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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Fantastic and lively Torah discussions are a hallmark of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. Very often, significant chidushei Torah (novel Torah insights) are developed in the course of discussion. Let us share two groundbreaking ideas from two beloved congregants, Joel Mizrahi and Shalom Shushan.

Before Shabbat Zachor we were struggling to discover a reason why a bracha is not recited upon hearing Parshat Zachor. After all, most Rishonim regard Parshat Zachor as a fulfillment of the Torah obligation to remember the heinous crimes of the Amalekites. Hacham Yitzhak Yosef offers a range of answers to this question. One answer is based on the Gemara (Megilla 10b) that states that Hashem rebuffed the malachim (angels) who wished to sing and rejoice at Kriyat Yam Suf (splitting of the Red Sea), declaring, “My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you wish to say the shira [to sing]?!”

Similarly, Hacham Yitzhak argues that we should not recite a bracha on a mitzvah that involves violent actions (Parshat Zachor recalls our obligation to eradicate Amalek). We, however, questioned this answer, noting the disparity between reciting a bracha and saying shira. Just because shira is not appropriate for the occasion does not mean that a bracha must be omitted.

Hacham Yitzhak presents another answer based on Teshuvot HaRashba (number 18). The Rashba explains that we do not recite a bracha on tefillah or kriyat Shema since one makes a bracha only upon actually performing an action mitzvah, but not simply speaking. Argues Rav Yosef that the same applies to reading Parshat Zachor in which we do not recite a bracha since no action (other than talking) is involved.

We at Shaarei Orah found the Rashba a bit questionable since we recite a bracha on the reading of the Megilla, even though no action is required. In the wake of our dissatisfaction with the two classic answers offered by Hacham Yitzhak, Shalom Shushan suggested a third approach.

Shalom notes that we do not recite a bracha on mitzvot that are fulfilled constantly. For example, we do not recite a bracha on believing in Hashem and loving Hashem since these are constant mitzvot. Similarly, argues Shalom, the mitzvah to remember Amalek is a constant mitzvah. We simply make sure to articulate our memory of Amalek once a year in order that we constantly bear in mind the memory of Amalek (Chazal teach that a memory is usually not retained unless it is reinforced at least once a year). Thus, since recalling the evil actions of Amalek is fundamentally a constant mitzvah, it is not appropriate to recite a bracha on this mitzvah.

Now to Joel Mizrahi’s idea. The Gemara (Megilla 14a) offers three reasons for omitting Hallel on Purim. One answer is that this miracle occurred outside Eretz Yisrael. Another approach is that we remain under Ahashveirosh’s control even at the end of the Megilla. The third answer is that reading the Megilla itself constitutes an expression of Hallel.

Joel offers a novel answer. He notes that Megillat Esther records that in self-defense we killed more than 75,000 of our enemies on the 13th and 14th of Adar. Accordingly, Joel reasons, how can we recite Hallel on Purim when Hashem’s creatures perished during the events about which we read on this day?

What do you think of Joel and Shalom’s chidushei Torah? Please share your thoughts at [email protected] In the meantime, we look forward to more exciting Torah discussions at Shaarei Orah!

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.