Tuesday, September 22nd 2020   |

Say Little, Do Much

Blossoms

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

For Diaspora Jews, there are four blessings that are each said a maximum of once each year. They include the blessings for candle-lighting on Yom Kippur Eve, before the ritual of searching one’s home for Chametz on the night before Passover, a blessing unique to the Tisha B’Av afternoon Amidah, and – my favorite – Birkat Ha-Ilanot, recited when one first sees fruit trees in...

Prescriptions

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

“Prescription” and “Scripture” share etymological roots in the Latin scribere – “to write” – reflecting the written form in which both were classically transmitted.

The Talmudic Rabbi Joshua ben Levi suggests a still closer link between the two… at times, Scripture is the prescription! He taught: “For a headache, one should engage in the study of Torah… For a sore throat, one should engage in...

Haggadah

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Over the course of history, countless thousands of editions of the Passover Haggadah – the liturgical text at the heart of the Seder – have been published or produced in manuscript. More become available with each passing year, a blessing for collectors and ordinary Seder celebrants alike.

The word “Haggadah,” together with the “Magid” section of the Seder, is derived from the Hebrew verb meaning...

Saltwater

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Among the many symbolic foods associated with the Passover seder, and intended to dramatize the retelling of the Exodus, is saltwater. Bowls or cups containing saltwater (or Passover vinegar) are placed around the seder table.

According to the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, 1530-1572), the saltwater is placed directly on the Seder Plate itself as a central element of the ritual. My family follows this tradition....

Heaven

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Rabbi Chanina taught: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven [yirat shamayim]” (Berachot 33B). We must take ultimate personal responsibility for our own spiritual condition, our souls, our relationship to God, to Torah, to Jewish Tradition. Our “fear of Heaven” – our reverence for God – is in our hands.

Our personal fate, our destiny… the daily challenges and...

Protection

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

“Shomer Peta’im Hashem” (“The Lord protects and keeps the simple.”) This verse (Psalm 116:6) is cited by the Sages to justify a number of behaviors that are otherwise considered to entail risk to life or limb. (See Shabbat 129B regarding bloodletting; Yevamot 12B for a discussion of contraception and high-risk pregnancy; Avodah Zarah 30B on late night snacking.)

In each case, the rabbis conclude that –...

Minchah

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The Rabbis teach: “One should always take special care to recite the afternoon (Minchah) prayer” (see Tur O.H. 232). Why the particular concern about Minchah, as opposed to morning (Shacharit) or evening (Ma’ariv) services? Perhaps because morning and evening worship is conveniently routinized: we allot time prayerfully to gather ourselves before our daily tasks begin… just as we take time to unwind and reflect after...

Portions

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Among the Mitzvot associated with the observance of Purim – the most joyful day of the Jewish year – is Mishloach Manot: the sending of “portions” of food to friends (Esther 9:19). Tradition mandates that we each bestow a gift of at least two types of food on at least one friend, neighbor, or family member. Even as we ourselves indulge in merry-making, feasting and...

Fast

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Holidays (feasts and fasts) lend substance and character to the Jewish year… embodying some of the most important values of Jewish Tradition. What would the Jewish approach to repentance and self-improvement be without Yom Kippur? What would Jewish devotion to freedom be without Passover?

In the long history of Judaism, some holidays have fallen into desuetude and been forgotten. The Shulchan Aruch (O.H. 580:1-2) prescribes...

Joy

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Mi-shenichnas Adar marbim b’simchah – When the month of Adar begins, we increase our joy” (Taanit 29A). Why the specific instruction to intensify joy in the weeks preceding Purim? For a holiday replete with singing, feasting and drinking, costumes and carnivals, joy seems a natural, instinctive reaction.

Could it be that a specific mandate for joy is required as an antidote to the dark events...