Friday, July 19, 2013

zekher lahurban: Remembering His house in our homes

As we have explained yesterday, the Rabbis enacted a number of ordinances in order to remind us of the destruction of the Holy Temple. The underlying principle is that when a person has the good fortune of arriving at some occasion that gives him a sense of gratification, he must remember that his joy is incomplete, for the Temple still lies in ruins.

Therefore, the sages instituted that when a person builds a house for himself and arrives at its final stage, the whitewashing of the walls, he must remember that the house of the nation, the Holy Temple, still lies in ruins. And in remembrance of the destruction of the Holy Temple he must leave a square cubit of wall unwhitewashed.

A cubit is approximately half a meter, or 1.5 ft, and therefore, in practice, a square half meter of wall must be left without whitewash. Similarly, if a person covers his walls with wallpaper, he must leave a square half meter of wall without whitewash and without wallpaper. If possible, the unwhitewashed space should be situated on the wall opposite the entrance so that whoever enters the house can see it. 

When one does not build a house but buys a house from someone else, does he need to scrape off some of the wall in order to uncover a square cubit?

It depends. If the person who built the house was a Jew, he was obligated to leave a square cubit of wall unwhitewashed. Therefore, If he did not do so, the buyer must now scrape off the whitewash. However, if the original owner was a non-Jew, he was not obligated to leave an unwhitewashed area, and the buyer is exempt from scraping off a square cubit of whitewash (shulhan 'arukh, OH 560:1. For more details read here Rabbi E. Melamed, penine halakha).

I think that in this last case and in every other case when technically there is no obligation to scrape off the wall, it would be proper to hang a picture or a decorative painting of Yerushalayim or the Bet haMiqdash to educate ourselves and our children to remember the Hurban. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC:   8:03 pm
Shabbat ends in NYC:     9:03 pm

Click here to read

"EU's broken Mideast compass"

Boycott of Israel cheap way to score points with oil-producing Arab states and Europe's Muslim population

by Noah Beck

Thursday, July 18, 2013

zekher lahurban: Finding the delicate balance

In the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple a great change took place in Am Israel. It seemed as if after the destruction and exile it would no longer be able to continue living in a normal manner.

The Talmud relates (Baba Batra 60b):

"When the Temple was destroyed for the second time (68 CE), many Jews became ascetics, depriving themselves from eating meat or drinking wine. Rabbi Yehoshua said to them, 'My sons, why do you not eat meat nor drink wine?'

They replied: 'Shall we eat meat which used to be brought as an offering on the altar, now that the holy altar is in ruins? Shall we drink wine which used to be poured as a libation on the altar? '

He said to them: 'If that is so, we should not eat bread either, because the bread offering  (lehem hapanim) has ceased too.'

They said: '[You are right! We won't eat bread either] we can manage with fruit.'

'We should not eat fruit either, [he said,] because there is no longer an offering of the first fruits (bikurim).'

'Then we can manage with other fruits [like vegetables and legumes, they said].'

'But, [he said,] we should not drink water either, because the ceremony of the pouring of water (nisukh hamayim) has been discontinued as well.'

To this they could find no answer, so he said to them: 'My sons, come and listen to me. Not to mourn at all is impossible... To mourn too much is also impossible, because we should not impose on the community a restriction which the majority of the people are not able to follow."

R' Yehoshua continued and explained to them that the principle is that life must go on. We cannot allow our great mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple to cause a state of eternal national depression. It is therefore impossible to institute that so long as the Temple sits in ruin it is forbidden to consume meat or drink wine. However there are some symbolic things that we will do to recall the destruction of the Holy Temple. For so long as the Temple is in ruins our joy is still not complete.

Therefore, the sages taught that when a person builds a house he must leave a square cubit of a wall without whitewash in remembrance of the Temple's destruction. On his wedding day a groom must place Jerusalem above his highest joy and put ash on his head as a sign of mourning. Likewise, when preparing a celebratory meal, one must leave out one cooked food in remembrance of the Temple's destruction.

Don't miss this!
William H. Seward's travelogue describes Friday Night Services at the Western Wall. 
By Lenny Ben David from Aish

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

10th of Ab: Post Tish'a beAb traditions

The Talmud (ta'anit 29a) explains that the Babylonians captured the Temple on the Seventh of Ab and on the Ninth, after desecrating and ransacking all its material valuables, they set the Sanctuary ablaze on the afternoon of the Ninth of Ab . The Sanctuary (hekhal) continued to burn for a whole day, until the evening of the 10th of Ab. 

Because of this  Rabbi Yohanan declared that had he been alive at the time of the destruction of the First Bet haMiqdash (586 BCE) he would have declared the fast on the Tenth of Ab, rather than the Ninth. He felt that the main mourning should be on the day that the Bet haMiqdash was actually destroyed rather than on the day that the tragedy began. Jewish practice, however, did not follow Rabbi Yohanan's view and the Rabbis established that the main observance of mourning is on the Ninth, when the destruction began. 

Nevertheless, during the Tenth of Ab (today) we still observe some customs of mourning.

The shulhan 'arukh (558:1) mentions that it is customary to avoid eating meat during the night and the day of the Tenth of Ab. According to other opinions this restrictions applies only until midday (hatzot, in NYC 1:01pm today), and this is the prevalent practice among most Sephardim and Ashkenazim.   

Even thought our mourning for the Bet haMiqdash ends after the 9th of Ab our Rabbis mentioned a few traditions to be kept year-round as a permanent reminder of the destruction of our Temple (zekher lachurban).   

The first custom mentioned by the Shulhan 'arukh (560:1) is that when a Jewish family builds its house they should leave at the entrance of the house, in front of the entrance door,  an unfinished and unpainted square on the wall (roughly, 1.5ft by 1.5ft) to remember Yerushalayim.  

(To be continued B'H tomorrow)

Read  here
Zimmerman Acquittal
(and the invisible Gorilla) 
It's not easy to have the humility to say we don't know
by Yvette Alt Miller, from Aish

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

9 of Ab: Food for thought for a day of fasting

Today is a day of mourning. We cry for the destruction of our Temples and other tragedies that befell us.  But today is also a day of repentance and introspection. Today we need to ask ourselves a pointing  question:  ekha, which means "How". How did all this happen?  How did it happen that we lost our Bet haMiqdash? How did it happen that our God abandoned us and did not protect us from our enemies? 

The Rabbis explained that at the time of the destruction of the First Bet haMiqdash (ca. 586 BCE) the Jews were engaged in the three capital sins: idolatry, murder and promiscuity. Eventually, after 70 years in exile they came back to HaShem. They repented. They changed their behavior. And HaShem accepted their Teshuba and granted them the opportunity to build the Second Bet haMiqdash.

The second Bet haMikdash was destroyed almost 2000 years ago (68 ACE). The Rabbis explained that the Jews of that time were meticulously observant of all ritual laws. But they hated each other (sin-at Hiram). They would humiliate each other publicly and no one would react to defend the victim. They would speak Lashon haRa (slander), sowing the seeds of hostility against each other without any remorse.  They would show disrespect and intolerance. They were jealous of each other and divided among themselves. 

This behavior caused the Presence of God to abandon us. Without God's Presence the Bet haMiqdash was just a shaky structure of bricks and stones. A fragile house or cards that would inevitably collapse. Without God's Presence we were an easy prey to our eternal enemies.  But we caused the Presence of God to leave. 

Now, we still don't have our Third Bet haMiqdash. We have not have a divine-guided opportunity to restore the House of haShem. Is that because this time God is rejecting our repentance? Or perhaps because we have not repented yet, and we are still engaged in the same type of sins our ancestors practiced  2000 years ago.

Have we corrected our social misdeeds? Have we become intolerant of injustice, slander, senseless hatred and endless divisions? Or perhaps all these terrible sins have become an acceptable behavior. Our new normal. 

Certainly, only when we will become more united, tolerant and respectful of each other haShem will forgive us, embrace us again and lead us to rebuild the Third Bet haMiqdash.  

It all starts by realizing that it is up to us. 

May we all have an easy and meaningful fast day 

שנזכה לראות בנחמת ציון וירושלים בב"א

Due to the expected hot weather in NY today people are advised to take extra precautions to prevent dehydration. Avoid exposure to the sun or heat. Symptoms of dehydration are: vomiting, feeling very nauseated or very weak or light headed, despite lying down.   If you feel any symptom of dehydration you should break the fast immediately. 

See  here who is exempt from fasting on Tish'a be-Ab? 

See   here   "Restrictions on Tish'a be-Ab" (part 1) 

See   here  "Restrictions on Tish'a be-Ab" (part 2) 

See   here "What happened on Tish'a be-Ab?

Monday, July 15, 2013

9 of Ab: preparing ourselves for 24 hours of mourning and fasting

Tish'a beAb, our national day of mourning, begins tonight Monday July 15th. In NYC the fast begins at 8:16pm and ends at 8:45pm (some communities have different times). 

This afternoon around 7:00pm we do the seu'da mafseqet, the last meal before the day-long fast.

This is virtually 'a mourners meal' and should consist of bread, eggs, lentils and water.  In some communities they would also serve rice with lentils or other variations. 

What make this meal special is that:

1. We abstain from eating two different cooked dishes to express a mood of austerity by consuming only what is needed to endure the fast (Raw vegetables and fruits are not restricted). 

2. The ancient custom is that everyone eats in solitude, with nozimun, sitting on the floor or on a low chair, like mourners do.

For Arbit, we chant the prayers with a sad tune, starting with 'al neharot babel, the Psalm of the mourners for the Bet haMiqdash. In many Sephardic communities the Shema Israel is said with a sad intonation, instead of the regular ta'amim .

Then, we read Megilat Ekha, the book of Lamentations written by the Prophet Yrmiyahu in the aftermath of the destruction of the first Temple. You can find Megillat Ekha with ta'amim  here.

Then, we recite the Kinot. The Kinot are poems which describe different tragedies that we endured throughout our history.

At the end of the Kinot, sitting on the floor, with all lights dimmed, we declare with sadness: "Listen, oh our brothers of the house of we count ... 1945 years from the destruction of our Bet haMiqdash...."  (According to the traditional Sephardic account the second bet haMiqdash was destroyed 1945 years ago, in the year 68 of the Common Era).
May we all have an easy and meaningful fast.

May this be the last year we mourn for our Bet haMiqdash!

 See  here who is exempt from fasting on Tish'a be-Ab? 

See   here   "Restrictions on Tish'a be-Ab" (part 1) 

See   here  "Restrictions on Tish'a be-Ab" (part 2) 

See   here "What happened on Tish'a be-Ab?" 

Due to the expected hot weather in NY tomorrow people should take extra precautions to avoid dehydration. Like not been exposed to the sun and heat. Symptoms of dehydration are: vomiting, feeling very nauseated or very weak or light headed, despite lying down.