Preparing Before Reading the Torah

Description: Preparing Before Reading the Torah; The Different Customs When Calling Someone For an Aliya

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 139) writes that before one reads from the Torah, he must prepare the reading and review the text at least twice, preferably four times. He must prepare the reading so he will read it properly, with the proper tune, vowels and pronunciation. This applies even in communities with an appointed Ba’al Koreh (reader), as many people when they receive an Aliya want to read their Aliya, either because they read it at their Bar Misva, or for some other reason. One should read only if he reviewed the text at least twice. Of course, if there is nobody present in the synagogue who had prepared the reading, one who is familiar with the reading may go to read, and in this case it is customary for somebody to stand next to him (“Somech”) to assist him.

The custom among Ashkenazim is to call a person for an Aliya by mentioning his name and his father’s name. The custom of the Sepharadim, however, as noted by the Hida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1807) in Haim Sha’al (13), and the Kaf Ha’haim (139:2), is not to call people for Aliyot by name. The reason is because of the Gemara’s warning that refusing an invitation to the Torah is a grievous sin, for which one may be punished by having his life shortened, Heaven forbid. If a person is called to the Torah by name, and he refuses, he exposes himself to this danger. In order to avoid this situation, the custom among Sepharadim is not to call the person by name, but rather for the Mesader to approach the person and offer him an Aliya. (The Kaf Ha’haim records a custom practiced in some communities to give a person a piece of silver before Aliya to indicate that he is invited for an Aliya.) If he declines, for whatever reason, he is not punished, because he was not called up to the Torah by name.

Summary: One who reads from the Torah in the synagogue must ensure to prepare the material ahead of time, and review the text at least twice, preferably four times. The custom among Sepharadim is not to call a person to the Torah for an Aliya by name. (The custom it to present the Oleh with an ornament made from silver. Usually it has the 10 Commandments on it. The Oleh kisses the silver as an acceptance of the invitation to the Torah. This indeed was the Minhag in Aleppo, Syria.)




By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Torah Reading: VO-ESCHANAN, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11.
Haftara: Isaiah 40:1-26.


In the opening word of our PARSHAH of VO-ESCHANAN, Moses tells how “I tried to ingratiate myself” with G-d — elicit His favor — praying repeatedly to be allowed enter the land of Israel, “Eretz HaTzvi”, the “Land of Beauty, the graceful gazelle”, and come to the place of the Holy Temple. The Midrash teaches that in order to try to revoke the decree against his entry to the land, Moses prayed no less than 515 prayers — corresponding to the gematria (numerical value) of the word VO-ESCHANAN. The root of this word is CHEN, meaning the “grace” that is bestowed by G-d as a gift of pure love and kindness. The grammatical form of the word is HISPA’EL – reflexive: the person praying must WORK on himself or herself in order to become open to that gift. The parshah is a call to us to the inner work that must be combined with our Torah study: the work in our heart and soul to open ourselves to G-d’s grace — through meditation, contemplation, prayer and refinement of our traits. We must try and try again and again!!!

(The meaning of CHEN, and how to receive the shine of G-d’s wisdom and grace in our hearts, is fully explored in the opening teaching of Rabbi Nachman’s Likutey Moharan.

Parshas VO-ESCHANAN, is always read on this, the Shabbat of comfort after the fast of Tisha B’Av — SHABBOS NACHAMU (so-called after the opening words of the Haftara). Having mourned past destruction and ruin on Tisha Be’Av, it is now time to put the past behind us. We must bind up our wounds and embark on the work of rebuilding and reconstruction during the coming days of Teshuvah in the months of Av and Elul, leading up to the New Year and Days of Awe. To initiate this period, many Bnei Torah have the custom of taking trips away from the city in order to able to broaden their horizons, gaze at the sky, the hills, the sea and G-d’s other wonders for the sake of physical and spiritual reinvigoration.

Parshas VO-ESCHANAN provides us with spiritual sustenance for this reinvigoration process, giving us the very foundations of our faith in the One, Unified, Incorporeal G-d. In some of the most sublime passages in the Bible, Moses evokes the awesome greatness of G-d, the greatness of Israel, His chosen people, the preciousness of the Land of Israel, and the love and fear of G-d. Moses takes us again through the fearsomeness of the Giving of the Torah, and teaches us our basic declaration of faith, repeated twice daily: SHEMA YISRAEL, HASHEM ELOKENU HASHEM ECHAD. Many other phrases from our present parshah are also incorporated into the regular set prayers in the Siddur.

Observing Shib’a


Should a Mourner be Called for an Aliya if He is the Only Kohen in Attendance?

A mourner who is observing Shib’a should not be called for an Aliya to the Torah, since it is forbidden for mourners to study Torah.

An interesting question arises in a case where a mourner who is a Kohen does not have a Minyan in his home, and prays in the synagogue, instead, where no other Kohanim are in attendance. Normally, if there is a Kohen present, he must be given the first Aliya to the Torah, as otherwise people might question whether he is in fact a legitimate Kohen. In light of this Halacha, should we perhaps allow a mourner to receive the first Aliya if he is the only Kohen, in the interest of protecting his reputation?

The answer is that even in such a case, the mourner should not receive an Aliya, and he does not need to be asked to leave, either. It can be assumed that the people in the congregation realize that this Kohen is in mourning and is therefore unable to receive an Aliya, and therefore, nobody will question his status as a valid Kohen. This case resembles a case where the only Kohen in the synagogue is in the middle of Shema or the Amida prayer when the Torah reading begins. Since he cannot be called for the first Aliya – as waiting for him to finish his prayer would inconvenience the congregation – and it is clear to everyone present that he cannot receive the Aliya because he is praying, and not because he is not a valid Kohen, he does not receive the Aliya. Likewise, if the only Kohen in the synagogue is a mourner, he does not receive an Aliya, because everybody knows the reason why he cannot be called to the Torah.

The exception to this rule is Shabbat, when a Kohen who is a mourner should be called for the first Aliya if no other Kohanim are present. Public displays of mourning are forbidden on Shabbat, and if the only Kohen in the synagogue does not receive an Aliya because he is in mourning, or if he is asked to leave so a Yisrael can be called, this would publicly display his status as a mourner. Therefore, if it happened on Shabbat that the only Kohen in the synagogue is a mourner, he should receive the first Aliya. This is the ruling of Hacham David Yosef, in his Halacha Berura.

Summary: If the only Kohen in the synagogue is a mourner observing Shib’a, the first Aliya is given to a Yisrael, unless this occurred on Shabbat, in which case the mourner should receive the first Aliya.

The Bet Hamikdash is Alive Within Us

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The Gemara (Ta’anit 30b) states that anyone who eats or drinks on Tisha Be’av shall not merit seeing the joy of Jerusalem and anyone who mourns over Jerusalem “merits and sees its joy” as the verse (Yeshaya 66) states, “Gladden Jerusalem and rejoice in her all those who love her; rejoice for joy with her all those who mourned for her.”

Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l analyzes the language of the Gemara, for our Sages first state that one who does not mourn over Jerusalem “shall not merit seeing its joy” in future tense and later, it states that one who mourns over Jerusalem “merits and sees its joy” in present tense. Why then did our Sages change the tense within the same sentence? It would seem more logical for them to have written that one who mourns over Jerusalem “shall merit seeing its joy” as it did above!

Maran zt”l explains that Hashem has decreed that a deceased individual be forgotten from one’s heart after a period of twelve months (as mourners are usually comforted following the loss of a loved one after twelve months when the pain has gradually subsided).

For this reason, when Yaakov Avinu mistakenly thought that his son, Yosef, had been torn apart by a wild animal, the verse (Bereshit 37) states, “And all of his sons and all of his daughters arose to console him, but he refused to be consoled.” Yaakov Avinu continued mourning the loss of his son for several years, because there is no decree that one who is alive be forgotten after twelve months and Yosef was very much alive.

Thus, the same applies to mourning the loss of the Bet Hamikdash in that although many years have passed since its destruction (1,947 years to be exact), we continue to mourn over it bitterly, for the Heavenly Bet Hamikdash is alive and continues to exist, as the verse states, “The sanctuary, Hashem, which Your hands have established” and the Third Bet Hamikdash, which we pray will be built speedily and in our days, will descend from Heaven already built. When one mourns over Jerusalem, this is actually a good sign in that “one merits and sees its joy,” for the mere fact that one is currently mourning over Jerusalem shows that the Bet Hamikdash is alive and well within him and he will share in its joy in the future. Indeed, our Sages taught that Mashiach son of David is born on Tisha Be’av, meaning that in the midst of our mourning over Jerusalem, the lights of the impending redemption already begin to shine.

The prophet (Zecharia 8) states: “So says Hashem, G-d of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall be for the house of Yehuda for joy, gladness, and good times; and love truth and peace.” We derive from this verse that all fast days observed in commemoration of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash will eventually be abolished and turned into days of joy and merriment in the times of the Mashiach. Indeed, Maranzt”l concludes the laws of mourning (in his Chazon Ovadia-Avelut, Part 3, page 420) with the verse (Yeshaya 60): “Your sun shall no longer set and neither shall your moon withdraw, for Hashem shall be your everlasting light and the days of your mourning shall end. Your smallest shall become a thousand and your least a mighty nation; I Hashem shall hasten it in its time. You shall be a crown of glory in the hand of Hashem and a royal diadem in the palm of your G-d.” May we soon merit the fulfillment of these verses, Amen!

Shabbat Nachamu / שבת נחמו


Shabbat Nachamu (“Sabbath of comfort/ing) takes its name from the haftarah from Isaiah in the Book of Isaiah 40:1-26 that speaks of “comforting” the Jewish people for their suffering. It the first of seven haftarahs of consolation leading up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Shabbat Nachamu begins at sundown on Fri, 31 July 2015.

Shabbat Nachamu means “Sabbath of Consolation.” Shabbat Nachamu is the first of seven haftarot starting with the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av and leading up to Rosh Hashanah. These readings are meant to console us after the destruction of the Temple and reassure us that it will be built again. As with Shabbat Hazon, the cycle of Torah readings is structured in such a way that these readings will occur on the appropriate weeks. Seven Weeks of Comfort

Parashat Vaetchanan / פרשת ואתחנן


Next read in the Diaspora on 01 August 2015. Parashat Vaetchanan is the 45th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.

Torah Portion: Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

23 And I besought the LORD at that time, saying:
כד  אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, אַתָּה הַחִלּוֹתָ לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת-עַבְדְּךָ, אֶת-גָּדְלְךָ, וְאֶת-יָדְךָ הַחֲזָקָה–אֲשֶׁר מִי-אֵל בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה כְמַעֲשֶׂיךָ וְכִגְבוּרֹתֶךָ. 24 ‘O Lord GOD, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness, and Thy strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth, that can do according to Thy works, and according to Thy mighty acts?
כה  אֶעְבְּרָה-נָּא, וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן:  הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה, וְהַלְּבָנֹן. 25 Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.’
כו  וַיִּתְעַבֵּר יְהוָה בִּי לְמַעַנְכֶם, וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֵלָי; וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלַי, רַב-לָךְ–אַל-תּוֹסֶף דַּבֵּר אֵלַי עוֹד, בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה. 26 But the LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened not unto me; and the LORD said unto me: ‘Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto Me of this matter.
כז  עֲלֵה רֹאשׁ הַפִּסְגָּה, וְשָׂא עֵינֶיךָ יָמָּה וְצָפֹנָה וְתֵימָנָה וּמִזְרָחָה–וּרְאֵה בְעֵינֶיךָ:  כִּי-לֹא תַעֲבֹר, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה. 27 Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold with thine eyes; for thou shalt not go over this Jordan.
כח  וְצַו אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, וְחַזְּקֵהוּ וְאַמְּצֵהוּ:  כִּי-הוּא יַעֲבֹר, לִפְנֵי הָעָם הַזֶּה, וְהוּא יַנְחִיל אוֹתָם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תִּרְאֶה. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see.’
כט  וַנֵּשֶׁב בַּגָּיְא, מוּל בֵּית פְּעוֹר.  {פ} 29 So we abode in the valley over against Beth-peor. {P}

Havdala on Motza’ei Shabbat….

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Havdala on Motza’ei Shabbat Which Coincides with Tisha Be’av and the Laws of an Ill Individual Who Must Eat on Tisha Be’av

On years during which Tisha Be’av falls out on Motza’ei Shabbat, such as this year, 5775, there are three opinions among the Rishonim regarding how Havdala should be recited on a cup of wine on Motza’ei Shabbat.

The first opinion is that of the Geonim who write that one should recite Havdala only at the conclusion of the fast, i.e. Sunday night, before sitting down to eat.

The second opinion is that of the author of the Sefer Ha’Manhig who writes that one should recite Havdala on Motza’ei Shabbat and have a child who is not obligated to fast drink the wine.

The third opinion is that of the Ramban who writes that Havdala is not recited at all, for the Gemara (Berachot 33a) writes that originally Havdala was instituted as part of the Arvit prayer. The, the Jewish nation then became wealthy and our Sages enacted that it be recited over a cup of wine. However, on Tisha Be’av which falls on Motza’ei Shabbat, the entire Jewish nation is considered utterly destitute. The Poskim discuss the varying opinions of the Rishonim at length.

Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with the opinion of the Geonim that Havdala should be recited at the conclusion of the fast. We rule in accordance with Maran, whose rulings we have accepted. We therefore customarily recite Havdala at the conclusion of the fast, essentially breaking the fast on wine. Nevertheless, immediately at the onset of the fast on Motza’ei Shabbat, although Havdala is not recited on a cup of wine, one must still recite “Baruch Ha’Mavdil Ben Kodesh Le’Chol” in order to make it permissible to do work.

The “Boreh Minei Besamim” blessing is not recited on a fragrant object at the conclusion of Tisha Be’av, for fragrant objects are not brought to a mourner’s home since they are meant for pleasure. The same applies on Tisha Be’av. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules likewise.

One must recite the “Boreh Me’orei Ha’esh” blessing on a candle on Motza’ei Shabbat which coincides with Tisha Be’av. It is customary for the rabbi or Chazzan to recite this blessing in the synagogue before the reading of Eicha (although there are those who disagree, see Chazon Ovadia-Arba Ta’aniyot, page 342).

Women who do not attend synagogue on Motza’ei Shabbat must recite the “Boreh Me’orei Ha’esh” blessing on a candle at home (ibid, page 343).

An ill individual who must eat on Tisha Be’av (as we have discussed above) must first recite Havdala on a cup of wine before eating on Tisha Be’av, for one may not eat after Shabbat has ended until one has performed Havdala. The ill individual must therefore recite Havdala on a cup of wine or grape juice and drink it as one would on any Motza’ei Shabbat. An ill individual reciting Havdala on a cup of wine may do so on behalf of the members of his household as he would on any Motza’ei Shabbat and they will fulfill their obligation of hearing Havdala (although they are fasting and the fast has not yet ended).

Pregnant and nursing women, who we have explained are exempt from fasting on Tisha Be’av this year (5775) since the fast is postponed until Sunday, must likewise recite Havdala on a cup of wine before eating. Since they will not be eating until the day of Tisha Be’av, i.e. Sunday afternoon, they must recite the “Boreh Me’orei Ha’esh” blessing on a candle on the night of Tisha Be’av and then recite Havdala on a cup of wine during the day of Tisha Be’av without reciting a blessing on a fragrant object or a candle. (ibid, page 348)