Customs and Conventions

Timely rules, regulations, and traditional observances related to the Jewish holidays and special times on our unique calendar. This series endeavors to trace customs back to their early sources, probe the philosophical jurisprudence associated therein and uncover the mystical perspective laden within.

The introduction of a well-documented, but little-known new beginning on the Jewish calendar serves to place this unique Torah Reading in its proper context. Once establishing its origins in the Temple eras of antiquity, we move on to analyse its function in our post-Temple reality. Competing philosophies and jurisprudence are framed by practical differences. We conclude with a mystical and spiritual elucidation of deeper messages and the inspirational motifs being conveyed.
The famous holiday gifts of edibles have become emblematic of Purim's joyous celebrations. Since antiquity, and regardless of geography they've been festooned and decorated – arguably unlike any other mitzvah we fulfil. Here we seek to understand the deeper rhyme, reason and jurisprudence of this unique rabbinic ordained observance. By tracing earliest origins, and noting its understated documentation, we arrive at a profound new appreciation of its purpose and methodology—as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.
There’s lots of hoopla attached to the Shabbat prior to Purim, as it's host to a special Torah reading said to be biblically mandated. Yet, it's common knowledge that public Torah readings are rabbinically ordained – so how could it possibly be an actual biblical mitzvah? After documenting the earliest sources for this idea; we go on to establish its legal definition and jurisprudence, attaining a better understanding of its unique rhyme and reason. This class provides an understanding of its underlying purpose as an annual reading that is supposed to influence our psyche all year long!
The ubiquitous custom of “unfolding” our proverbial Purim scroll, rather than using it in its organic rolled position seems rather odd and unwieldy. The spreading of the scroll is justified by “it's supposed to be a letter.” But what exactly does that mean, and what is it meant to accomplish. Careful tracing and cross-referencing of early sources lead us to a fascinating thesis, which is subsequently augmented with a seemingly unrelated Biblical concept related to ancient Temple service. And, in the end it all makes perfect sense!
Following Purim, comes the third seasonal Torah Reading – this time focused on ritual purification for the severest level of impurity engendered by contact with death. Heralding the requisite preparation for the key Paschal Offering, the rhyme and reason for this annual public reading is easily understood. However, multiple early sources indicate it to be biblically mandated – a notion difficult to understand. Copious sources, detailed analysis, and deep spiritual insight provide rationale as to why this unique tradition might hail from the Torah itself!
The fourth and final seasonal Torah Reading highlights our first foundational and recurring, national ritual endeavor – the proverbial Paschal Offering. Yet, as a voice from Jerusalem suggests, there seems to be more than roasted lamb on the menu. This lecture presents a smorgasbord of sources, peppered with nuanced commentary and flavored with mystical insight that brings forth the rich flavor of this unique climatic reading and provides heaping inspirational “food for thought” with enough to satisfy heart, mind and soul!
Of the six Seder Plate items, the proverbial Passover dip of pulverized fruit, nuts, seasoning and wine is perhaps least understood. In tracing the earliest documented sources we encounter a range of opinions and rationale, initially creating confusion; but in the end, through careful analysis provides stunning clarity. You'll discover both the unique and supporting role this unusual dip plays in communicating the Exodus narrative by virtue of its appearance, consistency and tart acrid flavoring, and develop a taste for this secondary item on the Seder menu.
The mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer is individually performed each year as we reckon the opening days of Israel's harvest; counting up from Pesach to Shavuot. Curiously, a time-honored and sacred tradition emphasizes that this “counting” must be performed when in upright “standing” position. By tracing back to a wide range of early sources, we develop a deeper appreciation of this rule; and ultimately emerge with a solid understanding of why our physical posture has important bearing on our duty to verbalize the daily count.
Delving into Sefirat HaOmer – ritual counting from Pesach to Shavuot – the slightly disparate narrative of biblical verses lead into unique understandings of this Torah mandate, and how it might be performed in the post-temple exilic era, as separate schools of thought emerge regarding the nature this commandment today. The dominant opinion that modern-day counting is performed by rabbinic ordination alone, begs a question: how does a man-made Mitzvah create a divinely ordained festival? Remarkable insight into the counting and its effects ensues!
The Torah’s instructions about Sefirat HaOmer are precise; it must be an intact and perfect endeavour. Straightforwardly; this means each day must be counted from the night prior, thereby including the full range of each segment. An additional idea is introduced: all days must be counted in totality to account for a complete and proper Mitzvah fulfilment. Traced to their earliest sources, disparate schools of thought are presented and elucidated. Reconciliation and extraordinary insight into the counting’s nature spill over into Yiddishkeit, and ultimately life itself!
Traditions around the celebratory observance of the 33rd day of the Omer are atypical of the normative Yiddishkeit experience; especially the blazing bonfires that burn in Meron and across Israel. The remarkable volume of non-sectarian participation, and its widespread nature, beg clarification. Tracing the earliest known sources, we arrive at a surprising conclusion. Incredibly insightful and awe-inspiring teachings are woven to form a rich tapestry of wisdom, understanding and knowledge; clarifying what we’re celebrating and why we are all so fired up about it!
Associating dairy-delicacies with the annual celebratory observance of Matan Torah (giving of the Torah) seems as natural as blintzes and sour cream; yet the origins of this near ubiquitous custom appear artificial and even contradictory to the mandated holiday meat menu. Mixing medieval manuscripts with contemporary clarification, a sweet and fruitful medley of delightful insight, rhyme and reason emerges. See how a desire to flavor Shavuot with a taste of times bygone set “Milky Way” customs into orbit and how to best balance this curious minhag with the Halacha!
The custom of “going green” on Shavuot with displays of organic flowers and greenery is widespread and seems entirely natural, yet its oldest historic documentation is far more recent than most imagine. Tracing earliest written sources through to the Code of Jewish Law reveals significant nuance and variation within this seemingly time-honored practice, while ancient sources also seem to wink at this idea. Yet, despite its apparent deep history, an 18th-century luminary threw shade on this practice and many subsequently abandoned it. Here, you'll find out why!
Explore the earliest sources for why we stay up all night on Shavuot to learn Torah, and discover the real reason for this seemingly misunderstood custom.
Though not the majority opinion, there is an important school of thought that perceives the five days following Shavuot as an organic continuation of the holiday – a curious prolongation of hallowed time not found anywhere else in our Jewish calendar. The source for this unique convention seems rooted in the Talmud, yet its logic seems less than ironclad. The Rebbe provides a fresh and deeply insightful perspective on the essence of Shavuot itself that ultimately sheds illumination and clarity about the unusual expansion of the holiday’s broadened circumference.
Highlighting the anniversary of the passing of Tzadikim doesn't seem to have roots in the Bible – yet, it definitely isn't a modern invention as there are several clear references of such anniversaries being observed in antiquity – as per the sources presented. An obscure verse in the Biblical Book of Esther becomes a prime source of rhyme and reason that is richly developed through the prism of inspired Chassidic teachings. Special attention is given to the time-honored customs of visiting the gravesite and kindling the traditional 24 hour Yahrtzeit candle!
4 Videos
The rhyme and reason for the customary Shabbat menu
Explore the rich background, significance and symbolism of the time-honored Shabbat menu, as sourced in classic Jewish texts, their halachic underpinnings and the mystical perspective.
The rhyme and reason behind the well established pre-Tisha B’Av ban on meat and wine is surprisingly vague and inconclusive – especially as Talmudic sources say nothing of the sort, and the tradition doesn't jibe with general mourning and bereavement practices! Tracing the generational evolution of the Halachik documentation provides us subtle hints that can lead us towards a fresh understanding of these dining limitations – allowing us to appreciate the jurisprudence behind the Ashkenazic and Sephardic applications of this kindred prohibition.
Observance of Tisha B’av seems to require a proverbial Seuda Hamafseket or “Last Supper” before the fasting commences. But why make hay out of final morsels; after all isn't it about abstention? A quick glance at the Mishna serves to solidify the query. Yet, a careful analysis of early Talmudic sources along with classic medieval commentary reveals tantalizing meaning and deeper purpose. A fresh new understanding of what this final meal represents, with a special emphasis on its hidden flavors can only be fully appreciated in its unusual Shabbat incarnation.
Discover history, rhyme and reason of the pre-High Holiday month-long Shofar sounding. Although the ululating of the Ram’s horn has become synonymous with soul-stirring Elul energy and end-of-year spiritual stock-taking, it’s really iconic of Rosh Hashanah—begging the question, why we did appropriate and expand it? Elucidating the jurisprudence behind this cherished tradition reveals unique Ashkenazic and Sephardic applications of kindred spiritual awakening, traditionally associated with the month of Elul and our preparations for the High Holy Day Season.
LeDovid Hashem Ori: “G-d is My Light”
Psalm 27’s prophetic poetic prose encapsulate the soul’s yearning; seeming to organically reflect Elul energy and this spiritually saturated season. Yet, while the practice of adding it to daily prayers appears to be ancient, cherished and timeworn, the earliest actual source is but three centuries old – begging many questions: where did it originate, how’d it spread so widely, and why do we say it?! Weaving an intricate tapestry of Torah to continue the thesis birthed in the part 1, an insightful and inspirational clarification, preparing us for High Holy Day Season, develops!
The origin of Rosh Hashanah greeting cards and wishes
Although sharing good wishes with family and friends in the lead up to Rosh Hashanah – in word and writing – seems so natural to this season; it isn't actually legislated in primary Halachik codes—although a 14th century book of customs, instructs to also include such sentiment when sending a letter. The unusual verbiage and its absence from the Shulchan Aruch begs for clarification. A careful analysis of Elul acronyms, reveals a deeper dimension of this special month's emphasis and activities, especially as illuminated by our Rebbe's teachings.
Although surprising to some, we not only believe Satan exists – we even do things to confuse him! This is perhaps truest in the days leading up to, and on our Jewish New Year. With copious Torah-true sources establishing his existence, we go on to carefully analyze rabbinic writings detailing special timely traditions and activities – all proverbially ordained to keep the Celestial Accuser in the dark. But how in heaven can we fool an angel? Be blown away by the Rebbe's explanation of Shofar sounding and the deeper meaning of “confounding Satan!”
A compelling analysis of the pre-Purim tradition to fast before feasting! Looking back at the original Torah-true teachings, a rich and satisfying presentation is served. Yet, the popular name indicates a very important ingredient is still missing. The creative genius of a contemporary Torah Sage brings this presentation to perfection!
A fascinating discovery on the tradition of Purim drinking. Does halacha require intoxication on Purim? Learn the truth about over-the-top consumption of wine on Purim, as we make sense out of drinking till you are senseless! This complex mix of Torah teachings blends a wide range of the literal, homiletical and mystical dimension.
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