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7 Shevat 5761 - January 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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"Meoros HaDaf HaYomi" Insights into the Week's Learning
Under the Direction of HaRav Chaim Dovid Kovalsky

Stories, Mussar, Practical Halacha (Tractate "Sotah" Daf 38- 44) (Vol. 88) From the Sochatchov "Beis Medrash of Teachers of the Daf HaYomi" Bnei Brak

Contents of this Issue of Meoros: * Why say birkas kohanim only on holidays? * Tevila for kohanim before birkas kohanim * Birkas kohanim in the presence of non-Jews * Why is birkas kohanim only in chazoras hashatz? * A question from Egyptian Jews visiting the Kosel * Carrying a sefer Torah to a jail * Moving sifrei Torah inside a shtiblach * Removing sifrei Torah to the plaza of the Kosel * Payment for damages caused by an "evil eye" * How did Moshe Rabbenu write 13 sifrei Torah in one day? * The difference between kishuf and an "evil eye" * Naming a child "Alter" as a segula against the "evil eye" * Efforts of the "S'dei Chemed" to avoid flattering * "Permission" to flatter one's wife

38a "So shall you bless"-with nesi'as kapayim [raised hands"].

Why Say Birkas Kohanim Only on Holidays?

Our daf deals at length with the halachos of Birkas Kohanim whose source is the verse (Bamidbar 6:23), "So shall you bless Bnei Yisroel." According to the Rambam (Introduction to Hilchos Tefillah) Kohanim are obliged to bless Yisroel "every day." The poskim write, however, that about seven hundred years ago, for various reasons, the minhag was introduced in many places that the Kohanim would not do nesi'as kapayim each day.

A variety of minhagim: Today, in most cities in Eretz Yisroel, Kohanim duchan each day at Shacharis, as is the opinion of the Rambam and the Beis Yosef (end of Siman 128) [the duchan is the platform on which the Kohanim stand on when they bless us. Colloquially to "duchan" means "to go up and bless']. In northern Eretz Yisroel and some cities in the south, Kohanim duchan only during Mussaf of Shabbos and Yom Tov.

In Jewish communities in the Diaspora, the minhag of Ashkenazim is to fulfill the mitzvah of nesi'as kapayim only on Mussaf of Yom Tov. In some places the Kohanim duchan whenever there is a public reading in the Torah, and still others have the minhag to duchan once a month (see "Nesi'as Kapayim" ch. 2).

Tevila in a mikveh for Kohanim before birkas Kohanim: The poskim discuss at length why the earlier gedolei Yisroel annulled the positive mitzvah of saying birkas Kohanim every day. The Maharil (Responsa HaChadashos Siman 21) writes that the minhag to duchan only on Yom Tov is because Kohanim used to be accustomed to immerse in a mikveh before going up to duchan. Our Chachamim saw how difficult this was for them, and especially during the cold rainy winter, so they enacted that nesi'as kapayim be done only on Yom Tov, for then the Kohanim anyway were obliged to tovel in a mikveh in order to purify themselves for Yom Tov (Rosh Hashanah 16b). The Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim Siman 128) objects to this explanation, saying that since we do not find any source to oblige the Kohanim to tovel before nesi'as kapayim, not being able to tovel is insufficient reason to annul a positive mitzvah of the Torah.

Fulfilling the mitzvah with simcha: The Remoh (Orach Chaim 128:44) offers a different explanation -- one that sheds light upon the importance of a person's frame of mind when he goes to fulfill a mitzvah. During the year, he writes, and even on Shabbos, people are often troubled with thoughts about their livelihood. Since birkas Kohanim must be said with simcha and with love for the congregation, the Kohanim duchan only on Yom Tov when there is already a mitzvah to be joyful. The Remoh adds that in order that the Kohanim give the brocho with great simchah, nesi'as kapayim is done during Mussaf at the end of the tefillah, for the Kohanim then are in a happy frame of mind, for they are about to partake of their Yom Tov meal.

Birkas Kohanim in the presence of a non-Jew: The Maharil (ibid.) writes that the minhag that Kohanim duchan only on Shabbos is because during the week there often were non-Jews in the beis knesses. Since this bracha should be said only before Jews, as is written, "So shall you bless bnei Yisroel," and the presence of non-Jews limits the positive influence of the bracha (see "Nesi'as Kapayim," ibid.) the minhag spread that nesi'as kapayim is only on Shabbos.

A fire in the beis medrash: Contemporaries of the Vilna Gaon zt'l testify (cited in "Minhchas Yitzchok" VIII:1) that the Gaon was very distressed that Kohanim do not perform the mitzvah of nesi'as kapayim each day. He said that if he could, he would change the minhag and would even take time out from his Torah study and tefillah to travel from city to city to persuade communities to have the Kohanim duchan every day.

The Gaon's talmid, R. Chaim of Volozhin, relates that the Vilna Gaon once decided that in his beis medrash Kohanim would duchan daily, but on that very day people libeled the Gaon and he was imprisoned. The Gaon saw this as a sign from Heaven not to change the minhag of our fathers. R. Chaim of Volozhin himself tried to make a minhag to duchan each day but changed his mind after a fire burned down his beis medrash.

41a They flattered Agrippas

Efforts of the "S'dei Chemed" to Avoid Flattering

Our sugya discusses the severity of the sin of flattering the wicked. It says that when Chachamim flattered King Agrippas, who reigned contrary to the halacha, "'enemies of Yisroel' [a euphemism to avoid explicit mention of calamity] were condemned to be destroyed."

The source for the issur is the verse (Bamidbar 35:33), "You shall not flatter the evil doers of your land" (Sifri 161, but see Rashi and Targum Onkeles), which refers to flattering resho'im (Ramban, ibid.). The Rishonim add (Reishis Chochma Sha'ar HaKedusha ch. 12, "Orchos Chaim" of the "Rosh" letter 103) that it also is forbidden to effusively praise a kosher person if he is unworthy of such praise, when the aim is to gain favor from him. If, however, one's aim is not selfish, and he only wants the other person to have a good feeling from the praise, it certainly is not prohibited. On the contrary, it is a mitzvah to give such praise.

Flattery by the Baghdad shamashim: In the Responsa Rav Pe'alim (IV Orach Chaim Siman 4) the author complains bitterly about some of the shamashim [community beadles] who would flatter the rich Jews of Baghdad. When the rich would make a bris, the shamashim would loudly proclaim to all that today we do not say Tachanun, even when the bris was being done somewhere else.

Exaggerating in bestowing titles of honor: Gedolei Torah always have been careful to avoid speaking flattery. For example, the S'dei Chemed (III, Ma'areches "Ches," Klal 140) relates that in order not to flatter people he once decided not to bestow any titles of honor to those to whom he sent letters. He changed this practice after he realized that many people were insulted since they thought the S'dei Chemed was degrading them. Accordingly, when he printed his responsa he added titles of honor before the names of honorable rabbonim. From then on, whenever he sent a letter, he would address it to "HaRav HaGaon" so-and-so, in order that he would not, choliloh, insult venerable people.

To his sorrow, however, the S'dei Chemed saw that his new policy created a new problem. He learned that individuals who did not deserve this dignified title were boasting about his letter, priding themselves on the fact that the S'dei Chemed, a godol hador, had referred to them as "HaRav HaGaon." Such flaunting caused a serious desecration of Hashem's name. The S'dei Chemed then decided that in the future he would honor a person only with the title that people normally used to honor that person, even if the title would exaggerate the truth. The issur is only on flattering resho'im, but not to flatter a kosher Jew is only a commendable form of behavior, and as such one is allowed to flatter someone kosher when there is a risk of insult.

It is interesting to point out what the Reishis Chochma writes -- that it is fitting for a husband to praise his wife even for a good attribute that he thinks she does not really possess. Since the husband's goal is domestic tranquility, there is no issur.


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