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LAWS & CUSTOMS DURING THE NINE DAYS

Sephardim/Ashkenazim This is merely a guide to the laws and customs. Please consult with your own halachic authority.

Fortune If a Jew has to have a lawsuit with a non-Jew, he should evade having it with him in the month of Av, as this is a time of ill fortune for a Jew. This should be avoided from the first of Av until the tenth of Av. Some authorities are of the opinion that one should avoid this until the fifteenth of Av.

Building and Planting When the month of Av arrives, rejoicing should be minimized. One must avoid undertaking construction projects from which pleasure will be derived or construction for the purpose of luxury. However, it is permissible for a family which lives in overcrowded conditions to expand their home. At any rate, if the construction was commenced before the first of Av, one need not stop.

One may not whitewash or paint the house from the first of Av. However, if this is necessary because, for example, the moving date is immediately after the ninth of Av, it is permissible to whitewash.

If a Jew signs a contract with a non-Jewish contractor to build, whitewash, or paint his house in a manner forbidden after the first of Av, the homeowner should request of the non- Jew to postpone the work until after the ninth of Av. If it is possible to compensate him a bit so that he wait until after the ninth of Av, this is the correct path. If not, it is permitted.

From the beginning of the month of Av it is forbidden to plant, buy, or transplant ornamental trees and plants. However, it is permissible to care for them.

Purchases and Sales From the beginning of the month of Av one should minimize transactions. Purchasing new clothing from which pleasure is derived is forbidden during the Nine Days, even if they will be worn after the Nine Days. This prohibition includes all types of clothing, even those upon which a She’hecheyanu is not recited.

It is permissible to purchase clothing, furniture, appliances, etc. during the Nine Days if they are on sale or you’ll suffer a substantial loss if you will delay the purchase. Included in this category would be an individual who finds himself in a particular locale during the Nine Days where these items can be found but are not readily available in their neighborhood.

Shoes for Tisha B’Av may be purchased during the Nine Days and worn may be worn for the first time on Tisha B’Av if they were not bought and worn before.

Meat and Wine Ashkenazim and some Sephardim refrain from consuming meat and wine during the first nine days of Av. On the first of the month itself (Rosh Chodesh), all Sephardim are permitted to eat meat and drink wine however Ashkenazim are not. Chicken is included in this prohibition. Some Sephardim only refrain from meat and wine the week Tisha B’Av falls out in. This year those Sephardim may eat meat up until Tisha B’Av.

Pareve food cooked in a clean meat pot may be eaten, even if the pot had been used for meat within the last 24 hours.

A person who is sick, a woman who has recently given birth, or somebody who must eat meat for medical reasons, is permitted to eat chicken and meat.

One is permitted to eat meat and drink wine at a seudas mitzvah such as a Bris, Pidyon Haben, Bar Mitzvah(Bo Bayom), Siyum Masechta.

The prohibition of eating meat includes boys and girls above the age of 6 if they are healthy.

Regarding the wine of Havdalah, the Sefardic custom is to permit the one saying Havdallah to drink the wine. The Ashkenazi custom is to give wine to a child to drink. If no child is available, the officiator may himself drink the wine.

Sewing Clothes One may not sew new clothes or shoes during the nine days. Neither may one knit or weave new clothes even through the agency of a non-Jewish artisan.

It is permissible to sew by the agency of a non-Jew if there is great need – for example, for a wedding which will be held immediately after the ninth of Av.

If a factory or private artisan receives a garment before the first of the month (Rosh Chodesh), it is permissible to sew it until the week of Tish B’Av.

If an artisan who lacks food to eat receives an order beforehand, he may work even on the week of Tisha B’Av.

It is permissible to mend a used garment even during the week of Tisha B’Av. Professional mending is forbidden, but sewing a button is permitted during the nine days.

The laws below apply only to Ashkenazim. For Sephardim, they apply only the week of Tisha B’Av which doesn’t apply this year since Tisha B’Av falls on a Sunday.

Bathing During the Nine Days a person may not shower or bathe for pleasure, even in cold water. Swimming or using a sauna is likewise forbidden. If, however, a person is perspired or dirty, he may shower or bathe in lukewarm water and use soap or shampoo if he or she will not become clean otherwise.

Under any circumstance, washing one’s hands, face, and feet is permitted.

It is entirely permitted to shower regularly in hot water this Friday since Rosh Chodesh falls out on Erev Shabbos.

There are numerous Poskim who permit showering or bathing in hot water with soap and shampoo on Erev Shabbos during the Nine Days, including Erev Shabbos Chazon.

Laundry & Cleaning One is permitted to polish silver or wash one’s car during this period; however, shampooing rugs would be prohibited.

It is forbidden to wash or dry clean one’s clothing & linen during the Nine Days, even if it is done by a non-Jew. Ironing clothing is also prohibited.

A sheitel is considered a garment according to halacha and may not be washed during the Nine Days. However, you may wear a freshly washed sheitel and you may also blow dry any sheitel.

It is forbidden to cut, dye, or add hair, even to an old sheitel.

It is permitted to wash out a stain from a garment if it will cause permanent damage.

One may not give garments to a dry cleaner during the Nine Days to be picked up after the Nine Days. However, one may give clothing to the cleaners before Rosh Chodesh if he picks them up after Tisha B’Av.

Small children’s clothing may be washed during the Nine Days.

Although one may not generally wash clothing during the Nine Days, there is nothing wrong with taking a garment that got wet (e.g. sprinkler or sudden rain shower) and placing it in the dryer.

One may not wear new or freshly laundered clothing or linen during the Nine Days except for underwear or socks. Suits, blouses, etc. freshly cleaned should be worn for a short period of time before the Nine Days begin.

According to most Poskim, one may wear freshly laundered or cleaned suits for Shabbos even when Tisha B’Av occurs on Shabbos.

May we merit seeing the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash speedily in our days!

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Shavuot

Shavuot

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Unfortunately, despite its great importance and seminal place in the Jewish calendar, Shavuot has become the orphan of Jewish holidays. Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, gets much more attention. Passover? Great family time. High Holidays? Have to go to synagogue and expunge those sins and get written in the book of life for another year. 

But Shavuot – that’s for the real religious. Nothing too exciting about this holiday. 

And this is tremendously sad, because there is probably no more important holiday when it comes to defining who we Jews are and what we have taught humanity. 

Shavuot is a bare bones holiday; it doesn’t have any specific mitzvot other than learning Torah, and that’s for a reason. It is about Torah, plain and simple, nothing more and nothing less. No Passover cleaning to distract you, nor any specifics of how much matzah to eat to fulfill the mitzvah; no finding a flawless lulav and etrog; no perfect Chanukah gift; no getting to shul early so you get a good seat for Yom Kippur. 

No, none of that; just a return to the very essence of who and what we are, why we are here and what our greater obligation is to the world to make it a better place with the fundamental truths that we have given it. Shavuot is dusting off the wedding album and going back to the chuppah – the marriage canopy. Shavuot is about re-turning to that place where it all started and reminding ourselves of the true purpose of Torah and why God brought us to Sinai. 

It’s about staying up all night as you lose yourself in the depth and meaning of Torah learning, recommitting yourself to the marriage the Jewish people entered with God at Mount Sinai. 

Reasons for eating Dairy Foods on Shavout 

There is a universal Jewish tradition of eating dairy foods on Shavuot. Various reasons have been suggest-ed, among them: 

1. The Biblical book Song of Songs (4:11) refers to the sweet nourishing value of Torah by saying: “It drips from your lips, like honey and milk under your tongue.” 

2. The verse in Exodus 23:19 juxtaposes the holiday of Shavuot with the prohibition of mixing milk and meat. On Shavuot, we, therefore, eat separate meals – one of milk and one of meat.

3. Upon receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jews immediately became obligated in the laws of Sh’chita – slaughter of animals. Since they did not have time to prepare kosher meat, they ate dairy in-stead. 

4. The numerical value of milk – chalav – is 40. This hints to the 40 days that Moses spent atop Mount Sinai, and the 40 years the Jews spent wandering the desert. 

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Laws and Customs of Purim

Laws and Customs of Purim

Megillat Esther

  • The Scroll of Esther is read publicly in the evening and on the morning of Purim. Men and Women are obligated to hear the megillah both times.
  • It must be read from a scroll written in accordance with Halachah.
  • The reader and the audience must have the intent to fulfill the mitzvah of reading and to fulfill the obligation of the blessings before and after.
  • It is customary to make noise when the name of Haman is mentioned.
  • It is forbidden to speak from the time of the blessings before the reading, until the end of the blessings after the reading.

Prayer

  • The prayer ‘al hanissim’ is added in the Silent Prayer (Shmoneh Esrei) and in Grace after Meals (Birkat Hamazon). If one forgot ‘al hanissim’ one does not repeat the prayer.
  • During the morning service (shacharit), the Torah is read. The prayer of repentance, tachanun, is not recited, nor is the prayer lamenatzeach.

Mishloach Manot/Gifts of Food

  • One is obligated to give at least one gift to one fellow Jew. The more the better.
  • The gift must consist of at least two items of food or drink, ready to eat. It is preferable to send the gift via a third party. Matanot L’evyonim/Gifts to the poor
  • One is obligated to give a gift of money, sufficient for one meal, to at least two poor people. The more the better.
  • Funds must be available on the day of Purim. (No post-dated checks.)
  • It is preferable to take care of this obligation early in the day.
  • The gift may be given to a third party in order to distribute on the day of Purim. More should be spent on gifts to the poor than on gifts to friends (unless they are also poor).

Seudat Purim/The Purim Feast

  • It is obligatory to partake of a festive meal on the day of Purim.
  • One should drink more wine than one is accustomed to.
  • It is proper to invite guests, especially the needy.
  • The conversation should be focused on the words of the Torah.

Customs

  • Many have a custom to dress up in costumes.
  • It is customary to give charity to all who ask.
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Passover

Preparation for Passover 2020/5780

Please see the below items regarding this years unique situation.

Tevilat Keilim

If you need to tovel any items, please follow the below options.

  1. Utensils could be toveled in Lake Ontario just as you would in the mikva. Please note: not all rivers, lakes and streams qualify for tevilla.
  2. Contact a gentile neighbor whom you know (and who will not ridicule the process) and give him possession of the utensils. Then borrow them from him. He should acquire them through a valid kinyan. You could place the item on the ground and have him pick it up while having in mind to acquire it. Then you could borrow it from him and use it. This method should only be used this year given the circumstances. When everything becomes “normal” again ask him to give you the item as a gift by performing the same actions and then you should tovel the item with a bracha before use.

Biur Chametz

Due to the current situation, this year, there will be no public chametz burning as in previous years. Please note the following procedures:

  • Before searching for chametz on the night before Erev Pesach (Tuesday night), put out 10 very small pieces of bread and search for chametz as you normally do.
  • If you own a barbeque grill, on Wednesday morning – Erev Pesach, burn these 10 small pieces on the grill and recite Kol Chamira (the statement nullifying ownership of any chametz). If you do not have a grill, do the following: In a bag, carefully break up the small pieces of bread into tiny crumbs. Flush the crumbs, without the bag, down the toilet. Dispose of the bag in the outside garbage can and then recite Kol Chamira.
  • Before burning or flushing the crumbs, place all remaining chametz (that was not sold to a non-Jew) in your outside trash cans and recite the following in front of anyone (even a relative and even on the phone): “I hereby declare that my garbage cans and all of my chametz garbage are hefker (ownerless) and I relinquish all ownership thereof. ”If possible, before making the above statement, bring your garbage cans to the curb for pickup.

Siyum Bechorim

As is well known, it is customary for first born males (or their father) to fast on Erev Pesach, or attend a siyum, which allows them to break their fast. Since shuls are closed, there will be multiple live siyumim available online and/or via telephone. Due to the current situation, if a b’chor listens to the siyum – although he is not present he is considered a participant and should then break his fast by eating something special in honor of the siyum. We will be sending out times and information. 

“Seder in a Box”

The Federation with Jewish Family Service are working to provide a free “Seder in a Box” to anyone who is unable to shop for themselves and has no access to Passover food. Inspired Catering (certified by Vaad Hakashrus of Buffalo) is preparing a complete Seder dinner menu (soup, chicken etc.) plus a seder plate with all of the seder items, a box of matzo, and grape juice.

Please email helpline@jfsrochester.org or call the Helpline at 585-461-0114 by Friday, March 27 at 4:00 p.m. to let them know if you, or someone you know, is in need of this support for Passover. Be sure to include name, address, email, phone number, and number of persons requiring a meal. Please note that this program is for those that are in need of a meal and unable to access food without assistance. To volunteer to deliver Passover packages email volunteer@jfsrochester.org.

For Inspired Catering’s full line of Passover catering, contact passover@eat-inspired.com, 347-524-2433.

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Tzav

A thought on this week’s Parsha…

One of the Mitzvot in this week’s Parasha is bringing a Korban Todah / thanksgiving-offering. In particular, the Gemara enumerates four types of people who are obligated to give thanks: one who crossed a desert, one who was released from prison, one who was sick and was cured, and one who traversed the sea.

R’ Nosson Sternhartz z”l (1780-1845; foremost student of R’ Nachman of Breslov) writes that one who brings a Korban Todah is not merely giving thanks for his own salvation. Rather, we read in Yeshayah (63:9), “In all their pain, it is painful for Him”–meaning, say our Sages, that when we suffer, Hashem “suffers,” so-to-speak, with us.

How so? R’ Nosson explains: When a Jewish person is sad, the Shechinah is said to be “in exile.” The reason is that sadness and depression often lead a person to sin or, at least, to drown his sorrows in the pursuit of physical pleasures. Either way, the Shechinah is driven out of the picture. In contrast, the joy of salvation followed by a thanksgiving-offering invites Hashem’s Shechinah back into the world.

The Korban Todah is accompanied by forty loaves of bread! Why so much bread? R’ Nosson explains: When Adam sinned, Hashem told him (Bereishit 3:17), “Through sadness you shall eat [bread] all the days of your life.” But, through the joy of revealing Hashem again, one can eat bread without sadness.

Today, notes R’ Nosson, we have no Temple and, therefore, no Korban Todah. Instead, one who experiences a salvation must give thanks joyously, with his full heart.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Avi and Miriam Mammon & family


Parsha Summary for Parshat Vayikra by Rabbi Tendler

1st Aliya: Additional instructions regarding the Olah – ascent offering, and the Mincha – meal offering are detailed.

2nd Aliya: The special meal offering of the Kohain Gadol and the special inaugural meal offering of the regular Kohain is described. This was the same offering in both cases; however, the Kohain Gadol brought his offering every day while the regular Kohain did so only on the day of his inauguration into the service of the Bais Hamikdash. Additional laws of the sin offering, and the guilt offering are detailed.

3rd Aliya: Additional laws of the peace offering are detailed along with those portions of the offering that must be shared with the Kohain.

4th, 5th, 6th, & 7th Aliyot: The remainder of the Parsha describes the first seven days of the inaugural process for Aharon and his four sons. Moshe functioned as the Kohain Gadol to officiate over the inaugural process, and Aharon and his sons were forbidden to leave the Mishkan the entire time.

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Vayikra

A thought on this week’s Parsha…

Parshas Vayikra opens with the laws of the Korban Olah, a volunteered offering with a variety of options, depending on one’s financial status. The wealthier individual could bring cattle, a less wealthy person, sheep, an even poorer individual could bring a turtledove. For the most destitute individual who would like to offer something but has no money for even a turtledove, the Torah commands: “When a nefesh, a soul, offers a meal-offering to Hashem, his offering shall be of fine flour; he shall pour oil upon it and place frankincense upon it” (Leviticus 2:1). Rashi adds a comment: “Nowhere is the word nefesh used in connection with free-will offerings except in connection with the meal-offering. For who is it that usually brings a meal-offering? The poor man! The Holy One, blessed be He, says, as it were, I will regard it for him as though he brought his very soul as an offering” (Menachos,104b).

The Chasam Sofer asks both a poignant and practical question. The price of fine flour is more expensive than that of a turtledove! So why is the fine flour offering the option meted for the poorest person, and why isn’t the one who brings the turtledove considered as if he gave his soul?

It was only a few days before Passover when a man entered the home of Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik of Brisk, known as the Bais Halevi. The man had a look of constant nation on his face.

“Rabbi he pleaded. I have a very difficult question. Is one allowed to fulfill his obligation of the four cups of wine with another liquid? Would one be able to fulfill his obligation with four cups of milk?” The Bais Halevi looked up at the man and began to think.

“My son,” he said, “that is a very difficult question. I will look into the matter. But until then I have an idea. I would like to give you some money in order for you to purchase four cups of wine for you and your family.”

The Bais Halevi, then took out a large sum of money, far more than necessary for a few bottles of wine, and handed it to the man who took it with extreme gratitude and relief. One of the attendants who helped Rabbi Soloveitchik with his chores was quite shocked at the exorbitant amount of money that his rebbe gave the man.

He gathered the nerve to ask. “I, too, understood from the man’s question that he needed to buy wine for the seder and could not afford more than the milk he was able to get from his cow. But why did you give him so much money? You gave him not only enough for wine but for an entire meal with meat!”

Rabbi Soloveitchik smiled. “That, my dear student is exactly the point! If a man asks if he can fulfill his obligation of the four cups of wine with milk, then obviously he cannot have meat at the seder. That, in turn, means that not only can he not afford wine, but he also cannot afford meat or fowl! So not only did I gave him money for wine, I gave him money for meat as well!”

The Chasam Sofer tells us that we have to ponder the circumstances and put the episode in perspective. The poorest man he who cannot even afford a lowly bird — has a form of Torah welfare. It is called leket, shikcha, and peah — the poorest and most destitute are entitle to grain left behind in field. And from that grain, which was not even bought, the man can make a fine flour. When that individual decides to remove the grain from his very own table and offer that grain to the Almighty, he is considered giving his soul. True, a bird may cost less, but to the poorest man, even the bird costs more than the grain he received gratis. However, when he takes those kernels and gives from them, he is offering his very soul!

Often we try to assess contributions and commitments based on monetary value. It is an inaccurate evaluation, for a wealthy man may give time which is harder for him to give than his money. A musician may give of his skill, despite aching fingers or a splitting headache. The Torah tells us that when we assess the needs of a poor man or anyone who gives, don’t look at the wallet. Look at the whole person. And the way to do that is to look at the soul person.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Avi and Miriam Mammon & family


Parsha Summary for Parshat Vayikra by Rabbi Tendler

1st & 2nd & 3rd Aliyot: The instructions for offering an “Oleh” – burnt offering (fully consumed on the Alter) is detailed. This offering could be brought from a bull, or male sheep or goat. The less expensive “Oleh”, using a Turtle Dove or common dove, is described. The Mincha, an offering made from baked, fried, or deep-fried matzoh type crackers is detailed.

4th Aliya: The Korban Shlomim – the peace offering, brought from male or female cattle, sheep, and goats is described.

5th Aliya: This aliya describes this Korban Chatas – the sin offering. Three unique sin offerings are described:

1. When the High Priest sinned
2. If the King sinned
3. If the entire nation sinned because of a wrong ruling by the Sanhedrin – High Court.

Note: A Korban Chatas could only be offered if the sin was unintentional.

6th & 7th Aliyot: The Korban Chatas of a commoner is detailed, as well as the specifics of the Korban Asham – the guilt offering. This Korban was offered in instances where intentional wrongdoing was implicated; such as not fulfilling an assumed oath, or doing something questionable without first ascertaining the law. Additionally, a type of Asham was offered in instances of dishonesty and swearing falsely.

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Pekudei: A World of Blessing

A thought on this week’s Parsha

“A hundred sockets for a hundred kikar…” (38:27)

There’s an elderly lady who sits in a nursing home in New York. Every day, this is what she says, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift of G-d. That’s why we call it the present.”

How does a person sensitize himself to the present that is the here-and-now? Our Sages mandated that we recite at least one hundred blessings every day. Making blessings helps to remind us constantly of all the blessings that surround us: The ability to see, to think, to enjoy the smell of fruit and flowers, the sight of the sea or great mountains, the sight of royalty, eating a new season fruit, or seeing an old friend for the first time in years. We have blessings when a baby is born, when a loved one dies. When we surround ourselves with blessings we surround ourselves with a blessing. The Hebrew word beracha (blessing) is linked to the word bereicha which means a pool of water. G-d is like an Infinite Pool of blessing, flowing goodness and enrichment into our life.

Among other things, a beracha must include is the Hebrew word which means “L-rd”, which comes from the root adon. In the construction of the Mishkan (the portable Temple on which G-d caused His Presence to dwell) there were exactly 100 “sockets.” These sockets were called adanim. What is the connection between the 100 adanim and the hundred times that we call G-d by the name “Adon” in our daily blessings?

Just as the adanim were the foundation of the Mishkan through which G-d bestowed his Holy Presence on the Jewish People, so too are our daily blessings the foundation of holiness in our lives.

  • Source: Chidushei HaRim

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Avi and Miriam Mammon & family


Parsha Summary for Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudai by Rabbi Tendler

1st Aliya: The Parsha begins with the Mitzvah of Shabbat and the penalty for her transgression. Note that Pasuk 35:5 is classic proof of the Oral Law. Those who deny the Oral Law must explain the literal translation of this verse to prohibit having any burning flame on Shabbos. This would forbid the use of lights, heat, and even Shabbos candles! It is the Oral Law which teaches us that the G-d’s prohibition was directed at lighting a fire, not having a fire. Moshe asked the Bnai Yisroel to donate the time, talents, and materials for the construction of the Mishkan. The Bnai Yisroel responded with unbridled enthusiasm.

2nd Aliya: Talents and materials were donated and Betzallel and Oholiav were appointed as chief architects and artists. The response to Moshe’s appeal was so great that Moshe had to command the people to stop their donations! (see, miracles do happen!) The outer coverings of the Mishkan and the inner tapestries are detailed. The beams of the Mishkan, the Aron Hakodesh, and the Shulchan – Table are described.

3rd & 4th Aliyot: The Menorah and the inner Golden Altar are described. The outer ramped Altar, the Washstand, and the Mishkan’s surrounding enclosure are detailed. Pekudei begins with an accounting of the materials used in the construction of the Mishkan. (gold = 4,386.5 lb./ silver = 15,088.75 lb./ copper = 10,620 lb.)

5th & 6th Aliyot: The Kohein Gadol’s breastplate and vest are described. The remaining garments of the Kohein Gadol and the other Kohanim are detailed, and Moshe inspects the completed Mishkan. Moshe certifies that the entire project followed the exact details of Hashem’s instructions. Moshe blesses the workers.

7th Aliya: On the 1st day of Nissan, 2449, the Mishkan was assembled. After every vessel was properly in place, the presence of Hashem, the Shechina, descended in a cloud and filled the Mishkan.

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Tu B’Shvat

We celebrate the fruit and trees on the 15th of Shvat, at a time when there are no fruit or flowers to be seen. Frost (and often snow) is covering the trees, the days are short, nights are long, darkness and despair reign. And yet, with insight, seeing beyond the surface, we know that deep within the tree the sap is rising, preparing the tree for the blooming and blossoming that will occur in the springtime.

Cherry Blossom

It is through realizing that there is going to be growth in the future, that potential will eventually come to fruition, that we celebrate the holiday for the trees. This is the trait of “binah” – the insight that Jewish women are known to have. We need to see beyond the facts and surface reality; we need to see potential and hope for a brighter future. Taking a leadership role means acting upon this vision, affecting change in our communities and in our society, by influencing the people around us to have that same hope and optimism, and help to bring to fruition the dormant potential within each and every one of us.

The first mitzvah the Jewish people ever received as a nation is a mitzvah to celebrate and sanctify the new moon. “This month is the first of the months for you, the first among the months of the year” (Exodus, 12:2). This mitzvah also expresses the need to see beyond the here and now to a brighter tomorrow. When we actually celebrate the first of the month, Rosh Chodesh, the moon itself is barely visible!

“The reason why the Jews count according to the lunar calendar is that the moon is at times completely dark and you don’t see in it any light at all, and yet even at its darkest, we always know that it will soon be light again. And that is specifically when we celebrate Rosh Chodesh.” (Slonimer Rebbe, Netivot Shalom, Parshat Bo)

Interestingly enough, women have a special connection to Rosh Chodesh. They have the custom to avoid certain types of work and celebrate a mini-holiday every Rosh Chodesh, more than men do, as a reward for having refused to contribute their jewelry for the infamous Golden Calf project. (Midrash Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 45).

When the men lost hope, as Moshe delayed in coming down from the Mt. Sinai after 40 days, they immediately scrambled to create an alternative intermediary between God and themselves. The women, however, were able to stay focused on the bigger picture and see beyond the despair of the moment.

Let us utilize this power of seeing beyond the surface and focusing on potential and through that build towards a brighter and better future.

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Chanukah

History of Chanukah

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication.” In the 2nd century BCE, during the time of the Second Holy Temple, the Syrian-Greek regime of Antiochus sought to pull Jews away from Judaism, with the hopes of assimilating them into Greek culture. Antiochus outlawed Jewish observance ― including circumcision, Shabbat, and Torah study ― under penalty of death. As well, many Jews ― called Hellenists ― began to assimilate into Greek culture. This began to decay the foundation of Jewish life and practice.

When the Greeks challenged the Jews to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god, a few courageous Jews took to the hills of Judea in open revolt against this threat to Jewish life. Led by Matitiyahu, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, this small band of pious Jews led guerrilla warfare against the Syrian-Greek army.

Antiochus sent thousands of well-armed troops to crush the rebellion, but after three years the Maccabees beat incredible odds and miraculously succeeded in driving the foreigners from their land. The victory was on the scale of Israel defeating the combined super-powers of today. Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem and found the Holy Temple in shambles and desecrated with idols. The Maccabees cleansed the Temple and re-dedicated it on the 25th of Kislev. When it came time to re-light the Menorah, they searched the entire Temple, but found only one jar of pure oil bearing the seal of the High Priest. The group of believers lit the Menorah anyway and was rewarded with a miracle: That small jar of oil burned for eight days, until a new supply of oil could be brought.

From then on, Jews have observed a holiday for eight days, in honor of this historic victory and the miracle of the oil. To publicize the Chanukah miracle, Jews add the special Hallel praises to the Shacharit service, and light a menorah during the eight nights of Chanukah.

Laws & Customs

Menorah Lighting

To publicize which night of Chanukah it is, all eight candles on the menorah should be at the same height ― and preferably in a straight line. Otherwise, the candles may not be easily distin- guishable and may appear like a big torch.

In addition to the eight main lights, the menorah has an extra helper candle called the “Shamash.” As we are forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for any purpose other than “viewing,” any benefit is as if it’s coming from the Shamash.

Since the Shamash does not count as one of the eight regular lights, your menorah should have the Shamash set apart in some way ― either placed higher than the other candles, or off to the side.

What Candles to Light

The most important thing is that that your candles must burn for at least 30 minutes after night- fall. Actually, it is even better to use olive oil, since the miracle of the Maccabees occurred with olive oil. Glass cups containing oil can be placed in the candle holders of any standard menorah.

Where to Light

To best publicize the miracle, the menorah is ideally lit outside the doorway of your house, on the left side when entering. (The mezuzah is on the right side; in this way you are “surrounded by mitzvot.”) In Israel, many people light outside in special glass boxes built for a menorah. The conventional practice today, is to light indoors by a window that faces the public domain. Since the mitzvah occurs at the actual moment of lighting, moving the menorah to a proper place after lighting does not fulfill the mitzvah.

When to Light

The preferable time to light the menorah is at nightfall. It is best to light in the presence of many people, which maximizes the mitzvah of “publicizing the miracle” and adds to the family atmosphere. The menorah can still be lit (with the blessings) late into the night, as long as people are still awake.

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Rabbi's Message

At the end of his life, Moshe, having given the Jewish people 612 mitzvot since leaving Egypt, the revelation at Har Sinai and throughout the 40 years in the desert, now gave to them the final mitzvah: “Now therefore write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be My witness against the people of Israel” (Deut. 31:19).

Rabbah said: “Even though our ancestors have left us a scroll of the Torah, it is our religious duty to write one for ourselves.”

Moshes’ final message to us was: “It is not enough that you have received the Torah from me. You must make it new again in every generation.”

The 613th Mitzvah is not simply about writing a Torah, but about the duty to make the Torah new in each generation. To make the living Torah anew. It is not enough to hand it on cognitively – as mere history and law. It must speak to us effectively, emotionally and guide us through every step of our lives.

This Mitzvah symbolizes the fact that though the Torah was given once at Mount Sinai, it must be received many times, as each of us, through our study and practice, strives to recapture the pristine voice heard at Mount Sinai.