Leil Selichot / סליחות

Selichot or slichot (Hebrew: סליחות) are Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on Fast Days. In the Ashkenazic tradition, it begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. If, however, the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday or Tuesday, Selichot are said beginning the Saturday night prior to ensure that Selichot are recited at least four times.

Leil Selichot begins after nightfall on Sat, 05 September 2015.

Parashat Ki Tavo / פרשת כי־תבוא

Ki Tavo / פרשת כי־תבוא

Next read in the Diaspora on 05 September 2015. Parashat Ki Tavo is the 50th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.

Torah Reading: KI TAVO, Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8.
Haftara: Isaiah 60:1-22.

Our parshah, KI TAVO, puts the seal on Moses’ detailed exposition of the commandments in the Mishneh Torah (=Deuteronomy) — the “Second” or repeated Torah — and recounts the Covenant that G-d struck with Israel in the plains of Moab prior to their entry into the Land. KI TAVO thus brings us into the closing sections of the Five Books of Moses, the very climax of the Torah. This is fitting reading as we approach the coming Day of Judgment — Rosh Hashanah — and the Days of Awe.

The commandments contained in our parshah are almost the last commandments written in the Torah — except for the two commandments contained in next week’s reading, the double parshah of NITZAVIM-VAYELECH. (Those relate to the teaching of the Torah — its public reading at the HAKHEL assembly in the Temple following the Sabbatical year — and to the accurate transmission of the Torah through writing a Torah scroll).

THE FUTURE MODE — THANKYOU

The commandments contained in our present parshah, KI TAVO, relate to the longed-for, glorious future: “And it shall be when you come to the Land.”. The opening Hebrew word of the parshah is a permutation of the holy Name of HaShem. This seals His eternal promise that the time will indeed arrive when YOU WILL COME TO THE LAND. The time will come when you will be able to present your first fruits with gratitude in the Holy Temple, separate your priestly tithes and other gifts, and eat the fruits of your labor within the walls of the Holy City.

The opening section of KI TAVO gives the commandment to present the first fruits in a basket by the altar in the Temple as a gift for the Cohen-priest, including the declaration of thanks made on presentation of the fruits. The text of this declaration, “The Aramite (=Laban) tried to destroy my father (Jacob).” (Deut. 26:5-9), is so fundamental to the identity of Israel that it forms the basis of the Pesach Haggadah with which we retell our national story every year on the night celebrating the birth of the nation through the Exodus. The main body of the Haggadah consists of a word-by-word homiletic commentary on these verses.

The mitzvah of the first fruits is immediately followed by the commandments relating to tithes, which also involve a declaration. Periodically all accumulated gifts of agricultural produce to the Levite and poor etc. that have not yet been distributed must be cleared out of the house. This is done after the end of the first three years of the Sabbatical cycle, on the eve of Pesach of the fourth year. Following the distribution of the remaining gifts, the householder declares that he has fulfilled each one of the various commandments relating to agricultural produce in their proper order — therefore, “Look down from the dwelling place of Your holiness from the heavens and bless Your people.” (Deut. 26:13-15). This is known as VIDUI MAASROS, the “confession” over the tithes. This declaration is the opposite of a confession of sin. It is an enumeration of the merits gained by faithful adherence to the commandments of the Torah, like a laborer listing what he has done for his master before inviting his blessing.

With the mitzvah of the first fruits and the commandments relating to the tithes, gifts and consumption of the produce of the Land, the Torah has come the full circle. At the beginning of Genesis, we learned of man’s basic sin, which was bound up with the eating of fruit: the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man took without asking — he stole, with all the consequences. The serpent tricked Adam into taking the fruit, and thereby brought death upon him and robbed him of his blessings. Jacob had to use trickery against Esau and Laban to retrieve the blessings back from the serpent. Jacob’s children had to go down into Egypt in order to rectify all that fell through the eating of the forbidden fruit. They had to endure slavery in order to learn the meaning of freedom and its obligations. Only after much toil and tribulation did they come to the Land, wrest it from and cleanse it of the accursed Canaanites, seed of the serpent, till it, plant and tend it until they saw their first-fruits.

A person inspecting the long-awaited luscious fruits gradually ripening on his tree of figs or pomegranates would tie a thread to mark out the choicest first fruits. Instead of marking them out for his own self-gratification, he would set them aside to present as a gift to the priest at the side of the Temple altar. The first fruits — BIKURIM — relate to the BECHORA, the birth-right, which alludes to CHOCHMAH, “wisdom”. It was wisdom that Adam defiled in taking the forbidden fruit. Esau, embodiment of the serpent, rejected the birth-right of wisdom, but Jacob took it back — and vowed at the site of Adam’s creation to dedicate the choice first tithe to G-d.

The rectification of the trickery of the serpent, which tempts man to make self-gratification his only altar, is through the steady application of the Torah commandments that regulate how and what we take from the world around us, including the very food we put into our mouths. Before we enjoy the fruits of our labors, we must think of the priest, the Levite and the poor, and separate all the obligatory gifts and tithes. The fulfillment of all the relevant commandments elevates and puts blessing into the fruits that remain for our own enjoyment.

In the declarations over the presentation of the first fruits in the Temple and over the separation of gifts and tithes, man uses the unique faculty G-d has given him — speech — as a means of deepening his connection with G-d through heightened consciousness of his identity as an Israelite and as G-d’s servant fulfilling His commandments. Saying “Thank You” to G-d out loud is very important.

Presentation of the first fruits in the Temple is the very first of the agricultural commandments fulfilled by the farmer: he thinks about it while the fruit is still ripening on the tree, before he even begins harvesting. The declaration about tithes comes after an entire cycle of three years of harvests and steady fulfillment of all the intricate details of the commandments applying to the fruits in different years. First comes Terumah, the gift to the priest, and then the First Tithe (Maaser) for the Levite. In the first and second years, the Second Tithe (Maaser Sheni) is to be eaten in purity in Jerusalem by its owner, but in the third year, the owner cannot eat the Second Tithe himself. He must give it to the poor (Maaser Oni). If a person has fulfilled all these commandments in all their details, he is entitled to stand up after all this work and list what he has accomplished.

There is a practical lesson for us here as we stand now in the middle of the month of Elul, the period of TESHUVAH, repentance, self-examination and inner work. Teshuvah is not only a matter of confessing sins. We have all sinned, but we have all done a lot of good too. In looking at ourselves and weighing our lives and behavior, we must give due consideration to all the good things that we do. When we weigh their true worth and importance as acts of loving obedience to the King, it will inspire us to go forward with greater confidence, in the knowledge that if we strive to do His will, He will surely bless us.

* * *

AND TO GO IN HIS WAYS

The last commandment contained in KI TAVO, based on the words “and to go in His ways” (Deut. 26:17) is to model our personal traits on the traits and attributes of G-d. “Just as He is merciful and gracious, so you should be merciful and gracious…” The refinement of our traits is the inner work in the heart that G-d asks of the Israelites, an essential part of the spiritual work of the month of Elul. The repetition of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in the Selichos (penitential prayers) recited in this season comes to arouse us to follow these attributes in our daily lives.

It is indeed the traits of kindness and compassion that are the marks of the true Israelite and the distinctive attributes of AM SEGULAH, the “treasured nation” (Deut. 26:18) whom G-d has chosen to observe His Torah and enjoy its blessings. The very exaltedness of this calling gives Israel a weighty responsibility. Thus the Covenant entails not only privileges and blessings but also heavy sanctions for its infringement. Our parshah impresses upon us the seriousness of the Covenant with its account of the solemn ceremony that was to accompany the people’s entry into the Land. The Torah was to be written on stone, and the twelve tribes were to stand on two mountains adjacent to Shechem, six on each mountain, while the priests and Levites standing in the middle recited a litany of blessings and curses.

The first reference to this ceremony was made at the beginning of parshas RE’EH, which we read four weeks ago, before Moses entered into the details of the law code of the Covenant in the trilogy of RE’EH, SHOFTIM and KI SEITZEI. Now, in KI TAVO, after completion of the law code, the Torah depicts this striking ceremony to impress upon us that Israel’s presence in the Land is not for the sake of having mere territory. The Land is given as the place in which to fulfill the Torah. It is when Israel dwells in the land in order to observe the commandments that they are “for praise and for a name and for glory. a holy nation” (Deut. 26:19).

On entry into the land, they were to set up great stones washed with lime and write the Torah on them “with clear explanation” (Deut. 27:8) — “in the seventy languages” (Rashi ad loc.). The fact that the Torah had to be written in all the languages of the world shows that the presence of Israel in the land is not merely of particular interest to Israel alone but of universal significance for the whole of mankind.

For this reason, the present series of commentaries is entitled UNIVERSAL TORAH even though many sections of the Torah deal with commandments that apply exclusively to Israel and not to the other Children of Noah. Nevertheless, numerous commandments and teachings in the Torah apply to all humanity. Moreover, Israel’s observance of the Torah and their possession of the Land of Israel as the place designed for this are in the interests of the whole of humanity. As expressed in the words of the rabbis, “If the nations understood the value to them of the Holy Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed guards”. All those whose actions and policies obstruct the building of the Temple are doing a terrible disservice to the entire world.

Israel and its people and Jews everywhere are the focus of interest for everyone in the world precisely because of our exalted mission as the Treasured Nation. The history of Israel and the Jews, with its great heights and terrible lows and degradation, is a lesson writ large for all humanity on the righteousness of G-d. He gave a Covenant with blessings and curses, and the infringement of the Covenant has brought all the curses listed in the parshah in all their terrible details.

If so, fulfillment of the Covenant will certainly bring all the amazing blessings listed in our parshah. Our obligation in this generation is to return to the Covenant with all our hearts so that we will rapidly witness the complete redemption, peace for Israel and the spread of the light of the Torah from Zion to the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

Parshas Ki Seitzei

Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.

In the course of history mankind’s most ignoble times have been during war and conflict. It is almost as if we suspend our humanity and regress to our lowest common denominator; that of the wild beast. Murder, rape, and plunder accompany the soldier as he is given license to destroy that which should be most precious. It confirms, as the Torah teaches, that all morals and values rest upon the sanctity of human life. Devalue the pricelessness of life, and you undermine the foundation upon which all values and morals rest. The private domain of person and property then becomes subject to the unleashed amorality of the human animal.

Following the instructions at the end of last weeks Parsha as to how the Jew is to wage war, Moshe, in Parshas Ki Seitsei, presented 74 Mitzvos which highlight the value that the Torah places on the private domain of person and property.

1st Aliya: In an illuminating sequence of emotional and legal circumstances,Moshe forewarned us of the moral and familial dangers of warfare. A soldier brings home a non-Jewish female captive. Disregarding rational and obvious differences, he marries her, has his 1st son with her, and eventually resents the discord he has fostered upon himself, his “captive wife”, and his extended family. Attempting to deny his responsibility in the “resentment turned to hatred” breaking apart his family, he attempts to deny his 1st born son’s rights. This is illegal.

This can Produce the “Rebellious Son”; a child who does not value the private rights of person or property and will eventually be executed for his crimes against society. It’s a tragedy that begs us to consider the long range consequences of our actions before giving legal license to the wild beast within each of us.

2nd Aliya: The laws regarding: hanging and burial; returning lost articles; the fallen animal; transvestitism; and the birds nest are detailed.

3rd Aliya: The laws regarding: guard rails; mixed agriculture; forbidden combinations; Tzitzit; the defamed wife; if the accusations against the wife are true; the penalty for adultery; the rape of a betrothed or unmarried girl; the prohibition against marrying a father’s wife; the Mamzer; and the prohibition against marrying an Ammonite or Moabite are detailed.

4th Aliya: The laws regarding: marriage to Edomites or Egyptians; the sanctity of the army camp; sheltering run away slaves; prostitution; deducted interest; and keeping vows are commanded.

5th and 6th Aliyot:The laws regarding: workers eating while they harvest;divorce and remarriage; military exemptions for a new husband; taking a millstone as security for a loan; the punishment for kidnapping; leprosy; general laws regarding security for loans, are detailed.

7th Aliya: The laws regarding paying wages on time; the testimony of close relatives; concern for the widowed and orphaned; forgotten sheaves of grain; leftover fruit from the harvest; Malkos – flogging; the childless sister-in- law; the assailant and the wife who comes to the rescue; honest weights and measures; and remembering Amalek are commanded.

Isaiah 54:1-10

The Haftorah for this week’s Parsha, Ki Sietzei, was taken from chapter 54 in Yishayuhu. It describes Israel as afflicted barren, and inconsolable in the aftermath of the Temple’s destruction. The Navi assured the People that Hashem’s kindness and love for them is ever present, protecting and sustaining them at all times.

Parashat Ki-Teseh

Parashat Ki-Teseh begins with the exceptional law of “Eshet Yefat Toar,” which deals with the case of a soldier who encounters an attractive foreign woman while fighting a war, and desires her. The Torah allows the soldier in such a case to marry the woman after fulfilling certain conditions. The commentators explain that the Torah enacted this provision because the soldier would otherwise be likely to engage in forbidden relations with the woman. Human nature being as it is, G-d determined that it would be preferable to permit marrying an “Eshet Yefat Toar” so that soldiers would not be tempted to cohabit with women in violation of the law.

This section is followed by another exceptional law – the law of the “Ben Sorer U’moreh,” the rebellious son. The Torah commands that under certain very rare and unusual circumstances, a child who ignores his parents’ authority and conducts himself in an unrestrained manner is put to death. One of the requirements for a child to be considered a “Ben Sorer U’moreh” is “Zolel Ve’sobeh” – that he is a glutton, indulging in meat and wine. The Sages explained that if a boy displays an uncontrolled lust for meat and wine, he will reach the point where he robs and murders in order to obtain the money he needs to satisfy this lust. Therefore, he must be put to death already now, in his youth, to prevent his future criminal behavior.

Our Sages offered an explanation for why the Torah juxtaposed these two subjects – the “Eshet Yefat Toar” and the “Ben Sorer U’moreh.” Namely, the Torah here warns that if a person marries an “Eshet Yefat Toar,” he will end up having a son who is a “Ben Sorer U’moreh.” Although marrying such a woman is technically permissible, it will likely result in the disastrous outcome of a “Ben Sorer U’moreh.”

The obvious question arises as to why this is the case. True, the Mishna teaches us that “Abera Goreret Abera” – one sin leads to another. But in this case, the man did not commit a sin; he married a non-Jewish woman in a permissible fashion, as the Torah prescribed. Why will this result in a wayward, rebellious son?

The answer, as some have suggested, relates to the well-known comments of the Ramban in explaining the Torah’s command in the Book of Vayikra, “Kedoshim Tiheyu” – “You shall be holy.” This command does not require us to immerse in the Mivkeh several times a day or engage in deep mystical activities. Rather, the Ramban explains, it refers to moderation and avoiding excess in our mundane activities. Technically speaking, a person can go to a casino without violating any law in the Shulhan Aruch. He can order strictly glatt kosher food, drink kosher wine that is “Mebushal,” make sure to pray at the proper times, and keep his Kippa and Sisit on. Nevertheless, he has failed to fulfill the Misva of “Kedoshim Tiheyu.” A person can meet the highest standards of Kashrut but live a very unholy life if his life revolves around food and indulgence. Living a “holy” life means setting reasonable limits on our physical indulgence so we can pursue loftier ideals.

This is the problem with the man who marries an “Eshet Yefat Toar.” He has not violated any particular law, but it cannot be considered a “holy” thing to do. And such conduct has a profound effect on his children.

There are two ways to educate children, one of which is very effective, and one of which is very ineffective. The ineffective – but generally more intuitive – way is to tell children what they should do. More often than not, this only triggers resentment and pushback. The effective way to educate children is to model the desired behavior, to show them the right way to act. Children learn far more effectively with their eyes than with their ears. They learn from watching us, not by being told what to do. The expression goes, “Practice what you preach.” I would suggest modifying this expression to read, “Practice, and then you don’t have to preach.” Actions speak louder than words, and so our greatest asset in influencing our children is the personal example we set, exhibiting the kind of behavior we want our children to emulate.

This is why marrying an “Eshet Yefat Toar” can lead to a “Ben Sorer U’moreh.” It sets an example to children of what the Ramban calls, “Nabal Bi’rshut Ha’Torah” – acting improperly within the limits of Torah law. Such a thing is technically permissible, but an inappropriate surrender to desire. A child who grows up in such an environment, where the parents strictly adhere to the nitty gritty of Torah law but overindulge and place too much focus on the physical pleasures of life, can easily become a glutton, and may eventually reach the point where he resorts to criminal behavior to satisfy his lusts.

We need to teach our children not just right from wrong, but also “right from right.” Even within “right” behavior, children must be taught to distinguish between what’s appropriate and what’s not. And the way they learn this distinction is by observing us, their parents, exercising appropriate restraint and maintaining a healthy balance between acceptable enjoyment and excessive indulgence.

Separation of Easter computation from Jewish calendar

The feast of Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, as Christians believe that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus occurred at the time of those observances.

As early as Pope Sixtus I, some Christians had set Easter to a Sunday in the lunar month of Nisan. To determine which lunar month was to be designated as Nisan, Christians relied on the Jewish community. By the later 3rd century some Christians began to express dissatisfaction with what they took to be the disorderly state of the Jewish calendar. They argued that contemporary Jews were identifying the wrong lunar month as the month of Nisan, choosing a month whose 14th day fell before the spring equinox.[50]

Christians, these thinkers argued, should abandon the custom of relying on Jewish informants and instead do their own computations to determine which month should be styled Nisan, setting Easter within this independently computed, Christian Nisan, which would always locate the festival after the equinox. They justified this break with tradition by arguing that it was in fact the contemporary Jewish calendar that had broken with tradition by ignoring the equinox, and that in former times the 14th of Nisan had never preceded the equinox.[51] Others felt that the customary practice of reliance on the Jewish calendar should continue, even if the Jewish computations were in error from a Christian point of view.[52]

The controversy between those who argued for independent computations and those who argued for continued reliance on the Jewish calendar was formally resolved by the Council, which endorsed the independent procedure that had been in use for some time at Rome and Alexandria. Easter was henceforward to be a Sunday in a lunar month chosen according to Christian criteria—in effect, a Christian Nisan—not in the month of Nisan as defined by Jews.[6] Those who argued for continued reliance on the Jewish calendar (called “protopaschites” by later historians) were urged to come around to the majority position. That they did not all immediately do so is revealed by the existence of sermons,[53] canons,[54] and tracts[55]written against the protopaschite practice in the later 4th century.

These two rules, independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the Council. No details for the computation were specified; these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies. (See also Computus and Reform of the date of Easter.) In particular, the Council did not decree that Easter must fall on Sunday. This was already the practice almost everywhere.[56]

Nor did the Council decree that Easter must never coincide with Nisan 14 (the first Day of Unleavened Bread, now commonly called “Passover”) in the Hebrew calendar. By endorsing the move to independent computations, the Council had separated the Easter computation from all dependence, positive or negative, on the Jewish calendar. The “Zonaras proviso”, the claim that Easter must always follow Nisan 14 in the Hebrew calendar, was not formulated until after some centuries. By that time, the accumulation of errors in the Julian solar and lunar calendars had made it the de facto state of affairs that Julian Easter always followed Hebrew Nisan 14.[57]

The Thirteen Principles

13“The outstanding medieval Jewish philosopherMaimonides (Moses ben Maimon; or Rambam, from the initials of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon), 1135-1204, was physician to the Sultan Saladin and communal leader of Egyptian Jewry, as well as an important figure in the codification of Jewish law. His formulation of the basic principles of Judaism in a series of 13 creedal affirmations, in the hope of clarifying the differences between Judaism and both Islam and Christianity, occasioned great controversy when it was first composed; it has since been accepted widely and incorporated into most Jewish prayer books.” 

Maimonides first set down the Thirteen Principles in his commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10. There he called them “roots” or “fundamentals” of Jewish beliefs and of the Torah. 

The Sabbath morning (Shacharit) hymn “Yigdal” [“May he be magnified”], found in Ashkenazi prayer books, is based on the Thirteen.

The following Hebrew text and English translation of the Thirteen Principles were rekeyed from: Joseph H. Hertz, The Authorized Daily Prayer Book (rev. ed.) (New York: Bloch Pub. Co., 1948), pages 248-255. [Each Hebrew & English principle pair is a separate JPG that may be downloaded.]