May 27, 2024
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Sepharadim zealously heed the Ben Ish Hai’s warning to pause between reciting Hashem and Hashem, the first two of the Yag Middot, the 13 attributes of mercy. Ben Ish Hai notes that the Zohar writes that the punishment is great for those who fail to do so. Why all the fuss about this pause? Indeed, the cantillation note of Pesik does indicate that a pause is necessary, but why would the Zohar issue such a stern warning against failing to read in accord with this cantillation? Why is this cantillation note different from all others?

We suggest an explanation based on Rashi’s explanation (based on the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah) of the need to state Hashem’s name twice in the Yag Middot. The first mention of Hashem refers to His relationship to us before we sin, and the second mention refers to our connection after sinning and subsequent repentance. The doubling of Hashem’s name expresses that we can restore our relationship with Hashem even after we sin.

The Zohar and Ben Ish Hai, however, insist that we must pause between the two times we proclaim Hashem’s name. We remember, thereby, that while we can restore our relationship with Hashem after we sin, the relationship cannot always be restored to what it once was. For example, if a husband betrayed his wife, he can repent and the relationship can be repaired, but it will not necessarily return to its original state. It would have been far better if he had never sinned.

During Elul and Tishrei we are presented with golden opportunities to cleanse ourselves and reconnect with Hashem. However, by stressing the pause between the Hashem before the sin and the Hashem after the sin and repentance, we remind ourselves that while Hashem generously affords us the gift of teshuvah, it is far better for us to avoid sin like the plague than to sin and repent. One can clean himself from the mud if he fell into a swamp. Far better, though, to exercise caution and take all necessary steps to avoid falling into the swamp.

Tizku l’shanim rabbot tovot une’imot!

Rabbi Haim Jachter is Rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

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