Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The meaning of ATA (You)

18th of Shebat, 5770

When saying the Amida, ideally, we should delve into the meaning of every word. This mental exercise is called “Kavana” (consciousness ) which is required at the time of prayer and is mandatory in the first Berakha of the Amida. Last week, we illustrated the process of Kavana with the word Barukh. Let’s see now the second word of the Amida: “ATTA”, which means “You”.

We refer to the Almighty, at the beginning of the Berakhot in the second person of the singular, inviting ourselves to gain consciousness of been directly in front of His presence.

The realization That HaShem, God Almighty, is present “now” and “here”, virtually in front of us, is what daily feeds our Emuna (the Hebrew for faith). Because in Judaism, faith does not consist only in the believe that God exists but mainly in the feeling/consciousness of His Presence.

Realizing God’s presence is a moral matter as well: every time we utter ATTA we should feel that we are, in a sense, in front of a “mirror” we can’t deceive. The Almighty knows not only our actions but also our intentions and thoughts. ATTA, therefore should ultimately impact our behavior. Realizing that we live under His sight, we should act in a way that deserves to be watched by Him.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Ribbit": The prohibition of lending money with interest (1)

17th of Shebat, 5770

As explained last week, it is forbidden to lend or borrow with interest (= “Ribbit”). What happens when a person who has lent with Ribbit decides to do Teshuva (repent)? – Our sages demanded that if a person who once charged you Ribbit now wants to return that sum of money to you, you do not accept it.

Illustration: Joe lent $10 to Abe last year demanding $1 as Ribbit. This year, just before Yom Kippur, Joe decides to do Teshuva. He goes to Joe and offers to return him the $1 he had charged him. Abe should not accept that money back, and should instead forgive it.
This is in order to encourage people to do Teshuva.

Illustration: Because Joe knows that Abe will probably not accept the money back, he is more likely to do Teshuva. Joe still needs to offer the money back, even if he knows Abe will probably refuse it.
The exception is when the Ribbit was in the form of an object. Then, one may accept the object back.

Illustration: Last year, Joe lent $10 to Abe with the condition that Abe repays him $10, and, additionally, he gives him his blue pen. The blue pen is the Ribbit. This year, Joe is doing Teshuva. Since the pen is an identifiable object, Joe should return it, and Abe could very well accept it. This is to protect Joe’s reputation; otherwise, people who knew the pen belonged to Abe will think Joe never did Teshuva.

Note: The laws of “Ribbit” are very complex, especially in today’s corporate world of sophisticated financial and legal structures. Ours is a basic overview of the Halakha as found in Maimonides’s Mishne Tora and in Shulchan ‘Arukh. Please consult your rabbi with any practical questions (Halakha leMa’ase).

Preparing ourselves to stand in front of God

Today is the 27th day of Shebat , 5771

The Amida or Shemona-Esre --also known in our community as lachash-- is the most important prayer. It is said every day, three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening.

When we pray the Amida we are talking directly to God.

There is nothing more meaningful in life that communicating with our Creator.

We should not start praying the Amida unprepared or unfocused. The Amida requires 'Kobed Rosh', a serious effort of concentration.

'Amida' means 'standing'.

In preparation for the Amida we must visualize and internalize that we are standing in front of the King of Kings.

In the Jewish protocol a servant stands in front of his King, firmed, with his feet together and bowing down his head a little, in signal of submission.

Strictly speaking, Amida means: "Standing at Your service/waiting for Your command". For this very reason, many Sephardic Jews would recite the Amida by heart, with their eyes closed, with their hands together on the middle of the chest, the right hand holding the left closed fist.

If you don't know the Amida by heart, you should obviously read it normally from the Siddur.

The Amida should be 'said', articulating the words. Articulation -among other things- facilitates a better concentration.

The Amida is said 'quietly' (that is the meaning of the word lachash) so low no one else could hear your words, and loud enough you could hear your own whispering.

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Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024