Friday, September 2, 2011

Should I be specific?

According to Maimonides, the commandment of Teshuba is fulfilled when we recite the Viduy. Viduy means 'confession,' and it consists on the articulation of our transgressions, admitting our responsibility and feeling regret for the wrong things we have done.

The Viduy/confession is done privately. We do not disclose our sins in front of other people or a rabbi, but right in front of God. Whispering the confession to ourselves.

There is a discussion of the Talmud if at the recitation of the Viduy one has to specify his wrongdoings (Rabbi Yehuda ben Baba) or one can just state in general terms that he has acted wrongly (Rabbi Akiba).

According to the Shulchan Arukh, there is no need to mention every specific sin that one has committed during the last year. This leniency aims at not discouraging a person who wants to repent, but does not find himself capable (or courageous enough) of recalling the specifics of his bad behavior.

Maimonides, however, rules like the first opinion and indicates that one has to mention in his private confession, everything wrong he has done.

To follow Maimonides opinion, one will need to apply himself to a deep introspection, exercising greatly his memory, struggling against his own denial, reviewing last year's actions, and perhaps, writing a list of all misdeeds he can remember.

Additionally, the text of the Viduy that we have in the Machzorim --the one we say for Selichot for example-- should be seen as a reminder of the subjects one has to review, repent for, and hopefully correct.

As we have said before, all this spiritual/ethical activity cannot be done overnight. We dedicate to it forty days, from the beginning of Elul until Yom Kippur: the day we devote ourselves entirely and exclusively to Teshuba/Viduy.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle Lighting in NYC: 7:08 PM
Shabbat ends in NYC: 8:15 PM

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"Confession and Redemption"

by Rabbi Zev Leff (

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Repentance and verbal confession

In his Mishne Torah, Maimonides dedicates ten chapters to the subject of Teshuba (repentance). In those chapters he describes and explains the technical issues involved in the process of repentance. He deals in length with the idea of freedom of choice and its relationship to Teshuba, and most interestingly, he clarifies the Jewish view on afterlife and the World to come ('olam-habba). On the last chapter he elaborates on the proper way to serve God: if we should serve God expecting a reward or out of our unconditional love for Him. In this month, Elul, I will try B'H to cover some of these important issues.

At the very beginning of Hilkhot Teshuba (The Laws of Teshuba 1:1) Maimonides clarifies that Teshuba, understood as: 1.Admission of our wrong behavior. 2. Repentance and 3. Resolution to change our behavior, is a prerequisite for the performance of the Mitzvah which is explicit in the Torah: the Viduy, or "confession".

"When one repents and returns from his sin, he must confess before God... as it is written: (bamidbar 5:6) "...and they shall confess the sin that they committed". This refers to a oral confession. This confession is positive commandment".

Oral or verbal confession is said to the exclusion of a mental confession. Similar to psychoanalysis, where the patient begins his metal healing when he or she is able to articulate his trauma, in the process of Teshuba, we reach the level of 'admission of our sins' only when we are able to articulate our transgressions with words, not with thoughts. Bad habits might remain forever in our subconscious mind unless we articulate them.

Confessing and verbalizing is the ultimate way of admitting our mistakes, which is the most important step we must take to arrive to the goal of the Teshuba process: positive behavioral change.

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"Hurricane Irene and the month of Elul"


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rosh Chodesh Elul

After receiving the Ten Commandments in Shabu'ot, Moshe Rabbenu stayed in Mount Sinai for forty days. There, God taught him the Oral Torah: the meaning and the ways to perform all the 613 commandments. At the end of the forty days Moshe came down and encountered the people of Israel worshiping the golden calf. At the sight of such terrible offense, Moshe broke the tablets containing the Ten commandments. This happened on the 17th of Tamuz.

A few weeks later, in the beginning of the month of Elul, God told Moshe to ascend once again to Mount Sinai, where he stayed again for forty days. What did Moshe do during those forty days? Since God expressed His intention to erase Am Israel for their deplorable sin, Moshe begged God Almighty to forgive His people, Israel. Moshe argued with God, advocating for the Jewish people, and invoking the merit of their ancestors Abraham, Ytzchaq and Ya'aqob.

At the end of the forty days, and at the insistence of Moshe Rabbenu, God finally absolved the people of Israel. That day, the 10th of Tishri, is Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness.

In remembrance of those forty days during which Moshe Rabbenu begged God to absolve Israel, we dedicate forty days to ask God for our own forgiveness. During forty days we immerse ourselves in a deep process of introspection, admission, repentance and change called: Teshuba.

This period of spiritual preparation begins tomorrow and ends on Yom Kippur.

Tomorrow morning B'H, Sephardic communities start reciting the Selichot, the prayers that inspire us to reflect on our lives and embark on the process of Teshuba.

Click here to get in the mood of Selichot

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BERIT MILA: The steps of circumcision. Metzitza.

Previously (see here ) we've explained the first three steps of the Berit Mila:

1. Sterilization,

2. Removal of the foreskin (circumcision) and

3. peri'a or removal of epithelium.

The fourth step is the Metziza, sucking the blood from the circumcision wound. The ritual of Metzitzah is found the Mishna, Masekhet Shabbat (19:2) as one of the steps involved in the circumcision rite.

Modern rabbis (Chatam Sofer) have observed that the rationale for the Metziza is hygienic.
According to Rabbi Mordechai Halperin, this action lowers the internal pressure in the tissues of the organ, in the blood vessels of the head of the organ and in the exposed ends of the arterioles that have just been cut. Thus, the difference between the pressure in the blood vessels in the base of the organ and the pressure in the blood vessels at its tip is increased.

In modern days, as our awareness of infections and sterilization procedures have increased, the rabbis dissent regarding the right procedure for the Metziza.

Some rabbis, notably Rabbi Sinai Schiffer of Baden, Germany, states in his Sefer Mitzvas Hametzitzah that most Russian (Lithuanian) rabbis categorically prohibit Metzitzah with a sponge etc. and require it to be done orally.

Most Modern Orthodox Rabbis, however, recommend to use a sterilized glass which fulfills the same mission and eliminates the risks of infections, herpes, HIV, etc.

Our own rabbi Eliyahu ben Hayim (Shelita), also recommends the Metzizta be done using a sterilized glass tube.

here to read the statement of the Rabbinical Council of America on the issue of Metzitza.