Revolutionising our Shemoneh Esrei

Avrohom Ovinu’s statement that he is “like dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27) is much misunderstood. People often understand that just as dust and ashes are virtually valueless, so Avrohom Ovinu is saying that he regards himself also as having no value. This understanding is not only contradicted by Rashi’s explanation of the posuk but is wrong and dangerous. Rashi says that Avrohom Ovinu meant that if not for Hashem’s help he would have died and become like dust during the war with the four kings and the five kings and he would have become ashes in the furnace of fire into which he was thrown by Nimrod. Far from expressing his low estimate of himself, the words reflect Avrohom Ovinu’s total emuna that we can do nothing without Hashem. This is true humility as we explained in connection with Noach.

To suggest that Avrohom Ovinu would consider himself worthless is preposterous. Imagining that the Torah expects us to consider ourselves worthless is a mistake which could lead to yi’ush and depression. As Nefesh Hachaim explains at length, every mitzvah we do, every pure thought, has a tremendous effect in the higher worlds, which is in turn reflected in brochos which descend later to our world. Naturally, Gedolim and tzaddikim have the greatest effect but we can all contribute in our own way. We have all heard the stories of apparently simple people changing a Heavenly decree through some act of exceptional righteousness.

We can all play a major role in protecting Klal Yisroel from our many enemies as can be learnt from a section of Agadah in Kiddushin (29b). Abaya had a problem with a certain mazik (demon) which was causing harm in his Yeshiva. He heard that the tzaddik Reb Acha bar Yaakov was coming to learn in the yeshiva. Abaya hoped that Reb Acha would destroy the mazik. He engineered that Reb Acha would sleep in the Beis Hamedrash on the first night knowing that the mazik would be sure to try to damage him. The commentators say that Abaya knew that Reb Acha because of his righteousness, would come to no harm. Indeed the mazik, appearing in the form of a snake with seven heads, did try to harm Reb Acha. However every time Reb Acha bowed down in tefilla, one of the heads of the “snake” was destroyed. After his seventh kriah, (bow) the mazik was completely destroyed. Rav Elyashiv in his He’oros on Kiddushin brings from the Shita Mekubetzes that the seven krios were the two at the beginning of the Shmoneh Esrei when we say Boruch Atoh, the two at the beginning and end of Modim and the three times we bow as we say Oseh sholom bimromov…at the end Shemoneh Esrei.

Why was one head of the mazik destroyed every time Reb Acha bowed down? It seems that this is the explanation: bowing down is a way of saying that we cannot stand up without You. You provide us with everything. Nothing else has power. Our enemies have power only if we ascribe power to them. In short, this is the famous concept of ein od milvado (There is nothing without Him.) If we genuinely believe ein od milvado, our enemies automatically lose their strength. Therefore each time Reb Acha bowed down expressing his emuna in ein od milvado, a head of the mazik was destroyed.

This understanding should revolutionise our Shemone Esrei. We have the power to neutralize our enemies as we bow down in Shemone Esrei through the correct kavana that nothing has any power besides Hashem. We may not be on the madreiga of Reb Acha bar Yaakov. Our belief in ein od milvado may not go as deep as it did with the Brisker Rovzt”l who escaped Nazi-occupied Europe, even walking past Nazi soldiers, as he concentrated intensely on ein od milvado. But each of us can achieve something. And together we can do much to protect Klal Yisroel from our enemies. If we are not on the level to destroy our enemies, we can weaken them, so that they will not always succeed in their plans against us. Even at the end of Shemoneh Esrei, when we tend to be mentally into chazoras hashatz or even outside the shul, we have still a major avoda ahead of us; three more krios with which can weaken our enemies and perhaps save Jewish lives. This is not a time to dilute our kavono but rather to bring it to new heights which could save ourselves and others from danger.

Bearing in mind that nothing besides Hashem has any power, we can have greater kavana throughout Shemone Esre. “Only You, Hashem, can maintain our mental health. Only You, Hashem, can redeem us from our tzoros. Only You, Hashem, can give us good health and parnasa. Shema Koleinu, Listen to us, Hashem, because only You can help us.” Our Shemone Esre should never be the same again.


Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos, From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts and The Hidden Light.

And Noach Walked With Hashem

“Noach was a perfect tzaddik.” There is no other individual whom the Torah praises in such a way – a perfect tzaddik. This means that he never sinned – not in public, not in private, not in deed, not in thought. Yet immediately afterwards the Torah seems to take something away from Noach. He was “perfect… in his generations”. As Rashi says, “Noach was only a tzaddik compared to the people of his generation. If he had lived in the generation of Avrohom he would have been considered as nothing.” How can this be? He was a perfect tzaddik, who did not sin. How can one say that he would have been considered as nothing” And what imperfection could the Torah be hinting at? Could the proximity to the Yom Tov of Succos have any relevance?

Before trying to suggest an answer, I would like to repeat a concept I once heard from the late Rav Mordechai Miller zt”l of Gateshead. Imagine two rich men and the difference in their assets. One might have £1,000,000, the second £2,000,000. The first can be defined half as rich as the second. This is because we are discussing material assets. Each spiritual asset, however, is of infinite value. A person who knows one mesechta does not know half as much as the person who knows two mesechtas. There is no comparison between the two. An extra mesechta, an extra perek or an extra Mishna puts a person into a completely different world. We could even say that the first person knows “nothing” compared to the second. This is true with mitzvos or midos tovos or any spiritual achievement. Since each one has an infinite value, the more we achieve, the more we raise ourselves into a new spiritual world, incomparable to any other.
We are told (Brochos 58a) that Yishai, the father of Dovid Hamelech was a very special and powerful person in his time. Wherever he went, 600,000 people accompanied him to honour him. Another source (Shabbos 55b) tells us that Yishai was one of only four people who died because of the curse of the nochosh, which means that they died without sin. This is an incredible achievement – “without sin” must include any sin, even the sin of pride. If a person is accompanied by 600,000 people at all times, as a way of honouring him, how could he not fall occasionally into the trap of pride. Did anybody else have such a large entourage? Was he perhaps a malach?

The answer must be that despite the tremendous honour he was given, Yishai thought, “What room is there for pride? Could I take one step if Hashem did not give me the strength? Could I see if Hashem did not enable my eyes to function? Could I even breathe if Hashem decreed otherwise? Everything is only bechasdei Hashem. Today I am alive, tomorrow I might be in the grave. There was no room for pride in Yishai’s mind and when he eventually was niftar, it was only because of the nochosh. He had not sinned, not even with a trace of pride.

Like all of us, during Sukkos Yishai moved from his usual home to live in his sukkoh. Living in a sukkoh would have encouraged him – like us, to feel the humility which is a central theme of the mitzvah. From his quasi-regal travelling arrangements, we can assume his home was very comfortable. But for one week he was under a temporary roof. And if Hashem decided to bring rain or winds, he was as vulnerable as everybody else. What room is there for pride?

Did Yishai have a rôle model for living his life with such anivus? Possibly Noach from our parsha. The posuk says, “Noach walked with Hashem.” (Bereishis 6:9). In what sense did Noach walk with Hashem? In the same way as we have described in connection to Yishai. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he always thought, “Without Hashem, I could not do what I am doing.” He even appreciated that his great achievement – resisting the influence of his generation – was also only through siyata dishmayo. As the Gemoro says, (Kiddushin 30b), “If it were not for Hashem’s help, we could never resist our yetzer hora.”

Now we can understand that the whole posuk is discussing Noach’s humility. He was a complete tzaddik who never sinned, even in the way he compared himself to his generation. “Without help from Hashem, I would be no better than they are.” “And Noach walked with Hashem,” never forgetting that only help from Hashem enabled him to achieve even a single step. Nevertheless the Torah hints that despite his madreiga in humility, he was not on the level of Avrohom Ovinu who called himself “dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27). And being on a lower spiritual level is like being in a different world, as we learnt earlier. However great one is, one on the lower level is considered like “nothing” compared to one on a higher level.

To be continued.

בני בני חביבי –  A Tribute to the Residents of Beit Ha’ela

Simchos Bais Hashoeva come in various shapes and sizes. Some take place in a Succa, some in Simcha halls, others in private rooms. At some, people dance to live music, at others people sit in their seats and sing. Some have several droshos, others none at all. Most are simchadik with a joyful Succos atmosphere. Hopefully most Jews go to one or two during Succos. It is part of the beauty of the Jewish calendar that during a complete year we experience  the happiness of Succos, the sadness of Tisha Be’Ov, the solemnity of Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur and much else besides.

But the Simchas Bais Hashoeva I attended tonight was not similar to any of the above. The people who attended are all patients in a nursing home in the centre of Israel. All of them suffer from serious physical disabilities which prevent them from living at home, if they have one. Some have cognitive impairments, others psychological issues. Some are blind, others are either lacking limbs or have deformed ones. Some have a combination of problems. Some come from religious homes and are quite knowledgable. Others are totally secular but remember the odd aspect of Judaism from their grandparents. I have been visiting them on a weekly basis for some time and have never heard a word of complaint about their situation.

Their four story facility is in pleasant rural surroundings but quite far from the nearest town. Hence most of the time, they have just their fellow residents as company. Besides the staff, many of whom seem to be Russian speaking, there are volunteers who go in and help in some way. I am the only male volunteer and as a Rabbi, I was asked to give a shiur once a week to those who are interested. I punctuate my Divrei Torah and stories with either popular Israeli songs or more traditional Jewish melodies which I have taught them. You should see the delight in the eyes of the Sefardi patients as they get to grips with ‘Yismach Moshe’ with its Yiddish refrains! Thus the group has grown over time. All are made to feel welcome. There’s something for everybody to enjoy.

They had told me the previous week that somebody brings them a lulav and esrog for Succos. Therefore I was quite surprised when my arrival with my lulav and esrog created such a stir. Apparently the person who had brought in previous years hadn’t managed this year so mine was the first. To paraphrase the Gemoro in Succa(51a) – “Anybody who did not see the joy with which these people took the lulav and, some with help, some without help, said the brocho have never seen joy in their life.” This was “Usemachtem Lifnei Hashem Elokaichem” in its most sublime sense. Those in wheelchairs formed the circle, those on two feet were dancing, my lulav was the Sefer Torah. Vesomachto Bechagecho was the theme song on everyone’s lips. The first hakofo had begun.

Eventually the dancing subsided, everyone formed a circle and we spoke about the symbolism of the lulav and the esrog and the message of the Succa. I told them of the time my family and I were walking towards the ‘plane in Ovda airport, north of Eilat on our way to visit our family in England. Behind the plane we could see the rugged mountains of the Negev, with not a blade of grass in sight. . “Look,” I told my family,“when the Bnai Yisroel left Egypt, Moshe Rabeinu told them that we’re going in that direction. They were leaving civilization and going into the unknown. What a leap of faith that required. How could they survive in such surroundings? Our group then sang“ Ko omar Hashem, zocharti loch chesed ne’uraich, ahavas kelulosaich, lechtech acharei bamidbar be’eretz lo zorua” to the well known tune. We could only survive because Hashem was protecting us with His Annanei Hakovod, feeding us Mon from the sky and water from the rock. This is what the succa reminds us of. Everyone in the circle, all with a Jewish neshomo was listening intently.

When Aharon Hakohen was niftar, I told them, the Annanei Hakovod were no longer to be seen. So much so, I said quoting the Gemoro Rosh Hashono (3a), that The King of Arod, alias Sichon Ho’emori, thought that this was an opportune moment to attack. Their G-d is no longer protecting them, he concluded. However he was utterly defeated. He didn’t know the secret. The Annanei Hakovod are no longer visable to the naked eye.

But they are still there, protecting the Jews, from the enemies who have tried to destroy us in every generation. How else could we have survived – a lone lamb surrounded by seventy wolves? We then sang “Vehi she’omdo”  familiar to all those present from the Seder.

I then told them, I wanted to teach them a song from the Zohar. Kad yasvin Yisroel ve’askin besimchas hatorah, Kudshe Brich Hoo omer lefamalia delai “ Chazoo, chazoo,bonai, bonai chavivai demishtachechin bezaaro dilhon ve’askin be chedvasa dili. When the Jewish People are celebrating Simchas Hatorah, the Holy One, blessed be He says to His Heavenly Court – “ Look, look at my beloved children who disregard their own troubles and celebrate My Simcha.”

We sang it with enthusiasm a few times until the tune and the words were familiar. Then I spoke again. At this very moment, I told them,and I could feel my eyes watering already, Hashem is talking to His Ministering Angels and he is pointing down to this room. “See, see My beloved children who have so many problems of their own but they’re not complaining, they’re not bitter about their lot, they’re blind, lame, malformed but they’re singing Ani Maamin, they’re dancing to Vesomachto Bechagecho, they’re looking forward to Yibone Hamikdosh Bimhairo Beyomainu with a pure faith, they’re putting aside their problems and are celebrating My Simcha. Chazoo, chazoo, bonai bonai chavivai – My beloved, beautiful children. We sang the words again, but this time with even more feeling, more intensity. In my thoughts I was again paraphrasing the Gemoro Succa. Whoever has not experienced this Simchas Bais Hashoeva, has never experienced a Simchas Bais Hashoeva in their life.

And in my thoughts, I was looking forward to the real Simchas Bais Hashoeva in the rebuilt Bais Hamikdosh. As the Mishna says all of Klal Yisroel will be there but only the Chasidim and Anshei Maaseh will be dancing in the middle. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet but I wouldn’t be surprised if with all the Gedolai Yisroel of all generations, a call doesn’t come out to invite others into the inner circle of dancers.

Aryeh and Yitschok with their sight now restored, Moshe, Yaakov, Meir and Danni now out of their wheelchairs, Gaddi, his nervous system now functioning normally, Menashe, he sings “Yibone Hamikdosh” with unequalled intencity, with the rest of our group together with all the other holy members of Klal Yisroel who with equal bravery have put aside their personal Tzoros and have celebrated “My Simcha” throughout the generations.

We will stand back as they go forward, the tachtonim will have become the elyonim – bimhairo beyomainu omain

As printed in Rabbi Fletcher’s sefer “From Strength to Strength”

טוב להודות לה’ – It’s Good to Thank Hashem

The Gemara Megila (9a) tells that Ptolemy, the king of Egypt, once gathered seventy-two Jewish elders and put them in separate rooms without telling them why. He then instructed them to write down the text of the Torah. He had separated them to prevent them from conferring together: Had the elders just written the traditional text there would have been a danger that he could have asked apparent contradictions in the text, found insults to his religion or even accused the Jews of encouraging a rebellion against his rule. They all made changes but miraculously they all made identical changes in the text, which are listed in the Gemara. One of them was the text of the pasuk “And He finished on the seventh day the work that He had done and He rested on the seventh day from the work that He had done.” (Bereishis 2:2) All seventy-two elders realised that Ptolemy could have asked a strong question on this pasuk since it implies that Hashem continued the creation of the world on the seventh day before He rested. This would have contradicted the Jewish understanding that Hashem completed the creation on the sixth day and rested on the seventh and consequently challenged the  traditional Jewish observance of Shabbos. Therefore they all changed the text to “And He finished on the sixth day.the work that He had done.

Rashi explains that Chazal understand the pasuk to mean that after the six days of creation there was something — rest — missing, which Hashem ‘created’ on the seventh day. However Ptolemy would not have accepted this explanation and would have claimed that there are mistakes in the Torah. However we have to ask why Ptolemy would not have accepted the explanation of Chazal. Why would he not have agreed that a day of rest is important?

What is the real explanation of the creation of rest? Why was it necessary? The obvious explanation — that people would become tired if they worked without a break — does not fully answer the question. People could rest whenever they were tired or at night. Why is the concept of an official day of rest important. Why is Shabbos so vital? One idea is that Shabbos is the day when we can take a step back to check whether we are living correctly, remembering our ultimate destination. Another  central theme in our working for six days and resting on Shabbos is to reaffirm our belief that Hashem also ‘worked’ for six days to create the universe and rested on the seventh.  On Friday night both in shul and at home we repeat the paragraph Vayechulu  to emphasize this belief publicly. But maybe we can add yet another dimension to our understanding of Shabbos.

In the account of the creation (Ibid 1:27-28), we read, “And Hashem created man in His image, in the image of Hashem He created him, male and female He created them. And He blessed them and He said to them, be fruitful and multiply, fill up the earth and conquer it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky and every living thing that moves on the earth.”

These pesukim define the task of human beings in the world. We are to take everything which we find and use it to develop the world. To utilise what Hashem has created in a way which will benefit mankind. To explore new frontiers, to develop agriculture, to discover healing potential in plant life, to make progress in technology; to ‘conquer’ the world as the pasuk said. However that is for six days. “For six days shall you work.” (Shemos 20:9). On the seventh day we do not work. We do not pursue anything new. We do not look forward but back. We rest and take stock of what we have achieved. We thank Hashem for what we have.

David Hamelech clearly indicated that our task on Shabbos is appreciating what we have and giving thanks to Hashem. Mizmor shir l’yom haShabbos. Tov l’hodos l’Hashem ulezamer l’shimcha elyon. Lehagid baboker chasdecho ve’emunasecha baleilos. “A Song of the Shabbos day. It is good to thank Hashem and to sing to Your name, Oh most High One. To speak of Your kindness in the morning and Your faith in the nights.” (Tehilim 92)   The Radak on this pasuk  says Shabbos is the day we have been given to concentrate on wisdom and the service of Hashem. It is the day ideally suited to giving thanks to Hashem. We should thank Him for all His kindnesses including the wonders of ‘nature’ We have time to think about the miracle of the air which we breathe, how the rain falls to enable crops to grow, how the sun gives us light and warmth and provides for trees, grasses and the vast variety of fruit and vegetables which Hashem has created for us to enjoy, etc.

Chazal instituted that we say Nishmas on Shabbos morning. “… If our mouth were as full as song as the sea, our tongue as full of joyous song as the the multitude of waves, our lips as full of praise as the breadths of the heavens, our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky, our feet as swift as hinds, we still could not thank You sufficiently Hashem, our G-d and G-d of our fathers and bless Your name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands and thousands, myriad myriads of favours that You have performed for our fathers and for us. You redeemed us from Egypt, Hashem our G-d, You liberated us from the house of bondage. In famine you nourished us, in plenty You sustained us. From the sword you have saved us, from plague You let us escape and You spared us from severe and enduring diseases…”

On Shabbos we also add to our pesukei d’zimra the twenty-six lines of Hallel Hagadol  which all end with the words ki l’olam chasdo – His kindness is forever. Our feelings of thanks to Hashem during these lines are so intense that it is written that the malachim in shomayim pause their praises of Hashem at that point and allow us to take over. The Ohr Zorua brings a medresh that Hashem refused the request of the Serafim for a seventh wing so they could sing to Hashem on Shabbos as well. Hashem told them that he has the Jewish People who sing to Him on Shabbos.The writer of the zemer, “Kol mekedesh shevi’i” implies in his words “so’adim bo levarech shalosh pe’amim” that we don’t say Birkas Hamazon three times over Shabbos because we have eaten three meals but we eat three meals on Shabbos in order to able to say Birkas Hamazon three times.

Hopefully we all sit at our Shabbos tables with our family and friends and enjoy beautiful foods. What better time is there to thank Hashem for all our blessings? We can think back to the previous week and ask each member of the family, “What good thing happened to you this week?” What did you enjoy most? Whatever answer is forthcoming can be a springboard to thank Hashem.

Shabbos is a gift to the Jewish People. (Beitza 16a) Thanking Hashem is not only an obligation but it gives us great pleasure because when we verbalise our blessings we appreciate them so much more.

Ptolemy and his like would never understand this. They want to conquer more, make more progress, 24/7. To stop is a waste of a day. Indeed, as we say in the Shabbos morning tefila,”…velo nesato legoyei ho’aratzos…” – You didn’t give the Shabbos to the nations of the world. They are not interested in humbling themselves before Hashem. Nebuchadnetzar thought of himself as Hashem’s equal.  (Yeshayahu 14:14). For us, however, admitting that our blessings come from Hashem is a tradition thousands of years old. It is a badge of honor. We enjoy being close to Hashem. He calls us beni bechori Yisroel – my firstborn son. As we say in Musaf Shmone Esrei, those who observe Shabbos achieve honor, life and greatness. Whatever our weekday profession, on Shabbos we dress and look like royalty. And the theme of the day is our declaration Tov lehodos l’Hashem – It is good to thank You, Hashem for all Your blessings.

As printed in my sefer, From Strength to Strength.

Now that’s an Interesting Question

With Succos coming very soon, it is perhaps a good idea to review some halochos of Yom Tov, in particular where they differ from Hilchos Shabbos. It is always beneficial to understand the background to practical halachos in order to have a better grasp of them.

We know that on Yom Tov we are allowed to do certain melachos in the course of food preparation. Lighting a fire to cook food is included in this leniency. We are not allowed to ’create’ a fire but we can take a fire from an existing fire to light the gas to cook the food. What about a fire for non – food purposes? The Mishna (Beitza 12a) says that Beis Hillel allow us on Yom Tov to carry a baby through a reshus horabbim to his bris or a Sefer Torah to be read in shul or a lulav where required on Succos but Beit Shammai do not allow this. The Gemara, in one of two explanations, says that the argument between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai is whether we can apply a line of reasoning called “mitoch” (seeing that).  Beis Hillel say that “seeing that carrying in the street is permitted for the purpose of food it is also permitted not for the purpose of food.”  Beis Shammai disagree. Assuming the halacha is like Beis Hillel, is this only allowed for the important purposes mentioned in the Mishna or also for lesser needs? Tosfos (Kesuvos 7a) says that carrying a child in the street to enjoy a Yom Tov walk (Simchas Yom Tov) is permitted. But what if I have no need at all, like something I just happen to have in my pocket?  Does my act of carrying for no reason revert to being forbidden according to the Torah or has the whole prohibition of carrying in the street on Yom Tov been cancelled? Or is it forbidden rabbinically? On this there is a further dispute. Rashi (Beitza 12a) says that it is permitted according to the Torah to carry on Yom Tov even if I have no use for what I am carrying. The Rambam agrees with Rashi. It may still, however, be forbidden rabbinically. However Tosfos (ibid) holds that if there if I have no use for the item being carried it is forbidden according to the Torah.

Are we allowed to carry something which I do not need but I am afraid that it will be stolen if I leave it; for instance a key of my house which I will not be returning to over Yom Tov.  I do not need the key on Yom Tov but if I don’t lock the door and take the key with me, my house might be burgled. There is a dispute amongst the poskim about this and the Mishna Berura (518:6) says that it is correct to be stringent. However where the item is used for a mitzvah for instance a talis or lulav , the Mishna Berura (ibid) says that if a person is genuinely concerned that it will be stolen or mislaid and he only took them to shul on Yom Tov morning, he can certainly take them home even though he doesn’t need them for the rest of Yom Tov because if it were not allowed, he might not take them to shul to start with.

Is this concept of “mitoch” applicable with all of the melachos which are allowed on Yom Tov or only some of them? This is again a very controversial subject but Mishna Berura (518:) says that we say “mitoch” in connection with havara, shechita, bishul and afiah.

May we spray a wasp or fly which is annoying us? On the one hand, to kill it is a form of shechita and therefore, even though we are certainly not going to eat it, it should be allowed because of mitoch but on the other hand perhaps this is not a direct benefit similar to carrying a key to avoid a loss of money which we said before we should be stringent about. But why should it be less of a need than carrying a child on a Yom Tov tiyul for oneg Yom Tov which Tosfos (Kesuvos 7a) allowed as mentioned above?

What about lighting candles for a seudas bris? Everyone agrees that we say ‘mitoch’ with havara. The question is here is whether it is considered a need. Lighting when there is no need is called a ner shel batala which is not allowed. The poskim discuss lighting a candle on Yom Tov to show guests around your house. To light a candle because one is afraid to sleep in the dark, the Biur Halacha (514:5) allows. To light in a shul as kovod beis hakenesses is also allowed. A yaarzeit candle, the Biur Halacha (ibid) suggests lighting in shul to avoid doubt. Lighting extra Yom Tov candles by night is allowed because each candle adds extra light but during the day the Mishna Berura (ibid) does not allow it. Finally in connection with lighting candles in honour of a seudas bris, the Shaar Hatziun (514:41) is lenient because it is in honour of the mitzvah similar to lighting in a shul.

As we can see, there are many interesting questions in connection with Hilchos Yom Tov and they can be possibly be discussed in the Succa using some of the more recent sefarim on Hilchos Yom Tov. (“Do You Know Hilchos Yom Tov?” coming out next year IYH). For halocho lemaaseh, though, the final decision in any question should be made by one’s own rav.

How Beautiful Are Your Footsteps

In the Musaf Shemone Esre of Yom Tov we say, “Rebuild Your Temple….establish Your site….May we go up there three times a year…as it says in Your Torah, “Three times a year shall all men appear before Hashem Elokecho….on Pesach, on Shevuos and on Succos . Do not appear empty-handed. Each should come with his own gift, according to the blessing Hashem Elokecho has bestowed upon you.”

We must not appear empty-handed. Chagiga (7a) says that this refers to the korbonos which we have to bring when we come on those three festivals. The Mishna (2a) tells us the minimum. But there is no maximum. We should bring “according to the blessing Hashem has bestowed upon us.” If our flocks have been very productive, we should bring many korbonos to show our appreciation to Hashem.

“How beautiful are your footsteps” (Shir Hashirim 7:2) is interpreted by Chagiga (3a) as a praise of those who went three times a year on the sholosh regolim to the Beis Hamikdosh in Yerusholayim.  Going on foot to Yerusholayim and returning could have taken a few weeks. Multiplied by three, a large part of the year has already been taken up. All farm work had to be put on hold – a significant sacrifice in order to fulfil the mitzva of the Torah and to honour Hashem. If we bear in mind that, for the most part, they brought their wives and families with them to fulfil the mitzva of “giving joy to one’s wife and household on Yom Tov,” (Tosfos, Rosh Hashono 6b) the visit to Yerusholayim became a full-scale expedition. More than that, nobody was left to guard the farms and homes; people had to have bitachon that the promise of the Torah, (Shemos 34:24) “No-one will covet your land whilst you go up to the Beis Hamikdash three times a year,” would be fulfilled. This thrice yearly aliya l’regel was a tremendous demonstration of loyalty to Hashem. The posuk’s praise, “How beautiful are your footsteps” was extremely appropriate.

However the wording of the posuk, “ …yeroeh kol zechuracho” – all males should be seen – implies  more than just going to the Beis Hamikdosh with one’s korbonos. If our boss calls us in for a periodic meeting, he does not intend to discuss the weather. He wants to check up on our work. What have we done since the last meeting? If Hashem wants us to appear before Him, a shiver should go down our spine. An investigation of our worthiness seems to be likely. A meeting with Hashem is also not going to be a social call. What have we achieved since the last meeting, the last regel?

Let’s go back to the office meeting with the boss. He wants to know “tachlis”. How many sales have we achieved? How many new clients have we brought in? Have we been working hard? What about punctuality and a willingness to put in extra hours to achieve more? No, meeting the boss is no picnic.  We have to have answers, good answers.

And what happens if the boss gave us generous expenses to enable us to concentrate on building up the business, we’d better have very good answers. Let’s imagine the boss asking what we’ve done over the last few months for the firm and we answer him, “Well, actually I was busy with private work. I relaxed, took a couple of holidays….” The boss would rightly be very angry, “What, I gave you a salary and extra expenses and you pocketed them and took it easy?”

When we meet Hashem three times a year, he greets us with love. “Hi. Great to see you. It’s amazing you’ve come, with the ganze mishpocho.” But He also wants to know “tachlis”. What have we achieved since the last regel? Another mesechta, a new kevius? Were we misahev al habrios, making Hashem more loved by other people because of what we have done? Perhaps we made sholom with a relative we had been on bad terms with.  Did we do new chasodim, ring up or invite that lonely neighbour we had been meaning to befriend but never got round to? We have to have something to report to the Boss, “according to the blessings He has bestowed upon us.” We cannot go empty-handed. And if we say, “Things are ticking along, nothing new really…” Hashem’s “eyebrows” might go up. “A few months and nothing new? That’s a bit disappointing.”  And if we say, “The last few months I’ve been very busy with other things. I put my avodas Hashem on the back burner.” Hashem will be very disappointed. “Put avodas Hashem on the back burner? But I gave you expenses – parnosoh, good health and you pocketed them? Squandered the time? Did your own thing? That’s not acceptable.” How humiliated we would feel, how disappointed in ourselves. In fact the prospect of that humiliation would ensure that we would have new achievements to report. Chas vesholom that we should appear before Hashem empty-handed. Therefore going to Yerusholayim three times a year did not only transform our Yom Tov experience. Our preparation for those visits would have transformed the whole year.

We do not have the zechus to go to the Beis Hamikdosh three times a year but we hope and daven for that privilege. Therefore we have to do everything we can do to show a real desire to go. And that means making sure that when Yom Tov comes, we are not “empty-handed.” We have Torahdik achievments to our name. We accept all of Hashem’s blessings. We cannot just be doing “our own thing.”  Now is the time to start the list of achievements which we will be able to show to Hashem on Yom Tov, especially if b’ezras Hashem, we can be oleh l’regel to the renewed Beis Hamikdosh – and the words of Shir Hashirim will be apply to us – “How beautiful are your footsteps.”