MEANING IN MITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Meir
Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on the commentary “Meaning in Mitzvot” on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, which is serialized on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash, www.vbm-torah.org.
PRAYING FOR RAIN ON THE SEVENTH OF CHESHVAN
While we started praising HaShem as the giver of rain on Shemini Atzeret, we only start requesting rain on Motza'ei Shabbat, the eve of the seventh of Cheshvan. The reason is that the pilgrims who come to Yerushalaim for Sukkot need about two weeks to get home, and it would be inconsiderate to pray for rain while they are still on the road.
Of course today there are no pilgrims, and even if there were they would be travelling in closed motor vehicles protected from the rain. One might think that in the time of the Temple refraining from praying for rain until Cheshvan carried a message of consideration, but today when there are no pilgrims this custom has lost its ethical meaning.
In reality, in the time of the Temple this custom carried a message of consideration, but today the custom has a double meaning - the ethical message remains, and an historical message has been added. In the time of the Temple, one who asked why there is a delay in requesting rain would have learned an important lesson - we have consideration for the pilgrims. Someone who asks the question today receives the same lesson, plus an additional one since we explain to him the former glory of Israel in the time when the Temple stood and pilgrimages were made three times a year.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE DIASPORA
JewishExile exile has many dimensions. At one level, it is a punishment for sin - on the whole our life has been good in the land of Israel, and the hardships and unfamiliarity of exile are an affliction. At another level, it is a natural consequence of sin, just as illness occurs naturally to a person who abuses his health. The Land of IsraelLand of Israel can not endure sin, and it expels those who are not spiritually worthy of the Holy Land. Finally, it is a remedy for sin. Exile is meant to repair those shortcomings which made us unfit for dwelling the Eretz
Yisrael, and hence prepare us for repatriation.
Originally, we Jews were a prophetic people, a nation with an ongoing experience of communication with G-d. At the Red Sea and at Mount Sinai, every member of our people experienced prophecyProphecy (Yalkut Shimoni Beshalach 246); afterwards our many prophets (Megilla 14a) were constant leaders and guides in matters large and small, from deciding whether to make war to locating lost objects.
This spiritual peak of experiencing G-d’s presence naturally led to an experiential approach to religion. This approach involves a terrible danger, because idolatry also provides an exhilirating spiritual experience - a polluted one - and it became a terrible temptation for the Jewish people. The gemara (Sanhedrin 64a) relates that when the sages of the second Temple killed the idolatrous urge, a fiery lion fled from the Inner Sanctum of the Temple! The animating spirit of Divine service is burning and fierce like a fiery lion, but this same spirit can feed the idolatrous urge as well.
Our sages compare the Talmud of Bavel to “sitting in darkness” (Sanhedrin 24a). This analogy appears in the Babylonian Talmud itself! A blind person, or one sitting in darkness, can not get about by seeing. He needs to carefully measure every aspect of his surroundings. He is neither fooled by illusions nor distracted by decorations. Likewise, the Babylonian Talmud places the entire Torah on the basis of careful definitions and measurements. This was a necessary supplement to the experiential aspect of Torah, and as a result it is the Babylonian Talmud which became the authoritative source of law for Judaism everywhere - even in Israel.
Rabbi Meir is in the process of writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. He is also directing the Jewish Business Response Forum at the Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev. The forum aims to help business people run their firms according to Torah, by obtaining prompt, relevant responses to their questions.