"על נהרות בבל שם ישבנו גם בכינו בזכרנו את ציון"
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and also wept as we remembered Zion.”

QUESTION: The word “gam” — “also” — is superfluous. It should simply say “yashavnu ubachinu” — “we sat and wept”?

ANSWER: On the second day of creation Hashem made the firmament which separated between the waters above and the waters below [the earth]. The lower waters were unhappy and cried that they, too, desired to be close to Hashem. As an appeasement He promised them that their benefit for being below would be that salt, which is a derivative of the water, would be put on all sacrifices offered in the Beit Hamikdash, and that on Simchat Beit Hasho’eivah water would be poured on the altar and there would be much ceremony and rejoicing when the water would be drawn (see Tikunei Zohar 5, Vayikra 2:13, Rashi).

With the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash the appeasement offered the waters was no longer relevant, so they wept over their distance and detachment from the waters above. In addition, the Jews exiled to Babylon wept over their sad plight. Hence, the Psalmist is saying that when we sat at the rivers in Babylonia, “gam bachinu” — “we also wept” — (together with the water) when we reminded ourselves of Zion which lay in ruins.

(תהלים עם פי' אמרות טהורות בשם ישמח ישראל)

"בשוב ה' את שיבת ציון היינו כחלמים"
“When G‑d will return the exiles of Zion, we will have been like dreamers.”

QUESTION: To which dreamers will we be compared?

ANSWER: When Yosef was incarcerated in Egypt, he met the butler and the baker, who had experienced strange dreams during the night. Each one of them not only dreamt something related to his profession, but also dreamt the interpretation of his colleague’s dream (Bereishit 40:5, Rashi).

The baker dreamt of a king’s servant who will be released from prison and restored to his duty and glory. He thought that it referred to him and was thus very happy. The butler on the other hand, dreamt of a king’s servant who will be hung and was very sad, since he thought it was he. In reality they were both mistaken. The good news of which the baker dreamt did not refer to him; on the contrary he ended up being hung, and the bad news of which the butler dreamt did not apply to him, for he was exonerated and returned to his position.

In the Diaspora, the Jews experience persecution and oppression, and the gentile world which reigns over us experiences success and tranquility. The Psalmist is saying that when Hashem takes the Jewish people out of exile and we will face the reality of the Messianic era, it will be for the Jews and the world an “awakening of the dreamers” — similar to the case of the baker and the butler, who awakened and witnessed reality. The Jews who thought that their suffering was endless and perpetual will rejoice and be jubilant, and the gentile world who thought that they would forever dominate over the Jewish people will declare, “Hashem has done great things for these,” and they will adopt a submissive attitude towards the Jewish people.

(קדושת ציון — באבוב)

"הזרעים בדמעה ברנה יקצרו. הלך ילך ובכה נשא משך הזרע בא יבא ברנה נושא אלומותיו"
“Those who sow in tears will reap with joyous song. He who goes along carrying the bag of seed; will return singing joyously, carrying his sheaves.”

QUESTION: These two verses seem redundant?

ANSWER: Based on the passuk, “Zireu’a lachem litzedakah” — “Sow for yourselves charity” (Hosea 10:12), the Gemara (Succah 49b) identifies charity with sowing. Thus, in this Psalm the word “hazorim” — “those who sow” — is a reference to those who give charity.

King David is saying: “Hazor’im” — “All that give tzedakah“bedimah berinah” — [regardless] “if they do it with sadness or with joy” — “yiktzoru” — “will harvest reward.” However, “haloch yeilach uvachoh” — “the one who cried and was sad when he parted with his money” — “nosei meshech hazara” — “will carry the bag of seed” i.e. the reward will be limited and commensurate to the tzedakah given. On the other hand, if “bo yavo berina” — one gave tzedakah with happiness and a cheerful countenance — then “nosei alumotav” — the reward will be carried in large bundles — overwhelming.

The Gemara (Bava Batra 9b) says, “One who gives charity receives six blessings, but the one who says soothing words while giving receives eleven blessings.”

(רזין דאורייתא)

* * *

In a derasha — speech — Rabbi Aaron of Belz delivered at his Bar Mitzvah, he expounded this pasuk as follows:

Until the child reaches the age of thirteen, the father is responsible for the child’s wrongdoings and transgressions. Upon reaching thirteen years of age, the young man becomes fully liable for his actions, and the father proclaims the Baruch shepetarani mei’onesh halazeh” — “Blessed is He Who has released me from being punishable for this [boy].”

The pasuk is saying “haloch yeilach u’vochoh” — [the father] is crying and praying that his son conduct himself properly — since “nosei” — “he carries” — “meshech” — “the bag” — i.e. responsibilities of “hazara” — “the children” — (as in “zera” — “children”). However, “bo” — it arrives — “yavo” — the age of thirteen — (“yavo” (יבוא) — has the numerical value of thirteen). Then, “berinah” — “[the father] is happy” — since “nosei alumotav” — [the son] carries his own “bundles” from now on and is fully responsible for his actions.

מים אחרונים
Washing the fingers

QUESTION: Before reciting the Birkat Hamazon Grace after Meals — we wash our fingers. This is known as mayim acharonim — the final washing — (the first washing is done before the meal). One of the reasons for this is melach Sedomit — Sodomite salt. The salt of Sodom is very strong and potentially dangerous. It can, G‑d forbid, blind a person who has it on his fingers and touches his eyes.

Why, throughout the entire world, even when one lives thousands of miles away from Sodom, does one wash his fingers because of the Sodomite salt? (See, Shulchan Aruch Harav 181:1,8.)

ANSWER: Salt itself is not nourishing; it only adds taste to other foods. The people of Sodom were evil and refused to give food to nourish a guest. Moreover, they even refused to give salt, which has no nourishment value, to a stranger (Bereishit, 19:26, Rashi).

“Sodomite salt” is a metaphor for the wicked philosophy of the people of Sodom, who were totally “blind” to the needs of others and refused to practice hospitality.

A hungry person has sympathy for someone who is in need. Often, once he is sated and satisfied, he becomes insensitive to the suffering of the needy, and like the people of Sodom, he becomes blind to the needs of others.

Our Sages want us to always have compassion for the needy. Therefore, they have instructed that upon the completion of our meal, when we are full and satisfied, we must cleanse ourselves and make sure that the philosophy of Sodom (“Sodomite salt”) does not stick to us and, G‑d forbid, blind us. We must be hospitable at all times and “see” the plight of the less fortunate.

(ואני תפלתי)

* * *

Before mayim acharonim we recite the verse, “This is the portion of the wicked man from G‑d, and the heritage appointed to him by the A-mighty” (Job 20:29). After mayim acharonim the following verse is said, “And he said to me, ‘This is the table that is before G‑d’ ” (Ezekiel 41:22).

In view of the above, the relevance of these verses may be as follows: In preparing to cleanse one’s self of the unwanted “Sodomite salt” philosophy, one declares that “This is the portion of a wicked man from G‑d...” and that it is not the practice that Hashem expects and requests of the Jewish people.

After mayim acharonim, which symbolically accentuates the attribute of hachnasat orchim — hospitality — the Jew now declares that his table will be one that is “before Hashem,” and he will share its holiness with other Jews continuously.

"וידבר אלי זה השלחן אשר לפני ה'"
“And he said to me, ‘This is the table that is before Hashem.’ ”

QUESTION: What is the significance of reciting this verse before the Grace after Meals?

ANSWER: In Pirkei Avot (3:3) Rabbi Shimon says, “When three eat at one table without speaking words of Torah there, it is as if they ate of sacrifices to the dead. When, by contrast, three sit at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten from the table of the Omnipresent, for it is written, “And he said to me, ‘This is the table that is before Hashem.’ ”

The Hebrew word for “table is “shulchan” (שלחן). The same Hebrew letters can be rearranged to spell “lenachash” (לנחש) — “to a serpent.” Through speaking words of Torah, one makes it a “shulchan” — “a table [before Hashem]” — and otherwise one makes it “lenachash” — into a serpent which kills and makes our food “zivchei meitim” — “lifeless” — (the Divine sparks in the food were not elevated).

(מלא העומר)

כוס של ברכה
Cup of Blessing

QUESTION: The Gemara (Pesachim 119b) says that when the Resurrection takes place, Hashem will make a feast for the tzaddikim, and when Avraham will be given the Cup of Blessing he will say, “I am unfit to recite the blessing because I had a son Yishmael.” Yitzchak will say, “I am unfit because Eisav was my son.” Yaakov will turn it down, “Because I married two sisters, which the Torah will later forbid.” Moshe will say, “I cannot be the one to recite the blessing because I was not privileged to enter Eretz Yisrael,” and Yehoshua will decline it saying, “I am unfit, for I did not merit to have a son.” Hashem will then say to David, “Take the cup and recite the blessing,” and David will respond, “I will do so, and it is fitting for me, as it is stated, ‘I shall raise the cup of salvations, and the Name of Hashem I shall invoke.’ ”

Why will David consider himself so qualified for the honor?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 46a) rules that, “Ba’al habayit botzei’a ve’orei’ach mevareich” — “The host breaks the bread [makes the Hamotzi] and the guest recites the Blessing after the Meals.”

King David was destined to be stillborn. Fortunately, Adam gave him as a gift 70 years of his life and, thus, he lived for 70 years (see Zohar 1:168a).

A guest is one who is dependent on the favor of others. Thus, King David, who really was not supposed to be in this world and consequently not supposed to have anything to do with the Resurrection of the dead, considered himself a guest in the world and also at the Resurrection feast. Hence, being the guest, it is halachically proper that when the Host — Hashem — makes the meal, he should be the one to take the Cup of Blessing and recite the Blessing after the Meal.

(הרי"ף על עין יעקב)

"ברוך אתה... הזן..."
“Blessed are You... Who nourishes...”

QUESTION: Who composed the Birkat Hamazon?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Berachot 48b), Moshe composed the berachah of “Hazan” — “Who nourishes” — for the Jews when the manna fell from heaven. Yehoshua composed “Birkat Ha’aretz” — “the berachah for the land” — when the Jews entered Eretz Yisrael. The berachah of “Bonei Yerushalayim — “Builder of Jerusalem” — was composed by Kings David and Shlomo. David conquered Yerushalayim and composed the segment of “Racheim” — “Have mercy...[on Jerusalem]” — and Shlomo, who built the Beit Hamikdash, added the segment “the great and holy House.”

The fourth berachah of “Hatov Vehameitiv” was composed by the sages in Yavneh (headed by Rabban Gamliel) in appreciation of Hashem’s goodness towards the hundreds of thousands of Jews of Bethar who were slain during Bar Kochba’s ill-fated rebellion against the Roman’s during the reign of Emperor Hadrian and denied burial. After years of praying and fasting by Rabban Gamliel and his court in Yavneh, plus Rabban Gamliel’s depleting his inheritance to bribe the Romans, permission for burial was finally granted.

The phrase “Hatov” — “Who is good” — refers to the fact that although years passed the bodies did not decompose, but were fresh and whole, and it was thus bearable for the residents. The phrase “Vehameitiv” — “And Who confers good” — refers to the fact that they were afforded burial. (Halachically [see Seder Birkat Hanehenin 12:12] when something good occurs to a person and others also benefit, it is customary to make a berachah of “Hatov Vehameitiv” — see Siftei Chachamim, Berachot ibid.)

According to halachah (Orach Chaim 187:8) the first three berachot are mide’oraita — Biblical — and the fourth is only miderabanan — a rabbinical injunction. To emphasize the distinction between the first three and the fourth, the word Amein is recited at the conclusion of the third berachah.

* * *

Regarding the Shulchan — Table — in the Sanctuary, it says, “And you shall cover it with zahav tahor — pure gold” (Shemot 25:24). The word “zahav” (זהב) — “gold” — is an acronym for the three blessings, “Zan” (זן) — “nourishment” — “Ha’aretz” (הארץ) — “the land” — and “Bonei Yerushalayim” (בונה ירושלים) — “Builder of Jerusalem” — recited at the table upon the completion of the meal.

(בהמ"ז עם פירושו של ר' נתן ז"ל שפירא, נדפס לראשונה בלובלין שנת של"ה)

"מסרת גבורים ביד חלשים ורבים ביד מעטים..."
“You delivered the mighty into the hand of the weak, the many into the hand of the few...”

QUESTION: Grammatically it should have said “bidei” — “in the hands”—in plural, and not the singular “beyad”—“in the hand.”

ANSWER: Indeed, more than one hand fought in defense of the Jewish people. However, the secret of their success was the unity that prevailed among the tzaddikim and the studiers of Torah. When people are united, even if they are in the minority, they can easily conquer any power that endeavors to destroy them.

"באו בניך לדביר ביתך, ופנו את היכלך, וטהרו את מקדשך, והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך"
“Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards.”

QUESTION: The kindling of the Menorah took place in the Beit Hamikdash itself. Why did the Hasmoneans kindle it in the courtyard?

ANSWER: When the Hasmoneans entered the Beit Hamikdash, they found it defiled and in ruins. Thus, they were unable to kindle the Menorah while it stood in its regular place. In the interim, while they were cleaning the mess and renovating, the Menorah was kindled in the courtyard. This is permissible according to halachah (see Rambam, Hilchot Bi’at Hamikdash 9:7).

Through kindling the Menorah in the courtyard, everyone was able to witness the eight-day miracle (which would not have been the case had it been lit inside, when only the Kohanim would have seen it).

* * *

With this explanation, we can answer the popular question of why Chanukah is celebrated for eight days instead of seven, though sufficient oil was found for the first night.

The oil found would have lasted through the night if the Menorah would have been kindled inside. However, Chanukah takes place during the winter, and due to the weather, the oil would normally not have been sufficient to last through the night when the Menorah was kindled outside in the courtyard.

(חתם סופר)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe questions: According to this, grammatically it should be in singular: “bechatzer kadshecha” — “in Your holy courtyard” — in lieu of the plural, “bechatzrotkadshecha” — “in your holy courtyards.” Thus, he asserts that the Menorah was indeed kindled in the Beit Hamikdash. However, as an additional expression of joy and happiness, all the courtyards in the outskirts of the Beit Hamikdash were also illuminated with an abundance of light.

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ה ע' 238, וכ' האבודרהם "בחצרות קדשיך ע"ש [ישעי' ס"ב, ט'] בחצרות קדשי" ושם מדובר ע"ד העיר ירושלים.)

"ותלו אותו ואת בניו על העץ"
“They hanged him and his sons upon the gallows.”

QUESTION: When were they hung?

ANSWER: On the sixteenth day of Nissan, the day of the second banquet, Esther revealed her nationality to King Achashverosh. She told him of the calamity her people were facing and he ordered that Haman be hung. That evening he was hung on the gallows (Megillah 15a, Rashi). Afterwards, the King requested that a cover be placed above his head to protect his body from being eaten up by the birds and he remained on the gallows for the entire year.

To further humiliate the Amalikites and frighten the anti-Semites, on the thirteenth of Adar when Haman’s sons were slain, Esther asked that they be hung together with their father. This would magnify the already existing public spectacle and convey a good lesson.

(מעם לועז על מג"א, ז:ט-י)

"ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ה' אלקיך על הארץ הטובה אשר נתן לך"
“When you have eaten and are satiated, you shall bless Hashem, your G‑d, for the good land He has given you.”

QUESTION: The Gemara (48b) explains that the pasuk “And you shall eat, and you shall be satiated, and you shall bless Hashem your G‑d” is a reference to the berachah of “Hazan” — “Who nourishes” — and “for the land” is a reference to “Birkat Ha’aretz” — “the blessing for the land” — and “the good” is a reference to the blessing of “Bonei Yerushalayim” — “Builder of Jerusalem.”

How can this be reconciled with the Gemara (ibid.) that these berachot were made by Moshe, Yehoshua, David, and Shlomo?

ANSWER: After meals the Torah requires us to recite a blessing to Hashem for the food we have eaten, for the land and for Jerusalem. Originally each individual, however, based on his knowledge and fluency, was at liberty to compose his own text. The present day text which became the universally accepted and required, was composed by Moshe, Yehoshua, David, and Shlomo, in recognition of a specific goodness which the Jewish people experienced.

(שו"ע אדמוה"ז סי' קפ"ז:ב, בשם רשב"א ורא"ש)

"לידך המלאה הפתוחה הקדושה והרחבה"
“Your full, open, holy, and generous hand.”

QUESTION: It should have said, “yadecha hakedoshah” — “Your holy hand” — before describing His benevolence? It does not seem to fit between the descriptions of “open” and “generous”?

ANSWER: In the Ba’al Shem Tov’s hand-written Siddur, which was acquired by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and is currently in the library of Agudat Chassidei Chabad, instead of “hakedoshah” — “holy” — it says “hegedushah” — “overflowing” — (as in “maleih vegadush” — “full and overflowing”).

* * *

The letters of the alef-beit emanate from five different points of articulation in the mouth (tongue, lips, teeth, throat, and palate). The letters gimmel, yud, chaf, and kuf (גיכ"ק) emanate from the “chaich” — “palate” — and due to their similarity they are at times interchangeable. An example of this is in the Gemara (Chullin 7b) which says, “Ein adam nokeif etzba’o” — “A person does not injure his finger [unless it was decreed from above].” Rashi writes that the word “nokeif” (נוקף) means “nogeif” (נוגף).

Hence, it is possible here, too, that in “hakedoshah” the kuf is interchanged with the gimmel and it actually means “overflowing.”

(ברוך שאמר, ועי' ערוך השלחן קפ"ז:ו)

"לחן ולחסד ולרחמים...וכל טוב"
“Grace and kindness and mercy... and all good”

QUESTION: Why do we beseech Hashem to bestow upon us fifteen Divine favors specifically?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 117b) it is customary to eat two meals daily, one in the morning and one in the evening, and on Shabbat there is an additional meal. In keeping with this custom, the Gemara says that the charity fund is required to provide the impoverished with fifteen meals, which would last one for the entire week. Thus, during a period of a week, one recites the Grace after Meals fifteen times. In merit of this, we ask Hashem to bless us with fifteen acts of Divine kindness.

* * *

Immediately before the Birkat Hamazon the pasuk, “Va’anachnu nevareich Y-ah mei’atah ve’ad olam — “And we will bless G‑d from now until eternity” — is recited. The spelling of Hashem’s name “yud-hei” (י-ה) — has the numerical value of fifteen. In consideration of the fifteen meals eaten during the week, we declare that we will recite the Grace after Meals and bless Hashem (י-ה) fifteen times, until eternity.

(בהמ"ז עם פירושו של ר' נתן ז"ל שפירא)

"וכל טוב ומכל טוב לעולם אל יחסרנו"
“...and all good, and may He never deprive us of all good things.”

QUESTION: This request sounds redundant?

ANSWER: There are people who have received Hashem’s blessings of goodness in abundant measure. They have a beautiful family, plenty of food and a wardrobe full of clothing. However, due to their poor health they are unable to enjoy these blessings. Thus, we pray that He give us all good things together with the opportunity to enjoy them in good health.

(עיון תפלה)

"הרחמן...והוא יוליכנו קוממיות לארצנו"
“May the Merciful One...and may He lead us upright to our land.”

QUESTION: How can this be reconciled with the Gemara (Kedushin 31a) that says it is forbidden for a person to walk four cubits “bekomah zekufah” — “with an erect posture”?

ANSWER: Eretz Yisrael is our holy land, and all Jews yearn to live there. Those who do not reach it during their lifetime will ultimately come there in the days of techiyat hameitim — the Resurrection. However, they will have to roll through tunnels under the earth until they reach the holy land (see Bereishit 47:29, Rashi).

Our prayer to Hashem that He “lead us upright to our land” asks that we merit to come to Eretz Yisrael happily and healthily during our lifetime and not, G‑d forbid, have to roll through underground tunnels to reach it.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"לימות המשיח"
“The days of the Mashiach.”

QUESTION: Who is the Mashiach?

ANSWER: In the Gemara (Sanhedrin 98b) there are four opinions regarding the identity of Mashiach. Some say his name is Shiloh (שילה), others say Yinon (ינון), a third opinion is Chaninah (חנינה), and a fourth view is Menachem (מנחם). The first letter of each one of these four names spells “Mashiach” (משיח).

Jewry eagerly awaits the revelation of the redeemer who will lead us out of galut. Not knowing definitely what his name will be, we call him “Mashiach,” an acronym of the four different names for the redeemer.

(צוף אמרים על הגש"פ)

"כי אין מחסור ליראיו"
“Those who fear Him suffer no want.”

QUESTION: Do those who fear Him have so much?

ANSWER: When Yaakov met Eisav and presented him with a gift, Eisav said, Yeish li rav — “I have plenty.” Yaakov continued urging him to take the gift and said, “Please accept my gift because yeish li kol — I have everything” (Bereishit 33:9-11).

The reason that Yaakov stated “I have everything” while Eisav said “I have plenty” is that the wicked are never fully satisfied. They are not content with what they have and always want more. On the other hand, the righteous are happy with whatever Hashem gives them, which they consider to be “everything.” Hence, the G‑d fearing suffer no want, for they are happy with what Hashem has allotted them and they do not torment themselves over any perceived deficiency.

(סדור אוצר התפלות בפי' ענף יוסף)