more than an idiom does.

    I would love to see shuls say this Yehi Ratzon this Yom Kippur, perhaps immediately after the Yizkor said for those who fell defending Israel or as victims of terror. Or to be included with your shul’s prayers for the State of Israel and its soldiers, if they say any. Please send a copy to your rav with this suggestion.

    Anu ma’amirekha ve’Atah ma’amireinu

    Anu ma’amirekha ve’Atah ma’amireinu. Artscroll renders this line from the machzor as referring to we as Hashem’s designated, and Him as our designator.I would like to suggest a different translation. The mishnah says that Hashem created the world with “eser ma’maros — ten utterances”. Ma’amar means utterances, and in particular, Chazal associate it with the ten statements through which Hashem created the world. Existence is words. The Ba’al Shem Tov stresses that the idea is speech, not writing. Texts are written, and then continue to exist afterward. Spoken words exist as long as they are being spoken. For light to exist now, it means that Hashem is still saying the words “yehi or” even today. The words themselves are the phenomenon we call light.

    I therefore believe the relationship described is “We are your statement, and You are the One Who speaks us.”

    Birkhas Ahavah

    The Tefillah: Beyond the Words shiur resumed this week, picking up where we left off, with birkhas Ahavah.Some of the topics discussed:

    • Two dimensions for discussing a middah: “Ahavah Rabba” and “Ahavas Olam”
    • How those dimensions are reflected in the structure of the berakhah as a whole
    • What is love?
    • The avos: Three models for how to express love
    • The progression from ahavah (love) to chemlah (pity) to chein (unearned giving)
    • The Torah as chuqei chaim (the law for living)
    • What do we mean by qiyum hamitvah?