This letter was addressed to Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, one of the foremost Rabbinic scholars of the previous generation.

B”H, 18 Tammuz, 5709

Greetings and blessings,

Your letter arrived. I just now received your text, the second edition of HaMoadim BeHalachah. I am greatly appreciative of this gift. I have already made commentsconcerning this text: that in addition to the explicit statements within [the actual text] — perhaps to an even greater degree than what is stated within [the actual text] — [important insights] can be derived from the footnotes and references that were generously and liberally appended to the text.

With regard to your note and question regarding our custom cited in HaYom Yom, entry 1 Tishrei, 5704, that the request Yehi Ratzon recited over the apple should be recited after the blessing, but before eating: Every Rosh HaShanah, I saw my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, conduct himself in this manner. I asked him if this is a custom followed by the Rebbeim alone, by the entire family of the Rebbe, or whether it is a directive for people at large as well. He replied that the matter was relevant to everyone and that I could publicize the matter. Therefore I included this directive in HaYom Yom.

[My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita,] did not explain to me the rationale for deviating from the ruling of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch,1 but he did say that he was following the practice of the Rebbe [Rashab].

(Similar concepts apply to [another halachic] innovation — indeed, in my eyes, it represents a greater departure. As stated in HaYom Yom, when reciting the blessing over lighting candles [for Rosh HaShanah], we conclude [with the words]: “...[to kindle the light] of the Day of Remembrance.” According to the statements of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, Rav Raphaelovitch of Kremenchug and the Rebbe [Rashab] conducted a scholarly debate over this matter. The Rebbe [Rashab] told him that this was the practice that had been observed in the household of the Rebbeim.)

* * *

In my humble opinion, [the reason we recite the Yehi Ratzon directly after the blessing can be explained as follows]: As a preface, even the Magen Avraham,2 who states that one should eat first and make the request afterwards, makes this suggestion only as an initial and prefatory option. After the fact, however, [he agrees that reciting the Yehi Ratzon] is not considered an interruption [between the recitation of the blessing and partaking of the fruit]. Behold, the relevant section in the Magen Avraham (583:2) cites the Maaglei Tzedek3 which states that one should make the request first and then eat. This is also quoted in the Sdei Chemed (Asefas Dinim: Rosh HaShanah 2:4) which states that this is the view of the author of the text Chemdas Yamim.The texts Maaglei Tzedek and Chemdas Yamim are accessible for perusal.

Although in his Shulchan Aruch, the Alter Rebbe rules according to the Magen Avraham who differs with the Maaglei Tzedek, there are many instances where the Alter Rebbe [later] retracted a ruling that he had made earlier in his Shulchan Aruch, as obvious from his rulings in his Siddur. It is evident that this is the case in this instance as well, based on the custom of the household of the Rebbeim.

See the Responsa Divrei Nechemia (Orach Chayim, Responsum 21) which states that the Alter Rebbe “labored greatly in his Shulchan Aruch not to override the words of all the later authorities (in particular, the Magen Avraham). Toward the end of his life, by contrast, as his scholarship matured, he stood his ground and disputed their rulings, even [if it meant ruling] in the direction of leniency in matters that did not appear to him [as correct]. (As is well known, he was heard saying explicitly that he regretted being too faithful to the Magen Avraham.) In particular, [his later independence] was manifest in matters that [his predecessors] developed based on their own logic.” See also the Responsa of the Tzemach Tzedek (Orach Chayim 18:4) which discusses this matter.

See also the initial sections of Shaar HaCollel,whereit is stated that in situations when the halachah was not defined in his Shulchan Aruch, [the Alter Rebbe] rules according to the authorities whose opinions are based on the halachic tradition of the Talmud. Nevertheless, in his Siddur, which is his final ruling4 — he ruled according to the kabbalists. Based on the fact that the Sdei Chemed cites mystical reasons why the request should precede the partaking [of the apple], it is possible to say that the same concept applies in the present instance. This is true, particularly since according to the Magen Avraham, eating before reciting the request is only an initial preference. (The wording of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, sec. 583:3, [thus] requires explanation.) Hence, this rationale is sufficient to render the position that was considered desirable as an initial option as a secondary alternative.

* * *

According to my humble opinion, the superior and obvious rationale according to nigleh (the revealed tradition of Torah law) for reciting the request before partaking [of the apple] is so that the request will be in direct proximity to the blessing over the fruit. Thus the opening phrase [Baruch Atah A‑donai...] of the blessing borei pri ha’etzalso relates to [the Yehi Ratzon].5 (For this same reason, a blessing that follows in direct proximity to another blessing does not begin Baruch Atah...Pesachim 104b).

Although the request Yehi Ratzon of the Travelers’ Prayer is a blessing in its own right, nevertheless, it is preferable to recite it in proximity to another blessing, so that it will be considered as beginning with a blessing (the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, sec. 110:7; see also sec. 6:7).

How much more so then would it be proper to recite [the Yehi Ratzon over the apple] in direct sequence to the blessing? This is particularly true because the blessing over a sweet apple serves as an omen, [alluding to] the content of the request beginning Yehi Ratzon and amplifying its strength and power.

Since we do not have the authority to add blessings that are not mentioned in the Talmud and the works of the Geonim, this request was placed in direct proximity to the blessing so that it would — to a certain extent — have the power of a blessing. Since there is no alternative, [reciting it at this point] is after the fact [the most acceptable approach].

A further rationale for reciting the Yehi Ratzon as early as possible is that the apple is eaten as an auspicious omen. Hence an extra measure of care is necessary so that this will not lead to negative effects. [For that reason, it is preferable to recite the Yehi Ratzon immediately, as indicated by] our Sages’ statement (Berachos 56b): “A person who sees [a particular entity in a dream] should get up early and say [the appropriate verse] before he is preempted [by the appearance of that object in an unfavorable verse].”6

One should not, however, recite the request Yehi Ratzon before the blessing over the fruit, just as the blessing over the sukkah should not be recited before the blessing HaMotzi (the Shulchan Aruch [of R. Yosef Caro,] sec. 643[:3]). In the present instance, the rationale for not reciting the request before [the blessing] is reinforced by another reason: that one should not ask for one’s own needs7 before reciting G‑d’s praise.8

These reasons are further strengthened by the concept (see the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, sec. 582:7) that these days are days of judgment, and hence one must show an additional measure of care [when reciting one’s prayers], even though this would not be required during the remainder of the year.

* * *

With regard to the suggestion you offered: That if, for any particular reason, it is desirable to recite the request Yehi Ratzon before partaking [of the apple], it is possible to partake [of it] directly after the blessing, [only then] recite the Yehi Ratzon, and then partake of it again.

The Sdei Chemed mentions this compromise as suggested in the collection of responsa entitled Orach Chayim, the conclusion of Responsum 3, and in the text entitled Maamar Mordechai. Neither is accessible to me.

Other works cited by the Sdei Chemed also mention another suggestion: To recite the blessing over another fruit and to partake of it and then to recite the Yehi Ratzon and partake of the apple. Based on the concepts explained above, this would not be of avail, for the intent is to recite the Yehi Ratzon in direct proximity to the blessing.

[Based on all the above,] we can appreciate the custom of the household of the Rebbeim and of the chassidim. And on the basis of this custom, we can also understand the precise wording of the Alter Rebbe in his Siddur where he states: “One must recite the blessing at the outset: Baruch Atah... borei pri ha’etz and afterwards say: [Yehi Ratzon...]. On the surface, the expressions “at the outset” and “afterwards” are superfluous. Based on the above, it is possible to say that he is expressing an innovative explanation: [The blessing should be recited] “at the outset” — for there are views that first one should say the Yehi Ratzon and then the blessing. [This wording] also implies that the blessing introduces the entire matter, including the Yehi Ratzon. [And the wording emphasizes that the Yehi Ratzon should be recited] “afterwards,” i.e., immediately after the blessing.

* * *

Analysis is required regarding the compromise you and the texts cited above suggested: [i.e.,] that one partake [of the apple], say the Yehi Ratzon, and then partake of the apple again. [That approach] would seem to be relevant in sec. 643 with regard to the blessing Leishev BaSukkah, in order to perform it in the most desirable manner possible. This applies, in particular, because to recite the blessing for the sukkah, one must partake of an egg-sized portion [of bread]. (In contrast, there is no required measure [of apple that must be eaten to recite] the Yehi Ratzon.) Why then don’t we conduct ourselves in this manner [on Sukkos]?

* * *

Enclosed are our latest publications: the kuntreis for the Holiday of Redemption; and Kovetz 11, whose publication was delayed until the present9 for a particular reason.

In the first of my notes to the [enclosed] kuntreis,10 I did not mention the point you stated in your text (p. 68) in the name of the Rogatchover [Gaon] regarding a source for Rambam’s ruling (which appears to differ from that of Tosafos, Bava Metzia 58b, entry chutz) that a baal teshuvah surpasses a perfectly righteousperson. [You cite the law] (Kiddushin 49b) that [if a wicked man consecrates a woman] on the condition that he is righteous, we regard the woman as questionably consecrated for perhaps he repented.11 If so, we are forced to say that a baal teshuvah surpasses a perfectly righteousperson and 200 includes 100.12

I did not quote [this explanation], for I find it problematic. Even if [a man] leads a woman to a wrong conclusion when his situation is in fact better than that portrayed,13 the consecration is not valid. Moreover, even if [being a baal teshuvah] is preferable with regard to reward and punishment, the opposite is true with regard to the person’s nature. A baal teshuvah has negative tendencies [in his character]. (See sec. 3 of the maamar entitled VeZos HaMitzvah in Parshas VaEs’chanan in Likkutei Torah.) In truth, the [above-mentioned] passage in Kiddushin does not present a problem, for it previously mentions a beraisa which states: “[When a person consecrates a woman on the condition that he is rich,] we do not say that [he must be] as wealthy as Rabbi Elazar ben Chersom.... Instead, [the consecration is binding] as long as the people in his town honor him [because of his wealth].” And regarding the wording used by people at large, a baal teshuvah is called righteous (at least, in a figurative way).

May G‑d transform — in a manner that parallels the advantage of teshuvah, which transforms intentional sins to merits, from a curse to a blessing — these days14 into happiness and joy, speedily in our days.

With wishes for everlasting good in all matters and with greetings,

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson

P.S. I was not able to find a machzor with the gloss Maaglei Tzedek — apparently this is the intent of the letters מ"צ mentioned by Magen Avraham. I did, however, see a machzor with the gloss Hadras Kodesh which includes the majority of the customs mentioned by the Maaglei Tzedek. It states: “It is appropriate to recite the blessing borei pri ha’etz on an apple and then say: ‘May there be renewed for us a good and sweet year.’ One then partakes of the apple dipped in honey.”

The Maaglei Tzedek was first printed in Venice in the year 5328 and it includes “the customs of Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, White Russia, and Lithuania.” If so, our practice is an ancient established custom.

I just now received a list of the customs of Babylonia (from the text Masa Bavel by David Suleiman Sasson, p. 222). [There it states that] they share our custom of reciting the Yehi Ratzon between the recitation of the blessing and the partaking of the fruit.

While speaking of the matter: Maharil — as quoted in the Darkei Moshe — explains that we partake of apples [on Rosh HaShanah] to allude to “the Holy Apple Orchard.”15

Seemingly, it would have been more appropriate to say that it alludes to the sublime apples mentioned in the Zohar (III, p. 133b) which are the source of life. See also the Zohar (III, p. 74b).

Both of these sources speak of apples, but not of esrogim (see Tosafos, Shabbos 88a, entry Piryo), because they are praised for their sweet flavor and their three colors.

Perhaps Maharil preferred to mention the allusion to “the Holy Apple Orchard,” because Rosh HaShanah is the time when the Sefirah of Malchus, the analogue of the “Holy Apple Orchard,”is “built” anew. When, by contrast, an apple [is viewed as an individual entity,] distinct from other fruits, it corresponds to Z’eir Anpin and not Malchus (Zohar II, p. 16b). See also the rationale given by the Tzemach Tzedek for eating an apple, which is cited by Pelach HaRimon, Vol. I, p. 61d.

* * *

After the kuntreis [of Yud-Beis Tammuz] was printed, I discovered that the Siddur of Rav Hai Gaon ([reprinted in] Jerusalem, 5698), p. 74, cites the view of Rav Neturnai Gaon (Ginzei Kedem, Vol. IV, p. 27; see also Otzar HaGeonim, Shabbos, sec. 351) which states that [when the term] upligei (“And this differs”) [is used in the Talmud], the intent is that the halachah follows the first view. This runs contrary to the approach of Rav Saadia Gaon (see Ayin Zocheir 6:21) whose view was cited in my note [to the kuntreis].16