Saturday, 19 October 2019

Mussar: Speech as a form of Tzedakah

 originally posted July 29, 2012

I just received this beautiful story about RMF using speech as a form of Tzedakah from "Derech Emet"


Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (born 1895, died 1986) was on his way to an important meeting, and was about to enter a car when a. beggar stopped him and asked him for charity.

The Rabbi took out his wallet and gave the man some money, but the poor man was not done yet.

He began talking to the Rabbi, who despite his lack of spare time, listened patiently to the beggar. Eventually,
the poor man left and the Rabbi stepped into the car.

Later on, a student asked him:

"Rabbi, when the man asked you for a donation, could you have just given him one and left? We know how precious your time is to you".

The Rabbi explained:
"On the contrary: My talking to that man was far more important to him. than the money I gave him."

The mitzvah of charity also includes showing the recipient that you are not too busy to listen to him.

SOURCE: Ateres HaShavua, 2008 May 2, Parshat Kedoshim


Shalom and Regards,

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Sukkot & Kohellet

Originally published on 9/30/07, 1:26 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Our Founding Director, Rabbi B. Hecht, wrote in the latest insight:
The difficulty with this answer, though, is that it still does not explain how Kohelet connects with the theme of Succot,
There is a really simple approach to this.

  1. Why is King Shlomoh Called Kohelet?
  2. Why is Kohelet read on Sukkot?
To answer this - I had come up with 2 points years ago. One point had already been published in Midrash Rabba on Kohelet **. [Baruch shkivanti.] Further embellished points emerged in a discussion based upon this model; see below.

Shlomoh was the FIRST king in the Temple. He was thus the FIRST King to perform Mitzvat Hakhel - hence the TITLE Kohelet. When is Hakhel Done? Sukkot. Hence the association with Sukkot. Ad Kahn my contribution

A fellow informed me during a recent conversation that the various parts of Kohellet [apparently he posits that the book is structured in 3 divisions] is that these were Drashot of Shlomoh WHILST conducting Hakhel during his career. [Hence the title of the BOOK.] Eventually, the redactors pasted them together as a single unit and became canonized later one -despite the controversial nature of these drashot.

Of course Rabbi Hecht will note that this post avoid all kinds of complexity. But this leaves the complexities to those addressed by Shlomoh/Kohellet himself.

Hag Sameyach,

** MY Cyber-chaver - R. Gershon Dubin pointed this out to me on the Avodah list MANY years ago! Then I pointed out that the name was explained, but the timing aspect originated with me.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Meaning of Ani Ve-Ho

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                      Ani Ve-Ho”: What is the Meaning of this Cryptic Phrase?

            As part of the Sukkot hoshanot, we recite the request “Ani Ve-Ho Hoshiah Nah.”  This phrase originates in a statement by R. Judah at Mishnah Sukkah 4:5. But what is the meaning of the word Ve-Ho (vav, he, vav) and the entire cryptic phrase? 
            Rashi (Sukkah 45a) suggests that Ani and Ve-Ho (vav, he, vav) are the two of the 72 three-letter Divine names that can be derived from three verses at Exodus 14:19-21.
             But if we look at the standard printed text of the Mishnah in the Jerusalem Talmud, the second word in R. Judah’s statement has four letters:  Ve-Hu (vav, he, vav, aleph). This is the reading in the earliest manuscripts of the Mishnah. It is also the reading in R. Ahai Gaon, in R. Hai Gaon, and in R. Hananel.  In fact, it is the reading in all sources prior to Rashi.
            Almost certainly the four letters vav, he, vav, aleph were the original reading in the Mishnah. Probably, the alternative three-letter reading vav, he, vav arose as an abbreviated form of vav, he, vav, aleph.
              As stated earlier, our first evidence for the reading vav, he, vav is Rashi. This reading likely spread due to his influence and due to the interesting interpretation he provided. Also, ve-ho sounds like the subsequent phrase ho-shiah,  making the erroneous reading sound like it has some validity. There is indeed a rabbinic tradition that pre-dated Rashi that the verses at Exodus 14:19-21 serve as a source for 72 three-letter Divine names. But once we realize that our Mishnah text originally had four letters: vav, he, vav, aleph, then this tradition has nothing to do with our Mishnah.

           So we must now reformulate our original question and ask what is the meaning of R. Judah’s statement  Ani Ve-Hu Hoshiah Nah  (=I and He, Please Save Us)?
            Regarding the word Hu (he, vav, aleph), it has been suggested that it is used as a Divine name, or at least hints to a Divine name, in many Biblical passages. See, e.g, Isaiah 7:14,  Exodus 34:14,  Isaiah 42:8, Isaiah 43:25, and Jeremiah 10:10. Also, at least two passages in Amoraic literature interpret it as an allusion to a Divine name in specific Biblical passages. See Niddah 31a and Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, sec. 13. Thus, a strong argument can be made that he, vav, aleph is a reference to a Divine name in the statement by R. Judah in our Mishnah.

              Regarding the word Ani, one can argue that it alludes to a Divine name in certain verses in the Bible. See, for example, the many Biblical verses that include the phrase Ani Hashem, such as Ex. 12:12 and Is. 42:8. It almost certainly refers to God and alludes to a Divine name in a statement attributed to Hillel at Sukkah 53a: im ani kan, ha-kol kan (=if I am here, everyone is here). In light of this, Hillel’s famous statement: im ein ani li, mi li  (first chapter of Avot) also perhaps should be interpreted as one which alludes to ani as a Divine name.
            Based on all of the above, most likely ani and hu were meant as Divine names in our Mishnah in Sukkah, and R. Judah was merely advocating for an aravah ritual that included the recitation of these names.                                                                 
             The realization that hu sometimes served as a Divine name in early rabbinic literature has implications for our prayers. Consider the line in the Kedushah for Mussaf of Shabbat: hu elokeinu, hu avinu, hu malkenu, hu mosheinu, ve-hu yashmienu. Also, the piyyut  Adir Hu: with its repeated use of hu. Most likely, hu serves as an allusion to the Divine name in these prayers.  (There are many other such examples.)
             Finally, most interesting is a close examination of the daily prayer yehi khevod.  This prayer is composed of eighteen sentences, sixteen of which include the four-letter Divine name. The two sentences that do not are: ki hu amar (Psalms 33:9) and ve-hu rachum … (Psalms 78:38). Is it coincidence that both of these include the word hu, prominently placed? Almost certainly, the author of this collection viewed hu as a Divine name.
             (I have addressed this entire topic in a detailed study in my book Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy (2015).The above was just a brief summary.)
Mitchell First can be reached at  Someone he knows grew up with the tradition that ve-hu was the correct reading, but was serving as the hazzan in an Ashkenazic shul in Teaneck where the congregants were expecting “ve-ho.” What did he do? He skillfully recited the word in an ambiguous manner so it could be understood either way!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Who Authored U-Netaneh Tokef?

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                 Who Authored the Prayer “U-Netanneh Tokef”?

               We have all heard the story of this prayer and R. Amnon of Mainz in the 10th century.  The story is found in the Or Zarua (=R. Isaac of Vienna, c. 1180-1250), Laws of Rosh Hashanah, sec. 276. He tells us that he found it in the writings of R. Ephraim of Bonn. The latter lived in the 12th century. The story is not found in any other early source.
               R. Ephraim tells us that R. Amnon of Mainz was a “gadol ha-dor,”  “ashir u-meyuchas,” “yefeh toar” and “yefeh mareh.“ After repeated attempts by a “hegmon” (=high-ranking Christian general? bishop?) to persuade R. Amnon to accept Christianity, R. Amnon finally asked for three days to consider the matter. He did this just to put him off, but he immediately regretted doing it. R. Amon failed to appear at the appointed time three days later and was brought in by force. Asked why he had failed to keep his promise, R. Amnon pleaded guilty and requested that his tongue be cut out for not refusing at once and giving the impression that he was considering the conversion. The “hegmon” replied: “Not your tongue, but your legs, which did not bring you at the agreed time.” R. Amnon’s legs were amputated and he was tortured further and then sent home. Soon it was Rosh Hashanah and he asked to be brought to the synagogue and placed next to the hazzan.  When it was time for the Kedushah prayer, he recited U-Netanneh Tokef. When he finished, he expired.  Three days later he appeared in a dream to R. Kalonymus b. Meshullam (c. 1000) and taught him the prayer, and asked him to circulate it throughout the Diaspora.
             Do we know anything else about this R. Amnon? Did he really author this prayer, as the story implies?
              Jewish scholarship can now contribute something on the second of these issues. In the Cairo Genizah, a manuscript was discovered that included U-Netanneh Tokef next to a set of other piyyutim by Yannai. Yannai was a paytan in Palestine who was earlier than R. Eleazar Kallir. There are traditions (not necessarily reliable) that he was the teacher of Kallir. In recent decades, scholarship has been able to estimate Kallir’s lifespan as 570-640 C.E. If Yannai was the teacher of Kallir, he would have lived a generation before this. But perhaps he lived a few generations earlier. In any event, most scholars today believe that Yannai was the author of U-Netanneh Tokef.
              Thereafter, there was another important find in the Genizah related to our question: a piyyut by Kallir that took the words of U-Netanneh Tokef and enlarged upon each line. Piyyut expert Shulamit Elitzur has concluded,  “This clearly shows that while Kallir was not the composer of U-Netanneh Tokef, he was familiar with it and it was significant enough in his lifetime that he felt it worthy of being adapted and enlarged upon.“ See the interview of her on in Nov. 2017.
              So it turns out that our piyyut was authored in Palestine several hundred years before R. Amnon! Based on this, some scholars disbelieve the R. Amnon story in its entirety. Others suggest that the lesson of the story is only that R. Amnon introduced the piyyut into the Ashkenazic world.
              What do we know about this R. Amnon of Mainz? Actually, nothing aside from this story! Scholars have observed that “Amnon” is not a name from Germany but a name from Italy. So perhaps he came from Italy (where he may have learned the piyyut, due to the influence of Palestinian practice there) and then taught it to German Jewry.
           It is also important to point out that the piyyut preceding Kedushah has four sections. It seems that what was originally recited, for several hundred years, were these four sections, all composed by Kallir. But the last section, the one that ultimately leads into the Kedushah (the “siluk”), was one in which the angels criticized the Jewish people. It seems that after the First Crusade at the end of the 11th century, U-Netanneh Tokef replaced this last section, as it fit better with the mood of the post-crusade Rhineland communities. (As we all know, it includes language such as:  “who shall live?” and “who shall die.”) As Rabbi Kenneth Brander writes: “It did not seem appropriate to introduce Kedushah with a critique of the Jewish people by the angels when Jews were actively sacrificing their lives and the lives of their families….” See the article by Rabbi Brander in Mitokh Ha-Ohel: Tefillot Yom Tov, pp. 75-86 (2017), at p. 82.  For further reading, see the article by Avraham Frankel in Tziyyon 67 (2002), pp. 125-138.
                 One grammatical point: I always thought that the word “u-netanneh” came from the root N-T- N= give. But really the root of this word is T-N-H=tell. The initial “nun” just indicates: let us tell.
                 What is most interesting is that one thousand years later Menachem Begin cited the R. Amnon story in his negotiations at Camp David with President Carter. Carter wanted Begin to discuss the issue of dividing Jerusalem, but when Carter broached the topic, Begin related our story to him. The lesson of the story was that R. Amnon regretted having done anything at all that might be interpreted as  considering the unthinkable. Carter understood that Begin was making it clear that he would not make R. Amnon’s mistake. Carter shared the story with Sadat and the issue of Jerusalem was dropped. See D. Gordis, Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul, pp. 173-74. (If we allow for the small possibility that the R. Amnon story never happened, perhaps the story arose just so that Begin could cite it to Carter and keep Jerusalem off the table!)
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar, and can be reached at He wishes all his readers an easy and meaningful fast.