Archive for Shabbat

The Reciting of the Havdalah

          The ceremonial Havdalah, which we recite Saturday night, makes a separation between the Shabbat, a spiritually holy day , and weekdays. Initially, we recite the Havdalah at the evening services Amida in the midst of the bracha of ATTA CHONEN L’ADDAM DA’AT, “G-d give us understanding”. The question is asked: Why did the Sages instill the recitation of the Havdala in this bracha?
          Another question one may ask is “Are not the statements we make in Havdala (the separation between holy and not holy, between light and dark and between the nation of Israel and the other nations) extremely elementary?”
          Lets give a parable in order to fully understand the message of Havdallah.:
          If someone is not sure if a knife he finds in his house is dairy or meat, what should he do?
         Well one particular individual used one side of the knife for dairy and the other side of the knife for meat. Obviously this person lacks DA’AT-knowledge. This is the reason the recitation is found in the bracha of “G-d please give me knowledge”. If one has the proper knowledge, he can make the proper distinction.
          However life is such that certain situations are not so clear cut. When does one say “Enough”. There are many situation at work or between neighbors that occur between us and the non-Jews that fall under the grey area of what the Havdalah calls ” between us and the non Jews”. We therefore pray our decisions will be clear and with the proper understanding.
          It’s important to put fences, barriers, at the proper junctures of our relationships. Unfortunately, it’s common that lines are crossed. How many of us say “I’m going to do this no matter what”. The reason is our emotions get in the way. There is a certain vulnerability in all of us and no one is immune.
         Avraham had the gift, the courage, and the foresight to draw the line, to make the “havdalah (separation). This is how he was able to teach to his son and students G-d’s word and for this reason G-d loved him like no other.

Fish, an Important Component in Jewish Survival

99% of the cause of death in the world can be prevented. What’s the secret? Miracle? Dream? Prank? Fish Talks, Town Buzzes
The New York Times
Published: March 15, 2003
And so it came to pass that a talking carp, shouting in Hebrew, shattered the calm of the New Square Fish Market and created what many here are calling a miracle.
Of course, others are calling it a Purim trick, a loopy tale worthy of Isaac Bashevis Singer or just a whopping fish story concocted by a couple of meshugenehs.
Whatever one calls it, the tale of the talking fish has spread in recent weeks throughout this tight-knit Rockland County community, populated by about 7,000 members of the Skver sect of Hasidim, and throughout the Hasidic world, inspiring heated debate, Talmudic discussions and derisive jokes.
The story goes that a 20-pound carp about to be slaughtered and made into gefilte fish for Sabbath dinner began speaking in Hebrew, shouting apocalyptic warnings and claiming to be the troubled soul of a revered community elder who recently died.
Many people here believe that it was God revealing himself that day to two fish cutters in the fish market, Zalmen Rosen, a 57-year-old Hasid with 11 children, and his co-worker Luis Nivelo, a 30-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant.
Some people say the story is as credible as the Bible’s account of the burning bush. Others compare it to a U.F.O. sighting. But the story rapidly spread around the world from this town about 30 miles northwest of Manhattan, first through word of mouth, then through the Jewish press.
The two men say they have each gotten hundreds of phone calls from Jews all over the world.
”Ah, enough already about the fish,” Mr. Rosen said today at the shop, as he skinned a large carp. ”I wish I never said anything about it. I’m getting so many calls every day, I’ve stopped answering. Israel, London, Miami, Brooklyn. They all want to hear about the talking fish.”
Here then is the story, according to the two men, the only witnesses. Mr. Rosen, whose family owns the store, and Mr. Nivelo, who has worked at the shop for seven years, say that on Jan. 28 at 4 p.m. they were carving up carp.
Mr. Nivelo, who is not Jewish, lifted a live carp out of a box of iced-down fish and was about to club it in the head.
But the fish began speaking in Hebrew, according to the two men. Mr. Nivelo does not understand Hebrew, but the shock of a fish speaking any language, he said, forced him against the wall and down to the slimy wooden packing crates that cover the floor.
He looked around to see if the voice had come from the slop sink, the other room or the shop’s cat. Then he ran into the front of the store screaming, ”The fish is talking!” and pulled Mr. Rosen away from the phone.
”I screamed, ‘It’s the devil! The devil is here!’ ” he recalled. ”But Zalmen said to me, ‘You crazy, you a meshugeneh.’ ”
But Mr. Rosen said that when he approached the fish he heard it uttering warnings and commands in Hebrew.
”It said ‘Tzaruch shemirah’ and ‘Hasof bah,’ ” he said, ”which essentially means that everyone needs to account for themselves because the end is near.”
The fish commanded Mr. Rosen to pray and to study the Torah and identified itself as the soul of a local Hasidic man who died last year, childless. The man often bought carp at the shop for the Sabbath meals of poorer village residents.
Mr. Rosen panicked and tried to kill the fish with a machete-size knife. But the fish bucked so wildly that Mr. Rosen wound up cutting his own thumb and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The fish flopped off the counter and back into the carp box and was butchered by Mr. Nivelo and sold.
The story has been told and retold, and many Jews believe that the talking fish was a rare shimmer of God’s spirit. Some call it a warning about the dangers of the impending war in Iraq.
”Two men do not dream the same dream,” said Abraham Spitz, a New Square resident who stopped by the store this week. ”It is very rare that God reminds people he exists in this modern world. But when he does, you cannot ignore it.”
Others consider it as fictional as Tony Soprano’s talking-fish dream in an episode of the ”The Sopranos.”
”Listen to what I’m telling you: Only children take this seriously,” said Rabbi C. Meyer of the New Square Beth Din of Kashrus, which administers kosher-food rules. ”This is like a U.F.O. story. I don’t care if it is the talk of the town.”
Whether hoax or historic event, it jibes with the belief of some Hasidic sects that righteous people can be reincarnated as fish.
Unnatural occurrences play a part in the mystical beliefs of members of the Skver sect. On the other hand, some skeptics note that the Jewish festival of Purim, which starts Monday night, is marked by merriment and pranks, which might be a less elevated explanation for the story.
Some community members are calling the two men an enlightened pair chosen to receive the message. Others have said that Mr. Nivelo may have been selected because he is not Jewish.
”If this was a story concocted by a bunch of Jewish guys, it might be suspect, but this Luis, or whatever his name is, he has no idea what this means,” said Matisyahu Wolfberg, a local lawyer.
”If people say God talks to them, we recommend a psychiatrist, but this is different,” said Mr. Wolfberg, sitting in his office with his black hat resting atop his computer terminal.
”This is one of those historical times when God reveals himself for a reason. It has sent spiritual shock waves throughout the Jewish community worldwide and will be talked about throughout the ages.”
Zev Brenner, who last week broadcast a show about the fish on ”Talk Line,” his talk radio show on Jewish issues, on WMCA-AM (570) and WSNR-AM (620), said that the story has fascinated the religious community worldwide.
”I’ve gotten calls from all over asking ‘Did you hear about the fish?’ ” he said. ”You can imagine, a talking fish has got people buzzing. This is going to be talked about for a long time to come, unless it’s somehow verified as a hoax, which is hard to imagine, since the proof has been eaten up.”
Mr. Brenner said that the story is so well known that it has inspired a whole new genre of wedding jokes for Jewish comedians.
”The station had an advertiser, a gefilte fish manufacturer, who considered changing his slogan to ‘Our fish speaks for itself,’ but decided people would be offended,” he said.
As for Mr. Nivelo, a practicing Christian, he still believes the babbling carp was the devil. His wife told him he was crazy, and his 6-year-old daughter even laughs at him.
”I don’t believe any of this Jewish stuff,” he said. ”But I heard that fish talk.”
He said that Spanish-speaking rabbis have been calling his home every day and night asking him to recount the story.
”It’s just a big headache for me,” he added. ”I pull my phone out of the wall at night. I don’t sleep and I’ve lost weight.”
Mr. Rosen said that he spoke to his wife, who was visiting Israel, and that she had already heard the story from someone else.
”My phone doesn’t stop ringing,” Mr. Rosen said. ”Always interruptions, people coming in and taking their picture with me.”
He paused and turned to Mr. Nivelo, who was cutting salmon for a customer.
”No, too big,” he said. ”She wants appetizer.”

We were brought up in a country where the approach is to be cynical. A person who wasn’t brought up in this country gets excited when receiving junk mail claiming they had won a boat, a yacht. They are instant winners and they merely have to send shipping cost; we, however, know better. We know what to do with these offers and immediately file it in recycle. One cannot believe anybody; there is always a catch. Hey I didn’t believe one iota, at age five about the talking horse, Mr.  Ed. So do you think I’m going to believe about a talking fish at age….well, you get the picture. “But The New York Times” you might say, “the mecca of newspapers (…some may argue anti-Semitic) published it”.
 Regardless weather the fish was talking, singing or doing the hora, the fish has a very important part in Jewish life weather in practicality or symbolically.
  An important note, one should never take our symbolic customs lightly. Every act that is performed here on earth is duplicated in the heavens whereas then the Angels say the magic word AMEN….and it happens. That’s the way heavenly mechanics work.
 Let us begin by asking a basic question. Many communities if not all have a custom to eat fish as a first course at their Shabbat Friday night table. Some with the thorns some without, some fried and some baked or grilled, and some are dipped in garlic water. Mhmmm…
 Why do we eat fish Friday night?
Does it have secret Kabbalistic magic powers of enhancing the appetite so we can look forward to the next course?
Secondly, fish is very different in its requirement to be certified kosher.
 In order to eat “regular” Kosher animals, there is a requirement for the animal to undergo Shechita (ritual slaughter). If an animal were to be killed/ die without Shechita it is forbidden to be eaten.
Yet, by kosher fish we find no such requirement. To eat fish, one can simply kill it and it is Kosher to eat.
Why is there this distinction? What makes fish different than other types of animals (other than the fact that the Torah said they are)?
Why are we allowed to eat fish altogether?
G-d gave us a reward as gratitude for Noach who took care of the animals; man had them for supper. However, the fish weren’t part of the package. Noach did not take care of them. Why then was he allowed to eat them and when did it become permitted?
Devarim (14:9) This you may eat everything that is in the water; anything that has fins and scales you may eat:
Why no preparation needed?
Marsha, one of the major commentaries in the Talmud, in chulin 27b relates this to the idea that earth is more “earthy,” materialistic and unspiritual, than water (compare Rambam, Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 3:10). So animals, which were created from such coarse matter, need shechitah (the ritual slaughter to make it kosher) – the main purpose of which is to drain their lifeblood – to refine their physicality and make it suitable for human consumption, since we are also made from dust. Birds – same thing, but less so, so they need the refinement brought about through shechitah, albeit of only one siman. Fish, whose bodies were created from a more refined material than ours, need no refinement in order to make them edible.
The generation before the flood caused great damage by their immorality and their negative interpersonal relationship, to such an extent that the animals and nature were influenced. Therefore, a large civilization, with the exception of the passengers of Noach’s ark, was destroyed.
 Fish were protected from the spiritual energies of immorality generated by the generation of the flood because they were concealed by the waters. They were led to a certain section of the ocean called Okinus where the waters were bearable and not boiling hot. Therefore, the fish didn’t need the spiritual cleansing of the ark that the surviving animals and birds required, as the verse says, “And all flesh that moves upon the earth expired [in the flood]–among the birds, the animals, the beasts, and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all mankind. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, of everything that was on dry land died [The verse mentions only the death of land creatures, implying that Hashem spared the fish, because they did not participate in man’s sins (Talmud: Zevachim 113b)].” (Genesis 7:21, 22) And thus, there is no need to perform shechita on fish.
 As a gift for taking care of the animals on the ark, Noach and the generations that followed were able to eat certain animals that were described to be kosher.
 However the fish were not on the ark and were not taken care of by Noach and his family.
Why then was man allowed to eat fish?
   Interestingly, many commentaries say that Jews were not allowed to eat fish until MATAN TORAH – the receiving of the Torah. G-d rewarded the Jews to eat fish, a gifted species, not blemished by sin, on that glorious day of MATAN TORAH. The receiving of the Torah happened to occur on Shabbat. So besides celebrating the Shabbat we are also showing appreciation to G-d by eating his gift to us, a symbol of receiving the Torah.
 Out of all the gifts to give why did G-d give Fish?
One of the toughest tests to overcome in humans is to be grateful and appreciate what’s on our plate and not desire what our friend has. Our sages introduced us to a concept called the evil eye.
  The Evil Eye is the name given to harmful negative energy which is created by people looking at you with envy or ill-feeling. One of the first encounters of this phenomenon was with the evil Bilam. He wanted to harm the Israelites with this negative energy.  How do we know that he had an evil eye? Because it is written, And Bil’am lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling tribe by tribe (Numbers 24:2). The Midrash Rabbah in Bamidbar 20:10 comments that his eyes were his weapon.
 Although G-d purposely brought the Israelites to a secluded place-the dessert, it did not stop Bilam, who went out of his way, to harm the Jews with his evil eye. It seems like everybody can be susceptible to this harm. There is just no place to hide.
  The Torah’s warning through the Bilam incident has made our people more careful. Traditionally we tend to be quite about our good fortunes.  One might also notice when they are counting a Minyan they won’t count one-two-three but do something more convoluted.
One component of this practice also seems to be concern over ayin hara – the Evil Eye. For the same reason, you will traditionally not see Jewish women having baby showers, decorating the nursery, or even buying anything for the baby before the birth.
How do we protect ourselves?
Since fish live under the water and are thus concealed from view, they are protected from the gaze of the seventy nations of the world. As mentioned above, kosher animals require shechita in order to remove the negative spiritual energies of immorality they have absorbed.  The most powerful protection against evil forces is the force of goodness, whether doing kindness to people, giving charity, or studying G-d’s Torah with the intention of spreading what we learned to others. This brings about unity, which is the opposite from the dor hamabul, the generation of the flood. Therefore, the righteous, who by definition are individuals who are very far removed from immoral behavior, are compared to fish, which are also very far removed from the spiritual energies of immorality.
   This is why Yosef (Joseph) was blessed that his offspring should be like fish, as the verse says, “May they [Yosef’s offspring] proliferate abundantly like fish within the land” (Genesis 48:16). Yosef is the only Biblical figure to be referred to as “HaTzaddik” (the saintly), because he resisted temptation and refused to have any immoral association with his master’s wife. Just as the negative spiritual energies emitted from the eye have no negative effect upon fish in the water, similarly the offspring of Yosef are protected from the evil eye and the spiritual energies of immorality associated with the eye. Yosef saw what’s on his plate only!
Symbolically fish have the power of spiritual purity. It has not been contaminated by immorality, by disarray, by theft, all characteristics of the generation of the flood. It does what G-d wants and that is “keeping a low profile;” modesty. It has followed and trusted G-d whole hardheartedly.
Once, one of the greats of Jerusalem was walking the streets where he hears the screams of a young boy. He quickly attends to him and realizes he has to rush him to the hospital. He then carries him running briskly to the Ezra Rishona-First Response nearby. As he’s rushing in the streets an old lady yells out “don’t worry Rav Shalom, he’ll be okay”.  At a closer glance, though, she realizes the injured boy is her grandson. “Oh No!” she wails and lets out such a scream crying hysterically.
Seems like the old lady lost her composure realizing it’s her grandson. What happened to the “don’t worry?” She was calm and cool full of trust in G-d a couple of minutes ago. She changed. One cannot be frum- religious on someone else’s expense but panic when it hits them personally..
The Hebrew word for fish is dag. There is a connection to da’aga-worry.
 DAG-fish comes to rectify; it comes to fix the negative trait of da’aga-worry.  Dag comes to symbolizes complete trust in G-d, the opposite of da’aga-worry.
That is the symbolic essence of fish. Fish is the purity that was not corrupted by negativity because it swam under the radar gun, out of the sight of the eye.
 So whether it’s whiting, flounder, or the talking carp one has on their menu for the Friday night Shabbat meal, one should enjoy the delicious fish with either horseradish, garlic water or mayo,  and if one hears strange voices at the Shabbat table its either the fish, or the chicken, or perhaps a disgruntled neighbor.