Monday, October 29, 2007

Musical Instruments in the Synagogue

By Cantor Sherwood Goffin

Musical Instruments for Kabbalat Shabbat

In the years following the creation of the Kabbalat Shabbat service by Rav Moshe Cordovero of Tzfat and his brother-in-law Rav Shlomo Alkabetz (author of our L'Cho Dodi text in 1529), the new introduction to Shabbat quickly spread from Israel to Europe. There, communities debated how (or if) they would incorporate this new innovation.

Some, in Germany for instance, insisted that it be visibly seen as "outside the tefilla", and therefore to this day in some German communities, the Chazzan does not wear a talis for Kabbalat Shabbat. The general custom has also evolved to conduct it from the Torah reader's table in shuls where the service is normally read in the front of the shul.

Some communities invited their congregants to come earlier to the shul, where instruments were played during the singing of the service! In fact, an organ was installed in Prague's famed Altneu Shul just for this purpose, where between 1594 and 1716, Kabbalat Shabbat was a festive musicale. The musicians had to stop their playing before sunset, and in some communities, it was done early enough so that the congregants had time to go home, dress for Shabbat, and return for the recitation of the "real" Kabbalat Shabbat hymn, Psalm 92, Mizmor Shir L'Yom HaShabbat.

Today, all of the Jewish world has accepted Kabbalat Shabbat as an integral part of the Siddur and our Tefilla. The musical instruments, at least for us in the Orthodox world, have alas, been abandoned for fear of losing track of the time and thereby desecrating the Shabbat. It is up to all of us to make up for their loss by singing even stronger when the Chazzan reaches L'Cha Dodi. "Uri, Uri, Shir Daberi" - "Awake, Awake, Utter A Song...!"

Daven Well and Sing Along!

(c) 2007 Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mixed Moral Message

I got an email from Aish Hatorah, with their latest Flash animation.

In this, a handicapped boy (unable to learn like others) joins a baseball game. The losing team goes out of its way to make him feel good, and the winning team does too, intentionally dropping the ball repeatedly so that his little grounder turns into a home run. Thus the other boys reach perfection.

Huh? So my inlaws had to exert huge efforts in caring for my handicapped brother-in-law so that *others* might reach "perfection"? What perfection? What about him? If his mission is for "everyone else", why isn't "everyone else" chipping in to share the burden? Once he gets too old for home care, and has to go into a State or private facility, where's the benefit for other Jews? other non-paid people? Is the goal in life "perfection" - and if so, how does one maintain that state for more than a moment?

It's a nice story about how people can help the handicapped feel good about themselves, although, what message does it send the handicapped person to know that only by having others compromise their own personal integrity (by intentionally acting against their interest) can they feel good, feel a part of society?

Something just bothers me about this. Perhaps parents of handicapped (intellectually, physically, emotionally) children could chip in here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Musical Note: Nusach vs. Nigun

MUSICAL NOTE By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Nusach, or Singing Nigunim . Which is Primary?

There are some shuls that “sing” everything, and there are some who don't “sing” anything, and each one is passionate about their style. I have heard that this was actually said by a shul representative (not at LSS): "We don't want nusach here, we just want singing." In other words, don't bother us with tradition, or even the halacha of Tefilla. If the chazzan sings a snappy tune, that's all that matters.

That's quite amazing when you think about it. We didn't sing
nigunim in shul for 18 centuries because of the destruction of the Temple. Now that we are doing so once again, our sacred traditional chant is out the window! Every one of you at LSS knows how much nigunim mean to me. It makes the Tefilla come alive; it warms the soul and inspires. But we can never ignore the davening - which must come first. It is akin to serving the frosting without the cake! I know there are many who might prefer the frosting, but the foundation is an absolute necessity for the sake of the whole.

Nusach, our traditional chant, is the foundation, the structure upon which our Tefilla is built. Nigunim, as desired and appreciated as they are, must be subservient to the structure upon which it all rests.

We at LSS understand this, and when the Chazzan is not here for Shabbat (as this week, when we are at our daughter's new home in Silver Spring, MD), the shul always shows its respect for Tefilla by choosing qualified Baalei Tefilla who understand and respect the nusach, as well as who can sing a beautiful nigun when appropriate.

Our motto is different than the one quoted above. We say: "We want and insist on nusach here at our shul, enhanced by beautiful nigunim." In this merit may all our prayers be acceptable before the Creator of the world who hears all prayers, and may we be granted our wishes for health, success and fulfillment in the world He has created.

Daven well and sing along!
(c) 2007 Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lech Lecha :|

Noticed a cute coincidence in this week's parsha. I have two seforim, diametrically opposed, whose titles are based in this week's parasha, the Dor Revi'i and the Be'er Lachai Ro'i.

Dor Revii was Rav Moshe Shmuel Glasner, the rav of Klausenberg in the 1920s. Rare among Hungarian rabbis, he was a Zionist, and in 1921 he put his money where his mouth was and made aliyah to Palestine. His book, by that name, is one of the main modern commentaries on Tractate Chullin, the part of the Talmud which deals with Kashrut - the most mundane of Jewish topics.

The book is aptly titled. On the one hand, R' Glasner was the great-grandson of the Chatam Sofer, the patriarch of 19th-century Hungarian Jewry, who set it in opposition to Reform on the one hand and Chasidism on the other. So he was the Dor Revi'i, the Fourth Generation, from the Chatam Sofer. On the other hand, God promises Avraham in Lech Lecha, at the Covenant Between Halves, that while Avraham's descendents will be enslaved, the Dor Revi'i, the Fourth Generation, will return here, to Canaan, later known as Israel, then Palestine, and again today Israel. As R' Glasner was intent on Returning There, he clearly felt himself metaphorically fulfilling the prophecy: the Fourth Generation [from the Chatam Sofer] Will Return Here [to Palestine].

Be'er Lachai Ro'i was Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch Spira of Munkatch. His son and successor, the Minchas Elazar, famously formulated Hungarian resistance to Zionism through explication of the Three Oaths made by the Jews after the destruction of the Temple: Kesuvos (111a) quotes R. Yossi ben R. Hanina: "What are these three oaths? One, that Israel should not rise with (or like) a wall; another, that God had Israel swear not to rebel against the nations; another, that God had the nations swear not to subjugate Israel overmuch." (translation taken from Hirhurim). In other words, they were the arch anti-Zionists, and their view really took hold in Hungary, being most vehemently expressed by the late Satmar Rav, Yoel Teitelbaum.

The book, Be'er Lachai Ro'i, is a clear and lengthy commentary on the Tikkunei Zohar, a part of the fundamental work of Jewish mysticism, from which springs many of the basic concepts that informed Chasidism - that the Universe is part of God, that no place is empty of Him, etc. The commentary makes the obscure clear.

So on the one hand, we have the Zionist rav, expounding the depth and complexity of the most mundane subject, and we have the scion of the anti-Zionist dynasty, explaining and clarifying the deep Zohar, both in Hungary in the 19th-20th centuries, both drawing their titles from the same parasha, that of Lech Lecha, that talks about the earliest foundation of the Jewish nation.

Both widely separate in outlook and subject matter, both drawing from the same part of Torah, both in the same universe of Torah discourse. As God's tefillin allegedly read, "Who is like Your people Israel, One Nation in the Land."

I don't know as much about the Munkatchers, what is the Rebbe's connection to Lech Lecha for the title?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fall 2007 Tradition

A new edition of TRADITION is out, Fall 2007, although the new issue is not yet online.

These summaries are based on bare skimming of the articles, I may have missed serious points.

  • EDITOR'S NOTE by Shalom Carmy, “End of a Leper’s Holiday: Carl Hubbell Comes Home”, on the power and perils of communicating through metaphor.
  • TORAT HASHEM TEMIMA: The contributions of Rav Yoel Bin-Nun to Religious Tanakh Study, by R’ Hayyim Angel, on the ongoing argument between traditionalists and the new style of Tanach study, which involves critical issues such as philology and archaeology in understanding the text, while not departing from the truth of Torah.
  • MARRIED – WITH AIDS, by Alfred Cohen, on the thorny questions in such a situation – should they marry, but then the other one may become infected, so use condoms, but what about the mitzvah to have children, but then the children might get infected, so what right do they have to bring them into the world, so should the HIV-positive person marry? You see the problems. He offers some precedents, but not much concrete advice. He seems to advise divorce, because while married, the mitzvah to procreated argues against condom use, but leaves it as a series of issues to be balanced one against the other.
  • THE PURSUIT OF SCHOLARSHIP AND ECONOMIC SELF-SUFFICIENCY: Revisiting Maimonides’ Commentary to Pirkei Avot, by Aryeh Liebowitz: Rambam was not opposed to private arrangements, or self-sacrifice, to enable oneself to study Torah full time, only to communal arrangements for supporting scholars in full time learning. This was based on conditions in Egypt in his time.
  • FROM THE PAGES OF TRADITION: Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg: In Praise of Esther Rubinstein, by Shnayer Z. Leiman. R’ Weinberg’s eulogy for the wife of the last “Chief Rabbi” of Vilna, who was a great person in her own right – Zionist leader, broadly educated, founded several schools for religious girls, taken untimely at age 42 in 1924.
  • SURVEY OF RECENT HALAKHIC PERIODICAL LITERATURE: The $25,000,000 Funeral. A latter-day “Pearl of Great Price” story (in the Xtian bible, we have similar stories): one should forego worldly wealth in pursuit of mitzvot, e.g. honoring one’s parents or Jewish burial. Whether necessary or not, one who foregoes his large inheritance to ensure his parent’s proper burial is to be honored.
  • Review essays: on E.J. Schochet’s biography of Saul Lieberman, which praises the huge quantity of data, while questioning the book’s lack of analysis of R’ Lieberman’s personality and motivations; on Chaim Rapaport’s book on Jewish approaches to homosexuality, which rejects the “oness” approach (they’re biologically forced into such behavior), but offers “mumar letei’avon” (rebel for appetite, rather than rebel out of rejection) as a way to approach/accept the homosexual. His chapter of real-life letters to homosexuals puts his ideas into practice.
  • Review of Elisheva Baumgarten’s “Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe.” The last sentence: “… a critical work for understanding the medieval Jewish family and the daily realities of the Jewish experience in Ashkenaz during the High Middle Ages.”. Social history and family life- both big trends in recent history works.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Musical Note - Sim Shalom

MUSICAL NOTE By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Sim Shalom/Tov L'Hodos

Each Shabbat at the LSS Main Minyan I sing various congregational singing melodies which I insert into the regular musical "nusach" of the day. Since I have written about this very often in this column, you may be aware by now that I carefully choose my nigunim according to the laws of Nusach Hatefillah as set down by our Sages and successively confirmed by the rabbis and the expert baalei tefilla over the past 700 years. They have determined the musical modes of each tefilla, and I therefore respect those guidelines when planning my musical program for each Shabbat.

You should also be aware that I have a cycle of nigunim so that an element of "freshness" can be instilled into each Shabbat's musical selections. One exception is that of Sim Shalom for Musaf, which has become one of our "signature" melodies sung each Shabbat with the approbation of the congregation. The original melody is "Tov L'hodos” composed by Itzy Katz for the third "Rabbis Sons" album in the 1970's. It fits the Mode of the tefilla as well as the "Mood" of the tefilla, and the original words echo the Meaning of the words of this tefilla. It is sung with feeling and gusto by our congregation and ends the Musaf Amidah on a "high" note. In any case, you now know my own "3 Ms"criteria for nigunim: Mode, Mood and Meaning, and there is even fourth: "Min Hamikdosh", that it not be from secular sources, except in rare, exceptional circumstances as indicated in this column during the calendar year.

Daven well and sing along!
(c) 2007 Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue

Friday, October 12, 2007

Zman Simchaseinu 3a

Rabbi Rich Wolpoe and I have been having a long offline exchange about my difficulties understanding his position on Sukkot as Zman Simchateinu (the Season of Our Happiness). To recap: in the amidah and Kiddush of the three pilgrimage festivals, the day is commemorated as Zman X, where X is taken to correspond to the historical event commemorated by the holiday. Pesach and Shavuot are obvious – “season of our freedom” is the Exodus, and “season of the giving of our Torah” is the Stand at Sinai, which occurred within a day or two of Shavuot. But Sukkot is “season of our happiness”, which the Talmud links to the Clouds of Glory, which are exegetically linked to the Sukkah, called the Sukkah of God, in Psalms and other places.

The problem: Clouds of Glory doesn’t correspond to a specific date.

R’ Wolpoe’s solution: it’s not Clouds of Glory, it’s the Temple, because:

a) if Tisha B’Av is the epitome of sadness, the Temple Dedication must be the epitome of joy;

b) the haftarah of the day is all about the Temple Dedication, which did occur on Sukkot;

c) parallelism must be maintained – each holiday must correspond with a specific date, as the other two do.

My difficulties:

a) it contradicts the Talmud;

b) unlike the others, which occurred before or during the giving of the Torah, it occurs almost 500 years later;

c) other Temple and Mishkan dedications occurred on other days – it’s not exclusive to say “Sukkot is The Day on which to dedicate Temples”;

d) must parallelism be that literal?

R’ Wolpoe doesn’t like my objections, doesn’t think they’re dispositive, which they’re not.

* * *

I think I’ve come up with a way to reconcile our positions, based on the Haggadah and the Bikkurim. (You can probably see where I’m going).

When one brings the Bikkurim, the first fruits, one recites a little script for the priest, recapping the entire enslavement and exodus experience, culminating in one’s ability to bring one’s first fruits from this land flowing in milk and honey. That is taken to imply, by the author of the Haggadah (a Tannaitic midrash, hence an early source) that the culmination of the Exodus was the construction of the Temple where we could fully observe the Torah – without the Temple, more than half the mitzvoth are in abeyance. That’s why Dayeinu ends with the construction of the Temple – it is the culmination of the Exodus. (See Dt. 26:1-11).

Further, the verse at the end of the passage notes that bringing Bikkurim involves a mitzvah to be happy with everyone in your domain. Rashi interprets that to mean, inter alia, based on the Gemara in Bikkurim 83, that one rejoices in one’s harvest, which culminates in the Harvest Festival of Sukkot.

I gather, from one of his notes, that one of his correspondents may have picked up on this Rashi, and took Zman Simchaseinu to refer to the harvest season, rather than a historical event – but that much non-parallelism is not necessary either.

The verse at the beginning of the Bikkurim passage refers to Nachalah – heritage – as a prerequisite for bringing Bikkurim. The Gemara in Megillah reads that as “when the Temple will be built”. There are two passages, about coming to “the rest”, which was Mishkan Shiloh, the semi-permanent pre-Temple temple, and “the heritage”, which was the permanent Temple on the Temple Mount, between Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives.

Under that reading, clearly the passage in the Torah, as the Haggadah indicates, leads us straight to R’ Wolpoe’s idea. Bikkurim

a) depends on Nachalah – the Temple;

b) describes itself as the consequence and culmination of the Exodus experience;

c) is linked to Simcha, through the last verse.

I could almost say it looks chiastic, but that would be putting the cart before the horse. However, it does link Nachalah, the inheritance, with Simcha, through the Exodus. So the simcha of constructing the Temple, where we could fully observe the Torah which was given on Shavuot, and made possible only by our Exodus which freed us to worship Hashem, fits right into the pattern. The Torah itself gives a hint that one Simcha, the ultimate pre-messianic Simcha, is the construction of the Temple. Linked with the Gemara’s note that the harvest brings simcha, Sukkot is truly Zman Simchateinu, both historically through the Temple, which is also linked to the Clouds of Glory in the I Kings description of the dedication; and through culmination of the harvest. Perhaps the Bikkurim passage itself mandated that Solomon dedicate the Temple on Sukkot, but I haven’t seen that said anywhere.

* * *

One could also give a mathematical allegory: what is the order of the Festivals, as given in the Torah? Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, in the old calendar which began with Nissan. One occurred at the beginning of the Exodus, one occurred during the Exodus, one is the culmination of the Exodus: a progression upwards from minimal mitzvah observance (we only had Pesach and Milah in Egypt), through the command of the full set of mitzvot, to the fulfillment of all the mitzvoth in the Temple.

Another bolster to the idea of the Temple as Zman Simchaseinu: each “event” is really a continuous process over a long period of time, with one date that signifies the entire process. The Exodus began over a year before the Jews left, when Moshe went to Paroh saying “let my people go,” and was prophesied to Abraham 400 years earlier. The Giving of the Torah may have been dramatically symbolized by the Stand at Sinai, but really took place over the full 40 years in the desert, from the mitzvot of Pesach in Egypt, through Moshe’s death speech. The Clouds of Glory similarly existed throughout the Exodus period, and perhaps all the way through the Temple. But the specific date for Clouds of Glory would be the date on which they filled the Temple, on its dedication on Sukkot.

Thus we can preserve the phenomena: Clouds of Glory in the Talmud as the historic event commemorated by Sukkot; the Bikkurim passage; and the parallelism of specific dates even if the event being specifically commemorated was not actually accomplished until 487 years later.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Second Hakafot

Responding to a kvetch on Avodah last year, that it’s foolish to believe that our holy tzadikim based the idea of hakafot on a misquoted text, I wrote:

In fact, Yaari says that the whole thing is based on this mistaken transcription.

He quotes from Shaar Hakavvanot (R' Chaim Vital; shaar 6) "...I saw my teacher [the Ari] z"l who was very careful in this to circle after the sifrei torah or before them or after them and to dance and to sing before them as much as he could on the night of motzai Yom Tov after Aravit."

The problem was that Shaar Hakavvanot was not printed until 1852, and then in Salonika. Various excerpts appeared from manuscripts in collections of customs of the Ari. One such was the Negid uMitzvah of R' Jacob Tzemach, (Amsterdam, 1712, p. 76) who wrote "...and to dance and sing before them, and to make seven circuits with all his strength with great simcha at night, and in the day we did not see him do so."

R' J. Zemach was not accurate in his transcription, and left out "motzai Yom Tov", transposing it to Simchat Torah night (Shmini Atzeret, since he was in Eretz Yisrael).

The author of Hemdas Yomim (part 3, Days of Sukkot, ch. 8) did not have a ms. of Shaar Hakavvanot, and relied on R' Jacob Tzemach.

R’ Vital did not bring any reasons for the 7 hakafot; later authors attributed meanings to it, e.g. the 7 midot (lower sefirot?) according to the Shelah hakodesh, etc.

Actually, I don't think this is necessarily the origin of chassidim outside of Israel specifically doing hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret. It seems instead to be the origin of most of Jewry's doing it on the night of Simchat Torah, rather on motzaei Simchat Torah. Meanwhile, in the Land of Israel, the original Ari custom of motzaei Simchat Torah took hold in Chevron and J'lem, at least down to the 1700s. In Italy, too, they had accurate versions of Shaar Hakavvanot, and did their hakafot on motzaei ST.

In fact, the Chasidish minhag to make hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret was an innovation of the Hemdat Yamim (ibid., ch 7), to express unity with the Jews of EY who were making their hakafot that night. It was picked up by R' Alexander Ziskind of Horodno (Yesod veShoresh HaAvodah 11:16). A misnaged (quoted in S. Dubno, History of Chasidism, 446) testifies (lefi tumo) that in the Maggid's court (kloiz) in 1772 he saw the Chasidim making hakafot on Shmini Atzeret "like we do on ST".

The hakafot that we do during the day seem to be a much later invention. They sprang up independently in several places, in Germany, in Baghdad, in Poland (as testified to by the above Yesod veShoresh HaAvodah), etc. in the late 18th century.

So even if you don’t have easy access to Yaari, you can read this summary, with pointers to his sources. There was a mistake in transmission, which led to the universal Simchat Torah night hakafot, and there was a conscious choice made by the author of Hemdat Yamim, and ratified by early Chasidim, to do extra hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret.

* * *

Other well-known halachot based on "mistakes": the kashrut of bee-honey (when the text meant date-honey in the Torah, and only switched in the period of the Early Prophets) and turkey (based on a mistake about Asian Indians vs. American Indians). When asked about turkey, isn't it based on a mistaken identity, the late Bobover Rebbe replied, "It's a good thing our ancestors weren't as frum as we are". So now we have a mesorah that turkey is kosher. And now we have hundreds of years of a minhag to do hakafot on leil Simchat Torah. It matters far less what the origin was, than that it has been ratified by pretty much all of Klal Yisrael.

* * *

And now this old custom, of hakafot on the night after Simchat Torah (did the moderns in Israel know it was ancient? Was it continued down to the present day or was there a break in the practice?) has been interrupted by the new rabbinic ban on outdoor concerts. For the political repercussions, please see Harry’s blog.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Driven Re-Leaf of Chosen Foreskins

Shalom Auslander is the author of "Foreskin's Lament", yet another memoir about a frum guy's journey to freedom from Orthodoxy. He joins the august company of Elisha ben Avuyah (in the words of Milton Steinberg), Chaim Potok, Nathan Englander, Solomon Maimon, etc.

Here's a summary and highlights of his interview on NPR, if you don't want to sit through the whole half-hour. My and Debbie's reactions below:

The interviewer asks about his growing up in an Ultra-Orthodox community in Monsey. [Zev S. points out on Areivim that he went to a local Modern-Orthodox yeshiva, hardly "Ultra-Orthodox".] He goes on about how he was raised with stories of a man who will kill you if you don't do the right thing, banish you, torture you, who can raise mountains and split seas, and repeatedly visits destruction on his chosen people. [Meaning God, of course].
Justify Full
He also had an abusive father. These he admits fed on each other, reinforcing each other:

- Eat a cheeseburger, God will kill you.
- Go in the garage again, Dad will break your arms.

He went to Israel after HS for a year, to some yeshiva in a small town "between J'lem and T-A" (between Minsk and Pinsk?), and flipped out - learned 10 hours a day, went to mikvah on Friday, gave in to pressure and bought a fedora (which pretty clearly indicates that he wasn't "ultra-Orthodox" before), excelled in the learning. "I rose to the top, I was the second, third, or fourth coming, whatever they're up to." Stayed in the yeshiva for some years.

Claims to still have UO mindset, but gave up on praxis due to personal tragedies - fellow student in car accident, grandfather ill. Got tired of small-town, moved to NYC, freied out (goes to McD's, prostitute). Feels he could easily have become a terrorist, because religion leads there. Madrassas == Yeshiva of Spring Valley.

"No longer observant, painfully ... miserably religious, watching others trying to get away from God as am I."

Intellectually wants to reject, emotionally feels he can't.

Keeps family away, even though now married with a kid - his psychiatrist pushes him to do so.

Waited 15 years to have a kid, finally decides to, then has to face question whether to "mutilate" him because some "maniac, 6000 years ago, did" "the past coming out and stealing something that should have been purely joyous".

"Everything I like, music, comedy, etc. comes from anger."

Waffled about circumcision all through pregnancy. After difficult delivery, Dr. asks if you want to circumcise, he says yes, it was done apparently right after birth. He listens to his son's screams from the other room - that was when his son became Jewish. [not?]

* * *

Debbie's thought - he never actually flipped out or freied out, he was just a chameleon, giving in to pressure wherever he was. In Monsey, he's the good boy, crying for acceptance from family. In yeshiva, he puts on the uniform. In NYC, he embraces sin.

He goes on about how he's always religious emotionally. Doesn't look like that at all - looks like his core essence is rejection of religion, but with a strong desire to be liked and accepted, unlike his situation at home. He wasn't really frum (qua pious) at all. Perhaps in the Rav Wolbe sense of doing religious stuff without thinking about why he does it, though, he might have been "frum".

His emotional reactions are strongest in rebelling against religion, comparing yeshivas to madrassas, his religious fervor to the 9/11 hijackers,

I know people who gave up religion because of intellectual reasons, those become Orthoprax. Remember the joke about the Vilner Apikorus? Giving up the religious behaviors and community, that seems to me more emotional than rational.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Their Eyes Were Opened

Rabbi Sokol spoke on Shabbat Bereshit, bringing us the words of Harav YB Soloveitchik zt”l, on the effects of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is abstracted from an essay in the book Yemei Zikaron.

פרק ג

ז ותפקחנה, עיני שניהם, וידעו, כי עירמם הם; ויתפרו עלה תאנה, ויעשו להם חגרת

כא ויעש יהוה אלהים לאדם ולאשתו, כתנות עור--וילבשם.

Gen. 3:7 - Their eyes were opened, both of them, and they knew they were naked; and they made holes in fig leaves, and made for them loincloths.

3:21 - God made for the man and his woman, coats of leather - and clothed them.

What is the significance of the clothing? Of God clothing them? Of the different types of clothing? What does it mean that God made them clothing of leather (Rebbi Meir in the Gemara emends the text to “Or” with an aleph - clothes of light.)

The Zohar speaks of two kinds of souls, the naked soul and the clothed soul. The naked soul is the soul unadorned, lost, perpetually in crisis. The clothed soul is clothed in faith, in learning, in a lifetime of experience.

The naked soul is always questing, always questioning, unsure, lonely. It bounces from crisis to existential crisis. It knows not where it is or where to go. The clothed soul, by contrast, is grounded, it knows its place in the cosmos, it is secure in that knowledge, it has a solid context for living a full life shaped by its spiritually full life that it still lives.

This becomes particularly important in old age. While one is young, striving for better jobs, more money, better life for one’s children, the distinction seems unimportant. There is external stuff to fill up even the life of a naked soul. But as one ages, retires, ceases to strive for better things, and gets even older, one’s friends die off, one’s spouse is no more – there’s nobody to talk to. There’s no way to relate, and one just closes in, goes nuts, or gives up.

But the clothed soul has a full life context that continues, even after the externals are gone. R’ Sokol’s uncle died on Rosh Hashanah. Even as he was about 90, he was getting up in the morning, praying with a minyan, going to Daf Yomi – being in religious society because his life was shaped by religious society. He has a social and spiritual context, a coat of faith, that he carries over from earlier life. That coat of faith is the coat of light of which Rebbi Meir spoke.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, which is widely considered to have been a fig, the fruit brought knowledge without context. It elevated their souls to consciousness, but naked, without spiritual context. So they made clothing out of the fig tree, the source of their downfall. This is the clothing of deception, of falsehood. It’s what you might think might help, but doesn’t really. God then gave them the clothing of light, gave them a spiritual context to shape their lives, in charging them with the commands and existential curses upon leaving the Garden.

Then their souls were truly clothed. May we all develop a coat of faith, to sustain us through life.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Five Non-Angels

R’ Feivel Cohen often gives out little puzzles on Shabbat evening, for people to work out by next week. This week’s puzzle was:

Angels (malachim) are mentioned in Parshat Bereshit five times, but are not referred to by the word “Angel” (malach). What are those five times?

(Answers later in the week)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Vision Thing

Rabbi Moshe Sokol’s drasha this Shmini Atzeret spoke of Vezot Haberacha, the end of the Torah. God takes Moshe up onto Mount Nebo, and shows him the Children of Israel all prepared to enter the Land of Israel. He leaves an extra word in verse 34:2, “Leimor (that is to say) – but doesn’t tell Moshe what to say.

ד ויאמר יהוה אליו, זאת הארץ אשר נשבעתי לאברהם ליצחק וליעקב לאמר, לזרעך, אתננה; הראיתיך בעיניך, ושמה לא תעבר.

God said to him, This is the land which I promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob to say, to your descendents I will give it, I show it to your eyes, but you will not cross over to there.

The Gemara takes this extra word to imply that Moshe himself is to say something. But what? It must be based on this showing of the Land to him, and on his not entering.

Let’s look at the word “I showed it – her’eiticha”. There are different kinds of vision. There is seeing, such as we ordinarily see something, we remember a few salient facts about it, but it’s just something outside of us. Then there is envisioning. If we look at a child, we can often envision what they will look like as an adult, perhaps, if we know the family, where they will be, what they will do, etc.

Even envisioning has a strong and weak variant. The weak kind, is what we just said – looking at some kid. The strong kind is when we look at our own child, someone who we’ve invested ourselves in, working hard to shape their character, to give them every good chance to develop, etc. When we look at such a child, we can be fairly sure that the way they’ve developed will continue. We can be quite sure that they will develop the way we see them developing.

So too here. God and Moshe have worked hard to bring Bnei Yisrael to this point, ready to cross into the Land. Moshe can rest assured that God will not interfere, that they will cross over quite soon after his death.

So what can he say about this? Whom will he tell? God tells him directly, this is the Land which was promised to the forefathers. When you, Moshe, reach the True World, you can bear witness to the forefathers that the promise is being fulfilled. Even though you yourself did not physically witness it, your work allows you to envision it so strongly that it will be as if you had physically witnessed it and can thus testify to the forefathers.

(Does anyone agree with me that there’s a possible problem here? When I brought it to R’ Sokol, he admitted I had a valid point, and had thus intentionally bracketed his talk with “possible reading”.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Zman Simchateinu - or not?

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe has a theory that just as Pesach celebrates the Exodus and Shavuot celebrates the Giving of the Torah, Sukkot must celebrate a specific historic event too. The Talmud records that Sukkot commemorates the Clouds of Glory that protected us in the desert during the forty years of wandering. This is derived exegetically, from verses that equate "G-d's Sukkah" with "clouds of glory", e.g. Ps. 18:11-12, Job 36:29. It does not, as far as I know, record a specific historic date.

R' Wolpoe speculates that Sukkot celebrates the dedication of the First Temple by King Solomon, which occurred on Sukkot (see I Kings 8). He bolsters this with the idea that the saddest day of the year, 9 Av, commemorates the destruction of the Temple[s], therefore the day that is defined as Z'man Simchateinu, the time of our rejoicing, commemorates the dedication of the Temple.

This doesn't work for me. It seems backwards.

Shlomo Hamelech presumably scheduled the dedication for Sukkot because people would already have to be in Jerusalem for the Regel (pilgrimage festival). The Temple was finished in the year 7 of Shlomo’s reign, in the 8th month; the Temple was dedicated some time later in the 7th month - at least 11 months later. Or did he wait 13 years until his palace was built before dedicating the Temple? The text is not clear.

The Exodus' timing was God's idea. The timing of the giving of the Torah was also God's idea. Both predate the actual giving of the mitzvoth of Pesach and Shavuot. The timing of the Temple dedication was

a) not until 487+ years after the festival of Sukkot was ordained;

b) arranged by Shlomo haMelech for the convenience of the olim laregel.

Chanukah happening when it did, on the anniversary of Zerubavel's Aliyah movement, that was the hand of God. Well, actually, it was the Maccabees scheduling it, since they retook the Temple in Cheshvan, and then took, I think, a year, or at least six weeks, restoring it. In the event, the Greeks first offered sacrifices in our Temple on the 25th of Kislev, so the McBees chose that as their rededication day (see I Macc i, iv).

So Sukkot is *not* a commemoration of the dedication of the Temple; rather, Shlomo haMelech dedicated the Temple on Sukkot because it was convenient. The point that the dedication was a commemoration of Sukkot qua Ananei haKavod was reinforced by the Ananei Hakavod filling the Temple on its dedication day. (see I Kings 8 and surrounding chapters). We may indeed commemorate the Temple dedication on Sukkot, it did happen on Sukkot, but the commemoration of the Temple dedication is not the essence of the holiday.

On the contrary, rejoicing on Sukkot is part of the Biblical definition of the holiday, therefore predating the First Temple by almost 500 years. Rejoicing is understood by Chazal in many ways - over economic plenty (the harvest festival), over successful completion of the Teshuvah season (which then explains why Shmini Atzeret is also Zman Simchateinu - because it comes after the close of the appeals period, on Hoshana Rabba), and ach sameiach, an incomplete rejoicing because we are in the real world where life always intervenes.

Further, the Mishkan was set up on 1 Nissan, the Second Temple was dedicated on 3 Adar, the Maccabean Temple was dedicated on 25 Kislev, and here the First Temple was dedicated on Sukkot. So there's no single day devoted to commemorating the Temple's dedication, as there is to the two Destructions.

So I don't see the necessity of a historical date, or of forcing Zman Simchateinu to correspond to one.

Rain Come Again

Musical Note By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Tefillat Geshem

On Shemini Atzeret, we read Geshem, whose traditional musical chant (also sung for Tal) is at least one thousand years old. It predates the melodies we sing for the kaddish of Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur. The Geshem melody is sung for the Kaddish of Musaf, the beginning of the Chazzan's repetition of the Musaf Amidah, and for the piyyutim (poetry) of Geshem itself. According to Chassidic custom, we will introduce a contemporary melody for the congregation to join with. However, in order to preserve the integrity of the ancient chant, I will only do this for every other paragraph, where we will sing "Shifchi Kamayim Libaych", by Reb Shlomo Carlebach. This dovetails perfectly with the text, that ends with: "Shofchu Domom Kamayim", the allusion to the martyrdom of our people through the ages.

Daven well and sing along!

(c) 2007 Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I took a side trip to Crown Heights today, to pick up some stuff during 40% Sale Season at the official Lubavitch bookstore. Wandered up & down the streets a bit, passed by my great-grandfather's house (which is still a gutted shell - President just west of Brooklyn), ducked into the 770 bathroom (maintenance standards have gone way down - the whole area stinks). And looked at the sukkah-mobiles.

What's a sukkah-mobile? It's a small sukkah built on the back of a pickup truck. One drives to a location passed by lots of Jews, and stands outside with a lulav and esrog, asking:

- are you Jewish? [if yes]
- do you want to make a blessing on the lulav? [if yes, do so, and ask]
- do you want to have a bite in the sukkah?

If they come into the sukkah, you can have a nice chat about Judaism, hand them some flyers about upcoming programs, etc.

I used to work the Lincoln Square Synagogue sukkah-mobile, possibly the only non-Chabad sukkah-mobile, 30 years ago. They don't set it up any more, since their parking lot became yet another apartment tower. We had to get a specific truck from a specific rental agency (Handy Rent-All in White Plains), for which the plywood was cut to fit. We put bamboo on the roof, tied it all down, and drove carefully to 72nd St. and Broadway, where we set up for the day. Met some interesting people who I still see now & then, got to interact with a wide variety of people, and spread the Good Word - overall a good experience.

The Chabad sukkah-mobiles seem to be semi-standardized. There's a preprinted tarp that fits over a box made of 2x4's, you have some freedom how you want to build the box, and put it on the back of a current small pickup truck. Walking up and down Eastern Parkway and President Street, I saw well over a dozen of these things. They are clearly messianist projects - the tarps talk about welcoming Moshiach, and there are big yellow signs on the trucks saying Yechi with the Rebbe's picture.

Which leads to the question - WHY? Why build a dozen sukkah-mobiles just to keep them parked in Crown Heights? Why aren't they all over the city, at strategic intersections, bringing Jews back to Judaism? Why are they all on the street doing nothing at noon on Chol Hamoed?

Monday, October 01, 2007


It’s all out there on the Web.

I was going to write about the Levushei S’rad’s explanation why we (Ashkenazim and Nusach Sfard-Chasidim) say the Hoshanot according to a chart, rather than in the order printed, but I find that it’s already clearly explained at The order may seem confusing, but it’s textually quite logical once explained.

Note that the Lubavitchers do say them in the order printed in the siddurim (with an exception for Shabbat).

Those who follow the custom of the Vilna Gaon do not say hoshanot at all on Shabbat. Hoshanot are connected inextricably with the Four Species, and since we do not take the Lulav on Shabbat, Hoshanot are irrelevant. Good thing I brought a regular Israeli machzor to shul on Shabbat as well as the Siddur Eizor Eliyahu (a terrific Nusach-haGra siddur with extensive footnotes on the textual history of Nusach Ashkenaz).

And then there’s the Christian expression “Hosanna”, which clearly comes from Hoshana. It’s not clear how the NT transmogrified “Hosha-na” meaning “Save [us] please” into a self-contained idea (ωσαννα εν τοις υψιστοις, Hosanna in the highest). Nor is it clear how the authors of the NT fell into a textual time-warp. Hoshana is a poem-cycle recited on Sukkot, commemorating the circuits of the Altar mentioned in Mishnah Sukkah 4:2, when they would pray “Please save us” while walking around the Altar with the Four Species. Yet, the NT has people saying “Hosanna, hosanna” when Jesis came to Jerusalem, shortly before Passover, six months away. The usual understanding is that the NT authors were unfamiliar with Jewish practice. But my friend Zev Sero has constructed an interesting story that might explain it.

See, there’s always the question what to do with the lulav and ethrog after Sukkot is over. They’ve been used for a mitzvah act, they have become holy through use, you really don’t want to just throw them away. So many people keep them until they rot, then get rid of them. Sometimes they don’t rot, but just dry up. I’ve got various tiny dried citrons (ethrogim) around the house.

Anyway, there are some traditions what to do. The Hoshana, the willow bundle used on Hoshana Rabbah to pray for rain (yes, it looks like sympathetic magic, but it was invented by the Prophets, so it can’t be syncretistic), should be burned with the Chametz just before Pesach. And the Lulav is to be used as fuel to bake the Matzot for Pesach. Or is it the other way around? I don’t remember – maybe the Web will tell me.

In fact, according to Rabbai David Golinkin, the minhag is different in different areas:

Using the Lulav to Burn the Hametz or to Bake Matzah

In two places in the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot 39b and Shabbat 117b), we are told that when Rav Ami and Rav Assi happened to come upon a loaf of bread which had been used for an Eruv3 they would recite hamotzi over the loaf. They said: “Since one mitzvah was done with this loaf, let us do another”. These passages became the basis for reusing items which had been used to fulfill one mitzvah in order to perform another mitzvah.4

R. Yehudah ben Kalonymus (Ashkenaz, twelfth century) used to save the aravot (willows) from the lulav in order to burn the hametz, basing himself on the above passage, and this custom was recorded in all of the classic custom books of Ashkenaz.5 In modern times, Iraqi Jews used the aravot from Hoshana Rabbah.6

In Yemen, on the other hand, it was the custom to use the lulav, hadassim and aravot as fuel for the oven when baking matzah shemurah.7 Finally, the Jews of Syria, Morocco and Baghdad used the lulav both for burning the hametz and for baking matzah.8

3. Either Eruv Hatzerot (Rashi to Berakhot and Shabbat ibid.) or Eruv Tavshilin (Meiri to Berakhot ibid.). For an explanation of these terms, see EJ, Vol. 6, cols. 849-850.

4. For other examples not related to Pesah, see R. Hayyim Wiener, The Responsa of the Va'ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel , Vol. 4 (5750-5752), p. 70 and note 33 (also available at

5. Horev 10 (1948), p. 159; Sefer Minhagim d'vey Maharam Mirotenberg , ed. Elfenbein, New York, 1938, p. 68; Sefer Minhagim L'rabeinu Avraham Kloizner , ed. Dissin, Jerusalem, 1978, p. 55, par. 13; Hagahot Maimoniot to Hilkhot Sukkah 7:26, par. 1; Darkhey Moshe Ha'arokh L'orah Hayyim 664 (end) and the Rema in Orah Hayyim 664:9; Minhagey Maharil , ed. Spitzer, Jerusalem, 1989, p. 377, par. 9.

6. Asher Wassertil, ed., Yalkut Minhagim, third edition, Jerusalem, 1996, p. 176.

7. R. Yosef Kafah, Halikhot Teiman, Jerusalem , 1960, p. 34 and Yehuda Ratzhabi, B'ma'agalot Teiman , Tel Aviv, 1988, p. 218.

8. Herbert Dobrinsky, A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs, New York, 1986, pp. 352, 358, and Kaf Hahayyim to Orah Hayyim 664:60.

Be that as it may, Sero theorizes that it was Pesach time, and just as I and others are confused which should be used for matzah, and which for burning Chametz, so too were many of the then pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the festival. In fact, some were talking by the side of the road, wondering, “Hoshana? Lulav? Hoshana?”, when they noticed “Here comes this rabbi on a donkey, let’s ask him. Which for chametz, which for matzah, Hoshana? Lulav?” And some ignorant observers saw, and transmitted it to the NT authors that people were saying “Hosanna” as Jesis came up to Jerusalem.

And thus we can save the phenomena. Mo`adim lesimhhah, everybody.