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Wishing you a Kesiva v’Chasima Tovah
Dancing and Musical Instruments: During this period it is forbidden to dance, play musical instruments or listen to them live or pre-recorded.
Vocals-only music: Even though such music has no musical instruments, if the music is of a joyous nature, it follows the same prohibition as listening to instrumental music. If the music however is of the type that awakens one to deveykus and is required by one specifically for this purpose, then it is permitted as long as it is listened to in private.
Recorded Cantorial music without musical instruments: Here to, if there is a specific need it is permitted as long as it is in private.
Recordings for Children: If the content contains both singing and music it is forbidden for children of chinuch age to listen. However, if the content is primarily stories etc. with some musical accompaniment, there is room to permit this. However, if the children are not of chinuch age, then it is permissible for them to listen to instrumental recordings.
Nursery schools for children at the age of chinuch: It is forbidden to play musical instruments to children of chinuch age even if there is a fixed schedule for doing so. One who’s livelihood depends on playing them musical instruments and stands to loose money from not doing so, should ask the opinion of a Posek.
Singing: With regards to joyous melodies, there are those that are stringent especially when there are a group of people together. In the context of a Seudas Mitzvah though, it is permissible to sing, however those present should be cognizant of not becoming exceedingly joyous.
The Poskim allow singing in all of the following cases:
1. On Shabbos.
2. While Learning.
3. When the melodies are of an awakening nature – whether alone or in a group of people who have joined together to strengthen themselves in Yiras Shamayim.
4. In order to keep one awake behind the wheel while driving.
Listening to music against one’s will: With regards to instrumental music that one happens to hear, be it on a bus, while on-hold on the phone or cell phone, is not prohibited on condition that one does not intend deriving enjoyment from the listening. With regards to one’s own cell phone, it is however correct to change the ringtone to a non-musical one.
Listening to Music while exercising: In this regard, one should consult with a Posek.
One does not make a Shehechiyanu during Bein Hametzarim. According to the essential law, though it is permissible on Shabbos. Yet according to the Arizal it is forbidden even on Shabbos.
One should not purchase a new item of clothing or a new fruit doing this period in order that one should not have to make a Shehechiyanu . If however such items will not be available after the three weeks or specifically in regards to a child’s desire for such an item, then it is permissible to allow the purchase and to make a Shehechiyanu. However, it would be preferable if possible to postpone eating the new fruit or wearing the new item of clothing until Shabbos.
A pregnant or sick individual who needs to wear or eat a new fruit, is permitted to do so but without making a Shehechiyanu .
Bris Milah, Pidyon Haben or seeing one’s daughter for the first time: It is permitted to say in all these cases to make a Shehechiyanu .
HaTov v’Hameitiv: With regards to an item that requires the blessing of HaTov v’Hameitiv i.e. there are those who are partnered in the joy, such as one’s wife or children, it is permissible to purchase the item as well as make the blessing.
C. Things that are permitted according to the essential law:
New Clothes and objects (Keilim) : There is no prohibition in purchasing items or new clothing that do not require a Shehechiyanu during this period, however there are those that hold neither to buy nor to wear such new clothing. There are those that are stringent only when it comes to purchasing very expensive items that bring one tremendous joy. And so, if there are items that one does not need specifically during this time, it is correct to be stringent and not purchase them until afterwards.
Dwellings: There is no prohibition in moving into a new apartment during this time whether rented or purchased. But there are those that are stringent to refrain from doing so for the sake of a “good omen” (“siman tov”).
Alterations and painting: There is no prohibition against alterations made to, or painting a dwelling during this time, however, the “Eliya Rabba” writes that is it is correct not to do so.
Outings (tiyulim): There is no prohibition during this time to go on outings, however one should be careful not to go to places of danger.
Washing: There is no prohibition to bathe during these days in the ocean etc. However due to the “fear of danger” during this ominous period, it is preferable to refrain from doing so unless there is a specific need.
A. The Fast of Tammuz
a) According to the letter of the law it is permissible to wash on 17 Tammuz. However, those who are stringent do not wash the entire body with hot water, but either wash the entire body in cold water or just the face, hands and legs with hot water. However, on all accounts, no-one should wash for the pleasure of it alone.
b) It is permissible to launder on the 17th of Tammuz.
c) Children under Barmitzvah do not need to fast at all – not even a few hours – and can eat as per usual. However, they should prevent themselves from eating candies.
d) Pregnant and nursing women do not need to fast at all and can eat as per usual, however, they should prevent themselves from eating meat or poultry.
e) The fast starts at dawn (Alos Hashachar). However, those who want to eat at night before dawn in order to alleviate the difficulty associated with the fast should do as follows:
i. One should make a condition (t’nai) before going to sleep that he intends to eat or drink before dawn. Should one forgot however to make such a condition, he is permitted to drink but NOT eat. Should one not sleep at all or sleep less than what is considered a “shanas keva” (20 minutes or more), one is not required to make such a condition before eating or drinking.
ii. Since there is a prohibition to eat before praying, the law therefore is as follows:
1. Drinking coffee or tea etc. is allowed until dawn.
2. “Tasting” bread or mezonos less than a kasayis (approx. 29 grams) is permissible until dawn.
3. With regards to eating bread or mezonos more that a kazayis, if one started to eat a half-hour before dawn or more, he can continue to eat until dawn. However, from half an hour before dawn, it is prohibited to start eating bread or mezonos.
In certain calendars there are 2 times for dawn [based on the differing Halachic Opinions] and one should therefore finish his eating or drinking according to the earlier of the two times [90 minutes before sunrise]. With regards to not starting half an hour before dawn, one can however be lenient in an “emergency” (shaas hadechak) and use the later time of dawn.
f) According to the Zohar HaKadosh, if one slept and woke up before dawn, he cannot eat in all accounts. Therefore, with regards to those who follow the customs of the Kabbalists, should it be extremely difficult for them to fast without having eaten before dawn, they have on whom to rely and may eat according to the points outlined above.
B. Laws of Bein Hametzarim from 17 Tammuz to Rosh Chodesh Av
This period of mourning (Bein Hametzarim) is named after the verse in Eicha: “all of her [Tzion’s] pursuers overcame her between the straits”, which we commemorate by diminishing our joy by refraining to perform weddings, haircuts, blessings of Shehechiyanu and music. This period of time starts from sunset before 17 Tammuz. However, one who has an urgent need to have a haircut at this specific time should ask a Posek.
C. Marriages and Seudos:
Marriages – We do not perform marriages from the 17th of Tammuz until after the 9th of Av.
Engagements – It is permissible to make Shidduchim and Seudas T’naim, however without musical instruments.
Seudos Mitzvah – Barmitzvahs, Bris Milahs and the Completion of Mesechets of Talmud are permitted except without musical instruments.
Adults – Both men and women are prohibited from haircuts even in honor of Shabbos. [If the hair is long and one’s only intention of cutting is for Shabbos, there is room to be lenient].
Children – Adults are not permitted to cut the hair of children. However if there is a specific need to cut the hair of a child, there is room in which to be lenient.
“Baalei Bris” – Baalei Bris, a Mohel and Sandak, are according to the letter of the law allowed to cut their hair.
Barmizvah, Pidyon Haben, Chalaka (Upshirin) – One should ask a Posek if it is permissible to have a hair cut or not.
Specific Needs – with regards to Shidduchim, Modesty, Barriers (Chatzitzos), Healing, Mustaches which interfere with one’s eating, is it permissible to cut hair.
Brushing/Combing hair – is permissible.
E. Cutting Nails – is permissible
1. Wearing laundered cloths:
It is forbidden to wear laundered cloths, to change bedding sheets or towels during this period. Also, changing undergarments is forbidden unless they are soiled. It is often mistaken to think that undergarments are excluded from this prohibition. Therefore should someone wish to change them regularly during this period per the rest of the year, the Poskim advise him to prepare them before Rosh Chodesh for a short while so that they will no longer be considered “freshly” laundered.
2. Preparing one’s clothes:
How long to wear the garments. There is no prescribed fixed length of time for this process since it depends on the environment in which one wears them. For example, someone sitting in an air-conditioned area requires more time than someone walking in the heat of the day in the street.
Wearing multiple garments together. If one wears them while walking in the street, it helps to “unfreshen” all of them at the same time, however sitting at home will not help prepare the outer garments in the same way it prepares the undergarments.
Placing them on the floor. Even though we have a heter from the Poskim to do this as a way of “unfreshening” our clothing, this is really only applicable to floors actually made of earth as was the case in previous years, unlike the tiled or carpeted clean floors we have today, Therefore one needs to actually step on them.
3. Laundering. It is forbidden to launder clothes either by hand or by machine. However, spot cleaning is permitted if someone would be embarrassed by the mark on his clothes or if refraining from cleaning the spot immediately results in the clothes being permanently stained.
4. Polishing shoes. There is a difference of opinion among the Poskim whether to permit polishing ones shoes or not. It appears to me that if they are very dirty or someone lives in a very dusty place, there is room to be lenient. (In practice though, one shouldn’t need to polish dusty shoes but should rather wipe then down with a cloth.)
5. Clothes which became soiled. If someone would be embarrassed to wear such clothes or such a person is an Istanus who could not stand wearing them in such a condition, and does not have any “non-fresh” garments which were prepared before Rosh Chodesh, then he can wear laundered clothing but it would still be preferable for him to prepare the clothing during the nine days itself in the ways mentioned above before he wears them – if such a person will be able to bare such a discomfort.
6. Children. All the heterim to change and launder children’s clothing are only applicable in cases of dirty garments, however it is prohibited to change non-soiled clothing. Certainly not to launder garments that are not soiled. In all cases it is not permitted to place over-garments together with undergarments that one is already washing.
The week in which T”B falls:
Until 3 years old: it is possible to launder and change clothes as per normal.
3 to 6 years old: it is possible to change clothes on a per need basis. Also it is permitted to launder their clothes should they run out.
6 to 9 years old: The law is per 3 to 6 years old described above, only one should be more careful not to end up in such a predicament if at all possible.
9 to Bar Mitzvah: Preferably (l’chatchila), one should hold per the law of adults. In reality such children normally become dirty and therefore one may be lenient and change their clothes on a per needs basis, after the fact (bedi’avad).
7. In honor of Shabbos. It is permitted to change into laundered clothing. But new clothing is prohibited unless one has no others. One is permitted to polish shoes.
The question arises as to is what is considered the time frame for “The Honor Of Shabbos”? It is those times which are typically recognized as being “In Honor of Shabbos” such as on Motzei Shabbos in which case the Minhag is to extend the duration of wearing such items, however, there are those who are stringent not to.
Sheets. One is prohibited to change the sheets even for the “Honor of Shabbos”. (There are many who are not aware of this prohibition).
Towels. The Mishna Brura does not address the law of towels. The Taz brings the teachings of Harash”l together with the “Eliya Rabba” permitting changing them. If they are already slightly soiled, then certainly one can change them were Shabbos to fall out on Rosh Chodesh.
1. General Laws of Washing (excluding issues of discomfort).
Entire Body: Is prohibited even with cold water.
Face, Hands and feet: Is permitted with cold water, but prohibited with hot water. There are those however that are stringent not to wash the feet, because nowadays we do not walk bare-foot.
Washing the hair alone: One may be lenient and wash the hair only, even with soap and hot water in cases where the hair becomes matted from dust and sweat. This is allowed because there is no “enjoyment” derived in doing so.
Swimming in a pool or the sea: Is prohibited. If however it is required for healing purposes, one should ask a Posek. People who are learning how to swim and may stand to loose money should they not attend the lessons, should also ask a Posek.
Mikveh: If someone is used to going everyday, it is permissible to go as per usual even if one is accustomed to performing numerous “tevilos”. However, someone who does not go regularly is not permitted to go during this period – The exception to this is someone who is meticulous about keeping “Tevilos Ezra” and may indeed go.
On all accounts it is prohibited to submerge in hot water. Moreover, lingering in the mikveh longer than is necessary is also forbidden – one should submerge and exit as soon as one is finished one’s tevilos.
In places where the rules of the Mikveh compel one to shower before submersion, one is permitted to shower but without soap. If someone is accustomed to showering after the Mikveh to remove the chlorine etc., it is permitted for this reason alone, and no more.
2. Washing not for Enjoyment:
Someone who perspires excessively and generates an unpleasant odor, or, who due to discomfort from the perspiration cannot sleep or focus, is permitted to wash.
Someone who becomes dirty is permitted to wash the dirty area alone.
For purposes of healing, it is permitted to wash.
Pregnant and nursing mothers are permitted to wash. However, they should diminish the degree to which they would normally do so during the year.
It is important to understand that all the heterim given in point 2. above are only as a means of reducing the amount of discomfort. Therefore a person must diminish the amount of washing one would normally do and only wash in order to remove this discomfort.
For example, should a person be able to accomplish the same using cold water rather that hot, it not permitted to use hot water. Or if one is able to wash without soap, it is not permissible to wash with soap. Or, if one needs to wash only parts of the body, he is not allowed to wash the entire body.
Furthermore, it should not be done in public in case someone would mistakenly learn that it’s in fact permissible to wash regularly.
Babies until age 6: It is permitted to wash them per usual.
Ages 6 to 9: If they are used to washing everyday, it is permissible.
Ages 9 to Bar/Batmitzah: It’s best to diminish if possible per adults.
4. Washing Erev Shabbos:
According to the Mishne Brurah: Someone who is accustomed to washing erev Shabbos is permitted to bath with hot water, but without soap, and only one’s head, face, hands and not the entire body.
Indeed, it is our practice not to wash with soap and to wash only with hot water. However, today since we shower for the most part, and it is difficult to prevent water landing on all parts of the body together with the fact that in general the whole body becomes more sweaty, it is permissible to be lenient and wash the entire body but without soap in honor of Shabbos. And one who needs to wash with soap should however not do so in public, such as at the Mikveh.
5. Motzei Tisha B’Av.
M’ikar Hadin, the same laws apply per the nine days. However, one can be lenient if he does not feel good as a result of the Fast or the heat and may then wash in a manner per the rest of the year on condition that the washing is not for enjoyment.
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The world is constantly progressing. Our small globe is filled with novelties; at every possible moment new innovations are being discovered. What was considered yesterday a novelty, is today regarded an antique. Everything around us is developing; the potential is being actualized at a dizzying pace, and in the center of it all is none other than man himself.
Behind every innovation could be found a number of scientists who toiled months on end to bring it to fruition. Refined materials, advanced medications and more efficient technology appear out of nowhere, being the result of the many stages of a living process of creation. The human population is constantly in motion. Just taking a look out the window for a moment will portray a picture bustling with motion – people moving about non-stop. This one is running, that one is walking, one person is conversing with his mouth and the other is signaling with his hands. The one thing they all have in common is that something is beating inside them.
Enthusiasm is the driving force behind everything
If something is in motion then there must be something causing it to move. A boat gliding upon the ocean waters bears testimony to a wind blowing through its sails, an illuminated light bulb attests to electricity flowing through its wire and if you find a person vigorously active and energetic then there is no doubt something excites him. People do all sorts of things, they build and destroy, they dream and contemplate, they create and invent. Behind all of these stands one thing – Hislahavus (enthusiasm/liveliness).
Both man and the world itself are rooted in the element of earth and were it not for the life force of enthusiasm that was placed inside man, he would seem like nothing more than a mound of earth protruding from the ground. This world is heavy, it is not easy to get things moving, and in order to give a life-like form to a clump of dirt, one needs much hislahavus.
If this hislahavus is fundamental to mankind so too, it must be regarding the world at large. The world was formed with the Ten Sayings of Creation (asarah maamaros) and it is also through them that it continues to exist. The holy Torah preceded the world and with it, Hashem created the world. The world revolves constantly around an axis, developing and progressing, and the wind that blows in its sails is – the Torah.
Man in his physical essence is nothing but the dust of the earth and at certain times he returns to this definition. When Hashem sent the soul into partnership with the body he prepared for it much work to be done.
The world is filled with challenges – good and evil are found in every corner and it is imperative to be awake and alert. The Torah does not only provide us with clear definitions of good and evil, it also bestows upon us the strength and ability to stand up to the challenge of free will (bechirah).
The Giving of the Torah – the strength to choose good over evil.
Not long ago – so the calendar claims, was the Chag of the giving of the Torah and seemingly we received something. Yes, we received the Torah, a completely new Torah, the likes of which has never before appeared. During the coming yearly cycle that stands before us, we will find ourselves upon many battlefields in which both good and evil will be found, and we will need to always choose the good. The Torah that we now have in our hands contains all the strength required by the soul in order to pass through the coming cycle peacefully.
Within the words of the Torah is contained an incredible energy – all the strengths and abilities in existence draw their life-force from the letters of the Torah. Every Jew has a part in the Torah and this part is meant to be the driving force of his 248 limbs and 365 sinews, to instill in them the ability to properly navigate his way amidst the 248 positive and 365 negative commandments.
All of us, all the good Jews who have been living on the face of the earth in the last two weeks, were all at Har Sinai. We stood at the foot of the mountain as Moshe brought the Torah down from the heavens; we received it ready packed and all, set to take home. The days after Shavuos flew by and we are still wandering around somewhere on the pathways that leave Har Sinai, stepping from one day to the next, from Shacharis to Minchah to Maariv, and in our hands remains a sealed package.
The precious package that we received on the sixth of Sivan is held close to our hearts. We clasp it tightly with both hands, careful not to lose it, G-d forbid. The Torah accompanies us wherever we go and sometimes we even take a small peek at it through a narrow crack, nod our heads and continue along our way.
Let’s be honest, we’re not new at this. Every year we travel this path always arriving in the vicinity of Har Sinai somewhere around the beginning of Sivan, always receiving the Torah in some way. So what? This is nothing new. Our family always spoke about this, our friends are well accustomed to this luxury, we have the Torah in our hands, we don’t need to arrange for quality-control testing. We would never suspect that Moshe would hand us an empty package – we trust him…
Hashem does something very unusual every year. He opens the most top-secret vault there is in existence, where the plans on which the entire creation was created and formed, are hidden. Those G-dly codes which Hashem used as the blueprint for the world contain within them the driving force for all that took place in the past and all that will occur in the future. From that G-dly framework which is called – the Torah, emerge all the innovations that Hashem creates in His world spiritually and physically at every moment.
Every year on the sixth of Sivan Hashem withdraws the G-dly plans for all that will transpire in the coming year. It is this code that He sends down into the world and bestows upon each and every one of us his part in the plan.
When the thundering sounds were silenced and the lightening ceased, we took our three steps back, bowed with awe in the direction of the mountain and began our journey home. Shavuos moved into yesterday and we continued towards tomorrow. We move forward, yet a watchful eye follows us from behind. He, who gave us that which we have in our hands, knows that the moment we open the package we will begin to move with dance-like steps.
A person makes his way along the trails of life and upon his path are heaps of tests, difficulties and obstacles. He huffs and puffs with exertion thinking to himself: ‘how difficult could they possibly make it for a person. Isn’t there some mistake here – this is a trail for professional hikers, not for me…’. Not only is the terrain extremely strenuous, but the package from Har Sinai is adding to the unbearable burden. Then perhaps the time has come to open the package, to simply begin to make use of what it holds inside.
The Torah is meant to ignite us; this is exactly why we received it. The heart experiences the world as it is. It is the heart which feels all that happens around us and it is there that the true ability to cope must be found. Above, at the top of the spinal cord, is the mind. It functions exactly like a power station; G-dly life-force enters the brain and sets the cogs of thought in motion. When holy thoughts fill the mind then it generates heat; chochmah (wisdom) is something warm and filled with vitality. This warmth descends to the heart and ignites it. A warm and enthusiastic heart skips easily over the pitfalls of life. When the mind is filled with sanctity the vision of life that the eye perceives is far less frightening.
The Rebbe speaks about this in Likutey Moharan lesson 21, explaining that the power of the Torah is hidden within its words – when one enunciates them vocally, they take effect. Since the kedusha is already found within the words, one doesn’t have to do much, as everything is hidden inside that which we already have in our hands. All we need to do is open it and begin to make use of what’s inside.
The Kedusha of the shivah neiros (seven candles)
Every Jew desires to run through the course of life without becoming stuck at confusing and unclear crossroads. When the engine is warm the wheels manage easily on every terrain, uphill just like downhill, a sharp turn just like a straight road. Anyone who has ever come into contact with the Torah knows this. When one sinks for a few hours into the reservoir of life within the letters, then when one emerges everything looks different. The problem is that something else needs to be taken into account.
There are seven orifices in the heads: Two for the sense of sight, another two for hearing, two more for scent and another one for speech. These seven openings connect us with our surroundings; they absorb and also transmit information. These seven orifices are like the seven branches of the Menorah and when they are complete they enable the flame to burn strongly. The world is filled with winds that threaten to extinguish the candles; sometimes such a wind blows in one’s ears or one’s eyes and the candle of holy intellect that burns inside flickers in a desperate attempt to stay alight.
When we guard our senses whereby candles are lit at the entrance to these seven openings, then the evil outside is burnt and destroyed in an instant. But when the wind extinguishes these candles then things start becoming complicated.
We have a Torah, it is already in our hands, we need only to remove the cover and begin to read aloud. The words will light the wicks on fire and if we allow the holy words to rest on our lips, it will happen on its own.
Not every wind needs to visit our ears, our eyes, our nose and our mouth … all that remains for us to do is to pay some attention …
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A person is searching for himself – this is perhaps how we can define the exploration that centers on the essence of our being which is many times left as the unidentifiable –“me”. A person seeks to weave an identity around his being, to see himself defined as someone. A person has many descriptive titles. Here one is a father and there a friend, in one place a worker and in another, a manager. A job, more than it serves to save from the pangs of hunger, is intended to bestow upon a person some title, that he should not G-d forbid, remain lacking a definition.
A person is searching for himself, requesting of all those who pass by: “perhaps you know who I am?”
One lifts his eyes to his fellow men hoping that someone will place him somewhere.
One will not find a business today, large or small, which does not have at least as many positions as it does employees. If ten laborers are found working around the production line, it is reasonable to assume that there are twelve different job titles amongst them. Not to mention the managerial positions where one could discover three of four titles on the business card of one single person.
Indeed, the managers, investors and owners know well how to squeeze out the best performance from each individual.
An old army saying tells that “a soldier without a uniform is not a soldier”. In truth it is hard to understand what’s so important about a unified outfit, a soldier seemingly is more in need of muscles, fitness and survival instincts. Clothing? What place do garments have with a fighter?
This policy does not end on the doorstep of prestigious professions. Today, even cleaners are defined within the pyramid of authority – Head of sanitation, second in charge, kitchen manager, department manager etc. Every task is accompanied by its label, each job has its name and each person carries his title, and sometimes more than one. This procedure does not only serve to ensure that the world functions in an orderly fashion but also brings order to a person himself, to define his place in it all. It is from this place that a person draws his strength and ability to function; if a person has a place, then he also possesses ability.
A person wonders about in Hashem’s world, his spirit bewildered and his mind even more so. His thoughts are filled with the things that necessity demands to be completed and taken care of. He trudges along with droopy shoulders and his hands lagging at his sides – his entire being is screaming: “where am I in this world?” The opportunities pass right by him yet he doesn’t bother to reach out for them, to catch a ride on one of them. He has neither the strength nor the sense; he doesn’t know where to start.
In fact, perhaps it is worthwhile to start from the very beginning…
As mentioned, the world in which we find ourselves is Hashem’s world and He created it lichvo’do (for his glory/honor). This means that the purpose of the world is that Hashem’s name be elevated, exalted and glorified through every part of mineral, vegetable, animal and human life forms. The entire universe throws itself at the feet of a Jew, beseeching and imploring that he bring it to its ultimate perfection. The Jew – is the only one out of infinite creations who is able to unify all that takes place here with the Creator, blessed be He. If his actions will cause the world to reveal Hashem’s glory, at that moment the entire creation becomes a Beis Hamikdash – a place for Hashem.
This goal is tremendously vast; it spans the expanses of time, from the sin of Adam HaRishon until the summation of the six thousand years. All the creations and formations are active partners in this assignment. However, only Am Yisroel are able to cause all of these creations to effect something meaningful for the sake of this purpose.
Every Jew has a mission, even many of them. Sometimes he stands up to the task, and sometimes not entirely. Success and failure are measured in proportion. For example, yesterday a certain portion of what I did was for the ultimate purpose, the other parts were spent sunken in my own selfness. Today I merited investing more of myself in the true goal, how wonderful!
If each Jew has his own personal mission, then Klal Yisroel as a whole are constantly fulfilling one long and complex mission. This mission we received at Mattan Torah (the giving of the Torah). At that awesome and monumental event, the mission descended in its entirety and was subdivided into fine details, each soul receiving its unique part.
The journeys of Am Yisroel in the desert were a synopsis of the thousands of journeys that they would endure in the future. Each Jew has his own journey and all of them are included in those forty two ancient journeys. This week we began the Chumash of Bamidbar, in it will unfold all that happened to us during those journeys, mainly the failures. In the next few weeks we will hear about Korach, the spies and the mey merivah (waters of strife); we will see time and again the mission slipping out from our fingers and the journey in the desert winding itself around in circles – as if the path we are traveling does not lead anywhere.
Sometimes our personal route also seems dizzying. A person walks along his life’s path asking ‘am I fulfilling any mission at all…’ This mission is something frighteningly evasive, one moment you felt it clearly in your hands, and the next, it’s gone. In general, the natural conclusion is – that’s it, I’m out, maybe I’ll wait for the next round…
Therefore, at the threshold to Chumash Bamidbar the Torah hands us something very important – a counting. Yes, before we enter the battle field we take a full census. That census, that took place in the desert, gathered all the souls into the realm of holiness. A number means that you are a part of a whole – you are not just a ‘lone wolf’, you are a piece in a gigantic puzzle. The whole brings completion to the part and the part brings completion to the whole. The counting bestows upon each person his unique place – you have something that no one else has and with this you are constantly a part of something enormous that is continuously functioning, something that is conquering and succeeding. If you dozed off for a moment or slept for an entire year, you still have not been discharged from the system. Klal Yisroel is constantly functioning, the mission is not conditional, it is a reality and you are a part of it.
This mission, with all its compartments and sections, carved in the desert sand a meaningful picture. Am Yisorel took on the form of the heavenly legions. The banners (degallim) and the camps that were arranged with such precision were an expression of a divine form. So it is taught in the Holy Books, that the order of the degallim and the camps mirrored the order of the camps of the angels. When Klal Yisroel camp or walk in the desert in a G-dly formation then the glory of Hashem is openly revealed upon them.
Generally, when we walk through the deserts of life, the sands cover over the beauty of the mission; it is not always that we have the opportunity to see clearly the heavenly Chariot of which we are a part. This is what happens to us on a regular afternoon when suddenly the desert closes in on us, isolates us and leaves us behind. It is then that it seems as if nothing ever was and that nothing will ever be. I was never anything special and I never will be.
Specifically because of this, the Sefer of Bamidbar opens with Parshas Naso. The opening words of the Pasha: “Naso es rosh” literally mean “lift the head” – this is exactly what we need. In order to gasp a fresh breath of air we must lift our heads, become uplifted and see the journey from a bird’s eye view. It is through being counted that we can take flight. The number makes us a part of the whole and nevertheless leaves us our uniqueness as a part. When the soul receives the title that is unique to it, its garment and its vessel for the light, then it is able to lift its head and see the vision of The Chariot. It can then understand that truthfully it is a part of Hashem’s legions. It is a vehicle for the revelation of Hashem in the world.
This is the power of the counting. It can infuse the power of the whole into the part. The uniforms, for example, bestow upon a single soldier the awesome strength of an entire army – with regular clothes he is just another person. The uniform transforms him into a piece of an army. For this reason everyone is so obsessed with titles. If someone asks you who you are, tell them with certainty what your task is. This is who I am, this is me.
We have come down from Har Sinai, from the sanctity of Shavu’os. Each person holds in his hands a Torah, signed and sealed. Small people look at the wrapped gift in their hands with confusion and bewilderment: ‘what is inside this gift. Is it possible that something meaningful will take place with me?’
The scorching summer that follows the sixth of Sivan is the place. It is here that our mission will take place. In this arena the wrapped gift will materialize into a reality, our own personal and unique mission is intertwined with the unique part of the Torah that we received at Har Sinai. This mission is our place in the heavenly Chariot. Through this part Hashem will be revealed this coming year.
From here forth there is no room for confusion or despair. The Torah is already in our hands; our part in the perpetual system will not be changed no matter what. Whether we want or not, we are here, on the inside. Each one of us has an exact place and number. The wheels of the Chariot of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) have begun to turn and we are already in the heat of the mission, at the very moment that we are reading these lines and right now we are wanted here. Onwards…
This is the period of time in which the students of Rabbi Akiva died, and therefore it is not appropriate to increase in our happiness (simcha) and in so doing, we observe an element of mourning outlined below:
1. We don’t get married.
2. We don’t have haircuts.
3. We don’t dance.
4. We don’t play musical instruments.
There are also those that don’t make a shehechiyanu, or wear new clothes.
There are a few differences in our observance of which days to implement these levels of mourning. Today, the majority of Ashkenazim in fact observe some of these levels (for example not having haircuts) for the entire period of Pesach to Shavuos.
What is included in the levels of dance?
1. Even though the Poskim only mention dancing, the agreement of the Poskim is in fact to include the playing of, and listening to musical instruments (including recorded music) in this prohibition.
2. Specially recorded compilations of vocals-only music are also prohibited. However, if they are not tunes that promote simcha, but rather arouse the soul, it is permissible for those who need it.
3. Listening to recorded Chazanos (Cantorial music) without musical instruments is permitted for those who need it, but not in public.
4. Singing is permissible, but there are those that prohibit singing in a group of people, however they allow singing songs that arouse the soul. It is permissible to sing Zemiros on Shabbos and Motzei Shabbos even in a group. It is also permissible to sing together with the children in Cheider.
5. With regards to recorded stories, shiurum etc which are sometimes accompanied by interludes of music, it is permissible to listen to them provided the intent is the content and the music is only incidental.
When and where is it permissible to play and listen to music?
1. Seudas Mitzvah (Bris Milah, Pidyon Haben, Barmitzvah day itself).
2. There is a difference of opinion amongst the Poskim as to whether or not it is permissible when completing a Tractate of the Talmud, where that is the practice. There are those that permit it, but the stringent will be find blessing in refraining from doing so. However, it is certainly permissible to sing in a group, even happy melodies.
3. It is not permissible to play musical instruments at an engagement party or meal.
4. With regards to a Hachnasas Sefer Torah which is accompanied by musical instruments (recorded or live), one needs to ask a Posek if it is correct or not during the Omer, as it is a public gathering and in many cases it is not specifically necessary to hold it during the Omer.
5. “On-hold” music is permissible when it is not the intent to listen but rather to speak on the phone. It is however, appropriate for the owner of the phone or system to change the on-hold music if possible. This would also apply to those with real music ring-tones on their cell phones.
6. One who is learning to play a musical instrument, if it is for purposes of earning a living, then it is permissible. However, for enjoyment it is prohibited. Even only parts of a song (for example just playing the melody or just the chorus) is also not permissible. Only with regards to small sections of such musical parts, is there room in which to be lenient.
7. Children who are learning to play a musical instrument or the teacher, should ask a Posek as the Halacha could change according to the situation.
8. Listening to music while exercising – if the lack of music will reduce the level of exercise, then it is permissible. However if it is to increase one’s enjoyment while exercising, then it would be prohibited.
9. Listening to music in order to keep one awake behind the steering-wheel of a car while driving – if there is no alternative means in order to keep one awake, then it would be permissible to listen to recorded music.
10. One who is accustomed to listening to music at work, and a lack of it would reduce his ability to produce, should consult with a Posek on how to act accordingly during the Omer.
11. Children of the chinuch age should be taught all the relevant laws above, however, if there is a great need, there is room in which to permit listening to recorded music temporarily, but not as usual on a regular basis. Either way, it should never be in public.
By HaRav Shimon Anshin shlit”a
A. Making a Shehechiyanu
From the Halachic perspective, there is nothing to prevent a person from saying a bracha of Shehechiyanu during this period, which is not comparable to the three weeks of mourning (bein Hametzarim), where one has to actively prevent himself from making a Shehechiyanu. The days of the Sefirah are only a remembrance to mourning the students of Rabi Akiva that passed away.
However, there are those that hold not to make a Shehechiyanu – i.e. not to eat a new fruit or wear new clothing.
In Practice, one who has a previous minhag not to make Shehechiyanu because of the minhag of his community, or he clarified the Halacha himself making the stringency not to say Shehechiyanu, then he should not change his minhag. However, if the reason that a person made such a stringency is because he only thought that it was the Halacha not to make a Shehechiyanu, then it is permissible for him to change his minhag allowing him then to make a Shehechiyanu going forward.
One who in fact has no minhag whether or not to make a Shehechiyanu, has no obligation to prevent himself from making a Shehechiyanu. However, in regards to a new fruit, if one can wait to make the Shehechiyanu on Shabbos, then he will find blessing.
Even according to those who hold not to make a Shehechiyanu, they do in fact hold to make a Shehechiyanu on Shabbos, Chol Hamoed Pesach and Lag B’Omer. There are also those that permit making a Shehechiyanu from Rosh Chodesh Sivan onwards. It would appear then, that anyone who has a specific need, can make a Shehechiyanu throughout the period of the Sefirah.
B. New Clothing
i. There are those that hold not to wear new clothing throughout the Sefirah. This minhag is not mentioned what-so-ever in the Halachic writings. In practice then, it would depend on one’s minhag as outlined above.
ii. Even according to those who hold not to make a Shehechiyanu on clothing, there are a few days in which to permit it. i.e on Chol Hamoed Pesach, Shabbos and Lag B’Omer itself.
- Some permit it from Pesach until Rosh Chodesh Iyar, whereas others permit it from Rosh Chodesh Sivan until the end.
- Clothing that is not deemed important enough on which to make a Shehechiyanu are of course allowed by those that hold this way.
- For specials needs or times (Bris Milah, Barmitzvah etc), for reasons of discomfort or for reasons of Honor bestowed upon certain important individuals.
- With regards to a minor below the age of Chinuch, it is obvious that they are excluded and it would appear that even for minors who are of the age of Chinuch, it would be allowed.
- It would appear then, that those who hold not to make a Shehechiyanu would permit one to buy new clothing on condition that one would only wear it after the Sefirah.
C. Miscellaneous other Minhagim
i. One is allowed to buy new utensils and articles even if one would have an element of joy from this.
ii. It is permissible to move into a new apartment. However, there are those that specifically prevent themselves from doing so. One who has no pervious tradition to do this should not be stringent in this matter.
Iii. It is permissible to repair and paint one’s dwelling in these days.
Note: Those in Eretz Yisrael who travel to Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Lag B’Omer, should be careful when using or reserving public transport, not to leave immediately following Shabbos (as it falls out this year), because it could cause the driver and those working for the transport company to desecrate Shabbos, Heaven forbid (and this applies even if the Driver is a non-Jew). i.e. There needs to be enough time that would have passed in order that the driver could have left his point of origin after Shabbos to arrive at the place of pickup. Moreover, ones need to be careful that one should not prepare for his trip to Meiron during Shabbos itself (“Hachana”).
Why do we find that Breslover Chassidim scream and pray with such intensity in the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer?
The Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer is seemingly an easy Mitzvah. All we need to do is to say, “Today is … days of the Omer.” But in reality, some of the greatest secrets are contained with it. Each day one specific heavenly Sefirah shines its own individual light in its own way. The Rebbe teaches that even everything which people discuss between themselves every day of Sefira, is in accordance with the light of that day’s Sefirah, even though they themselves are unaware. (See Likutei Moharan I 182)
Of course, we can’t cover the entire subject of Sefiras HaOmer in such a short article. It’s recommended that you take time to study the teachings of the Tzaddikim which provide many practical approaches towards Sefiras HaOmer. But we will still discuss the simple understanding of Sefiras HaOmer as a preparation for the imminent Kabbolas HaTorah on Shavuos. The most important preparation is the yearning and anticipation for the renewal of our Yiddishkeit on Shavuos.
If we would take a good look at what happens in our lives, we would see that what we are missing in Avodas Hashem is essentially the lack of practical guidance. Every day, each of us passes through so many types of experiences, and we don’t find a way to draw close to Hashem from within them. In reality, there is something we can do in every situation, but everyone needs a different individual solution ,depending on the time and the place. One person can’t tell someone else what he needs to do. Every person has to call out to Hashem himself, until He enlightens him with a new understanding of his circumstances, and perhaps a simple, practical idea as to how to properly deal with what he’s going through.
This is preparation for Kabbolas HaTorah. Every day of Sefiras HaOmer, according to the Sefirah of that day, new understandings and pathways open for us in order to help us correct our negative character traits or immoral desires. But everything depends upon our enthusiasm and faith that every day of Sefirah is an opportunity to find new ways to draw near to Hashem. (For further elaboration, see Likutei Halachos, Rosh Chodesh 6:7)
Try hard to use these precious moments of Sefirah. Take a few minutes every day to try awakening your genuine longing for Hashem which you already have in your heart. Verbalize them, and pray and request from Him that He should assist you to approach the holy Torah anew, and to always help you find your proper path.
If you see that despair has already begun to take a hold of you, with thoughts such as, ‘can I even change?’ and ‘what can my prayers help?’, then realize that this is precisely the Avodah of Sefirah; stubbornly standing strong day after day, ‘yes, I’m waiting and anticipating my salvation, and I’m not giving up, I’m counting day after day!’
Just the thought that I’m going to have to shout so much by Sefiras HaOmer makes the entire Mitzvah burdensome on me. Do I have to force myself to scream?
Avodas Hashem is not a competition who can scream louder or for the longest time. There is no duty to scream. It isn’t even a custom … It’s something authentic for someone who understands that we are heading towards something immense.
Everything in Avodas Hashem becomes cumbersome when you make a plan for yourself to copy what you’ve seen in others, or even what you’ve seen by yourself in past successes, and you try to make your Avodah look like that. Thus we find entire Tefillos becoming confused just from checking the entire time if you feel anything, or are you crying, are you screaming enough, etc. This is literally a foreign thought in the middle of davening. The Rebbe teaches in Likutei Moharan II 95, “During the recital of prayers it’s necessary to distance oneself from every form of outside thoughts in the world, and to direct your mind only to the words which you are speaking to Hashem.”
Don’t make any plans, and approach the Mitzvah in an exalted frame of mind, “I am going to bring satisfaction to Hashem in performing this Mitzvah.” Don’t look at anyone else. The Torah writes, “Count for you” – for yourself. Everyone has his own special Sefirah, his own private longing for Hashem. (See Hil’ Pesach 9)
Keep your mind on what you are saying. While reciting the Brachah, concentrate on the simple idea that Hashem has sanctified us with His Mitzvos, and thank Him for inviting you to become sanctified through His Mitzvos. While actually accounting, again keep in mind the simple yearning and anticipation, one day closer to Kabbolas HaTorah. Say the prayers after the Sefirah slowly, without pressure. Just pay attention to the words you are saying.
The more you connect to the straightforward message of the Mitzvah without troubling yourself how you have to scream and how you have to contemplate this and that, etc., the more you will become truly inspired to count the Omer correctly every day. You may even merit a few days out of the Sefirah to actually scream and let out your heart to Hashem.
Our intention here is not to stop you from screaming until you feel you are doing so authentically. Of course, you can come to inspiration through your voice also, and your heart can thereby also be inspired to scream. But the main thing is to connect with the genuineness of the Mitzvah, without looking to scream.
It’s highly recommended that you study a Halacha or two from Likutei Halachos on Sefiras HaOmer. If you need help finding something, you can use the Otzar HaYirah, which summarizes all of Reb Noson’ teachings. Think about what you have learned, and discuss it with your friends, and try to come to an understanding of what your Avodah will be this year throughout the days of Sefirah.
Throughout the day, try to think about what you’ve learned. For example, in Hil’ Pikadon 4 Reb Noson writes that Sefiras HaOmer is a time to internalize that every day in a person’s life is important, even though many times it seems as if a day doesn’t count because of all the troubles and bothers of that day. We therefore say “Today is the … day …” when we count the days of Sefirah, to internalize that every day is counted, and every day can be used to serve Hashem.
Take such an idea, and remind yourself of it throughout the day, and not just during the actual counting of the Omer. ‘Today is a day!’ You will thereby merit a new yearning for Kabbolas HaTorah.