Parshas Vayeira 5759 - '98

Outline Vol. 3, # 4

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Dedicated to the memory of Ben Portman, President of the Chevra Kadisha of Cong. Bnai Brith Jacob, Savannah, Georgia

Last week, we discussed the Alter from Kelmís words -- that the offering of Hevel (Abel) was not a mitzva, because it was not given with the proper intent.

David Muhlbauer sent the following question: Why was Hevelís sacrifice accepted, but not Kayinís (Cainís), if, indeed, Hevel was not fulfilling a mitzva?

This is an important, and difficult, point.

There are two aspects of the mitzva. The first is the basic requirements, the external details. The second aspect involves the internal purposes, intentions and motivations. See Nesivos Shalom, where it is explained that Kayinís attempt was invalid because Kayin did not fulfill the basic requirement that the offering has to come from the best of oneís property. Hevel, on the other hand, went to great lengths to choose the finest offering, the best of his personal labors.

Hashemís acceptance of Hevelís offering demonstrated the difference regarding the basic externals.

Secondly, we need to examine intentions. Are we performing for the sake of the mitzva, or for some ulterior motivation? Unfortunately, people sometimes feel that performing mitzvos justifies everything. However, Judaism does not maintain that the ends justify the means. Each aspect of the mitzva should be justified on its own merits.

Of course, no one is perfect, and we should perform mitzvos regardless of intent. "Through performance not-for-the-right-intention, one will come to perform for-the-right-intention." Through practice, we can come closer and closer to the ideal performance.

There are, however, limits. Certain ulterior motivations are not going to bring about a satisfactory performance, even in the long run.

Hevel did the mitzva beautifully. To demonstrate, Hashem accepted the offering. It was a lesson and test for Kayin: First, Hevel put in the effort, which Kayin did not. Second, Kayinís reaction would demonstrate his own sincerity.

However, although Hevel did everything right externally, the internals were mismanaged. Couldnít he have done his mitzva privately? By upstaging Kayin before his very eyes, he showed a lack of sensitivity to his brother. When Kayin raised the subject of his personal depression, Hevel had a chance to set things right. Instead, he responded with conceit. Bragging about his mitzva, using his success to hurt Kayinís feelings, Hevel succeeded in twisting the mitzva away from acceptable norms. What had started as questions now became answers. Hevelís offering was not a mitzva, but an aveira -- a crime.

Donít forget that the Alter was one of the prime students of Rav Yisrael Salanter. Rav Yisrael maintained that righteousness cannot be seen from externals. You cannot understand a person by looking at his clothing and general appearance, but only by getting to know him well. The acceptance of Hevelís sacrifice, gave him the appearance of success and righteousness. His own speech, however, was much more revealing.

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 3 # 3

"Tal Umatar" and the Civil Calendar

The "tal umatar" prayer, outside of the environs of Eretz Yisrael, is said sixty days after the fall equinox.

In Milwaukee last week, Rabbi Pinsky told me that he often shows his students a remarkable similarity between the civil calendar and the Jewish calendar. The beginning of the Hebrew months is Nisan, in the spring. The Jewish leap year occurs at the end -- Adar, the month before Nisan. It is for the same reason that the civil leap year occurs at the end of February -- March, at spring time, was actually the beginning.

We were delighted to find someone aware of this fact! The source of this idea is Tashbetz -- the responsa of Rav Shimon Duran, who passed away in Algiers in 5204 (1444). This is not just an interesting piece of information, but provides the lost key to understanding the time frame for the "tal umatar" prayer.


Tal Umatar Today

The "tal umatar" prayer, outside of the environs of Eretz Yisrael, is said sixty days after the fall equinox, usually Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4) according to the calculations of Mar Shmuel.

Both the civil and the Hebrew calendars calculate 365 1/4 day per solar year. The civil calendar adds a day every four years; in order to calculate the tekufos -- seasons, equinoxes and solstices -- the Hebrew calendar uses the actual number of 365 1/4 for every single year. After four years, the Hebrew calendar advances into the fourth quarter of the day, which actually means adding a new day.

Year Advance of Hebrew Estimate over Civil Calendar


First: +1/4 Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4)

Second: +1/4 + 1/4 Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4)

Third: +1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4 Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4)

*Fourth: +1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4 = Dec *6 (Evening of Dec. *5)

The following Feb. has 29 days, instead of 28. By adding an extra day after four years, the civil calendar has caught up with the Jewish solar estimate, and "tal umatar" returns to Dec. 5 (Evening of Dec. 4).

In the Dec. before the civil leap year, "tal umatar" advances one day.

Year Civil Date for "tal umatar"


1996 Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4)

1997 Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4)

1998 Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4)

Since 2000 will be a civil leap year, the Dec. of the previous year, 1999, advances one day:

*1999 Dec *6 (Evening of Dec. *5).

After the leap year (Feb. 29, 2000), the civil calendar has caught up with the Jewish solar estimate, and everything returns to normal:

2000 Dec 5 (Evening of Dec. 4)

Errors Abound

Unfortunately, it is very easy to make a mistake. When we checked different texts, calendars and sidurim (prayerbooks) we found many were in error. It is usually noted that the leap year makes a difference, but often it is stated in such a way as to appear that DURING the civil leap year, "tal umatar" advances one day. Thus, people are led to believe that the Dec. after Feb. 29 advances one day. That would mean, for example, that since 1996 was a leap year, the "tal umatar" prayer of Dec. 1996 should have advanced one day. This was not the case; Dec. 1995 advanced one day, because the FOLLOWING Feb. 29, 1996 was the leap year.

A certain popular periodical came out in Ď96 and stated that the ArtScroll sidur had erred in the dates for "tal umatar." Actually, the ArtScroll sidur, both the English and Hebrew editions, is quite correct. (We wrote to the editors of the periodical, who thanked us.)

The Key

The key to this entire subject is the Tashbetz mentioned above. Until the Gregorian calendar, Jan. was not universally recognized as the beginning of the civil year. Mar., the season of the spring equinox, was the first month; the last month was Feb. (Rabbi Pinsky pointed out that you can see this from the names of the civil months: September comes from the Latin septem, or seven; October comes from octo, or eight; November from nove, or nine, and December from decem, or ten. Counting from Mar., September, October, November and December are the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months, respectively.) Therefore, when Medieval Hebrew authors wrote that at the civil leap year the date for "tal umatar" changed, they were referring to a civil year that ENDED with Feb. (The Abudraham was the first to show the relationship between "tal umatar" and the civil calendar; his words are quoted in Beis Yoseif [Orech Chayim 117]. Both lived before the Gregorian Calendar was invented.)

See Tashbetz, part 3, simon 123. In Hamoadim Bíhalacha, Rav Zevin followed the words of Abudraham with the explanation of Tashbetz, to show that the "tal umatar" BEFORE Feb. 29 changes, not the one following. (The English translation erred; it is currently out of print, and we hope that a new edition will make the necessary correction.) Also see "The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar," third edition, p. 20.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Beis Medrash Yeshivas Chafetz Chayim Kiryas Radin

11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: yaakovb@torah.org

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.