The Best for Last
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This week's parsha starts out by stating that Yaakov resided in the land of Egypt for seventeen years, and that in total he lived 147 years. Why is it important to first tell us how many years he lived in Egypt? After all, in the previous Sedrah of Vayigash, Yaakov tells Pharaoh that he has lived 130 years. If we do the math, just telling us his full term of years, we can readily figure out that he lived the last seventeen in Egypt. Also, that number 17 looks quite familiar, does it not?
To answer both questions, the Radak as well as others learn that the Torah is pointing out a little irony. At the beginning of Vayeshev, the second verse states: "These are the generations of Yaakov- Yosef, seventeen years old, was tending sheep with his brothers." We all know what occurs next. Yosef's brothers sell him to a band of Ishmaelites and so begins the descent to Egypt. The first seventeen years of his life Yosef is under the loving protection of his father Yaakov. It is during this period that Yaakov has a clear mind and Ruach Hakodesh- the ability to understand Hashem's intentions. Once Yosef is sold and presumed dead, Yaakov loses his elan d'sprit as well as Ruach Hakodesh. It is not until 22 years later that they are reunited, and Yaakov's spirits are renewed- the last seventeen years of his life. Tanna Dvei Eliyahu Rabba states: "If the last days are good, it is as if all the days are good." Or as Koheles simply puts: "Tov Acharis Davar"- the last is the best...
This same first verse that recounts Yaakov's seventeen years in Egypt also enumerates his full life span in a method different than the one used for the other tzadikim who preceded him. The Torah states that Yitzchak lived "one hundred and eighty years," and that the life of Sarah was "one hundred, twenty, and seven years." Jacob, however, lived "seven years, forty, and one hundred years." Why the reverse methodology? Several commentators offer similar explanations indicating that it is to teach us that Yaakov's life was bitter and shortened compared to his father and grandfather. The Ohr Hachayim Hakodesh offers a different view. He explains that Yaakov was at his happiest during the 41 years when he was near Rachel (his true soulmate) and Yosef (his favorite child). He adds, quoting Segulos Moshe, that a person's first six years are his happiest, as he is unencumbered with worry. If we combine Yaakov's first six years with the forty one happy years he had with Rachel and Yosef, we reach 47 years. Just as the Torah starts out the verse to tell us that just as Yaakov did indeed have happiness in his last seventeen year's (which were in Egypt), so too the Torah tells us that the best years of his life were "seven and forty."
The first four verses of Vayechi contain nine verbs beginning with a vav- yud. The Gemara in both Sanhedrin 70a and Megilah 10b comment on the "Vay" sound generated by vav-yud as the portent of bad tidings. The fact is that this grammatical style is incorporated into "Vav Hamapeches"- the vav that changes. In our Holy Scriptures, it is most often used to reverse what would normally be a future tense to past, and vice versa. Simply put, it connotes the eternity of action.
The Vav is also part of the name of Hashem. It symbolizes the hook or outstretched hand of the Almighty as involved in the actions of our forefathers. Hashem may lead and guide us, but we must do. Happiest in his old age, Yaakov again is renewed with Ruach Hakodesh. He knows and feels the path he and his sons- Bnei Yisroel- are on and he also remembers the promise of redemption. He makes his children promise to bury him in the land of his father and grandfather. His children renew his faith for the future as they vow at his deathbed their recognition of the One and Only.
One day we will again in unison recognize the Oneness of the Master of the Universe.
Halachos and Conduct for the Repetition of Shmoneh Esrei
Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
The most fundamental part of each of our three daily tefillos is certainly the tefillah of Shmoneh Esrei, the 19 brochos that Anshei Knesses HaG'dolah authored for each and every Jew to pray in quiet meditation before HaShem.1 Chazal instituted that immediately following this tefillah at Shacharis and Mincha, the Shliach Tzibbur (leader of the services) is to repeat the entire Shmoneh Esrei aloud for all to hear.2 In the times of the Mishna and Gemora, there were many people who were not fluent in the text of the daily prayers. Given that, and the fact that there were not enough printed copies of the text of the prayers available, the original impetus for the institution of this repetition of the tefillah was in order to give those who could not say the Shmoneh Esrei themselves an opportunity to fulfill their responsibility to pray by listening intently to the tefillah of the shliach tzibbur.3
In truth, however, as with many decrees of Chazal, the reason given for this tefillah in the Gemora is only the tip of the iceberg. The seforim bring down a much deeper reason for the repetition out loud of the Shmoneh Esrei. They explain that this second Shmoneh Esrei is actually a far more powerful tefillah than the first, personal, quiet one.4 This tefillah, said specifically out loud, reaches "higher" and is more impervious to being "deflected." Any imperfections that existed in one's personal quiet tefillah are actually "repaired" by his paying attention to the Chazoras HaShatz properly.5 The Vilna Gaon zt"l explained that if one feels his tefillos are not being answered, he should focus on paying attention to Chazoras HaShatz, for that tefillah is accepted more by HaShem than the personal one.6 Keeping the immense power of this tefillah in mind, we can approach the practical halachos with a new appreciation.
During Chazoras HaShatz, the tzibbur is to remain silent and pay attention to the words of the shatz. Some poskim tell us that it is preferable to focus on the Chazoras HaShatz "inside," following silently7 along with him in the siddur.8 It is preferable for one to stand9 in one place10 for Chazoras HaShatz. If one is weak, it is permissible for him to sit.11 It is still, however, preferable to stand from the beginning of Chazoras HaShatz through Kedusha.12 Additionally, when it comes to Modim (the time at which the tzibbur must bow together with the chazzan, one who is sitting, for whatever reason, must stand (if possible) in order to bow from a standing position.13
Talking During Chazoras HaShatz
Speaking during Chazoras HaShatz is strictly forbidden.14, 15 Given what the Poskim and Mekubalim tell us regarding this special tefillah (above), it is perhaps understandable why the Shulchan Aruch uses extremely harsh language for one who speaks during the chazzan's repetition of Shmoneh Esrei. Regarding this halacha is the only place in the entire Shulchan Aruch that the phrase "gadol avono m'niso, his sin is too great to bear" is used.16 The Gedolei Acharonim even encourage shuls to have an appointed person to see to it that there is no talking during Chazoras HaShatz [and indeed to mete out "punishments" or humiliate publicly those who speak at that time.]17
Learning During Chazoras HaShatz
The halacha is clear that if there are not at least nine people listening to the chazzan and answering amein to his brochos, his brochos are as if they were "livatolah, in vain."18 There is therefore no question that if there are only nine people available for answering that they are all prohibited from engaging in any sort of learning during Chazoras HaShatz.19 However, in addition to one's own requirement to listen to the Shatz, there is another issue that has been brought up. The Gedolei HaPoskim have unanimously ruled that one may not learn - even if there are enough others listening and answering - as others may learn from this to take Chazoras HaShatz lightly and may come, G-d forbid, to even speak during that time. Despite the seemingly widespread nature of this practice, the Poskim do not seek to justify or find reasons to permit it. In fact, they consistently forbid and discourage it.20 HaGaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit"a even suggests that one may not be "yotzei" with learning done at that time, as it is a mitzvah haba'ah b'aveirah.21
B'ezras HaShem, in these difficult times for Klal Yisroel, we should be zocheh to have all of our tefillos accepted and answered.
1 See Orach Chaim 101:2, that Shmoneh Esrei should preferably not be said aloud, but rather in a quiet voice that is audible only to ourselves. Even the person standing next to us should not be able to hear our words [Mishna Berurah s.k. 6]. Less than this, however, (such as merely thinking the words without any sound actually leaving our lips) is not acceptable for any of our required tefillos.
2 Rosh HaShana 33-34b and O.C. 124:1
3 ibid. See Emes L'Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim note 152 where HaGaon Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt"l is quoted regarding Chazoras HaShatz. Rav Yaakov explained that the original institution of Chazoras HaShatz was only for the "regular" shuls where those who in fact did not know the tefillos by heart were found. In the Batei Medrashim, however, where only those who knew the text themselves could be found, there was never a takanah to have Chazoras HaShatz to begin with. This is why, he explained, many yeshivos to this day do not have a Chazoras HaShatz at Mincha. [At Shacharis, there is no other choice than for everyone to begin together right away because of the requirement of semichus Geulah l'Tefillah.]
4 Yesod viShoresh haAvodah 18:6; Kaf HaChaim 125:2; She'arim B'Tefillah (Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt"l) page 14 who explains that the difference in "level" between the quiet Shmoneh Esrei and the Chazoras HaShatz is so extreme that they are in fact incomparable.
5 Ben Ish Chai Terumah year 1 #2.
6 Kesser Rosh #44. See also Ben Ish Chai and Yesod viShoresh haAvodah ibid.
7 One should not speak any of the words out loud. [M.B. 124:16]
8 The GR"A in Ma'aseh Rav #43 states that this is how we are to follow Chazoras HaShatz. The M.B., however, indicates that this is certainly a pious act, but not necessary min haDin [124:26].
9 See Rambam Tefillah 9:3 and Rema 124:4. See Ishei Yisroel chap. 24 note 67 for various opinions on this matter.
10 See Tefillah K'Hilchaso chap. 13 note 78 in the name of HaGaon Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlit"a that it is better to sit down than to "mill around."
11 See Ishei Yisroel note 78 who cites Kaf HaChaim 124:24.
12 Ishei Yisroel ibid. citing Ketzos HaShulchan 22 s.k. 21.
13 Ishei Yisroel 13:38 citing Yichaveh Da'as 5:11.
14 This does not necessarily include those who are not currently part of the minyan in progress. Regarding those learning in a shul where a minyan forms and begins to daven, see Halichos Shlomo 9:6 who says that they only need to stop their learning for Bar'chu, Kedusha and Modim (as well as Birchas Kohanim). Even amein and "Yehei shmei rabboh" need not be answered.
15 O.C. 124:7
16 This is the phrase used by Kayin (Cain) following the murder of his brother [Bereishis 4:13]. See HaGaon Rav Yitzchak Zilbershtein (Tuvcha Yabi'u vol. 1 pages 53-54) who discusses this seemingly strange comparison.
17 Vovay Ha'amudim brought lihalacha in Eliyahu Rabba 124:12 and Pri Megadim (E.A.) 124:11. [See also M.B. 124:27 who quotes only the first half of this statement but omits the part regarding the punishments. Only in the Sha'ar HaTzyun (28) does he write "see there (Pri Megadim) for more."]
18 O.C. 124:4
19 Iggeros Moshe O.C. 4:19
20 Shulchan Aruch HaRav 124:6; Mishna Berura 124:18; Aruch HaShulchan 124:9; Kaf HaChaim 124:16; Iggeros Moshe O.C. 4:19; HaGaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt"l in Halichos Shlomo chap. 9 note 11; Teshuvos ViHanhagos 1:106; Teshuvos Az Nidbaru 14:14; Teshuvos Rivivos Ephraim 5:61 who cites more sources and contemporary Poskim who forbid this.
21 See Orchos Yosher, Tefillah #28 who says this regarding Shnayim Mikra. He says that one does not receive any reward for learning at this time - and on the contrary, he is punished for it, and that this learning will not be matzliach. The same, he says, applies to Kaddish as well.
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