Archive for Tefilla/ Prayer

Why do we have to cover our eyes when we say the Shema?

Brief background: Shema is the famous prayer we say four times a day; twice in the morning, once in the evening, and once at bedtime. We cover our eyes and recite the passage. Why?


We find in this week’s parsha when Yaacov met his beloved son, Yosef, after 22 years, when he thought he was dead, Yosef emotionally embraced him while Yaacov was so grateful to G-d that he recited the Shema. The concept behind Shema is that the whole body has to be emerged in the dedication to G-d. Symbolically, we are expressing it by covering our right hand on our eyes. The hand has five fingers representing our whole body. Instinctively, each finger covers its own territory.


* Thumb – instinctively cleans the mouth area
* Index finger – instinctively cleans the nose
* Middle finger – instinctively scratches the back area
* Ring finger – cleans the eyes
* Pinky, little finger – instinctively cleans the ears


When we say the Shema, it’s usually deep into the prayers where the concentration is intense. So when we do cover our eyes, this thought pattern should be applied.

Yom Kippur


Rabbi Joel was coming back from a conference in New Jersey where he figured he’d stop at the cemetery to visit the grave of his father, since it’s conveniently on the way. As he was saying tehilim at the grave site, he notices a family burying their loved one, not far away from his father’s grave. It didn’t seem they were observant and were having a hard time with some of the rituals.

After Rabbi Joel finished saying tehilim, he walked over to the family and said ‘Can I offer you my help, I’m a Rabbi”. After getting a nod of approval, he immediately helped with the rituals and then gathered ten Men and asked the sons of the deceased to say kaddish. Unfortunately, they seemed disinterested with saying the prayer that is said for the deceased and gave him permission to finish off the ceremony himself. Rabbi Joel proceeded to say kaddish and finished the necessary customs of burying the dead. On the way back on the Belt Parkway, he felt a tremendous uplifting feeling having helped out a perfect stranger getting buried properly according to Jewish law. Through the ride back, he couldn’t stop to think about the name of the deceased, ‘Sam Rosenberg’.
             That evening as Rabbi Joel was curiously looking up Sam Rosenberg’s name on the internet for any information, he gets a call from his Rabbi. After some casual greetings, he decides to tell his Rabbi the act of kindness he did earlier that day. ‘I can’t seem to find out anything about Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island’ Rabbi Joel said in frustration. ‘What’s his name?’ his Rabbi asked. ‘Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island, why do you know him?’ Let me tell you about Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island. Thirty five years ago, I was a young rabbi convincing parents from a secular background to place their child in Yeshiva. The parents half heartedly agreed as long as it was free. I was handed a list of rich-well-to-do businessmen whom might be gracious enough to help. After a few hours, I called Sam Rosenberg who’s name was half way down the list. I began to go through my pitch on how important it is to give these boys a Jewish education and we need people who can commit long term for their studies. I told him, I have five boys that need the financial help. He said to me ‘I can only finance one; THAT ONE WAS YOU!
There is an old expression, ‘What goes around, comes around’. Be aware, Baruch Hashem, kindness is contagious.
Taken by the lectures of Rabbi Issac Olbaum
          Throughout many of our prayers, the style that our great sages evoked is to have a poem, a piyut before we start. The reason is to warm the hearts of the one praying. We are not robots, we need something to get us in the mood, to get the emotions going. So we begin with a piyut. Here we begin with LECHA ELI written by the Even Ezra.

How appropriate to start off Yom Kippur with Kol Nidrai. Man was given special powers over the other living creatures of the world. He was given the gift, the power of speech. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to abuse it even though our tongue is enwrapped with teeth and a second layer of lips. It still manages to escape and put its foot in its mouth. Kol Nidrai tries to annul our careless misuse of our mouth.

* Introduction to Slichot

Betzalel, the builder of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, knew how to combine the letters (the Hebrew letters) with which heaven and earth were created. This is how he configured to build the temple. It is written in the mystic sefarim, “If the letters were to remove themselves for an instant and return to their source, the entire heaven will be an obsolete vacuum.” The Hebrew letters are the building blocks, the foundation of the world. One can understand the essence of a person through his name which consists of a combination of the alef bet. So it wasn’t the physical strength which enabled Betzalel to succeed in enacting the temple; it was the knowledge and expertise on configuration the letters.
Chas ve shalom – if we sin, these spiritual letters are erased, damaged. These are the same letters that enlighten the neshama, that the spiritual and physical world depends on. How do we fix it? How do we un-damage the letters?
If one notices many of the peyutim, paragraphs, poems are in alphabetical order Alef till taf, taf till alef (A-Z, Z-A) The philosophy is to fix the damage by reciting the letters in KEDUSHA form and in a proper state of mind; therefore, creating a positive force. Then one will re-organize, re-configure, re-structure the letters properly and fix the damage. So we find throughout the Slichot, actual in our everyday Tefillot – prayer as well, this format. A few examples: ASHRAI, ANSHAI EMUNA AVADU, ADON HASELICHOT. So it’s important to realize what the chachamim are trying to accomplish. By reinventing the letters again, it will give us a fighting chance.

This prayer is referring to Yona, the prophet, who did not want to perform his task out of fear that the Jews will not repent. So he basically tried to phase himself out of the picture, thinking that G-d does not reveal, talk to His prophets at sea. Yona fled and took refuge on a ship. As the ship sailed, though, G-d brought upon a bad storm. People on board were terrified. The passengers and crew figured it must be someone on board that’s the cause of their misfortunes. So each one prayed to their G-d. However, none of their prayers were answered. “Someone didn’t pray.” So they searched the entire ship and they found Yona asleep. This is the basis of the prayer. “Hey man! Why are you asleep? Go call, pray to your G-d!” Before one knows it, time, life marches on. So go call your G-d before it’s too late.

This is the main part of slichot. The Rosh Hashanah method was malchiot, shofrot, and zichronot. Here we are shifting methods. It’s a great strategy of “Doing it for the merit of our fathers.” However, that doesn’t always work. Its limited.
VA YA AVOR HASHEM AL PANAV – G-d passed before him and proclaimed. He taught Moshe something essential, vital for survival. When Moshe was on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, G-d showed Moshe the method and the text of the special prayer that will always invoke his mercy, unlimited RACHAMIM. G-d said “When Israel sins, let them perform the order of this prayer and I shall forgive them.” An important note, it says perform, besides recitation; one also has to perform acts of mercy with others in order to receive mercy. Only then will G-d respond.
When someone loses a close loved one, one goes through tremendous hardship in the beginning. The mere thought of the one who had passed on evokes a sharp, stinging, uncomfortable pain. As time goes on, though, the memory of the loved one is there; however, the traumatic experience has softened quite a bit. Our forefather, Yaacov, made a promise to G-d after he got up from his dream, “If G-d takes care of his servant, Yaacov, then the stone will be a covenant to you.” Apparently, Yaacov got tangled some twenty years plus in the house of his crooked father-in-law, Lavan. G-d then approached Yaacov and asked “Why did you forget your promise?” He answered, “I didn’t forget.” What did G-d mean when He said “Why did you forget?” Yaacov forgot the feeling. You don’t feel now as when you felt then. REMEMBER – ZACHOR – memory has different levels. If one wants to remember a deceased loved one with the same intensity, then he has to work, meditate to bring back that feeling. Measure for measure, G-d remembers us the same way we remember Him. Appropriately, ZACHOR LANU is sung by the chazzan with intensity to jar up feelings and memories.


The Avoda re-enacts the entire crucial ceremony of the high priest entering the holy of holies where he will find out the fate of the nation for the upcoming year. If the prayers were accepted, then the high priest departs from the holy of holies alive and everybody is happy. We also go into detail of the sacrifices that occurred on this holy day. Interesting to note that one she-goat is sacrificed and the other is thrown off a cliff apparently given to azzazel – the devil. Why do we practice this? Do we really have to give something to the devil? As a result of Adam’s sin, nothing in this world is 100% good; there is always a negativity attached. An example, when we eat food, no matter how much nourishment it provides, a person will always have to relieve himself. Again, it’s the result of the punishment. So, too with the she-goat. It’s a reminder to us of the negativity that was brought upon the world.

Ne’ila is the most important prayer of the year. It has to be said BEN HASHMASHOT which is between sunset and nightfall. This is the time when Adam and Chava sinned and brought death onto the world. We are trying to prevent death. The in-between time is always a crucial and intense time of life and we are often tested. When traveling and one is in between destinations, it is often dangerous, so one should say special prayers to prevent harm. There is tremendous rewards if one passes the test “in-between”. For this reason, NE’ILA is a very important tefila. Even when one departs from this world and is in between life and death, a person is tested one last time. The Mystics say it’s the ultimate test; in fact, all the marbles are being placed on the poker table. When one dies, he first goes through this momentary scary nothingness. The Satan approaches the individual and tries to convince him, “You see, there’s nothing here, it was all a farce. There is no heaven and there is no hell and there is certainly no G-d.” If at that point the individual is convinced, he loses everything. All the good he did in this world is wiped out. The crucial in-between time has to be approached very carefully and prudently.


Better Understanding

Our sages look out for us; yes they do. They are our leaders and as leaders they have to squeeze out the optimal best in all of us and motivate us to be the best we can be. They are our cheerleaders when we do well, and console us when we sinned. The Sages have an important task in where they have to represent us well; they have to instruct us to say the proper terminology in court so we can get the optimal verdict.


How do they do it?


How do they provide us with proper representation?

We have to ask ourselves “What’s the best way to have a good year and get in the book of life? How do we go about it? What’s the best method, percentage-wise for a successful sweet year? Should we have a businessman approach and get the best deal possible?” If we are desperate, maybe it would be wise to grab any deal!!


The lawyers are our Sages, who through the guidance of our Torah, comprised a three method plan to approach G-d on Rosh Hashanah. Our chachamim believe this formulation of prayer, which they added some salt and pepper to it, will enable us, if done right, to receive a good verdict. We will discuss Yom Kippur a bit later.


 The Three Methods Are:


* Shofrot – A shofar is the main symbol of the high holidays. What’s so special about a shofar? Why do we need to hear it?

Why do we blow the shofer 100 times?


The Chazanim (cantors) Rabbis, and the person who tokes the shofar (shofar blower) are all meticulously careful that there should be 100 sounds blown before the crucial mussaf prayer. One may ask, why 100 sounds? Rabbi Berel Wein mentions one reason, which we learned from a famous incident that happened at the time of the shoftim (Judges).

Our ancestors were in constant war with their neighbors, the Pilishteem. Similarly, today one can identify with the conflict of our Arab neighbors. The Pelishteem army was led by the strong and mighty General Sisra who terrorized opposing countries. Sisra was a startling, frightening figure and is best described similarly as a mixture of Ivan the Terrible and George Patton.

The Jews were led by Devorah and her general Barak ben Avinoam who with G-d’s help were defeating the Pilishteem army. Sisra realized the end was imminent and fled. As he was escaping, he meets Yael who realized who he is. She brought him into her home where she fed him and gave him wine. He found comfort in Yael who seduced him. When Sisra was sleeping, Yael, who was loyal to the nation of Israel, killed him.

It is written in the ‘Song of Devora’, in the book of Prophets, Sisra’s mother was waiting by the window for her son to return. She saw the injured solders limping back from battle; she witnessed the broken war carriages. However, there was no sign of the great warrior, her son, Sisra. The text describes her waiting by the window and coming to the inevitable conclusion that her son was never coming home. Realizing this, she begins to cry and wail 100 sounds. The sages say this is the reason why we blow the shofar 100 sounds.

One may ask what’s the connection between Sisra’s non-Jewish mother, wailing for her son’s return, and the Jewish congregation listening to shofar blowing on one of the holiest days of the year?

Sisra’s mother was privileged; she came from a picture perfect prestigious family. She was a straight-A student who was a prom queen beauty. She was head cheerleader who married the star quarterback leader of the football team. They had a big house with many cars, maids, a butler, a dog named Lassie, and many kids who each went on to become successful in their own right. She never saw a cloudy day in her life. Whatever she touched, with no effort, turned to gold. Sisra’s mother felt she was in charge of her own destiny.

However, for the first time in her life, she felt she was not in control; someone else was pulling the strings and that someone else was G-d. So she turned to G-d out of feeling inadequacy and hopelessness, acknowledging ‘it’s not me but someone higher above.’

When they blow the shofar during the High Holiday, one should feel that G-d runs the world and He is in control of our lives. Granted, we have to make an effort and some of us have seen tremendous success. However, at the end of the day, G-d is always in charge. This is what Sisra’s mother felt at that moment.


The word LINSHOM means to breath; it comes from NESHAMA – the soul. The purest part of man is the soul. For this reason, G-d may have mercy and forgive us. After all those layers and layers of sin one accumulated, there lies the purest of good, the NESHAMA. When G-d created man, he blew into his nostrils the breath of life. There are a number of ways one can identify someone. At night, in the dark, one can tell a loved one through the sound of their breath; if one wants to get spiritual, one way to start is to take deep breaths. The essence of the soul is though the passage of breathing. This is the reason we blow the shofar which is the highest form of prayer because it comes from the inner part of man; a part that’s not tainted, the purest part of man, deep inside him, the NESHAMA. So, apparently through the shofar, it’s the purest Tefillah.



In the amida of Mussaf, the additional prayer said after the morning services, we say nine blessings. The Gemarah says the source for the number nine is the 9, AZKAROT mentions of G-d’s name in the story of Chana. We read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the story of Chana, who was known for the tremendous intensity of her prayer. Chana was a barren woman who had to suffer the humiliation by her husband, who took a second wife and bore his children. Chana’s prayers were finally answered on Rosh Hashanah. She had a son who became the great prophet, Shmuel. There is a very important message one can learn from the story of Chana that is a very essential part of the holiday, and for that matter an essential part of life. At the end, Chana bore seven children while her rival lost a child every time Chana gave birth to one. One must realize there is a change of fortunes that the unpredictable life offers. Rav Tzadok HaCohen says the Shofar blowing consists of shevarim and teruahs which are broken sounds representing crying, broken spirit. This must always be sandwiched in by two tekias. The firm unbroken sound represents joy. This represents the theme of the day; we have to be joyous, however we are judged; so anything can happen, which translates into fear. For some, this year will bring joy and for some sorrow. For some, fortunes will change and for others not.

* Zichronot – remembrance: When we pray and ask G-d to remember our good merits, we are referring to our ancestors. We said in our previous newsletters since we are the genealogy of those great people, it would be a good bet, and it would be safe to assume that those great qualities are found in us. Therefore, He should forgive us because we are bound to do well. So we remind him of the major shining moments in our history where it was so impressive it would be hard for Him not to forgive us. It’s a tremendous weapon which we use on Rosh Hashanah. The three major characters that will help us in this theme is Avraham, his wife, Sarah, and their son Yitzchak, and the major event is the Akeda.



What’s important to note and a major aspect to Judaism is the power of the Hebrew letters. Avraham and Sarah were believers of monotheistic G-d and they openly campaigned for Him. Unfortunately, though, they could not have children. G-d rewarded them by adding the letter ‘HEY to Avraham and Sarah. As a result, Avraham and Sarah became a new entity. (Perhaps this is the reason when someone is sick, a new name or a letter is added). Avraham was taken out from the mazal of the world and was rewarded with the ability to go against nature. “You will always have the ability to break nature through your faith,” G-d said to him. They weren’t supposed to have children, it was against nature and yet, they did. So we see, the inception of Jewish nation, the whole Jewish entity began against nature through the power of the letter HEY. This letter represents G-d’s name. So if someone calls Avraham, Avram, they take away the power, not just from Avraham, but himself. He takes away the essence of the Jews. Avraham with the HEY fuels us together. Ever wonder why we are called children of Avraham and not the children of Noach (non-Jews). Because Noach had children naturally, he was part and parcel with the natural state of the world. We have an unnatural and illogical existence; we were crucified, humiliated, and tortured throughout history. However, we never lost hope; we were tenacious and we never gave up. So G-d remembers Avraham’s ability to spread G-d’s name and being a model example of what a Jew is all about. The acts of kindness were passed down through the generations to us. G-d looks at us and that particular potential to manifest itself through our personality. Then it would remind Him of our forefather, Avraham.

* Malchiot

Ever wonder why we do not say one slicha – please forgive me – on Rosh Hashanah. Why don’t we bang on our heart like we do on Yom Kippur? Nevertheless, it’s the big time, Judgment Day. How is it Judgment Day if you’re eating such delicious foods via three course meals? When I was a young care-free fellow, the tradition was I would buy a new suit every Rosh Hashanah; that’s Judgment Day? Maybe one is being judged by friends on who bought the nicest clothes at bargain prices. Who got more bang for their buck this holiday season? The cheap is to pay Jamaica Avenue prices and have the Hugo Boss, Fifth Avenue look and quality. In essence, though, Rosh Hashanah is designed that way; it’s designed to feel like royalty. Everybody in shul is on their best behavior, dressed to the tee; one feels like royalty.


ME ZEH MELECH HAKAVOD – who is the king that’s wrapped in honor, in royalty? He’s the one who gets the KAVOD. The KAVOD is due to him. G-d is the king. However, if the king has no followers, his kingship is weakened. His people are the ones who raise the volume and strengthen his rulership. If not, they are not needed. So it’s our responsibility to make a tremendous kavod in His honor all year round, especially on Rosh Hashanah. We wear the fine clothes, cook fine foods and we feel good about ourselves. We feel like royalty. What a great feeling, right? By enhancing and indulging in the royalty, one is enhancing G-d. However, it’s important to think, “I am doing this for G-d.” All the clothes, the food, the feel-good is all for G-d. This is the frame of mind we should have on Rosh Hashanah when we pronounce MELECH – King – at every juncture of our prayer. All this material beauty is all for You, G-d.


The greatest teshuvah – repentance – that ever occurred was by one of the three central characters:


The Matriarch, Sarah 

When the three angels arrived to Avraham’s home and proclaimed, “Sarah and you will have a child”, Sarah upon hearing them from the back, by the door, laughed. We’re going to have kids – that’s funny. Apparently, G-d didn’t find her reaction too amusing and asked her, “Why did you laugh?  Do you doubt I have the ability to do so, the ability to change your mazal?” Sarah answered something very startling, “I didn’t laugh.” “What do you mean you didn’t laugh? Are you lying in front of the Almighty? That’s chutzpah!!!”  What is startling is that she meant it! Sarah was completely sincere that she didn’t laugh.


“HAYOM HARAT OLAM” We say in the Mussaf Amida prayer “today”. Today, I am a different person. I totally regret what I did, to an extent, to such a level that I disengage, dis-associate myself from the person who sinned. Although I take responsibility, however, that’s not me anymore; I’ve changed; I would never do those things again. With all the regret that was in her heart, she meant it. How else would one explain her naming her son Yitzchak; Yitzchak means laughter. Is it possible she would name her child after a sin? That would constitute the highest level of audacity. However, the name will forever be associated with the highest level of teshuvah – repentance – performed by our matriarch, Sarah.



Yitzchak’s special quality was how he prayed. No one prayed with such intensity as Yitzchak did. When his bride-to-be, Rivka, arrived and she saw him for the first time, she fell off her camel, because she saw him at the time when he was in the middle of prayer. It left such an impression that she was struck with such fear and awe of him for the rest of her life. When one makes the leap and becomes religious, this individual’s prayer is beloved in G-d’s eyes more-so than the prayer of one that has been religious all his life. One may think such was the case with Rivka who came from a house of reshayim. Rivka’s strong character and extreme kindness was quite the opposite of her family. One can only imagine how difficult it was for her to live in her father’s house; she was a unique individual, a tzadakus. Rivka’s prayers rattled the heavens. However, it was Yitzchak’s prayers that were accepted, in which, enabled them to have children, because he prayed with intensity.

The Test

G-d injected Avraham with such a love for his son, Yitzchak, like no other, which made the test extremely difficult.


These three characters showed such devotion to G-d; such devotion and love to each other, that they’ve taken human potential to an unprecedented level. We are proud to say we are their offspring and offspring inherit the character traits, the genes of their ancestors. So if they were outstanding, we too, have the credentials and potential to reach them. G-d, then should give us the benefit of the doubt; after all, we’re a chip off the old block.

With these three methods, we hope that it would be sufficient for a good Judgment Day. The next part of repentance is Yom Kippur.

Give Me Life

Yigal ben Chaim was considered one of the best chazzan of his times,

Talent; Do you think you have it?  Maybe……just a bit?
            Well besides your Mom there is someone else who thinks you have talent and what HE thinks counts…G-d.


There is a very interesting story in the Tanach-Prophets that will shed some light on the true meaning of Rosh Hashana.


There was a man named Navot who lived at a time in Jewish history where the Jews were divided into two kingdoms,  Judea and Israel.  We Jews have a tendency to be very opinionated and therefore gravitate to our own corner and reject community. Although independent thinking can be healthy however at times two heads are better than one. There are pluses and minuses to having “too many chefs in the kitchen”.  G-d, though, encourages unity and proclaims we would be much more better off united.


Navot was a very talented chazzan, one of the best in the business, who lived under the rule of the wicked king and queen Achav and Izzevel of the 10 tribes known as Israel.


Every Shlosha Regalim, a name for the three holidays Succot, Pesach and Shevuot- these are the three holidays that Jews all over Israel and Judea proper would walk and congregate to the Bet Hamikdash-Temple and pray. The top chazzanim in all of the land will be called upon to participate in the rendition of  the holiday services; leading the pact was none other than chazzan #1, Navot.  It was such a scene to hear and it made quite a positive impression for the sake of G-d. However on one particular Holiday Navot, for no real apparent reason, decided not to attend. Perhaps there were better things to do?

What transpired after would was downright cruel and the Navi suggests that perhaps Navot refusal to go was the cause for the tragedy which will occur.


It happened to be Navot was the proud owner of a vineyard in which Achav the King desired. The king asked Navot to sell it however he refused. Achav had such strong desire for the vineyard that he fell into a depression. Izevel, the queen took note of her husband’s demise and took things into her own hands. She hired false witnesses who testified that Navot cursed at the King which deserves the death penalty.

Navot, then, with his entire immediate family were put to death. Achav took over the vineyard. As penalty for showing disrespect to the kingdom the land was confiscated and became property of the king.


What a shocking tragic turn of events. This incident degraded Achav and Izevel into murderers.


Why was Navot treated so cruelly?

One of the major and important prayers we have in which we say three times a day and a fourth on Shabbat, is the Amida (literally means standing). This prayer is also called shemona esray (eighteen brachot). When we say the Amida, we take three steps backward and then three forward, and we pray in silence. The concentration should be so intense that talking is prohibited.


The Amida is divided into three parts 1) praise 2) request, or in a crude language ‘give me’ 3) acknowledgement. The structure of the prayers is so meticulously precise that one marvels of its construction. It seems like the sages took care of business providing us with the optimal dosage of prayer power so we can be in a better standing with G-d. During the days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah, the days of repentance and Yom Kippur), a number of additions are placed in our prayers. One of which is zachrainu lechaim, (remember us and keep us alive). A very curious question has been asked about this phrase; it seems like it’s in the wrong category; it should be with the ‘”give me’s” which is in category two. Why is it in the category of praise?


My father z’l always said the five fingers on the hand are all different; each finger is unique; each individual is also unique. Rav Gedalya Schorr compares the world to an orchestra. Each individual with his uniqueness has a part, which no one else can perform, and if he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t play his instrument, and the orchestra is not the same. Therefore we see that each individual brings his gift to the table and no one else can duplicate it.


When we say ‘Remember us in the book of life’; it’s not a gimmie, because the end of the statement says ‘lema’anach’ (We’re doing it for You. We are bringing our own uniqueness to serve You in whom nobody else can.) Therefore, our contribution is essential; it is part of the existence of the world and we should have it in mind that we’re doing it for G-d.


Navot was given a gift and his mission in life was to make KIDDUSH HASHEM-to make a really feel good environment for the KAVOD of G-d, by his beautiful voice. There was no use for Navot to be in this world otherwise. When he refused to go to the Festival in Yerushalayim, when he refused to provide his unique gift, his mission was then officially terminated.


G-d gave Navot a gift; he was a very gifted cantor who was supposed to enhance and the name of G-d by his beautiful voice at the Temple during the three festivals. That was his mission in life. However, when he refused to attend then his usefulness was no longer needed.


We too have a mission in life. G-d gave each and one of us the tools and the unique gifts to perform in this world. Our argument to have a good year is that HE should give us a good sweet year, another chance so we can perform these unique gifts for HIM, not for us. This is the meaning of ZOCHRAINU LECHAYIM.

Parshat Vayakhel/Pekudei



A deeper understanding of a portion of our prayers


The most important prayer we have is the Amida, otherwise known as the Shemonai Esrai. We stand in silence with our legs together. The Amida consists of three sections: the praising of G-d, asking for one’s needs and expressing our gratitude to HIM.


Unfortunately, throughout our history some of our brethren were not exactly well versed in reading our holy Hebrew siddur. In order for them to fulfill the requirement of the Amida, the Chazan-Cantor repeats the prayer and the individuals say Amen after every bracha that is recited. By answering AMEN, he fulfills his obligation. The congregation should remain silent during the repetition and concentrate on the Chazan’s pronunciation of the words as if he is saying the words himself.

          Today, where we have siddurim readily available in every language one can possibly think of, it is very easy for one to follow and pray all the prayers. It should therefore follow that the Chazzan should not be required to repeat the prayer. Nevertheless, we still repeat the Amida because the Sages’ enactment of the law still stands and cannot be changed.
          Interestingly, it seems like our Sages intended another more important reason for the repetition of the Amida.  Apparently, the repetition is just as important if not more so then the silent version.
          The silent Amida has its benefits; there is privacy, “do not disturb” etc. That’s what makes it special, it’s between you and G-d and a time when one can pour his/her heart out. Therefore, the silent prayer can get quite intense.
          One’s vocalization of the prayer should be low.  It’s designed that way because of privacy, which we discussed, but also because of another important reason. There are negative forces that specialize in disturbing the connection between you and G-d. Our prayers would be susceptible if they were said in a normal tone of voice.
          Although the concentration in the repetition version is not as strong as the silent one, it’s considered more powerful.
          So what makes it so powerful?
          In order to understand why, one must be aware of a number of factors. Firstly, the name of G-d is not pronounced the way its written: YUD, HAY, VOV, HAY. It is pronounced AH DOH NAI.
          Secondly, we must use the popular science of Gematriya, where one adds up the letters of the words (ALEF is 1, BET is 2 etc.). The gematriya of MAYIM-water, for example, is 90 (MEM is 40, YUD is 10 and MEM again is 40).
          The name of G-d, YUD, HEY, VOV, HAY, in gematriya = 26, and the word AH DOH NAI=65. They together equal to 91 which is equivalent to the numerical value of the word AMEN.
          The reason why the repetition of the Amida is more important is because every time one says Amen, in essence, he says both versions of G-d’s name. We say it in unison during the repetition of the Amida.       Therefore, one thereby reaches tremendous spiritual heights. There is no fear that the prayers will get intercepted by the evil forces. One does not say Amen in the silent Amida, therefore it’s not as potent.
          In parshat Pekudai, ” KA’ASHER TZIVA ET MOSHE” as Moshe was commanded, is repeated 18 times.
          Why does it repeat it so many times?
          G-d gave a gift to Moshe for attempting to protect the Jewish people when they sinned. When defending them, he would often say “MECHENI NA”-erase me please from your book. As a reward, Moshe’s name is repeated over and over. We try to borrow from the gift by having eighteen brachot in the most powerful prayer of service. What about the nineteenth blessing, which was added latter in our history? There is a phrase specifically for that one as well, KA’ASHER TZIVA  HASHEM ET MOSHE, which is also found in the parsha.
          Another interesting note about the Amida, if one adds up the words of each signature bracha, for example,  BARUCH ATTA HASHEM MAGEN AVRAHAM, BARUCH ATTA HASHEM SHOMAIA TEFFILLA etc, one would come up with 113 words. There are also 113 words in the Tefilla of Chana, who was praying to have children and was answered. It is probably considered one of the most intense and powerful prayers we have.  All this also coincides with the 113 times it says LEV-heart in the Torah. This infers that one should and needs to pray with deep concentration and all his heart.
          The Amida has many deep meanings and should be said both with intensity and deep concentration, both in the silent and repeated version.
Extracted from the shiurim of Rabbi Isaac Oelbaum
          The parshiot  describes how the Mishkan-Tabernacle was constructed.
          The Sages find an allusion to the thirty-nine categories of work prohibited on Shabbat. The Torah states:”These are the words which G-d commanded us to do” (Shemot 35:1). and Rav Yehuda Hanasi comments (Shabbat 97b):  HA DEVARIM the words EH LEH HADEVARIM -these are the words”. This refers to the thirty-nine work prohibitions handed down to Moshe at Sinai. DEVARIM being plural, implies at least two. The preflex HEY OF HADEVARIM adds one, making three. The numerical value of ELEH is thirty six, for a total of thirty nine.
          Rashi states that Vayakhel’s warning of Shabbat (35,1-3) proceeds the section of the MISHKAN to teach that the building of the MISHKAN does not take precedence over Shabbat.
          PEKUDEI-meaning account, refers to the account taken of how the donated gold, silver and copper were used in building the MISHKAN
First Portion: 
* We’re all cooped up in this body playing the game of life. One of the many aspects of this existence is to fix our mistakes whether it is transgressions done in this lifetime or in previous ones; reincarnation is an essential part of Jewish philosophy. However, if we’re able to atone for our mistakes in our lifetime, then we are very fortunate. In this week’s Parsha, we start off, “Moshe gathered the people.” This particular gathering is to fix the gathering of Aharon when the Jews sinned with the golden calf.
* Why, again, does the Torah repeat the different aspects of the Mishkan? We went through a detailed course in Parsha Teruma and Tetzave. The RAMBAN addresses the question proclaiming a theme for the book of Shemot ‘exile’. The RAMBAN explains the exile doesn’t end until the Israelites reach the spiritual level of the Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov. G-d left specific instructions about the construction of the Temple and its leaders. Only G-d picks an intermediary. He picked Moshe, as well as the Keruvim, in the Holy of Holies. The keruvim’s golden baby-faced angel-like statues, whose gestures indicated the spiritual level of the Jews. It was only picked by G-d if a human exercised the right to choose; otherwise, it would have been considered idol worship and going against G-d. The instructions were clear and should have been followed to the letter of the law; it was not. Therefore, the instructions had to be repeated.
* There are thirteen times where the topic of Shabbat is mentioned in the Torah. The Torah doesn’t repeat for any reason. There is a purpose for every mention.
* We derive from the fact that the topic of the Mishkan is found next to the topic of Shabbat, that there is a connection between the two. There are 39 melachot activities that were performed in the Temple. The term melachot is mentioned in the Shabbat context of “one should not do activities”. Therefore, these activities were prohibited on Shabbat.
* The women were extremely enthusiastic and played an important role in contributing to the Temple. Their gold and silver were given generously this time as opposed to their reluctance to give to the golden calf.

Second Portion: * Betzalel, although, a very gifted young man, enhanced his skills through Divine spirit. He was chosen because his grandfather, Chur, tried to stop the catastrophe by the golden calf.

Third Portion: * The golden menorah was made from one piece of gold to symbolize unity among the Israelites. It was Aharon who was later picked to light the Menorah. This honor was very appropriate, for it was he who was instrumental in making peace between Jews and unifying husbands and wives and man and his brethren. “Peace” is one of the main themes of the Temple.

Fourth Portion: * We mentioned earlier how the women’s contribution to the Temple was exceptional. The Sages say they brought their own personal copper mirrors for the construction of the kiyor, the laver. These mirrors were used by our mothers in Egypt to entice their husbands for the purpose of reproduction and to continue the existence of our great nation. It was an especially difficult task considering how tired the husbands were after being worked to the bone by their Egyptian persecutors. Their devotion of preserving the family made these mirrors, theses contributions, valuable. The waters that came out from the kiyor were used for the waters of sotah. Since the Jewish women of Egypt had proper intentions and used these mirrors for kedusha, therefore, the sotah women will be tested with these pure waters to determine if they were pure and holy like their mothers.
* The kiyor was a source of bracha; it brought down rain. This is the reason we should be very careful in washing our hands, especially for bread because it’s a great segula for parnasa.

Fifth Portion: * The avney shoam – stones of the breastplate, which would light up, hinting to the Kohen gadol various answers to vital questions that were asked. Each stone contains six letters to symbolize that the world was created in six days, is found upon the 12 tribes. The total of 72 letters corresponds to the 72 letter Divine names, which maintains the existence of the universe. G-d does kindness to maintain the world. In fact, the numerical value of chessed – kindness is 72. We all know that the Friday night Kiddush has a tremendous spiritual impact. If one adds all the words of the kiddush, he will come up with 72. If one says Friday night Kiddush sincerely with all his heart, he will bring down chessed to himself from G-d.

Sixth Portion: * The mitznefet or migba’at – turban is what the Kohen Gadol wore on his head. The mitznefet atones for arrogance. G-d said let it atone for the sin of holding the head to high. G-d hates arrogance. Jews, for this reason, for generations, have always, traditionally, worn a covering on their head.

Seventh Portion: * With the mishkan complete, the Israelites are now ready to atone for their sins and to get closer to G-d

The Candyman


Where is the candy man? Is the candy man here today? No, I’m not referring to Sammy Davis, Jr. and the famous hit he had in the early 1970s ‘The Candy Man’. Most shuls (Bait Hakneset) have a designated candy man. I must emphasize that it’s important that a shul have one!!! It motivates the children to come. I remember the shul I grew up in, the Sefardic shul on 67th off Queens Blvd in Queens. The shul had a candy man named Nissimico, z’l. He was a feisty old man who had a tremendous love for the shul and its congregants. I remember every time a kid would approach him for candy, he would ask them ‘Are you a good boy or baad boy?” and we would answer back “a good boy”. Then he would say with a mean face holding back a smile “No, you’re a bad boy”, and he would give us a lollypop. We would always sneak a peak over our shoulder and see him winking and smiling at our fathers.


Today, my son and I go to a number of shuls Shabbat morning; my son looks forward to get his candy from Rabbi Friedman at the Chofetz Chaim or Simcha at Abramov’s shul. It’s important that the grown ups (my wife might disagree if I’m referring to myself) not munch on the candies before kiddush. One might think since I’m allowed to have my coffee or tea in the morning, then one would be allowed to have the candy, since the bracha is also a shehakol. Rav Ovadia Yosef says, one is allowed to have the coffee or tea as long as there is no sugar in it. Sugar has the ability to make a person feel full which will result in a ‘confident I’m okay’ attitude. One has to approach prayer with a broken heart, with a feeling of “Boy, it’s a tough world out there”. If one is a little hungry, his body gives him that message. He then would be in the proper frame of mind to pray and to ask G-d for his needs.


Today, kids get taffy pops instead of hard candies. (How many of you remember the Elite taffies with the white wrappers?) There are many types of candies out there, so much more so than the conventional lollypops Nisimico gave us. But I, must confess from what I remember, the lollys tasted just as good. There are many great memories of the shul of my youth; getting lollypops from the candy man was one of them.


I wanted to mention to Dr Neil Levey who is one of the psychologists I use to enhance the quality of our newsletter and lectures, that your grandfather Nissimico was a very special man who put a lot of smiles on children’s faces.

Talking Animals?




It must have been funny when that donkey started talking. Hey! come on,no big deal, we’ve seen it before. How many have you have seen the talking horse, Mr. Ed?  What about Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, they’re pretty talkative, wouldn’t you say? For the most part, we humans thinks we can communicate with animals. We once had a neighbor who had a dog that was a real nuisance; it would be kept outside and constantly bark; this was very inconsiderate, especially at night. One time out of frustration and annoyance I responded to the owner’s assessment of why the animal is barking. She, the owner, said “ahh, that’s a hungry bark”. I responded “No, that’s an I want to be inside the home and not bother the neighbors bark”. She gave me  a dirty look; THE CHUTZPAH!!


 The one who was a master in communicating with animals was, none other then king Solomon. There was a story told by an acquaintance named Baruch, who quoted a midrash, coming home one day on the F train. As one knows King Solomon married 1000 wives. One time one of the women he was courting was giving Shlomo a hard time. “If you want to marry me then you have to honor my request and collect all the birds in the entire world and bring them to me”. So Solomon, with his expertise in animal communication, as well as his connections sought out and brought all the birds in the world to this fine lady. After counting them she said to him “hey, one bird is missing.” Now I don’t know how she figured that out but EXCUSE ME!! Regardless of her bird count Shlomo set out to find the one bird which was missing. When he found it Shlomo asked “how come you didn’t come upon my request?” The bird responded “I was busy counting all the males and females in the world”. King Solomon responded “aren’t they even 50/50?” “No”, the bird said “its 70/30. There are only 30% Zachar-males in the world, because they are the only ones putting on Tefillin”. His is the reason we always give a bracha “you should have a BEN-ZACHAR”. It’s not enough just to be a BEN-son he should act like it and complete the ZACHAR part and do the obligations that go with it and put on tefilin as well.

Around the Shabbat Table – Parshat Va’etchanan

By Rabbi Gedalia Fogel


Hi! This is Rebbe speaking:


In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Va’Etchanan we see the power of Tefillah (Prayers). Moshe Rabbeinu davened (prayed) to Hashem 515 times asking to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael (Israel). If Moshe would have prayed one more Tefillah, Hashem would have allowed him entry into the Holy Land. Therefore Hashem told him to stop praying.

Chaim, a poor man needed a loan. He went to Natan a wealthy businessman and requested a loan. “Please lend me some money to build up my business.” Natan replied, “Call me in a week.” Exactly one week later Chaim once again contacted Natan. Once more Natan pushed him off saying, “Surely I will loan you money but now I’m very busy, try to catch me in the morning before I leave for work. Each day for a while, Chaim would wait in the synagogue for Natan to finish his morning prayers. Often Chaim would try to speak to Natan but did not succeed. Other times Natan would realize he had just missed him. Even when he finally did speak to him, Natan had some excuse for putting him off. Finally one day Chaim walked up to Natan. All he had to say was “the loan?” and Natan wrote out a check for the full amount Chaim had requested.

At that precise moment Daniel, another man in need, entered the shul and saw the transaction between Natan and Chaim. “It’s that easy”, he thought to himself. Daniel walked over to Natan and requested a loan. Natan curtly replied, “Sorry. Now is not a good time.” “What for me you don’t have the time? Only Chaim is worthy of a loan!” Daniel took a moment to explain himself. “You don’t understand. It may seem like Chaim got his money effortlessly. This is not the case. Chaim has been asking me for quite some time now. Come back to me and I’ll see what I can do.”

Sometimes we have to pray for something more than once in order for us to achieve the results we want. Hashem likes our prayers. All our forefathers, Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu and Yaakov Avinu did not have children immediately. Hashem cherished their prayers. We do not realize how meaningful our Tefillot are to Hashem.

It may seem that various prayers remain unanswered. This is not so. Every prayer is used for something. We may pray for someone who is not well and unfortunately they do not get better. How can this be? Hashem stores our precious prayers for others that need it or even sometimes puts it aside for future use for the person who said them. We do not know Hashem’s reasoning but we do know that He knows what’s best.

There is a fascinating story told about the Holy Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov asked to be shown the person who would be worthy of sitting near him in the world to come.

When the person was revealed to the Baal Shem Tov, he immediately set out to the far away city where Mendel resided. He wanted to see who this great man was.

The holy Baal Shem Tov was astounded to see a simpleton who was sitting and praying. Mendel had an interesting way of praying. He did not know that there are set prayers for different times of the day. Each day, Mendel would take out his prayer book and open it to the first page. He would not stop praying until he reached the very last page of the siddur. Mendel did not know that one does not say the entire siddur from cover to cover in one sitting.

When the Baal Shem Tov saw this he offered to make bookmarks for Mendel, in order for him to know what to say when. He marked the morning prayer. He marked the afternoon prayer and also the evening prayer. He placed bookmarks for the Shabbat and Holiday prayers. Mendel thanked the Baal Shem Tov profusely and the Rabbi left.

Mendel lovingly lifted his siddur, when a gust of wind blew and all the bookmarks that the Baal Shem Tov had placed were blown right out of the siddur. Mendel was almost in tears. He quickly ran after the Rabbi. The Baal Shem Tov had reached a river. He took off his belt and placed it on the water and thus he was able to cross over. Mendel did the same and he too crossed over. “Rebbe, Rebbe sorry to bother you, but I need you to replace all the bookmarks.” The Baal Shem Tov could not believe his eyes. How did Mendel cross the river? “Mendel how did you get here? Did you have a boat?” “No, I did what the great Rabbi did. I too walked across the river on my belt.”

The Baal Shem tov realized that Mendel was no ordinary Jew. “It must be his prayers.” he said to himself. “You do not need those bookmarks. Go back to your old way of praying. Hashem appreciated your Tefillot immensely. Wow, what prayers are worth!”

We need not know how to pray as long as we are sincere in our prayers. We must have prayer be a part of us. In all that we do we can pray to Hashem. It does not only have to be a tefillah from a siddur. We can thank Hashem and ask him for things all day. It is our connection to Hashem that we are fortunate to have. We have access to the King of Kings at all times.

Keep praying and know that your prayers are worth much and no prayer is for naught.


What have we learned today?


Where do our Tefillot (prayers) go?

Our Tefillot are put to good use. Hashem knows where to put our prayers. We can relate to this answer by comparing Tefillot to money that we deposit in a bank. Some are deposited and used immediately to pay outstanding bills. Others are deposited only to be stored in order for it to be available at a time when we need it most. So too, our Tefillot may be used immediately and we can see results right away. Some are put aside for a later time.


What are some examples of things that we can pray for throughout the day?

We can pray for anything that we think we may need or want. All things both big and small are achievable by Hashem. Sometimes the answer may be “no”. We may think that our request would be good for us but Hashem knows better. A child may want to eat sweets all day, but the parent will not let. A parent says “no” because he knows what’s best.

One can ask Hashem to help him find a parking spot, have a successful shopping adventure or win a ball game. It makes no difference what the request is. It is praiseworthy to ask Hashem for what we want. It shows that we know and believe that He is in charge. Hashem is always listening. The door to prayer is always open. The King of Kings is always available.

I’m sure all you intelligent boys and girls have come up with outstanding examples of your own.

Prayer: A Chart

There is a Torah level commandment and there is a Rabbinical level commandment, Praying is a Torah level. Generally speaking, one should be a bit more careful with a Torah level commandments. Apparently one can fulfill his duty of prayer by talking to G-d in private with no time frame attached. However, if one wants to get the maximum results, he should follow the guidelines in which the Sages have instructed.



The nucleus of the prayer is the Amida, otherwise known as the Shemoneh Esrei. Amida means to stand; it’s also said in silent, individually. The RAMBAM – Maimonides advised, one who wants to form a strong bond with G-d should recite the first bracha of the Amida with concentration. The Shemoneh Esrei, which refers to the original eighteen brachot, now nineteen, is recited three times a day (Shabbat four) .There are four levels of prayer, concentration, found in the prayers and the Amida is at the climax.

In order to have good prayer, one has to have good concentration and in order to have good concentration one cannot speak during certain prayers. For example, one is allowed to say Amen before BARUCH SHE’AMAR, the first of four levels. Between BARUCH SHE’AMAR and BARUCHU, which is the second level, it is still permissible. However, in the next level, which is between BARUCHU and the AMIDA, one is only allowed to say Amen between paragraphs. The last and most intense in concentration, between GA’AL YISRAEL and the AMIDA, there should be no recitation of the Amen. While one is in the middle of the AMIDA and the Chazzan and the minyan (congregation) recites the KEDUSHA, you are prohibited to utter Amen, or for that matter, anything. One should just remain quiet and concentrate on the KEDUSHA and after they are finished, resume your AMIDA.

Og, the Giant


The greatest prophet that ever lived was none other than Moshe, the undisputed greatest leader we ever had. Moshe’s communication with G-d was the most intimate of any human. He argued with angels and was victorious. It is also said that the angel of death was confused on how to take his soul when the time came. Apparently, Moshe gave him a hard time.  Therefore, it is mind boggling to read in this week’s Parsha that Moshe was scared of Og, the Giant. Og’s name is the result of when he came to visit Abraham and Sarah; she was making oogot – cookies. So by association from then on, they called him Og.


Og was unusual in a big way, no pun intended, because he was a giant. He was the king of Bashan and the Israelites went to war against them. Why was Moshe scared, out of all people, of Og?


Apparently, Og was the one who informed Abraham that his nephew Lot was kidnapped. This propelled Abraham to go to war with the king and was responsible to save his nephew. The fact that Og informed Abraham was what merited Og to live a long life. Moshe was scared because if he goes to war with Og, he will still have in his bank the remnants of that act of informing Abraham which resulted in saving Lot.


However, Og had an ulterior motive. The reason why he informed Abraham was that he anticipated Abraham will go to battle and would die. Then he will be in line to marry Abraham’s widow, Sarah. So it wasn’t the purist of intentions to say the least. However, as Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt’l points out, even with his selfish, mean ulterior motives, the fact that he was instrumental in being the messenger and saving Lot, he has tremendous merit under his belt. It therefore marks him as a dangerous foe.

We learn from here that one never knows what merit an individual has. On the surface, he can be the biggest rasha; however, if he performed one act of kindness a gazillion years ago that can translate to an answered prayer at a time of need for this person, or in this case perhaps a victory at war. This is what Moshe was afraid of; at the end Moshe was victorious and the Jews were en route to conquer the promised land.