Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch. 2 va’adim 1 & 2

January 1, 2011

In the first va’ad Rav Wolbe sets up the importance of a moment of silence before prayer.  Simply sitting still and focusing on your thoughts for about a minute can truly transform your experience of tefilfa.  I know from my own experience how powerful this can be as a tool of meditation.

What Rav Wolbe points out is that in order to get to shul five minutes early you need to wake up a little earlier.  In order to wake up earlier you have to go sleep earlier.  So – you preparation for shacharit begins at bedtime of the night before.

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 va’ad 1 – Preparations begin at bedtime

In the second va’ad he begins to work through Birkot ha-Shachar.  He starts with an analysis of the word “barch.”  This is a word that has always puzzled me and I have often struggled with the correct translation.  In addition he deals with the word “sechvi.”  It is interesting to note that in this beracha we are thanking God for the natural instincts of the rooster.

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 va’ad 2 – Baruch

He then moves on to the first two berachot of self identity.  Here we see some of his prejudices against non-Jews.  While his language is painful to read I think that he raises an important question of how much we allow the outside world to impact on who we are (assuming that we can make a distinction between “outside” and “inside”).

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 va’ad 2 – goy and eved

Next time he will deal with she-lo asani isha.  I will also attempt to place that beracha in a broader  context and give my own approach as to what it means to me.


Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 – Tefila

January 1, 2011

In this chapter Rav Wolbe sets up a core paradox regarding prayer.  What does it mean to ask for something from God?  Doesn’t hashem already know what I need?  Rav Wolbe expands this into a broader issue from the world of Mussar.  He opens up the issue of causality as a fundamental contradiction to the notion of divine providence.

This issue features prominently in the works of Rav Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Mussar movement, as well as Rav Simcha Zissel (the Saba) of Kelm.  Rav Wolbe in other places represents this same apparent contradiction as Athens vs. Jerusalem.  Likely drawing on the work of Moses Hess and perhaps Leo Strauss.  This conflict represents a core debate between religion and science that flows through out many religious thinkers.

These four shiurim cover the opening piece of the chapter

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch. 2 – Tefila – Job

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch. 2 – Tefila for Shleimut

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 – Tefila as the spring of nature

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 – Tefila causality


Prayer – Radical Truth and Ultimate Silence

November 15, 2010

These two shiurim dealt with a series of mekorot that are very important in understanding the intimacy of the encounter that we will find in the tefilah of volume two of the Alei Shur.  Here we are introduced to the notion that we are simply not permitted to say words unless they were formulated by the Rabbis. Even within that framework, if the work appear false to us, then we may not falsely flatter God who is ultimate a God of truth.  The truth that Hazal were speaking of were questions of theology.  We discussed questions of history (like nachem on 9 AV).  This text raises serious questions about what people who simply do not believe out to say.

This then lead to place where we simply could not praise God outside of the context of Prayer.  This type of radical truth and ultimate silence leads to a certain level of distance between human beings and our creator.  As we proceed forward in the Alei Shur we will encounter a very different relationship between us and God.

You can find the source material at this link.

Here are the two audio files:

Truth and Silence in Prayer – #1

Truth and Silence in Prayer – #2


Barukh Shem Kvod Malkhuto

March 26, 2006

When we recite the Shema in our davening, we do something very strange.  We interrupt Deuteronomy chapter 6 with a phrase that does not appear anywhere in the Tanakh.  (Closest thing is Psalm 72:19).  There are two different midrashim that help us to understand this puzzling practice.

I. Bavli, Pesachim 56a:  First our gemara cites a Tosefta (Pesachim 3:19 in Lieberman edition, see Dr. Shamma Friendman's Tosefta Atikta Siman 18) –

Our Rabbis have taught, "How did they (the people of Jericho) used to korchin(fold over) the Shema?  They would say Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord in oneand they would not pause, these are the words of R. Meir.  R. Yehuda says, they would pause but they would not say Barukh shem… (Blessed is the name of his glorious kingdom for all eternity."

Whatever the people of Jericho were in fact doing it was something that rabbis were not happy with.  Presumably both R. Meir and R. Yehuda take for granted the recitation of Barukh Shem…  The gemara then asks –

And we, why do we recite it (barukh shem)?  As R. Shimon b. Lakish taught, "And Yaakov called to his children and said gather and I will tell you (what will be with you at the end of days – the gemara does not quote the entire verse, Genesis 49:1) – Yaakov wanted to reveal the end of days to his sons and the divine presence left him.  He said [to himself], 'Perhaps, heaven forfend, there is amongst my progeny one who is invalid – like Abraham from whom came forth Ishmael and like Issak from whom came forth Essav.'  His sons said to him, 'Hear O Israel, the Lord id our God, the Lord is one!'  They said, 'Just as there is none other in your, there is no other in our heart.'  At that moment Yaakov opened his mouth and said, 'Barukh Shem…'"

The Rabbis said, "How shall we act?  Shall we say it (barukh shem)?  Moshe did not say it!  Shall we skip it?  Yaakov did say it!  The instituted that it should be recited quietly…"

R. Avahu said, "They instituted that it should be said out loud because of the heretics."  But in Nehardea, where there were no heretics, they still say it quietly.  (See also Devarim Rabbah, ed. Vilna 3:35, ed. Lieberman pgs. 67-68)

This is the source that I was raised on. 

1. How did Yaakov's sons call him by his first name?  (We are not going to address this issue.)

2.  How does this source account for our custom on Yom Kippur to say barukh shem out loud?  For that we need another midrash.

II. Midrash Dvarim Rabbah (ed. Vilna 3:36, ed. Lieberman s.v chavivah kriyat shema, pg. 68).  I am going to quote (excerpt) from the Lieberman edition:

The reading of Shema is so beloved that it was given to the Jewish People who give praise first, and then the angels.  The Jewish People say The Lord is our God, the Lord is one and then the angels say barukh shem…And why do the Jewish people say it quietly?…So said Moshe to the Jewish people, 'All of the mitzvot that I give you I received from the Torah.  But this recitation I heard in from the angels and I stole it from them.  Therefore, you should say it quietly…And why do they say it out loud on Yom Kippur?  Because they are like angels.

This Midrash is sited by the Tur in Orach Chayyim 691 as the explicit source for our custom.  See also Magen Avraham691:8 for an anlysis of this issue.  (Chochmat Shlomo on Orach Chayyim 61 also deals with this problem.

It is always a challenge to find the rabbinic source upon which our contemporary practice is based.  This treasure hunt is just one of the aspects that I love in the world of Talmud Torah.