Friday, January 28, 2011

At what point does Shabbat start?

Officially, Shabbat starts Friday at sunset (sheqi'a). Sunset or sundown occurs when the sun disappears from the horizon. For centuries, it wasn't easy to determine when sunset precisely occurred: it changes virtually every day and if it is a cloudy day, sunset could only be estimated. (See how to find out sunset time, in the link below)
Now, although Shabbat officially begins at sunset, we receive Shabbat earlier than sunset time. Why? Because we have a Mitzva to add time to Shabbat, before it starts and after it finishes. So we take a few minutes before sunset and convert them into Shabbat time, showing our enthusiasm to start Shabbat. And we do the exact same thing at the end of Shabbat, extending Shabbat for a few more minutes, to show that we don't want Shabbat to be over yet.
How long before sunset should we receive Shabbat? Technically, the Mitzva of adding time does not specify how much time to add, as long as we add some time before sunset. The conventional custom, however, is to add 18 minutes before sunset. In most calendars, nowadays, we are given already the time of candle lighting, 18 minutes before sunset. For example: today, Friday January 28th, sunset in NYC is at 5:08, so virtually every calendar will show Candle Lighting time at 4:50 PM (+1/-1min).
In case of any need, however, one can still light the candles, drive or do anything up to five minutes before sunset. (Five minutes is not just an addition but also a safe 'time-buffer-zone').

Candle lighting in NYC: 4:50 PM
Shabbat Ends in NYC: 5:59 PM

You can find out the exact time of sunset (+1/-1 min) checking in any local newspaper,
or online at

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Conquering Lashon haRa impulses

Today is the 22nd day of Shebat , 5771

Consider the following situation: You are at a wedding reception and people at your table begin denigrating someone. One person turns to you and says: "Didn't you go to school with him? Was he always this way?"

Now you are faced with a difficult test. Will you attempt to change the topic, or will you succumb and add your piece of Lashon haRa to the conversation?

A difficult test? Perhaps. But it will surely be made easier if you give thought to the following advice. Take stock of what you are about to do. If you remain strong and refuse to speak Lashon haRa, there may be people who will consider you self-righteous, something that anyone would want to avoid. On the other hand, if you fail and speak Lashon haRa, you will have much more to deal with, for you will feel the guilt of having done something terrible and you will feel ashamed before the King of all Kings, God Almighty.

The Chafetz Chaim quotes the teaching of our Sages: "It is better to be considered a fool (by others) your entire life than to have haShem Almighty have you as a wicked person for even one moment."

Moreover: With time and consistency -if a person refrains from participating in collective Lashon haRa- he might influence and inspire his peers to act in the right way, not with lecturing words but with his own good example.

Adapted from Chafetz Chayim: a daily companion.

Dear readers: For a few days I will be posting HOTD that were sent last year. I hope B'H to resume shortly the regular method.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MONETARY LAWS: The eighth level of Tsedaka

Today is the 21th day of Shebat , 5771

Tsedaka is usually translated as "charity" but in Hebrew, Tsedaka means "justice" or "the practice of social justice". Tsedaka is one of the foundations of Judaism and a Mitzva which should be practiced by all.

When a Jew attends a Minyan every day he has the opportunity to do Tsedaka by giving a small amount of money during vaibarekh David when we mention veAta moshel bakol , " God, You are in control of everything", acknowledging that God is also in control of whatever money I will have at the end of the day. We believe that despite our efforts, God is ultimately in charge of the final balance of our banks accounts. He is in control of all unpredictable variables which can easily increase or decrease our final balance.

A person who does not attend a daily Minyan should still be diligent and put even a small amount of money everyday in a Tsedaka box.

But, is giving a dollar bill or three coins a day the only form of performing the Mitzvah of Tsedaka?

There many ways of doing Tsedaka.

In his Laws of Tsedaka (Matanot Aniyim) Maimonides enumerates eight levels of doing
this Mitzvah.

The first level -the highest- is when one offers someone a job or gives him a loan. By giving a job one is avoiding from the receiver to depend on charity and he is able to earn money by his own . Giving a loan interest-free will help the man in need to stand on his feet and eventually, to be able to repay his debt. These are two examples of doing Tsedaka without causing embarrassment.

"Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime"

TSEDAKA as Justice, by Aish. Click here to read.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The 15th Berakha: Mashiach

Today is the 20th day of Shebat , 5771

et tzemach David abdekha
This berakha ends the sequence of six 'requests' in which we ask God Almighty for our normalization as the nation of Israel. Which will come when the people of Israel will be reestablished in the land of Israel, following the Law of Israel.
The salvation/normalization process will culminate with the coming of the Mashiach.
The Mashiach (Melekh haMashiach) we are waiting for won't be a saint or a son of a god. He will be a King, a Political Leader, like King David, with a total commitment to serve God.
Maimonides mentions the three conditions for a Jewish leader to be 'regarded' as the Mashiach.
First, he needs to be a proven descendant of the lineage of David (today, some families are known descendants of David haMelekh: Maimon, Dayan, Abarbanel among others).
The second condition is that he will be entirely committed to Torah study and observance (hoge baTorah ve'osek bamitzvot) aspiring to establish a Kingdom where Jews will follow God's commandments.
The third condition is that he will be a military man, fighting the wars of Israel (not fighting in a symbolic way, like a 'Salvation Army' but in a real Jewish army).
Everything we know about the Mashiach is learned from Bar Kokhba, who was himslef an heroic commander of the Jewish army in the time of the romans (ca. 150 CE).
If a Jewish leader has these three conditions he could be considered the Mashiach.
If he then brings the Jewish people to the land of Israel and builds the bet haMikdash he is 'declared' the Mashiach.

Recommended reading: 'The Real Messiah?' by Aryeh Kaplan.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024