Monday 29 September 2008

Machnisei Rachamim Apologetics - Reprint

Mon, 02 Oct 2000 12:45:40 EDT
From: Richard Wolpoe
Machnisei Rachamim Apologetics

There is a "machlokes" whether or not to recite Machnisei Rachamim. Those in favor probably rely upon tradition that it is ok.

Those who omit it, cite the Rambam's 5th principle of Addressing our Prayers to G-d along and not to agents or angels.

The following post is based upon the premise that Machnisei is OK to recite, while still respecting the Rambam's premise. Moreover we can appreciate the elegance of a poem w/o necessarily being offended not buying into its apparent premise.

There is an old joke about 2 litigants coming to a rabbi to decide their dispute. Litigant #1 recites his side and the rabbi answers:" You know you're right." Then litigant #2 recites his counter-complaints and to him the rabbis also responds You know you're right." The rebbetzin overhearing this asks: "how can they BOTH be right?". To which the rabbi answers "You know you're right too!"

In this spirit I will endeavor to make both sides right. You might quibble with some specifics, nevertheless don't dismiss the approach, because it is in the spirit of Eilu v'eilu.

Since we enjoy stories, here is another:

There was a very shy fellow named Abraham who was assigned to address a large audience of about 1,000. With his meek voice, he was unable to be heard. In order to assist him, a fellow named Eliezer was recruited to install and monitor a sound system.

During a practice run, Abraham began speaking w/o the mike. "Speak into the Microphone," advised Eliezer. Before long Eliezer explained the advanced electronics, of how the mike went into a wire into an amp into speakers, etc. So Abraham started saying "Dear Microphone please tell the wire to tell the amp to tell the speakers to tell the audience that...". "No no," advised Eliezer. "when you speak into the mike, all the electronics should be ignored as transparent to the user. Even though you are speaking into a mike, address the audience directly. ONLY the audience should be the subject of your address!"
And so it was. Abraham addressed the audience via the electronic system and things went smoothly.

One day, Eliezer caught he flu and was unable to assist Abraham's broadcast. Feebly, Abraham set up the sound system and did what he could. His address went OK, but it was clear that Eliezer was a wizard at electronics and had been using sophisticated techniques of raising and lowering the volume to make Abraham's speech all the more effective. At the end of Abraham's address, he uttered a prayer that had nothing to do with the content of his speech. Abraham asked, "Please restore Eliezer to health, Please have the mikes and speakers work optimally. Please fine-tune the sound system, etc."

Abraham was not addressing the sound system in order to deliver the CONTENTS of his speech. Rather now Abraham was requesting intercession that the sound system OPTIMIZE the impact of his speech.

Those who recite Machnisei Rachamim are not praying to Agents in terms of a prayer. They are requesting aid and assistance that the prayers get delivered OK. Another example: I might address a package to President Clinton in the White House and as an aside I can tell the postman to be very careful in handling the parcel...

So on one level, Machnisei Rachamim is not objectionable at all, it is not truly a prayer to a "being other than G-d" rather it is just a request that those agents do their tasks well in order to deliver the precious parcel of prayers.

On another level, those who do object to Machnisei Rachamim can rightfully cite that on a plain level, it is phrased as a request to being other than G-d and had no place in a Tefillah, either because of how it is appears as peshat or because the unsophisticated might not get the nuance and distinction made above and therefore it is better omitted.

Machnisei is therefore both OK and objectionable, just on different planes of reference.

Shana Tova

Sunday 28 September 2008

Rosh Hashanah: Dveikut and Shlaimut

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the Rosh Hashanah, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.
The focus of Rosh Hashanah, of course, would seem to be teshuva, repentance, yet the behaviour of the day would seem to focus on tephilla, prayer. While a connection between the two in the context of the day is understandable -- they are two of the three elements that can avert a negative decree (the other being tzedakah, charity) -- there may be more to this connecton than one may at first think. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Tuesday 23 September 2008

9-11 Ramblings

Question: How Come I am posting TODAY? 9-11 was weeks ago?
Answer: Today is the HEBREW Yahrzeit of 9-11 the 23rd of Ellul.

Several Disjointed Ramblings
  • In the USA 911 is the Emergency Phone Number. The date indicated the emergency indeed. { a Friend pointed this out to me the day it happened.]

  • In Israel/Europe/Canada the date is 11/9. If you use this to make a flip-flop into Hebrew then the 11th month is Av and 11-9 could indicate Tisha B'av. Kinda weird!

  • When my shul COS was still standing, 2 survivors came to shul to bench gomel. One was a Fire Department EMT from Chinatown which is the 2nd closest station to the World Trade Center. I asked him to address the shul on that Shabbos - the one AFTER 9-11 and preceding Rosh Hashana. {as in 2008, 9/11 was a Tuesday and so was RH] H related the horrors because he saw the first tower minutes after it was hit and he was there in person when the 2nd tower was hit as well as when both towers fell. Although he benched Gomel on that Shabbas but once, he related that he said Sh'ma Yisrael 3 times that morning.

  • Another scary thought. In the viduy of Yom Kippur the 4 methods of capital punishment are listed. Sqilah Sreifa etc. There is a machloqet [a dispute] which is the more sever form of death s'qilah or s'reifa. Concerning 9/11, we were discussing the horror when it occurred to one of us that the victimes were faced with this very morbid choice. I.E. to jump would be death by s'qilah [those executed by s'qilah were eushed off a cliff before they were stoned!] and to remain in the burning inferno was to suffer death by s'reifa. From a Traditional Jewish perspective This brought a very horrific, extreme, morbidity to the nature of the deaths involved. I.E. all those who perished did so by the most extreme forms of death in our lore.

  • Some of the far-sighted victims tried to call their spouses by cell phone before dying in order to prevent their spouses from becoming Agunot. How poignant that must have been!

  • Moreover, those who came late to work that morning due to saying S'lichot were saved. How weird is THAT?
Shana Tova

Fwd: Dots Missing on Lanu Ulevaneinu

I was leining Mincha in shul last Shabbos and the 11 dots were all missing on Lanu ulevanua...
AFAIK thsi does not make the Torah Pe'sullah, but does anyone know for sure?

Humorous aside:
One of the members of the shul commented " the dots were there but jsut hidden because the passuk starts with Hanistarot"
When I repeated this to another rabbi, he answered but it also says BEFORE the dots: V'haniglot!

Kesiva vaChasima Tova
Best Wishes for the New Year 5769

Sunday 21 September 2008

Parshah: Ki Tavo - Arami Oved Avi

Originally published 9/21/08, 1:42 AM.
Why did Chazal choose Arami Oved Avi to illustrate the Central of Exodus in the Haggadah as opposed to - for example - Parshat Bo. There is a Tosefta (Peshachim 10:8) that states: "Those who live the in the city and have nobody to recite Hallel would gather in the shul".

Question: How would you know how to lead a Seder without knowing how to lead Hallel?
Answer It used to be that all farmers, when they brought the Bikurim, the first fruit, would say Arami Oved Avi. So Chazal chose Arami Oved Avi to explain the exodus because every farmer in Israel would be familiar with Arami Oved Avi when they brought the bikkurim to the Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalyim. And therefore,

1. We can understand why Hazal picked this Parsha
2. It also serves to explain how a Leader at the Seder could be familiar with Arami Oved Avi yet still not be familiar with how to conduct the Hallel

[Using AOL due to technical difficulties]

Friday 19 September 2008

Gabbai Redemption - Sammy G.

Sammy G. My friend the Gabbai and I had a discussion as follows:

RRW: Sammy I was sorry to see you te victim of abuse a few weeks ago. Do you have any positve or favourable stories to lend?
Sammy G:Yes I do. I think you might like this one
RRW: Go on, pray tell
Sammy: Once I was Gabbai for ma'ariv and I waited for most of the people to finish. An old timer Z'ev called me on the carpet. he said that the Rabbi said to wait ONLY for the first 10 to finish and and no more.
RRW: So what's the good news?
Sammy: days later he apologized and said: After all it was MY show so he should not have 2nd guesed me. At last some consideration.
RRW: I'll say, but why did you not follow the Rabbi's rule?
Sammy: someimtes you need to be flexible. Usually we only have 10-15 people. So to wait for the first 10 is enough. But lets' say ther are 22 people? Am I gooing to wait for ONLY the first 10- and leave a MAJORITY stil saying shmone esrai? Of course, not. So I ws not arguin with the Rabbi Chalilah. Just that his rule was for the typcial case. I made an exceptoin because we had a bigger crowed than usual that night
RRW: I see that it kinda makes sense after all
Sammy G. Exactly. but even though Z'ev did not get the REAL reason, at least he realized that I was doing it for SOME reason and to give me the benfit of the doubt. Z'ev is a real mensch in the end. I wish others could admit their mistakes, or at least see the other side.
RRW: yes, I want to post on this further on re: middos.

Ki Tavo: Free Choice

Originally published 9/19/08, 12:33 PM.
From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.
This week's parsha is Ki Tavo and the topic is free choice. So often, people use the argument of free choice to explain why knowledge of God is not clear -- for it it was, we would not have free choice but would clearly not sin -- and/or to contend that there can be no consequences for our actions -- for if there were, we would not have free choice as, for sure, we would do what is good for us. If one considers the brachot and klalot in the Torah, though, one must recognize that free choice exists even when knowledge of God is absolute and the recognition of the consequences of one's actions, even the punishment for sins, is clear and accepted. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Self and Torah

In my latest Commentary article, Footsteps - Chanoch L'Na'ar Al Pi Darcho - which can be accessed through the home page on the Nishma website, -- in discussing the movement of individuals out of the Charedi community, I raised the issue of the relationship between human nature and the observance of Torah. The resulting bottom line question would be whether the observance of Torah is suppose to result in one being happy.

If one assumes that human nature is dominated by the drives that generally result in not abiding by Torah and if we define happiness as a consequence of the satisfaction of our human nature, then we can say that observing Torah will not generally make us happy. If, on the other hand, we maintain that human nature is actually more in line with the drives that are connected with the observance of Torah, then observing Torah will make people happy. What if, though, human nature cannot so easily be defined? What if aspects of human nature are in the former category and aspects are in the latter? What if, on a more basic level, the two categories are actually very difficult to define.

There are those who maintain that happiness is not necessarily suppose to be a factor in relating to our observance of Torah. We do Torah -- whether it makes us happy or not, whether it is a reflection of our personal nature, is not an important issue. There are those who maintain that Torah, though, is indeed suppose to make us happy, being happy is even a value to search for in our observance of mitzvot. There are, though, two ways of understanding this perception. One is by defining human nature in such a way as yielding a certain form of mitzvah obsevance and arguing that all people, or specifically all Jews, inherently possess this nature. Thus in stating one should be happy in doing mitzvot, one is actually also being told to get in touch with his/her true nature which is the nature that would find happiness in this behaviout. But this may not be the only understanding of how one is to find happiness within Torah observance. Perhaps, in directing people to be happy in observing Torah, they are being directed to bring their self in their observance of Torah.

We can question whether human nature is to connect with Torah or not. If we believe it should -- and thus happiness is a factor in Torah observance -- there are two ways of approaching this directive. One is by believing that just as Torah observance has one standard, all human beings should ideallly have one common nature that is in line with this standard. The belief would thus either be that all people really do have this common nature, they just have to get in touch with it or all people can develop this nature. they just have to change themselves to adopt it -- and the job of someone trying to bring them to this happiness level would be to make them realize and recognize or move toward this common. nature of all people.

But there could be another understanding of the goal of Torah observance being pleasant or resulting in individual happiness. Torah observance is not built on one standard but there are many different ways of bringing Torah observance into fruition. If so, in stating that happiness is a factor to considered in Torah observance, we must bring our personal and distinct human nature, our self, into the analysis of how we should observe Torah. This is, I'll admit, inherently risky and over application of this principle could result in halachic decision making losing its necessary objective base. There is also obviously a role of Torah in refining our natures, our selves, our drives. Yet, if happiness is to be a factor is our observance of Torah, it may not mean that we all have to adopt the same standard and the same nature but what it may really mean is that the Torah does present shivim panim, 70 faces that reflect different paths within Torah, because the unique self of every individual is to fine the path of Torah that is specifically suited to him/her.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 14 September 2008

Parshah Ki Teitzie 9/11, Amaleik, Honesty and Anti-Semitism

Originally published 9/14/08, 2:24 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
The juxtaposition of honest weights and measures has been used by Hazal to be a causal connexion.; viz. when Jews are dishonest in business the spectre of Amaleik rears its ugly head. And I have heard similar statements by Holocaust survivors. Supposedly, Anwar Sadat had anti-Semitic feelings due to being ripped off as a youngster by a Jewish businessman.

So be it.

But I would like to suggest as slight nuance shift. The concept that dishonesty in business triggers Anti-Semitism or Amaleik is difficult to perceive. How can the simple act of being dishonest bring about full-fledged persecution?

I would suggest an alternative way of understanding this point. I.E. that there are Latent Anti-Semites all over the place. However, when we Jews behave ourselves we merit Divine Protection. However, when we Misbehave we are stripped of this special shield and we are now VULNERABLE to Amaleik or Anti-Semitism. This might be viewed as a form of negative re-enforcement philosophically speaking; nevertheless in pragmatic and historical terms this can explain how a relatively minor infraction can trigger such a virulent response.

The late Jerry Falwell and other Christian Leaders voiced a similar point of view [POV] with regard to 9-11. and that is normally America merits Divine Protection but for some misbehaviour this Divine Shield was removed. In the case of the Christian Right, that was attributed to Sexual deviance, etc. While the specifc attribution might betray a right-wing or Fundamentalist mindset, the concept of Divine Protection being removed is IMHO indeed a very legitimate Jewish, Midrashic concept. In the case of us Jews, the shield subject to business practices. Woe unto us re: some recent allegations re: some prominent Jewish Businesses.

In the case of America I have no idea which sin was the egregious one that removed this Divine Protection. Perhaps the Christian Right has it right, but it is also possible it has it wrong. If the Dor Hamabbul is a precedent for the world at large, the issue would be "hamas" or a form of thievery - not sexual deviancy. Neverthless. the impact is similar, i.e. that any catastrophe must bring about active introspection and is a call for self-improvement regardless of the specific shortcoming. To put it another way. the Christian Right might have the specific misdeed all wrong but could also be 100% correct that SOME misdeed permitted this plot to succeed and we are therefore impelled to take this as a wake up call.

With thoughts of Elul time Teshuva,

Friday 12 September 2008

Ki Teitzei: War and the Innocent Bystander

Originally published 9/12/08, 1:06 PM.
From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.
This week's parsha is Ki Teitzei and the topic is civilain caualties in war. The issue is the concern and treatment of civilians in a battle situation. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Sunday 7 September 2008

Ledovid Hashem Ori - Making sense out of Minhag

Forwarded with permission from the Author
to me the issue can be sujmmarized as below

I suppose that one's attitude to this will be a function of one's attitude to minhag in general. Do we follow minhag no matter what, or does it need to make sense to me before I adopt it.


We have been discussing the minhag of reciting l'Dovid Hashem Ori at this time of year, and specifically whether it should be said after mincha or after maariv.


I think the divergence in minhagim (after mincha vs.after maariv) is linked to the different minhagim with regard to when to daven maariv. In Ashkenaz, where mincha and maariv were davened together before dark, the end of the service was after maariv. Aleinu was not recited between mincha and maariv. Therefore, l'dovid was added after maariv. This also explains why kehillos Ashkenaz blow the shofar after maariv. In our shul, we have both an early and a later maariv, so the shofar is only blown after the first maariv. By contrast, in places where there was a break between mincha and maariv, l'Dovid was recited after mincha. Of course, my analysis does not preclude RYBS's explanation.

It has always occurred to me that the Mishna Berura, who mentions that l'Dovid is recited after mincha, was reflecting the local minhag Polin where he lived. R. YH Henkin and RMB have pointed out the AhS better reflects minhag Lita than the MB.

Another problematic aspect of the custom to say l'Dovid is that the Gra objected to incorporating any extra chapters of Tehillim in davenen other than shir shel yom, and even then, only one shir (eg on RH). Therefore, the Gaon (in accordance with minhag Ashkenaz) did not say mizmor shir chanukas habayis before p’sukei d’zimra. That being said, the same minhag Frankfurt that does not add L’dovid HaShem Ori or Mizmor Shir Chanukas bayis does add a chapter of Tehillim after shacharis (mizmor l’asaf) and others following maariv.

I stopped saying l'Dovid when I was alerted to the Sabbatean origins of the custom to say it at this time of year. R. M Gluck wrote that he will keep saying it because it has become the minhag. I suppose that one's attitude to this will be a function of one's attitude to minhag in general. Do we follow minhag no matter what, or does it need to make sense to me before I adopt it. Of course, there is a middle ground between those two poles. As far as my position is concerned, it depends which day you catch me on.

Kol tuv
Dov Kay

Rabbi Rackman's Hafka'at Kiddushin - a Brief Comment

After a long debate re: the issue - Does Rabbi Rackman [RER] have a right to annul marriages in this day and age?

The Salient question can be summarized as follows:

"Would you, Madam, have agreed to marry this man knowing that he was a "Sarvan-Get?"*
Or IOW assuming no untoward Behavioural changes, this one question would by itself determine a Mikach Ta'ut - an invalid, and therebyvoidable transaction retroactively - at least from RER's perspective.

Many of us - including myslef -would quibble with such a radical, non-Traditional application of such principles w/o solid Rabbinical Precedent, but, truth be told this position is not as radical as many others that have been advocated in Halachic writings.

* - A man who refuses to give a Get when ordered or to appear before a Beth Din to submit to their psaq.


Some Contradictions - Introducing Shloyme

Dear Bloggers,
Amongst my Chevra is a young man named Shloyme who went through the standard MO day School system and then learnt in Israel for several years. Being a highly unique individual he is filled with questions. For some reaons, he has noticed both writings and is obsessed with seeing things as consistent. He probably learned a lot of Tosafos! Anyway he has engaged me in a few discussion and I am at liberty to share them with you becuase Shloyme is not his real name anyway.

Shloyme: I don't get it, isn't the Rav the last word at YU?
RRW: no not necessarily so. They did NOT folow all of his minhaggim at YU when I was there.
Shloyme: But I read in the YU papaers that they did NOT allow Stern to have women lein Megillah for other women because it was against the Rav's p'saq.
RRW: Yes I saw that, too
Shloyme: But Rav Shachter set up an Eruv at YU even though the Rav was opposed to an Eruv there or anyewher in Manhattan as far as I know.
RRW: That is true, what's your point Shloyme?
Shloyme: My point is: when it comes to women NOT leining Megillah, the Rav trumps all of the posqim who DO allow a woman to lein for other owman [see list in Beis Ysoef]. But when it comes to s'fiek Hillul Shabbos, the Rav's Humros are set aside and he is ignored, and poof, up goes the Eruv!
RRW: yes, Indeed one of hte Rav's talmiddim [since deceased] once bemoaned this to me in the Breuer Sukkah how the Rav is "rolling in his grave" about the way his opinions were ignored re: the Eruv. That said, I am really not too familiar with Eruvin to make any comment. BEH I will be spending some time learning more about ERuvin in 5769. *
Shloyme: And re: hilchos Megillah? What is your position there?
RRW: Well I DID researxch this and I read the definite scholarly article by Rabbi Avi Weiss years ago. My take is as follows
  • Rishonim: the dispute is women leingin for men. All Rishonim allow women to lein for women [see Aforementioned Beis yosef]
  • Acharonim: All of a sudden NEW humros abound and the argument morphed to women cannot lein for men at all and it is NOW a machlokes about women leiningn for women!
Shloyme: Nu, so what changed?
RRW: I am not sure. There are a LOT of changes that Acharaonim have made to Halachah and Minhag and many of them seems strange to me. But to be fair, I've been told that the Rishonim changed a lot from the Ga'onim, too.
Shloyme: and So bottom line, what is your position re: a woman leing for a woman?
RRW: I see no problem. I saw the Rav's postion following the Magein Avraham but - since the RAv is a GRAnick - I am surprised that the Rav went into that direction and did not stick closer to the simple Talmudic texts which are far more ligberal. It kinda surprises me, to tell you the truth. I guess I see a bit of inconsistency here after all. Sh'koach Shloyme!


Friday 5 September 2008

Shoftim: The False Prophet

Originally published 9/5/08, 9:57 AM.
From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Shoftim and the topic is the the navi sheker, the false prophet. The issue is not solely the person who lies about speaking in the name of God but the issue is also the message. The issue concerns any distortion of Torah. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Tuesday 2 September 2008

The Palin Pregnancy

Sarah Palin, the soon-to-be Republican candidate for Vice-President of the U.S., was chosen by John McCain supposedly to secure the more conservative elements of the party. She is described as a social conservative; one who has adopted and represents the more right wing positions on social ethics and morality. In other words, she is for family values and pro-life. It is within this background that the announcement of her unmarried teenage daughter's pregnancy is most interesting -- and may actually bring out a most interesting Torah perception.

The fact that Bristol Palin is both pregnant and will keep the baby presents a most interesting contradiction in the moral workings of what we may term "social conservatives." On one hand, she is a teenager pregnant out of wedlock. What does that say about her values? What does that say about her parents and how they raised her? This would seem to be a black mark against Gov. Palin -- her own teenage daughter has had sex. Yet watch what is happening to temper this and even turn it around to be a moral example for this political group. First, she is going to marry the father. What does that say? Well it says that, at least, her sexual encounter was not fully promiscuous, i.e. that she sleeps around. If she is going to marry the father, we can assume that there is a relationship -- and while that doesn't justify pre-marital relations, even to people in the right wing, it does temper it. But that is not the real point. The fact is that she is going to keep the baby. She is an example of pro-choice -- and now becomes an example of Gov. Palin's values.

In keeping the baby, Bristol Palin becomes a living example of the values of pro-life and an example of what her mother believes. She now becomes an example of proper upbringing, of being taught proper values. The Palin family now also becomes an example of what a family must do to ensure that a pregnant daughter keeps the baby. All the right things are being said. Of course it will be hard on the family, but this is what a loving family must do. Of course it will be hard on the daughter but doing the right thing can be hard -- and that is why it is most important for the family to stand with their daughter...and not chastise her for having had sex. The Bristol Palin pregnancy now becomes an example of pro-life. And watch the challenges of pro-choice advocates. Doesn't pro choice also mean respecting and supporting a woman who does decide to keep the baby?

So what would have seemed to be a moral black mark against Gov. Palin, now becomes a potential moral example. She is pro-life and is willing to accept the responsibilities that go with this opinion. The problem is that she is Catholic -- a devout Catholic from what I read -- so the fact that her teenage daughter slept with her boyfriend still does raise some questions. But what I find most interesting is that what is playing out is actually the moral standards that the Torah decries for non-Jews. There is no issur for Noahides to have pre-marital sex so from a Torah perspective there was nothing wrong with Bristol McCain having had sex. There is, though, a major issur for Noahides to have an abortion. For Noahides, abortion is clearly a category of murder. So Briston Palin keeping the baby is what the Torah would demand of her. What we are thus seeing in this life drama to observance of the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach. The problem may be that the Palins don't even know that, and thus we can still wonder about what all these events mean about the value structure within the Palin home in terms of how Bristol Palin incorporated the values of her parents and how these values were imparted to her. How a child acts does not necessarily tell us about the parents but often it does. Bristol Palin presents a contradiction - which is often the case. What does that say about Gov. Palin, if anything?

Of course, Gov. Palin's response to Bristol's pregnancy, regardless of how she feels about Bristol having had sex, let's the nation evaluate her in terms of her behaviour -- and that will be part of the upcoming campaign, no doubt. But it is most interesting how we should look at all the events from our perspective, the Torah perspective. In the end, what is occurring is the observance of the Noahide Code to its full extent. There was nothing wrong with Bristol being pregnant from a halachic perspective. And again from a halachic perspective she is doing the right thing in keeping the baby. She is following the Sheva Mitzvot, period-- and her family is helping her do that even if they don't really know that. I find this most interesting.

Rabbi Ben Hecht