“Har HaBayit is in our hands” or is it?

In 1948 the State of Israel come into being. After being attacked by many of its new neighbours the city of Jerusalem was not shalem – whole.If one wanted to see the old city it was from afar. It took another 19 years for the dream to come true and for the people to hear from Motta Gur z”l “Har HaBayit is in our hands,the Temple Mount is in our hands”. Rabbi Goren z”l blew the shofar at the Kotel (Western Wall), Jews started flocking to pray there for the first time for many of them. Since then we have been able to go and pray as free people at the Western Wall, however is Har HaBayit in our hands?
At the end of the six day war all of the Temple Mount was in our hands. Not for long as control was handed over to the Wakf. Why we might ask. Maybe will still are not worthy of it. In 1948 we did not merit the whole of Jerusalem being returned to us and the same for 1967.
No one denies that there were miracles done on our behalf during both these and other wars Israel has fought over the past 60 odd years but we have to remember where they came from – G-d. It is through Hashem’s goodness towards us that we have been able to reclaim first a big chunk of our land and then managing to add more as time goes by. It might take a while but we will get there.
“If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.”


The day before Israels Independence Day

Last week we celebrated Independence Day in Israel. On Independence Day everyone has a day off and the barbecue’s are brought out. Everyone is a jovial mood. However only hours before the country was in a state of mourning with flags being flown at half mast. Ceremonies were held all over the country to remember the thousands of fallen soldiers, police, terror victims and others who have paid the ultimate price for the honour of Israel.
Why was Remembrance Day with all its sadness set to be the day before Independence Day with all of its celebrations?
If we look back at the story of Passover and the people of Israel whilst in Egypt. The “70” people who went down to Egypt multiplied and became a burden on the Egyptian people. They (the Egyptians) forgot very quickly that it was because of Joseph that they had become wealthier than any other nation around.They enslaved the Jewish people and for around 85 years the Children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob suffered as their workload was increased.
After G_d heard their plea and that they cried out to Him, He started the process to take them out of Egypt. Moses and the 10 plagues followed and shortly after they were out of Egypt and standing at Mount Sinai. After receiving the Torah and wandering in the desert for 40 years they entered the land of Milk and Honey.
How does this apply to the question posed before?
If we would have come out of Egypt without the miracles we witnessed and gone straight into the promised land, everything would have been given to us on a platter. We had to experience the Hand of G_d in our being taken out of Egypt and heard the voice of G_d at Sinai to strengthen us in our building as a nation. Without these we would not have been able to get into the land and take in all its goodness.
To an extent it is the same with Independence day, only after having gone through the suffering of Remembrance Day can we reflect and really appreciate the value and meaning of being able have our barbecue and fly our own flag over our own independent State of Israel.

Kaddish via the telephone

If one wants to do nichum aveilim (visiting the mourners) during the shiva but for whatever reason is unable to get to the shiva house themselves, one may phone and speak to the mourners. What do you do if when you phone they are in a part of the prayers that one should respond, for example kaddish, kedusha or barachu.

One may answer amen or whatever is required to be answered if you know that you are hearing it directly from the person saying the kaddish or bracha.

This ruling also applies if one is watching or listening to a direct broadcast from the television, radio or internet. Two other occasions that I have seen this carried out are at weddings or funerals where persons abroad have been unable to get to the event but want to hear so via cellphones have “listened in” and answered accordingly.

These days it has become very common to “attend” torah lessons (shiurim) over the web, again if someone hears a bracha etc he may say amen.

In all of these cases one cannot make up a minyan as there has to be ten adult males above barmitzvah in the place where the event is taking place for one to say the relevent blessing.

Shiva – the first seven days of mourning

As discussed in a previous blog once the mourners return to the shiva house following the burial they partake of the meal of condolence. Shiva is the hebrew word for seven. During the period of the shiva various laws apply to the mourners.

The mourners sit on a low stool or remove the main cushions from the sofa. In Israel there is also a custom to sit on cushions or matresses on the floor. If one has a medical problem that will be made worse by sitting on a low chair one should consult the local Rabbi. A pregnant woman should sit on a normal chair – again confirm this with the local Rabbi.

The idea of sitting on a lower chair is meant to bring home the feeling of “feeling low” as according to the English expression. We carry out this literally.

As the mourners should avoid leaving the house, if possible, during the week of shiva it should be arranged for the three services (Shacharit, Mincha & Aravit) to be carried out at the house, especially if one of the mourners is saying kaddish. If the person saying kaddish is not one of the mourners (only women are sitting shiva) then it is quite common for there only to be services in the evening.

During the services one of the mourners that are saying kaddish lead the services. There are certain parts of our daily prayers that we don’t say in a shiva house and a couple that we add. This will be discussed at a future date.

There are certain “luxuries” that a mourner is to abstain from during the week of shiva. They may not shave, take a bath or shower, wear leather shoes – except for Shabbat or Purim, when no public sign of mourning is allowed, have marital relations and launder their clothes.
One is also not allowed to work during the shiva however if the loss involved is a large amount (each individual case is different) then the person may be allowed to return to his work after three days – again the local Rabbi should be consulted.

Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron – Rememberance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and for Terror Victims – has no particular halachic laws. It is a day that was decreed in law by the Knesset in 1963. However the practice of commemorating this day started in 1951 to make the connection between Independence Day (which is the day after) and the people who died to achieve and maintain this freedom.

Yom Hazikaron starts at sunset and is marked with a countrywide one minute siren at 8pm. This is followed by memorial ceremonies all over the country with the official ceremony taking place at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) with the President and other national leaders taking part.

By law all places of entertainment are closed and flags are flown at half mast. In the morning at 11am there is a second siren lasting for two minutes. During both sirens, people stop what they are doing, get out of their cars, stand up in the stoped buses etc. and pay their respects to the fallen. One custom that some people have during the sirens is to say a chapter/s of Tehillim (Psalms) quietly to themselves.

From the start of Yom Hazikaron in the evening until the beginning of Independance Day the next evening, both television and radio programmes are dedicated to and tell stories of the fallen. Most people in Israel know of someone that has a family member, friend or acquaintance that have fallen in one of Israel’s wars or in a terror attack, and therefore the day takes on a very significant meaning.

Most Shuls say in the morning prayers special prayers for the fallen.
Most workplaces are open as usual however close slightly early for people to get ready to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut – Independence day that follows.

This is written in memory of Alan Sober Z”L who died in the first Lebanon War.

Seudat Havra’ah – Meal of Consolation

When the mourners return to the place that they will be sitting shiva in, one of the first things that they will do is to partake of the seudat havra’ah – meal of consolation. This should only be eaten by the people that are sitting shiva – however there is an opinion that all should/can eat it along with the mourners.

At this meal it is forbidden for a mourner to eat of something that they themselves have prepared and according to Rabbi Joseph Karo the author of the Shulchan Aruch it is a mitzva for another to bring the food. The Jerusalem Talmud actually rebukes neighbours for not bringing to the mourners this meal and causing them to prepare it themselves.

Traditionally the meal consists of two foods. One is bread and the second is a hard boiled egg. One custom is for the bread to be round like a bagel or roll, this is to show that the “circle of life” carries on.
The same reason applies to the egg. I have also heard that for the same reason we have an egg on the Peseach Seder plate. Some also have the custom to place some ashes on the egg to represent the grief and loss. Also the egg is the only food that when cooked hardens, showing the mourners that we sometimes have to harden ourselves to deal with reality. Another custom for the egg is that it should not be served whole but cut in half.

Some people have the custom to serve lentils, this is according to tradition is what Jacob was making for his father Yaakov when he was sitting shiva for Avraham when he sold them for Esau’s birthright (Genesis).

Starting to sit shiva

Following the burial the mourners that are sitting shiva return to the “shiva house” and commence the seven day period whose name shiva is taken from the hebrew number seven – sheva. This period is normally refered to as sitting shiva. It is a healing time both emotionally and spiritually where the mourners are comforted by their family and friends.

One only sits shiva for the seven close relatives -mother, father, child, brother, sister, husband or wife. No matter how much the loss of another person might be felt one does not sit shiva for others.

If possible, the mourners should sit shiva in the residence of the deceased. This is not always possible or practical for various reasons.
You are allowed to sit shiva in whichever place you like. Normally all the mourners sit for the week together.

The mourners should move into the shiva house for the week. If this cannot be done then they should leave after dark and return early in the morning.

Mourners should ideally not leave the shiva house for the duration of the shiva. With the exception of Shabbat, Festival and according to some Purim, all prayers services should be held there. If by having prayers at the shiva house it means that there will not be a minyan at the local synagogue because the people from there will come to the shiva, then the prayers should take place in the synagogue and not at the shiva house. If errands need to be run others should do them. If there are questions concerning financial or other loses then the local Rabbi should be consulted.
Once shiva starts the focus turns to the mourners and away from the deceased. The mourners are meant to feel a loss and grief. The task of the visitors is to help them start to in overcoming their loss by comforting them and providing for their needs.
People are sometimes confused as to how to pay a shiva call and this will be discussed in a future posting.

Aninut – The start of the process

From the moment that a person dies – one of the seven close family members that one sits shiva for is called an Onen. This applies if one was with the person who died or from the moment that one hears about the death and the burial has not yet taken place. The Onen is free from all mitzvot, as they are assumed to be dealing with the burial details. During this period of time it is not normal to try and comfort the mourner as they are not in a state to receive comfort and consolations.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik states that aninut is the spur of the moment human reaction to death. Doubts and questions appear in the persons mind concerning all sorts of things to do with mankind and his convictions. The mourner may well start to question G-d and his ways,
especially when the person that died is a child, for example.
In this state of mind it is not possible for a mourner to be able to concentrate on any kind of mitzva. The rule of law – the Halacha – says “take a time out”. It displays compassion in this case, it gives the mourner time to start the process of grieving. The whole concept of aninut, shiva, shloshim, the year and then yarzheit is to help the mourner to cope in a manageable way with the task of returning back to their everyday existence.
Unfortunately, in most cases it is only after one has gone through the above process that one can see how consoling and comforting it is to have the various time periods for reflection and let it help the mourner work their way back into their daily workload.

Purim to Pesach

Purim has been and gone. The megilla has been read and all the kids and plenty of grown ups dressed up in their costumes to add heed to the hidden aspect of the holiday. With G_d not being mentioned in the megilla one has to look within the story to see the Hand of deliverance that saved the Jewish people from the wicked Haman.

With Pesach exactly the opposite is the case. G_d appeared to Moses at the burning bush and gave him signs to use in front of Pharoah. In the Torah and then in the Hagadda it says that it was the Hand of G_d that took the Jewish people out of Egypt. It was G-d himself that came down to strike the firstborns. How did He know which houses to strike at? Moshe told the Children of Israel to take a sheep – an Egyptian god – and tie it to their posts and later on to slaughter it, take the blood and paint it on the doorposts. All this was done in the faces of the Egyptians – no hiding. G-d didn’t need the sign of the blood that was put there for him. Plenty of the Israelites didn’t put blood on their doorposts and they suffered the same fate as the rest of Egypt – death of the firstborns.

On Purim we drink wine until we do not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai”. This is also part of the hidden side of Purim, that we don’t know who is who. On Pesach we drink four cups of wine to help raise us to the exalted level of leaving Egypt, as we are all meant to try and reach that level during the Seder. The Seder which is to remind us of the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt, which was done openly in front of the Egyptian people as opposed to in times of Purim it was all done in a much more hidden revelation.

This is written in memory of Chaim Ephraim Ben Shimon Alter z”l whose 8th yarzheit is today the 16 Adar.

A Hidden Aspect of Purim

There are many hidden aspects of the Purim story. That Hashems name is not mentioned once in the whole of the Megilla is a reminder of the hidden Face / Hand of G_d within the message that we are meant to take out of this whole episode.

For starters why was the story taking place in the city of Shushan. The capital city of Achashveirosh’s kingdom was Madai. Achashveirosh wanted to show off to everyone the vessels of the Temple that had been captured seventy years earlier. One of the vessels captured had been a golden throne made by King Solomon. This itself weighed a massive amount and could not be moved with ease. The only place with a goldsmith capable of taking care of such a unique vessel was in Shushan.

What was so special concerning Shushan? Mordechai was there and not in Madai. Who was it that heard Bigtan & Teresh plotting? Mordechai. If Mordechai had not overheard that conversation who knows what would have happened to the Jewish People.

Therefore Mordechai was able to instruct Esther to carry out the plan that we read about in Megillat Esther every Purim. Of course, Hashem could have carried out His wonders in a different manner but he didn’t. This is the way that He chose to send His message to us.

We spend a lot of time wondering why a particular event happened at a certain time and place. More often than not we will not be able to fathom out the answer to the question. We need to be able to take a historical view of some small thing as to why in one city and not in another to be able to see how in this particular case the Jewish people were saved.

This basis of this was said to me by my son Avichai and is in memory of my father Moshe Ben Gavriel z”l whose yarzheit is on the 10th of Adar.