Ritual Wisdom 4-20-2018

It is customary to recite/study one chapter of Pirkei Avot (Chapters of our Fathers) each Shabbat between Pesach until Rosh Hashana. There are wonderful lessons in each of the chapters.

One of the lessons in the second chapter is from the great Talmudic sage, Hillel the Elder. He says, "Do not separate yourself from the community; Don't be sure of yourself until the day you die; Do not condemn your fellow until you will be in their place; Do not make a statement which is not readily understood hoping that it will one day be understood; Do not say, 'When I will have free time I will study,' for perhaps you will never have free time."

Q. Why did Hillel group the above five 'Do not' together. What is the connection between them?

A. The author of the Midrash Shmuel explains that Hillel is actually making one statement, "Do not separate yourself from the community." The other four 'Do not' are answers to four common excuses people make for not getting involved in community matters.

Excuse #1: I do not need the community. I can manage very well on my own.

To them Hillel says, "Do not be sure of yourself until the day you die." Get involved, for one can never know what the future brings. In the future you may very well need to depend on the community.

Excuse #2: "I have a negative view of the other people involved in community matters.

To them Hillel responds, "Do not condemn your fellow until you will be in their place."

Excuse #3: "What's the point of being involved when people do not listen to my ideas anyway?"

To them Hillel says, "Do not make a statement which is not readily understood hoping that it will one day be understood." In other words, "The fault may lie in the way you presented your idea. The fault may be in you and not with the ones who heard your ideas.

A man complained to the doctor that his wife was losing her hearing. "I speak to her, but she doesn't answer." The doctor told him to go home and from a distance of 50 feet ask her what's for supper? If she doesn't respond get closer and ask the same question. This way we will know the extent of her hearing loss. He did so. Finally, when he was only a few feet from her, he asked her again. She shouted to him, "I told you 10 times already.. chicken and potatoes.." The fault was really with him! He didn't hear.

Excuse #4: "I will get involved in community matters when I'm older and I retire.

To this Hillel says, "Do not say, 'when I will have free time I will study,' for perhaps you will never have free time.'" The time to get involved is NOW!

In the Diaspora we will read this Shabbat the two readings, Tazria & Metzora, from the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra). In Israel, where Tazria and Metzora were read this past Shabbat, they will read Acharei & Kedoshim.

(In a previous Torah Learning Email, I wrote that Israel & the Diaspora will adjust with the reading of Matos-Masei. That was a mistake. We will adjust before Shavuot with the reading of Behar-Bechukotei).

Tazria and Metzora deal with laws of "Tzara'at" - an affliction which has physical symptoms similar to leprosy and would bring spiritual impurity when it afflicts a person. The laws of "Tzara'at" applied only during the time of the Holy Temple.

Our sages explain that "Tzara'at" was inflicted upon a person as a punishment for speaking "Lashon Hara" (evil speech) - slandering others. From the Torah reading we learn that speaking ill about others is an extremely grave sin.

According to our sages, slander hurts three people; 1) The one who speaks; 2) The person who listens; 3) The person spoken about! Although the laws of Tzara'at does not apply today, yet the prohibition to speak evil about people applies today as in the days of the Temple.

Our sages emphasized the importance to be very careful when speaking about others. In fact, we are advised in some cases to refrain from speaking about others in general, even when our intention is to tell nice things, for in the course of the conversation one may inadvertently say something negative.

Our sages compare the damage inflicted through evil speech (Lashon Hara) to a person shooting an arrow at somebody else. As soon as the arrow leaves, the person who shot it has no control over it anymore. With the best intentions.. he cannot bring the arrow back. Similarly, as soon as a person utters negative words about others, he lost control over them and there is no telling how far they may travel and how much damage they may inflict.

When Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch was a small child the tailor once brought him a new garment for a fitting. As he was being fitted, the child put his hand in the tailors pocket and pulled out a piece of material. The tailor became very embarrassed as it was obvious that he intended to take some of the extra material for himself. The little boy knew that he did something wrong by embarrassing the tailor. He then came to his father, Rabbi Shmuel and asked him what to do to repent for the sin of embarrassing another person.

Rabbi Shmuel asked his young son, "Who was the person you embarrassed?"

To this the boy replied, "Is it not enough that I embarrassed him, I should also tell you who he is.. and commit the sin of Lashan Hara - speaking evil of others?"


 April 16th is the second day Rosh Chodesh of the new Hebrew month, Iyar. During the morning service, we recite the Hallel in honor of Rosh Chodesh. We add Psalm 104 and we read about the Rosh Chodesh sacrifices from the Torah. We also pray the special Musaf service for Rosh Chodesh.

Q. Why is the Musaf service recited only on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays?

A. "Musaf" means "additional." Every day of the year, two daily sacrifices, called "Korban Tamid" were offered in the holy Temple - one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

The Tamid sacrifice of the morning was the first sacrifice of the day, while the "Tamid" of the afternoon was the final sacrifice of the day. The daily morning prayer (Shacharis) and the afternoon prayer (Mincha) correspond to the two above mentioned sacrifices.

On Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays an additional special "Musaf" sacrifice was offered in the Temple. As a result, on these days, we too add an "additional" - Musaf prayer.

On Rosh Chodesh Iyar, two weeks after the Exodus, G-d gave the Jewish people the mitzvah of Shabbat.

The manna from heaven, which sustained the Jewish people during their 40 year stay in the desert, began in the month of Iyar. Each day, except for Shabbat, the manna would come from heaven. By receiving it each day, they realized that they were totally dependent upon G-d. Also, the water which flowed from the rock and which traveled with them in the desert began in Iyar.

On Rosh Chodesh Iyar, King Solomon began building the first Holy Temple. It took seven years to complete and stood for 410 years before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. The construction of the Second Temple also began in Iyar. It stood for 420 years.

Our sages say that the month of Iyar is especially significant for "Refuah" - "healing." The four letters which spell Iyar (aleph, yud, yud, resh) are an acronym for the words of the Torah "Ani Hashem Rofecha" - "I am the L-rd Who heals you." May G-d send His blessings of Refuah Shleima