Sunday, November 28, 2021

An ark on wheels TB Taanit 16

 If the prayers of the two first series of fasts go unanswered and the drought continues, a portable ark was moved to the center of the city during the seven fast days of the third series. Today's daf TB Taanit 16 describes details the ritual surrounding this portable ark.

The Gemara asks: Why do they go out to the square? Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said: This is a symbolic action, as though to say: We cried out in private inside the synagogue and we were not answered. We will therefore disgrace ourselves in public, so that our prayers will be heard. Reish Lakish said that the move into the square symbolizes exile, as though they are saying: We have been exiled; may our exile atone for us

The Gemara asks another question concerning the meaning of the ritual. And why do they remove the ark to the city square? Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: This is done as though to say: We had a modest vessel, which was always kept concealed, but it has been publicly exposed due to our transgressions.

The Gemara further asks: And why do they cover themselves in sackcloth? Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said: This is as though to say: We are considered before You like animals, which are likewise covered with hide. And why do they place burnt ashes on top of the ark? Rabbi Yehuda ben Pazi said: This is as though to say in God’s name: “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalms 91:15). Reish Lakish said that the same idea can be derived from a different verse: “In all their affliction, He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). By placing burnt ash on the ark, which is the symbol of the Divine Presence, it is as though God Himself joins the Jews in their pain. Rabbi Zeira said: At first, when I saw the Sages place burnt ashes upon the ark, my entire body trembled from the intensity of the event...

The mishna taught: The eldest of the community says to them statements of reproof. The Sages taught in a baraita: If there is an elder, then the elder says the admonition, and if not, a Sage says the admonition. And if not, a person of imposing appearance says it. The Gemara asks: Is that to say that the elder of whom we spoke is preferred to a scholar simply by virtue of his age, even though he is not a scholar? Abaye said that this is what the mishna is saying: If there is an elder, and he is also a scholar, this elder scholar says the admonition. And if not, even a young scholar says the reproof. And if there is no scholar of any kind available, a person of imposing appearance says it.

"What does he say? Our brothers, it is not sackcloth and fasting that cause atonement for our sins. Rather, repentance and good deeds will cause our atonement. This is as we find with regard to the people of Nineveh, that it is not stated about them: And God saw their sackcloth and their fasting. Rather, the verse states: “And God saw their deeds, that they had turned from their evil way” (Jonah 3:10).

§ Apropos the repentance of the inhabitants of Nineveh, the Gemara discusses their behavior further. The verse states: “But let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast” (Jonah 3:8). What did they do? They confined the female animals alone, and their young alone, in a different place. They then said before God: Master of the Universe, if You do not have mercy on us, we will not have mercy on these animals. Even if we are not worthy of Your mercy, these animals have not sinned

"It is further stated with regard to the people of Nineveh: “And let them cry mightily to God” (Jonah 3:8). The Gemara asks: What did they say that could be described as calling out “mightily”? The Gemara explains that they said before God: Master of the Universe, if there is a dispute between a submissive one and an intractable one, or between a righteous one and a wicked one, who must yield before whom? Certainly the righteous forgives the wicked. Likewise, You must have mercy on us. (I like the personal relationship the people of Nineveh had with God that the could talk so openly to Him. If they could argue with God, so can we!-gg)

״ The verse states: “And let them turn, every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands” (Jonah 3:8). What is the meaning of the phrase “and from the violence that is in their hands”? Shmuel said that the king of Nineveh proclaimed: Even if one stole a beam and built it into his building, he must tear down the entire building and return the beam to its owner. Although the Sages decreed that one need only pay financial compensation in a case of this kind, these people wanted to repent completely by removing any remnant of stolen property from their possession.(Sefaria.org translation)

We have archaeological evidence that this ritual could have taken place. Ancient synagogues in Israel had a Torah niche where a portable ark would fit. When I was a rabbinical student in Israel, I saw such an ark carved in stone at Kfar Nakhum, Capernaum. I found this article on the web which contained two pictures of a portable ark. If you want to see what an portable ark looks like and dive deeper in this subject, just follow this link: https://www.ritmeyer.com/2018/07/03/is-the-ark-of-the-covenant-depicted-on-a-carved-stone-at-capernaum/

18 blessings are not enough TB Taanit 15

With daf TB Taanit 15 we begin the second chapter of our massekhet. The Gemara front loads all the mishnayot. This chapter outlines the procedure for the third set of seven fasts. I recommend studying the next several dappim because there's so many wonderful insights that I will not be able to touch upon.

We know from the previous chapter we add six extra blessings to the standard Amidah. Originally the standard Amidah had 18 benedictions. Later on a 19th blessing was added. Nevertheless, the alternative name of the Amidah, the Shemona Esrai (18 inHebrew refering to the 18 blessings) stuck even though today there are19 blessings. When the Mishna and the Gemara talk about the Shemona Esrai, the original Amidah is being referenced.

The additional six blessings are added between the seventh and eighth blessing.

And he recites twenty-four blessings before the congregation: The eighteen blessings of the everyday Amida prayer, to which he adds another six blessings, and they are as follows: The special series of blessings recited on Rosh HaShana, the Remembrances and Shofarot; and the sections of Psalms that begin with the verses: “In my distress I called to the Lord and He answered me” (Psalms 120:1), “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come” (Psalms 121:1), “Out of the depths I have called You, O Lord” (Psalms 130:1), and “A prayer of the afflicted, when he faints” (Psalms 102:1)...

And he recites at the end of all of these six blessing their unique conclusions. For the conclusion of the first blessing: Redeemer of Israel, he recites: He Who answered Abraham on Mount Moriah (see Genesis 22:11–18), He will answer you and hear the sound of your cry on this day. Blessed are You, Lord, Redeemer of Israel. For the second blessing, to which he adds the verses of Remembrances, he recites: He Who answered our forefathers at the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:15–31), He will answer you and hear the sound of your cry on this day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who remembers the forgotten.

For the third blessing, which includes the verses of Shofarot, he recites: He Who answered Joshua at Gilgal, when they sounded the shofar in Jericho (see Joshua 5:6), He will answer you and hear the sound of your cry on this day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears the terua. For the fourth blessing, he recites: He Who answered Samuel in Mizpah (see I Samuel, chapter 7), He will answer you and hear the sound of your cry on this day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears cries. For the fifth he recites: He Who answered Elijah on Mount Carmel (see I Kings, chapter 18), He will answer you and hear the sound of your cry on this day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears prayer.

For the sixth blessing he recites: He Who answered Jonah from within the innards of the fish (see Jonah 2:2–11), He will answer you and hear the sound of your cry on this day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who answers in a time of trouble. For the conclusion of the seventh blessing, which is actually the sixth additional blessing, as the first blessing listed here is an expanded version of a regular weekday blessing, he recites: He Who answered David and Solomon his son in Jerusalem (see I Kings 8:12–53), He will answer you and hear the sound of your cry on this day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who has mercy on the Land.(Sefaria.org translation)

For those who are familiar with the slikhot prayers that are recited the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana and on Yom Kippur, you will recognize these blessings for there is a piyut, a religious poem, that lists a long series of times when God answered the Jewish people's prayers. These blessings and piyut comforts me and gives me hope in times of trouble. First of all, these are examples when God answered our ancestors’ prayers. So too I believe that this is precedent affirming that God will answer my prayers as well. Secondly to reinforce this hope, all the blessings concluded the present tense emphasizing that God still hears prayers and answers them in time of trouble to this very day.



Friday, November 26, 2021

We feel like mourners TB Taanit 14

Today's daf Taanit 14 limits the number of fast during a drought to 13. "it is taught in a baraita: One does not decree more than thirteen fasts on the community, as one does not trouble the community excessively. This is the statement of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: This halakha is not for that reason. Rather, it is due to the fact that after thirteen fasts the time of the rainfall has already passed, and there is no reason to fast for rain after the rainy season has ended. " (Sefaria.org translation)

Because our prayers have not been answered by God, we feel like mourners. Some of the same customs that a mourner observes now the community observes. Joy is reduced.

"§ The mishna taught: If these fasts have passed and they have not been answered, they decrease their engagement in business negotiations and in building and planting. It was taught in the Tosefta (Megilla 5:2): Building means joyful building, not building in general. Likewise, planting means joyful planting, not all planting. The Tosefta elaborates: What is joyful building? This is referring to one who builds a wedding chamber for his son. It was customary upon the marriage of a son to build him a small house where the marriage feast was held and where the newlywed couple would live for a certain period of time. What is joyful planting? This is referring to one who plants a splendid, royal garden that does not serve practical purposes, but is only for ornamentation.

And the mishna further taught that they decrease greetings between one another. The Sages taught: Ḥaverim, members of a group dedicated to the precise observance of mitzvot, do not extend greetings between each other at all. Amei ha’aretz, common, uneducated people, who extend greetings to ḥaverim, do so while unaware that this is inappropriate. The ḥaverim answer them in an undertone and in a solemn manner. And ḥaverim wrap themselves and sit as mourners and as ostracized ones, like people who have been rebuked by God, until they are shown mercy from Heaven. " (Sefaria.org translation)

According to the SHukhan Aukh, the community stops fasting after completing the series of 13 fasts, but the rabbis continued to fast Mondays, Thursdays, Mondays until the month of Nisan. Once Nisan arrives the rainy season ends so no amount of prayers will be effective. Besides that, rain in Nisan is considered a curse and not a blessing. The rabbis may break their fast at night as well as doing work. Rosh Hodesh, Hanukkah, and Purim interrupt these fasts for them. (Orekh Hayim, 575:7)


Thursday, November 25, 2021

How they spend their fast days TB Taanit 13

We have learned previously on daf TB Taanit 10b if rain hasn't fallen by the 17th day of Heshvan, individuals, meaning the rabbis, begin a series of three fasts. They fast on Monday, Thursday, and Monday. If rain still hasn't fallen, the Mishna on TB Taanit 12b instructs that a public fast is ordained. The second round is another three fasts, Monday, Thursday, and Monday. If rain still hasn't fallen, seven fast are now implemented, Monday, Thursday, Monday, Monday, Thursday, Monday, and Monday. The number of fast for all three rounds equals 13. Perhaps the number 13 symbolizes the 13 attributes of God's compassion. The stringency's increase as the drought continues.

MISHNA: If these three regular fasts have passed and they have not been answered with rain, the court decrees three other fasts upon the community. These are severe fasts, in which one may eat and drink only while it is still day, before the beginning of the night of the fast, and on the day of the fast itself they are prohibited to engage in the performance of work, in bathing, in smearing with oil, in wearing shoes, and in marital relations; and they lock the bathhouses so that no one should come to bathe on that day.

If these three fasts have passed and they still have not been answered, the court decrees on them another seven fasts, which are a total of thirteen fasts, upon the community, not including the first three fasts observed by individuals. These seven fast days are more severe than the first ones, as on these days, in addition to all the earlier stringencies, they sound the alarm, as will be explained in the Gemara, and they lock the stores. Although shops must remained closed most of the time on these days, on Monday they open them a little at nightfall to allow people to purchase food for breaking their fast, and on Thursday they are permitted to open the stores all day in deference to Shabbat, so that people may purchase food for the sacred day.(Sefaria.org translation)

Beginning on yesterday's daf, and continuing on the top of today's daf TB Taanit 13, we learn how people should spend their time while fasting. The first half of the day they take an audit of their business dealings to see you where they may have fallen short of the mark. The next half of the day is divided into two quarters. The first quarter is spent in reading the Torah in the second quarter is spent in prayer asking God for compassion and relief from the drought.

The Gemara asks: How do they act on a fast day? Abaye said: From the morning until the middle of the day they examine the affairs of the town by checking if there are any deficiencies or corruptions in the city, moral or otherwise, and attempt to fix them, as these problems may have been the cause of the Divine punishment. From this point forward, for a quarter of the day they read a portion from the Torah and a portion from the Prophets [haftara]. From this point forward, they pray and petition for mercy, as it is stated: “And they stood up in their place and they read in the book of the Torah of the Lord their God a fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and prostrated themselves before the Lord their God” (Nehemiah 9:3).

"The Gemara asks: I can reverse the order of events, so that the first half of the day is spent in prayer while the second half is focused on the concerns of the community. The Gemara answers: It should not enter your mind to say that, as it is written elsewhere: “Then were assembled to me everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel due to the faithlessness of them of the captivity and I sat appalled until the evening offering” (Ezra 9:4). And it is written in the next verse: “And at the meal-offering I arose from my fast, even with my garment and my mantle rent; and I fell on my knees and I spread out my hands to the Lord” (Ezra 9:5). These verses indicate that first one must deal with the issues of the community, and only afterward engage in prayer.” (Sefaria.org translation)

According to the Arukh Hashulkhan we do not follow these procedures any longer because the court no longer has the power to enforce these fasts or we do not observe these fasts and all of the details . (Orekh Hayim, 566:17)



Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A gratitude journal making every day a thanks giving day

Wanting to mature in her spiritual life and become more thankful, a woman started what she called a Thanks-Living jar. Each evening she wrote on a small piece of paper one thing she thanked God for and dropped it in the jar. Some days she had many praises; other difficult days she struggled to find one. At the end of the year she emptied her jar and read through all of the notes. She found herself thanking God again for everything He had done. He had given simple things like a beautiful sunset or a cool evening for a walk in the park, and other times He had provided grace to handle a difficult situation or had answered a prayer.

Her discovery reminded me of what the psalmist David says he experienced (Ps. 23). God refreshed him with “green pastures” and “quiet waters” (vv. 2–3). He gave him guidance, protection, and comfort (vv. 3–4). David concluded: “Surely goodness and kindness shall be my portion all the days my life.” (v. 6).

I’m going to make a Thanks-Living electronic Journal entry this year (jars are so 20th century). Maybe you’d like to as well. I think we’ll see we have many reasons to thank God—including His gifts of friends and family and His provisions for our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. We’ll see that the goodness and love of God follow us all the days of our lives. That way we can make every day a thanks giving day.

They promised the dreams can come true, but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams too TB Taanit 12

Most of today's daf TB Taanit 12 discusses the ins and outs of a fast that an individual accepts upon himself. The Gemara only gives one example why a person would want to fast when the community is not joining in. If somebody has a bad dream, a person would want to fast in response or to counteract his bad dream. “Rabba bar Meḥasseya said that Rav Ḥama bar Gurya said that Rav said: A fast is effective to neutralize a bad dream like fire is effective for burning chaff. Rav Ḥisda said: The fast is effective specifically on that day that one dreamed. And Rav Yosef said: And one suffering from a bad dream is permitted to fast even on Shabbat. The Gemara asks: What is the remedy for one who has denigrated Shabbat by fasting? Let him sit in observance of another fast, on another day, to atone for his fast on Shabbat. (Sefaria.org translation)

The Ritba comments in great length on the topic of a fast for a bad dream. He explains when a person dreams a bad dream so that he becomes anxious, it is a sign from Heaven to repent and change his ways. The fast begins immediately on the day he wakes up lest he delays the fast and his anxiety and fears dissipate and he won't contemplate repentance. He is allowed to fast on Shabbat even though that is generally prohibited. Eating on Shabbat is an part of the mitzvah of making Shabbat enjoyable (oneg Shabbat). If the dream makes the person so distressed he can't enjoy the food he is eating on Shabbat, the fast takes precedence over eating.

We moderns understands dreams differently since Freud's analysis. I don't know anybody who fasts because of a bad dream.Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting may have some health benefits; however, most people don't fast as one of the steps to show regret and to do teshuva, repentance with the exception of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av. I thought that you might be interested in the purpose and conception of fasting in the ancient near East through the rabbinic.

In the ancient Near East, prayer and fasting were advocated as a means to have one's requests fulfilled by the gods (Ahikar, Armenian version, 2:49, from where, it appears, the idea was derived in Tobit, short version, 2:8; cf. also Test. Patr., Ben. 1:4). The Bible emphasizes that the fast is not an end in itself but only a means through which man can humble his heart and repent for his sins; his repentance must manifest itself in his deeds (Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:8). The idea is especially stressed in Isaiah (58:3ff.) where the contrast is made between a fast which is not accompanied by any real repentance, and which is therefore unacceptable to God, and the true fast which leads to God's merciful forgiveness: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the fetters of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free… Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him… Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will answer."

The Second Temple period literature also stressed that a fast without sincere repentance is valueless and senseless (Test. Patr., Ash. 2:8; 4:3; cf. ibid., Joseph 3:5 – in addition to the fast, Joseph gave his food to the poor and the sick). In the Second Temple period fasting was also seen as an "ascetic exercise" which serves to purify man and bring him closer to God. This appears to have been the original significance of the fasts of the members of the ma'amadot (Ta'an. 4:2–3 (supplement); cf. Theophrastus on the Jews who fasted during the offering of the sacrifices, and Philo on the Day of Atonement). This conception of fasting closely resembles the concept of complete abstinence and asceticism whose purpose is to induce ecstasy and apocalyptic visions and is found not only in the apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period (the Qumran sect seems to have held a "fast" day of which little is known), but also among certain circles of talmudic rabbis, especially after the destruction of the Temple. This "philosophy" led to an exaggerated propagation of fasting which, in turn, aroused a sharp counteraction in general rabbinic literature; the rabbis condemned ascetic women, especially widows and "fasting maids" (TJ, Sot. 3:4, 19a). R. Yose even went further and declared: "The individual has no right to afflict himself by fasting, lest he become a burden on the community which will then have to provide for him" (Tosef. Ta'an. 2:12); as did Samuel , according to whose opinion "Whoever fasts is called a sinner" (Ta'an. 11a). (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/fasting-and-fast-days#4) 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Do not separate yourself from the community TB Taanit 11

Hillel teaches in Pirke Avot: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” (2:4) Today’s daf TB Taanit 11 reminds us that all of Israel is connected to one another in times of trouble; consequently, we should not feel that we can escape unscathed while others are suffering.

Likewise, the Sages taught in a baraita: When the Jewish people is immersed in distress, and one of them separates himself from the community and does not share their suffering, the two ministering angels who accompany a person come and place their hands on his head, as though he was an offering, and say: This man, so-and-so, who has separated himself from the community, let him not see the consolation of the community.

When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon you, my soul. And if he does so, the verse says about him: “And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die” (Isaiah 22:13). And the prophecy continues with what is written afterward, in the following verse: “And the Lord of hosts revealed Himself in my ears: Surely this iniquity shall not be expiated by you until you die” (Isaiah 22:14).

The baraita comments: Up to this point is the attribute of middling people, who merely exclude themselves from the suffering of the community. However, with regard to the attribute of wicked people, what is written about those who hope for more of these days? “Come, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant” (Isaiah 56:12). And what is written afterward? “The righteous perishes, and no man lays it to heart, and godly men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come” (Isaiah 57:1). This verse teaches that righteous people suffer early death to prevent them from witnessing the harm that will befall these evil people (or praying on their behalf-Rashi).

The baraita continues: Rather, a person should be distressed together with the community. As we found with Moses our teacher that he was distressed together with the community, as it is stated during the war with Amalek: “But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat upon it” (Exodus 17:12). But didn’t Moses have one pillow or one cushion to sit upon; why was he forced to sit on a rock? Rather, Moses said as follows: Since the Jewish people are immersed in suffering, I too will be with them in suffering, as much as I am able, although I am not participating in the fighting. The baraita adds: And anyone who is distressed together with the community will merit seeing the consolation of the community.”(Sefaria.org translation)

This concept of sharing the distress of the community is the underlying idea in the message Mordechai sent to Esther. Mordechai cautions Esther, “Do not think that because you are in the palace of the king your chances for survival are greater than those of other Jews. If you hold your peace at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, but you in your father’s house or perish.” (Esther 4:13-14)

Don’t believe for one moment when Anti-Semites, whether they be Arab terrorists or white nationalists, promise the destruction of “Zionists” they only mean Israelis. It’s only a code word for all Jews. Murderous attacks at synagogues, Jewish community centers, and even kosher supermarkets prove that these murderers make no distinction between Zionists and non-Zionists, between Jewish believers no matter what religious stream a person belongs to and Jewish atheists, and between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews. When one part of the Jewish people is in danger all of Israel is in danger.