Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Significance of 7th of Marcheshvan

Because Mom's yahrtzeit is the 7th of Kislev, I will stop saying kaddish on the 6th of Marcheshvan (the night of Wednesday, October 13, 2010).   Rabbi Shneur Silberberg has advised that the timing of this is especially significant because on the 7th of Marcheshvan, which is 15 days after Sukkot, in Israel, Jews add the words What "V’ten Tal Umatar Livracha" ("and bestow dew and rain for blessing") to their prayers.

According to Ask Moses,2089737/What-is-V-ten-Tal-Umatar-Livracha.html
This formal request for rain is inserted in the 9th blessing of the daily Amidah during the months that Israel is most in need of rain. In Israel this request is inserted commencing Cheshvan 7, following the opinion of Rabban Gamliel in the Mishnah, "fifteen days after the festival [of Sukkot] so that the last Jew [returning home from the festival] could reach the River Euphrates". In the Diaspora, this request is not added until December 4th, following the opinion of Chananiah in the Talmud "In the Diaspora [we do not begin to pray] until the sixtieth day after the [Tishrei] cycle". We do not insert this request at the beginning of the rain season (Shmini Atzeret), because the need for rain is not yet urgent enough to officially request it.
I am in Israel at this time, and will be here until the beginning of Kislev. So the way I look at it, I will be "home free" from saying kaddish on the 7th of Marcheshvan and Mom's neshama will be "home," as she merited Gan Eden after 11 months less one day of kaddish.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

A prayer by the Chazon Ish

May it be Your Will Hashem, our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, that You have mercy on my son [name of son] son of [mother's name], and direct his heart to love and fear Your Name, and to be diligent in the study of Your holy Torah. May You remove from before him all circumstances that may deter him from diligent study of Your holy Torah and may you make ready all the conditions that will bring him/her closer to Your holy Torah.

Friday, January 1, 2010

More about Kaddish

Among the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah is the Biblical commandment (Leviticus 22:32) to publicly sanctify God's Name and not desecrate God's Name. The words of the kaddish are one way to sanctify God's Name.

Kaddish is a public praise of God's name. What makes it public? Saying kaddish among a minyan (a quorum of 10 Jewish men) makes it public.

The translated kaddish prayer begins "Exalted and hallowed be His great Name," to which the others present say, "amen." Thus, others respond by also praising God's Name.

Later in the kaddish, both mourner and public say, "yehesh mei rabba . . . ," meaning, "May His great Name be blessed in this world and in all worlds." Again, both mourner and public praise God's Name.

Nothing about death or mourning appears in the words of the kaddish. Rather, the mourner, many times each day, publicly re-affirms his/her devotion to the Almighty, notwithstanding a terrible loss. That is how I see it, anyway.

I was taught that saying kaddish is one way to cancel out the al lack of praise for God's name, or, noo matter how accidental or unintentional, the opposite of praise. And that no matter how saintly a person was in life, such unintentional acts or omissions are bound to have happened many times. Perhaps a person did or said something that caused a non-Jew to curse the Jews or God. Did a Jew act arrogantly toward non-Jews? It does not take a Berinie Madoff to give people an excuse to curse Jews and, thereby, curse God. Perhaps someone publicly violated essential Jewish laws, which is a public statement as well.

And to do the opposite - to sanctify God's name? Well, certainly there have been acts of Jews that caused non-Jews to praise God or praise the Jews.

And how about, as mentioned above, saying kaddish publicly. And to be there for others when they need a minyan so that others can say the kaddish. And then there is the act of giving one's life for the sake of  God's name.

After one dies, is there a tally of the number of times one sanctified or desecrated God's name? I don't know. But we are also taught, through a story about Rabbi Akiva, that publicly saying kaddish in memory of a person does mitigate the harm to one's soul by causing desecration of God's name during life or failing to praise God's name.

In the story, severely shortened here (you can google it and read about it elsewhere in various forms and details), Rabbi Akiva, while walking in the woods, comes upon a suffering soul on this earth, and learns that the man had not led an exemplary life. Rabbi Akiva takes it upon himself to teach the man's son Torah, to read and write, to recite grace after meals, to say "Shema" and to pray. Later, after the boy prayed in public, saying the kaddish and causing the people to praise G-d's name in response, the man returned to Rabbi Akiva to thank him for helping ease his suffering..

This story teaches us the something about the power of kaddish in memory of a parent. Saying it praises God's name and causes everyone present to praise God's name in response. That's a powerful incentive to get as many people as possible to praise God's name.

So when I say kaddish, I and others are praising God's name in memory of Chaya bat Yisrael, Zichrona Livracha, may her memory be for a blessing. And though mom would never have intentionally hurt a fly, and did may kind things for many people, I do this for her to be sure that the tally heavily is in her favor.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Finding a Minyan, Part 4

It is a Friday in Michigan in mid-November. I am planning to visit my (unbeknownst-to-me dying) mom in the hospital in New Jersey, just as soon as I get back from my trip to Sl Segundo and San Jose to audit two defense contractor sites the following week.

A newly arrived e-mail asks whether I can audit some landfills on the east coast. While I am reading the e-mail, my boss walks into my office, an intense look on her face. (I didn't even know she was in Michigan - she works in Boston). I look up.

"Respond to the e-mail and tell them you can go,"  she says firmly.  My billable hours have been low. I need the work.

After 4 1/2 years for this firm, I have never been invited to do any work near my folks.

"Absolutely," I say.

It's Thanksgiving week. I'm sitting shiva at my parents' house. I'm not supposed to be working. But I've got a new I-pod touch in my pocket and I'm receiving e-mails from someone in the Manhattan office all day long. By Friday, three audits have been scheduled.  The colleague I've been paired with to do the landfill audits is Australian. Thanksgiving and shiva mean nothing to him. It's all set. Next Thursday, I'll be auditing a facility that treats petroleum contaminated soils with bacteria that eat petroleum.



I get up from shiva on Monday. Gonna work in one of my company's offices in New Jersey. Lets try Cranbury.

I do a search. There's a minyan map available on line. There's a kollel (essentially a post-graduate religious school for married men) about a mile from the Cranbury office. Great.

It's Tuesday. I go to my dad's synagogue for morning services. I go to the Cranbury office to work, about an hour from my folk's house. The Cranbury Kollel has afternoon services at 2:10 pm. I call to verify there will be a minyan and that I will be able to get in (what do I know?). No problem, I am told, after telling the young man on the phone that I need to say kaddish for my mom.

I get there at 2 pm. After trying a few different doors, I enter the building and ask where mincha will be. I am led to a bais medrash. There are maybe a half dozen men of various ages learning in pairs. It is a big room with many tables and shtenders (lecterns).  Religious men like to pray while standing at lecterns where they can rest their prayerbooks. I have brought my own pocket-sized prayerbook.

Everyone is wearing black suits, white shirts, and black hats. I am wearing cargo pants, a plaid shirt, and a fleece vest, and a camo baseball-type cap. I have a beard. Everyone else has a beard. I fit right in.

Before I realize it, the place is now full and at exactly 2:10 someone starts leading the davening with ashrei. I get to say my kaddish. A few men come over and welcome me. I shake their hands, say goodbye, and go back to the office. I'll be able to say evening prayers after I get back to my parents' house - there's a late evening service (9 pm) at my father's shul.


It's Thursday. I am supposed to pick up my Australian colleague at 8 a.m. the train station near Edison, NJ.  The minyan map says there's a shul with four different starting times for morning prayers, 5:50, 6:30, 7:00, 7:20. Great. I plan to get there for the 6:30 minyan.

Notwithstanding my GPS, which is excellent, by the way (I have a lot to say about GPSs in future posts), I get there at about 6:40. Too late. I ask where the 7:00 minyan will be and I am shown the way. A big room with a lot of tables, each of which seats about four. Three tables are occupied. They are all talking about various subjects they are studying - from a distance it I can see it ts all talmud. They are dressed more American (for lack of a better word). They are studying before work (whereas, at a Kollel, studying is the work).

It is 7 a.m. Nobody has budged. My tallit and tefillin are on now. Many others have put theirs on as well. But nobody has parked himself at the lectern in front of the room. I look around - a trickle of men have been entering since I arrived and there's at least 20 people present. I see an older man, long gray beard, black hat, studying with a more casually dressed 20-something. Maybe he's the rabbi. (Probably half of them are rabbis, but he appeared to be the person to talk to.)

Pointing to my watch. "Excuse me, sir, but isn't there going to be shacharit at 7."

The rabbi grimaces slightly and smiles. "Well, yes there is. Is there a problem?"

"My mother died last week and I have to say kaddish. And need to be somewhere at 8 o'clock."

"Hmmmph. Well, this is the kollel minyan. It is very slow. It won't finish 'til 8."

I must have looked pretty dejected. He gets up, says, "Don't worry. I'll get you a kaddish."

I have no idea what he means. He comes over to my table. Morning services still haven't started.

He starts saying something from a prayerbook. It's too fast for me to follow except the last sentence: "Hashem chafetz le'ma'an tzidko yagdiltorah v'ya'adir."  He looks at me and mouths the words "kaddish."

"Which one???"

"Whichever one you want."

I say a mourner's kaddish.

He then says something else, too fast for me to follow, followed by that look. I say another kaddish. The leader of the minyan starts. I say the first kaddish with the minyan, and then proceed at my own pace (as fast as possible) to say the rest of shacharit. I finish and leave without hearing the torah reading.

One of these days I'll need to learn about this kaddish stuff.  There's some magic words which, if said and heard in the presence of a minyan, trigger the saying of kaddish.

Finding Minyans, Part 3

It is Tuesday, December 22, 6:55 a.m.. Buffalo, NY. Light snow, temperature in the teens. I'm dressed in my BDUs and steel toes, my hardhat and safety glasses in the back seat. I'm supposed to pick up my colleague at Buffalo Airport at 8 a.m. and then head for the landfill for our audit.

The godaven printout says that Beis HaKnesses Hagodol Lubavitch, a shul that prays with the same prayerbook as mine, has morning services at 7 a.m. So that's where I am. It is reasonably close to Buffalo airport. I'll have no problem saying my prayers and my kaddishes, and meeting my colleague on time.

I pull on the main door to the building, which appears to be a school. A big one. So much the better (or so I think). The lights are out  except for a long wall of frosted, translucent windows, which appears to be the side of a big single room - probably the synagogue. The outside door is unlocked - a good sign.

I go into the school and guess which door might be the shul. It is unlocked. I peek inside. It is the rear door to the bais medrash (literally, a study hall, but in most cases is seems, also a shul). The lights are on. I see nobody there. "Is anybody here?" (no answer)

I go back to my car. Maybe it's another shiva? I hesitate. Maybe I should just go in, put on my tallis and tefillin and start praying - maybe the minyan will show up soon. It's 7 a.m.

This time, I walk in. A thin, pale boy, around 13 years old, black suit, white disheveled shirt, black fedora, crooked teeth, sits hidden from view of the rear door.

Me: "Excuse me, isn't there going to be shacharit about now?

Him (shrugging, sheepish grin, high (pre-teen) voice): "Well, it never really starts at 7. More like 7:30 or so."

Me, a wry smirk on my face now: "OK, I guess I'll just start and hope for the best."

I choose a seat (there are 50 or so, all empty). I take out my tallis and prayerbook. A man walks in, about my age, short, black suit, white shirt, tzitzit, very quickly walking to the lectern. He lights the oil lamps (even though there's an electric lamp on there as well) while I'm putting on my tfillin. When I'm done he comes over to me and tells me not to worry. There will be a minyan eventually.

Me: "I have to say kaddish for my mother. It's still sheloshim" (the first thirty days after burial).

Him (shrugging, sheepish grin, high (grownup) voice): "Me, too. Don't worry."

By 7:30, there's about eight men. I'm about 80% finished with my prayers. The men can see from my positions standing, sitting, feet together, feet not together, three steps back, three steps forward, etc., that I've already said sh'ma, shmonah esrei, and tachanun. The rabbi goes out into the hallway and rounds up the stragglers.

The rabbi starts. I say my first kaddish in time for my aleinu (one of the concluding prayers). The rabbi then comes over to me and shows me a page in the siddur. He gestures and points, makes various grunts while pointing at a prayer, flipping the pages, and then pointing to a "rabbi's" kaddish (he can't talk any more - he's at a point in the prayers where he can't interrupt his prayers).

I guess the rules don't consider charades to be an interruption.

First he points to one page, running his finger down the page and says "uhhhhhh?" Then he flips to the kaddish page and points at the kaddish and says "uhhhhh." I look at him quizzically. He repeats his wordless explanation. I nod. I get it. I say the first line of the prayer out loud, then the middle silently, breaking my teeth trying to do it quickly, then the last sentence out loud, and then I say the rabbi's kaddish, to which the minyan responds appropriately.

The Rabbi then comes back with a book of psalms, and opens to psalm 20, running his finger down the page and says "uhhhhhh?" Then he flips to another kaddish page in the prayerbook and says "uhhhhh." I nod, I say the psalm, I say the mourner's my kaddish. The men reply.

I quickly take off my tfillin, wrap them up, fold up my tallis, say to the rabbi when he glances back at me, "todah" (thanks), and head for my car. Was it my imagination, or did he wink?

I pick up my colleague at 8:10. Getting there late gave him time to buy me a cup of coffee at the airport while he was waiting. I just blame it on "traffic."

Finding Minyans, Part 2

In my previous post I mentioned that any synagogue that you choose to visit for your services and kaddish may have an element of unpredictability in connection with the minyan schedule.

This past Monday, I drove to Buffalo. Before I left for Buffalo, and as I said before, trust but verify. I planned my trip, which took me across Ontario, Canada, including two border crossings, so as to arrive at Young Israel of Buffalo 15 minutes before mincha.  I arrived in plenty of time for mincha, and was the only person there. I sat in my car in front of the synagogue, watching for other cars to arrive.

At mincha time, one car parked behind mine and the driver did the same thing. And then another two pulled around the side of the building and parked. I went to the front door. No lights turned on and I saw no movement.  I went around to the side door. There were two men and several young boys reading a sign posted on the door. Mincha (and shacharit) would be at a shiva house this week, at suchandsuch address, with a little google map to show us where.

One of the men, a frummie in black coat and hat with tzitzit says to me, "do you know vere is suchandsuch address maybe?" (I was wearing my BDU pants and steel-toe shoes - I was dressed for auditing a hazardous waste landfill this week.)

"Nope. I'm not from around here."

"You have a GPS, maybe?"

"Yup. Follow me."

They started mincha a little late, so we were just in time. I had afternoon and evening prayers and got to say kaddish three times on Monday (around 8 of them if I remember correctly).

Remember what I said about "trust but verify?"

Finding Minyans, Part 1

When you're trying to find a minyan of 10 men with which to say kaddish at morning, afternoon, and evening services, it is a challenge to be away from a home or from home base. And sometimes it is even a challenge when you are home and live about 100 yards from your shul.

Many tools are needed, or at least sometimes helpful, to find these services. Even when you do, they are not always what you expect.

Among the tools I have found somewhat helpful:

Regional minyan schedules, see, e.g., a minyan map (so far so good) or godaven ("trust but verify")

You will need to know not only where there is a place to pray, but also something about when to pray.

Permissible prayer times are all connected to the various times of day when the sun is at this or that position in the sky. Which also means that where you are physically (your latitude and longitude) matters.

  • There's dawn, and then there's the earliest time you can put on a tallit and tfillin.
  • There's the latest time you can say the morning sh'ma and fulfill that obligation.
  • There's the earliest time you can say afternoon prayers (mincha) and then the latest time you can say mincha and still be able to say the evening prayer before evening (no kidding!).
  • There's sunset, and then there's the latest time you can say the evening sh'ma (you are supposed to say it before "halachic" (i.e., legal) midnight.
See, e.g. my shul's calendar (note that you can change the date and location) and this other calendar I found after a 10 second google search.

Forget clocks. You need to divide the duration of the night by 12 to get the duration of a halachic hour, then take half of that amount of time and add it to the time of actual sunset. See this explanation. So in the winter, an hour at night may be more than 60 minutes long at night and less than 60 minutes long in daytime. And of course, in some places, day (or night) just doesn't end.

So unless you are very handy with these calculations, rely on the internet tools.

If the Iranians ever use an EMP weapon on us, we are so screwed.

And then there are different traditions that don't all calculate these things the same way.

And then there's an infinite number of unpredictables and intangibles. I'll have plenty of these to report about, as I have started a diary in order to remember some of the stuff that has happened.

And you also need prescience and a sense of humor. I found myself very angry this morning. I showed up at my shul for shacharit at 6:45 for the usual 6:50 a.m. morning services scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays when we read the torah and need a little extra time to get finished before going to work.

I found myself alone, the only one there. Nobody came. When 6:55 rolled around, I walked home very angry. I went to my e-mails and there was the daily shul e-mail indicating that today (December 24) and tomorrow, morning services would be at 8 a.m. When I returned at 8 a.m., there was a bar mitzvah. We did not finish until 9.

I guess nobody else had to go to work today.