Friday, August 13, 2010

SELICHOT: The 13 attributes of God's compassion

Today is the 3rd day of Elul, 5770

The core of the Selichot prayer is the Biblical text ‘Amonay, Amonay, E-l Rachum veChanun….”. These words are known as the 13 attributes of God’s compassion.

" 1. haShem, 2. haShem, our 3. God, you are 4. compassionate and 5. gracious, 6. slow to anger, and 7.abounding in kindness and 8.truth you 9.keep kindness for thousands [of generations], you 10.forgive iniquity, 11. transgression and 12. sin, 13. cleansing …".

Rabbi Yochanan explained that God Almighty showed Moshe Rabbenu that by saying these 13 principles they will be forgiven. Other rabbis added that in order to be forgiven God demands that we actually act according to these 13 principles, not just recite them!

Let me illustrate:

1: haShem, 2. haShem: the repetition of the name of God requires an explanation. Our rabbis taught from this repetition we learn a wonderful lesson about God complete forgiveness: when we truly repent for our misdeeds, God forgive us completely, and will never remind us again of that sin. He will behave with us after we repent (SECOND ‘haShem’), exactly as He behaved with us before we sinned (FIRST ‘haShem’). There is no resentment of leftovers but a complete forgiveness.

If we want to be forgiven by God, we need to act toward others as we want God to act toward us. When we forgive, we should delete and erased all bad feelings toward the repenting offender and act toward him as we did before the offense.

Shabbat Shalom!

For a brief analysis of the 13 attributes see:

ATTENTION: The Great Neck Eruv will NOT be up this Shabbat, Aug. 13-14.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

SELICHOT: Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions

Today is the 2nd day of Elul, 5770

As we mentioned yesterday, during the month of Elul until Yom Kippur the Sepharadic custom is to wake up earlier in the morning to recite the Selichot prayer.

Selichot is a special Tefila that is traditionally said before the morning prayer (Shacharit).Technically, Selichot could be said also during nighttime or even during the day. There is only one period of time which is not suitable for reciting Selichot –following a very ancient custom instructed by Chakhme haKabbalah z’l-: in between sunset and midnight (middat hadin). By the way, Halakhically speaking, midnight (chatzot) is not necessarily at 12.00 AM but it’s calculated 12 hours from midday (when the sun is exactly on the zenith). For example, today in NY midday is at 1.01 PM, therefore midnight will be at 1.01 AM.

The Ashkenazi Minhag is to start Selichot service Sunday before Rosh haShana. But if Rosh haShana falls on Monday or Tuesday (it can never fall Sunday) Selichot will begin two Sundays before Rosh haShana.

During the entire month of Elul the Ashkenazim and most Sepharadim have the custom to blow the Shofar. The Ashkenazim blow the Shofar at the end of Shacharit. Our custom is to blow the Shofar at the end of Selichot service, right before Shacharit . Many Sephardim (Moroccans, etc) blow the Shofar also while reciting the 13 attributes of mercy (vaya’abor… ).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ROSH CHODESH ELUL: The process of Teshuba

Today is the 1st day of the month of Elul (Rosh Chodesh Elul), 5770

Rabbi Yehoshua en Korcha said that after receiving the 10 commandments Moshe Rabbenu stayed in Mount Sinai for 40 days. There, God taught him the Oral Law: the meaning and performance of all the 613 Miztvot. At the end of 40 days Moshe went down and encountered the people of Israel worshiping the golden calf. At the sight of such offense to God, Moshe broke the tablets containing the 10 commandments. It was the 17th of Tamuz.

A few weeks later, in the beginning of the month of Elul, God told Moshe to ascend once again Mount Sinai where he stayed again for 40 days. What did Moshe do during those 40 days? He begged God Almighty to forgive Israel for their terrible sin. Moshe argued with God and advocated for the Jewish people, invoking the merit of their ancestors Abraham Ytzchak and Yaakob.

At the end of the forty days, God finally absolved the people of Israel. That day, the 10th of Tishri, is Yom Kippur , the day of forgiveness.

In remembrance of those 40 days during which Moshe Rabbenu begged God to pardon Israel, we dedicate 40 days to ask God for our own forgiveness. This process of personal repentance –Teshuva- begins tomorrow and ends on Yom Kippur.

Tomorrow morning BH, we start saying Selichot, the prayers that inspire us to reflect on our lives and embark on the process of repentance.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why is Rosh Chodesh sometimes one day and sometimes two days?

Today is the 30th day of Av (Rosh Chodesh Elul), 5770

The Hebrew months follow the cycle of the moon. The cycle of the moon is approximately 29.5 days, so, there are Hebrew months of 29 days (chaser) and Hebrew months of 30 days (maleh)

Originally, all months were established according to the moon. The English word ‘month’ and the word ‘moon’ are cognates (they share the same etymological origin).

When the ending month is 29 days long, Rosh Chodesh of the new month will always be celebrated for one day: the first day of the new month.

When the preceding month has 30 days, then Rosh Chodesh of the new month will be celebrated for two days. In this case, the 30th day of the preceding month will be called Rosh Chodesh of the coming month.In the Hebrew calendar normally but not necessarily, a 29 days month will be followed by a 30 days month, etc.

(That use to be also the case with the Gregorian calendar until Augustus Cesar -year 8 BCE- got jealous of Julius Cesar and demanded that the month established in his honor be 31 days long, the extra day was discounted from February…).

Illustration: we are finishing today the month of Av. Av has 30 days. Today is the 30th day of Av which is ‘also’ Rosh Chodesh Elul. Tomorrow, the 1st day of Elul will be the 2nd day of Rosh Chodesh Elul.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Today is the 29th of Av, 5770

Last week we described the two Mitzvot which regulates parents/children relationship: ‘honoring parents’ and ‘respecting parents’.

Respecting parents is a way of establishing clear lines: "I am the parent and you are the child. We are not equals". This distance is absolutely necessary for the child, not for the parents’ ego. These principles set up the boundaries of authority, without which a child cannot be educated.

*A child should not sit in a place that is designated for his father or mother. For example, in his mother's seat at the dinner table or at his father's special easy chair, or at his father seat in the Synagogue or at work.

This rule applies even when the parents are not present there or are not going to sit in that place.

If there is no fixed place for the parent to sit, then the son/daughter can sit anywhere. In my house, for instance, we eat dinner in the kitchen during weekdays and I would not sit in the same place all the time.

*There is another very important Mitzva: to stand up in respect when your father or mother comes into the room. Or, if the parent is talking to his child, it’s considered disrespectful for the son to sit while his parent is standing.

As a general rule, a parent has the right to suspend his ‘honor’ and allow his child to sit or not to stand up, etc.