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!”

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.

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.

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?

Shema Yisrael

In this week’s shiur we concluded Birkhas Ahavah and started Shema with the origin of “Kel Melekh Ne’eman” and some thoughts on its first sentence.
Some of the topics discussed:

  • Veha’eir eineinu beSorasekhaTif’eres, fully integrating our Torah knowledge to shape our entire selves.
  • Vedabeiq libeinu vs Veyacheid levaveinu — Two approaches to serving G-d (another reference to the “Fork in the Hashkafic Road“), two ways “velo neivosh le’olam va’ed” (not to be embarassed ever).
  • Vesolicheinu qomemiyus le’artzeinu — coming upright to our land. Redemption includes the opportunity to live peacefully and with self-respect.
  • The value of our being a lashon, a group of people united by the Hebrew language.
  • Birkhas Ahava‘s connection to Shema.
  • Should we say “amein” after our own birkhas ahavah? “Kel Melekh Ne’eman” as an amein.
  • Other explanations for saying “Kel Melekh Ne’eman
  • The significance of saying Shema Yisrael, that the two words aren’t merely a preface.
  • The unity of Hashem and Elokeinu — what each name connotes, and how do they really describe a Single Indivisible Deity

Veahavta

In this shiur, we look at the rest of the first paragraph of Shema. Some of the issues discussed are:

  • Why do we say “Barukh sheim“?
  • How can a person choose to fulfill the commandment to love Hashem? Can you choose an emotion?
  • What does it mean to serve Hashem with our whole hearts? Two approaches to the idea of serving Hashem with the yeitzer hara (evil inclination).
  • The progression outward of our ahavah, to levavekha (your heart), to nafshekha (your living soul), to me’odekha (all your resources), and its parallel in the subsequent mitzvos.
  • Looking at the mitzvos in the paragraph as a tool for unifying religion and the “real world”. Religion as sanctifying life rather than a retreat from it.

Vehayah im Shamoa

We entered Shema last week by following the detailed look at the text started with Birchas Ahavah, Kel Melekh Ne’eman and the rich first sentence of Shema.

This week we looked at the second paragraph of Shema, and started by noting similarities and contrasts with the first one. This invited us to take a step back to look at the structure of Shema as a whole, and the role and progression of each section of it.

Another point discussed at more length: How does the first sentence and paragraph of Shema constitute qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim (accepting the kingship of [the One in] Heaven) when there is no mention of the word Melekh in them? We looked at Rav Hutner’s take on the contrast between qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim on Rosh haShanah, one of the days of yir’ah (awe/fear) and Shema which speaks in terms of ahavah, and the meaning of accepting Hashem as King.

I also gave out a sheet, perhaps to keep in your siddur or tallis bag, which lays out some structural points in tables. The original MS word version requires solid hebrew support, so it’s available in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) as well.

Parashas Tzitzis

This week’s shiur rounds out our discussion of Shema with the third paragraph. In the first paragraph we accept Hashem as King, and that evolves to the theme of Vehayah im Shomo’ah, accepting the King’s commandments. Beliefs motivate action. In parashas tzitzis we look at how mitzvos reciprocate by shaping our minds.

The meaning of parashas tzitzis is studied by comparing it to the other phrasing of the same mitzvahgedilim ta’aseh lekha –you shall make cords for yourself on the four corners of your kesus (covering).” How do gedilim differ from tzitzis? Why is one on your beged and the other on your kesus? Why four corners? Why eight ends (four strings, folded over)? How does all this connect to the notions of not straying after our eyes and hearts, or with remembering the Exodus? How can we actually feel what it means to remember yetzi’as Mitzrayim?

Don’t Present Oneself as a Liar!

צריך שיהיו תפילין עליו בשעת ק”ש ותפלה.

A man must have tefillin on at the time of reading Shema and prayer [Shemoneh Esrei].

- Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 25:4

בשעת ק”ש ותפלה: ר”ל לכל הפחות בשעת ק”ש ותפלה וכדלקמן בסימן ל”ז ס”ב ואמרינן בגמרא כל הקורא ק”ש בלי תפלין הרי הוא כאלו מעיד עדות שקר בעצמו ח”ו ופירשו בתוספות לפי שאומר וקשרתם לאות וגו’ ואין קושר ואף שבדיעבד יצא ידי ק”ש מ”מ יש לו עבירה מצד אחר שמראה על עצמו שאין רוצה לקיים רצון הש”י וזהו עדות שקר שמעיד על עצמו ויש עוד פי’ אחר עיין בלבוש וכתב בספר חרדים דמזה נלמוד כשאומר ואהבת את ד’ וגו’ יראה להכניס אהבת הש”י בלבו שלא יהיה כדובר שקר ח”ו. ודע דלא אמרו כן אלא כשעושה כן במזיד שמתעצל להניח תפלין קודם ק”ש אבל מי שאין לו תפלין או כשהוא בדרך ומחמת קור וצינה אינו יכול להניח תפלין וכל כה”ג בודאי אין לו לאחר ק”ש בזמנה מחמת זה. לבוש בסימן נ”ח והעתקתי שם את לשונו עי”ש:

At the time of reading Shema and prayer: Meaning to say, at the very least during reading Shema and prayer. As it says later in 37:2.

As it says in the gemara, “Whomever reads Shema without tefillin, he is as though he gives false testimony about himself ch”v.” And its explanation in Tosafos is that according to what [Shema] says “and you shall tie them as a sign…” and he isn’t tying. Even though post-facto he fulfilled the obligation of reading Shema, still he has a sin from another angle in that he makes himself look like he doesn’t want to do Hashem’s will. And that’s the [talmud's] “false testimony” that he “says about himself,” (There is also another explanation, see the Levush.)

It is written in the Seifer Chareidim that from this we will learn from when [Shema] says “You shall love Hashem…” a person should look [for ways to] being love of Hashem into his heart, so that he will not be like someone telling lies ch”v(emphasis added)

But someone who doesn’t have tefillin, or is traveling and because of cold or heat he cannot put on tefillin, or anything of the like, certainly he should not delay Shema beyond the proper time for this reason. (Levush, siman 58, and I checked his language there, c.f.)

- Mishnah Berurah ad loc, #14

Obvious, no? If I’m careful to wear tefillin when saying Shema, so that we do not look like hypocrits, how the more so should I be careful to actually recommit to loving Hashem and finding ways to increase that love! So why is it so hard to remember to actually do so?