During Shacharis and Mincha most weekdays, following Shemoneh Esrei, davening continues with the recitation of Tachanun. Perhaps the most under-appreciated section of davening, Tachanun is an intense supplication. We begin the prayer by resting our head on our arm (if in the presence of a sefer Torah), then sit upright, and conclude by standing. It is as if we are declaring that we have done all we can in our efforts to pray, and have nothing left except to place ourselves in the Hands of God and await His salvation.
During any day deemed a holiday, or when a joyous event takes place in the shul such as a bris, or if there is a chasan present during davening, in deference to the more festive atmosphere, Tachanun is omitted. During those occasions there are almost joyous shouts from the congregation to the chazan calling out “Kaddish!” or “Yisgadal!” as soon as he concludes his repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, reminding him that Tachanun is to be skipped that day.
There are specific dates enumerated in Shulchan Aruch when Tachanun is universally omitted. There are a few additional occasions that are mentioned by other major halachic authorities—such as the Aruch Hashulchan—when certain congregations also omit Tachanun.
Chassidim, however, have quite a few more days when they customarily omit Tachanun. Two of those times are the 16th and 17th of Adar. Shulchan Aruch states that we do not recite Tachanun on the 14th and 15th of Adar—Purim and Shushan Purim. But it seems strange to also omit Tachanun during the following two days.
One of my rebbeim explained to me the rationale for their custom: The Gemara in Megilla discusses which days, aside from Purim, it is permitted for certain communities to read Megillas Esther. The Gemara proposes: “Perhaps it can also be read on the 16th and 17th of Adar?” The Gemara refutes that proposal based on a pasuk in the megilla.
In talmudic lexicon, a “hava amina” (not to be confused with “Hava Nagila,” which is played during many American baseball games…) is a logical suggestion presented in the Gemara, which is then debated. If it withstands all challenges and is accepted as fact, it becomes the “maskana,” the final conclusion. Often, a talmudic discussion will contain numerous hava aminas before arriving at a maskana.
My rebbe explained that the chasidim reason: “fahr a hava amina ohych nisht zuggen Tachanun.” The mere fact that there is a hava amina proposed in the Gemara to omit Tachanun on the 16th and 17th of Adar is sufficient reason to consider the day a minor holiday.
Although when I first heard the explanation I thought it was rather humorous, there is a great insight contained in their custom.
In the beloved Purim song Shoshanas Yaakov, we sing “cursed is Haman who tried to destroy me.” Haman was unable to execute his nefarious plan, and yet he remains a perpetual villain because of his hava amina. His wife, Zeresh, too is cursed because she was the enabler of his failed hava amina.
When analyzing Mordechai’s approach we wonder what his hava amina was. He was aware that the verdict was signed and sealed in the celestial courts. Yet he went beyond normal hope and effected an incredible wave of teshuva and unparalleled celebration.
Purim is, therefore, a holiday that symbolizes the power of a hava amina—for good and for bad!
A hava amina, even if farfetched, demonstrates some level of connection. The fact that there still is a hava amina about reading the megilla on the 16th and 17th of Adar demonstrates that it is still within the throes of Purim. After all, there is no hava amina that one can read the megilla in the middle of August.
In life, one can only accomplish things when there first is a hava amina. If one has no confidence in his own abilities, he won’t have a hava amina about being successful, and he’ll never get there. All accomplishments begin with a hava amina. Google, Facebook, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and some of the other most lucrative businesses today started in garages, as humble hava aminas.
I remember once reading about a black slave in the 1800s who was asked whether he hoped for freedom. He replied that he didn’t even know what that meant. He simply didn’t even possess the ability to have a hava amina for better times.
One of the greatest deficiencies of exile is the inability to overcome its confines and restrictiveness. Mesillas Yesharim notes that during the Egyptian servitude, Pharaoh successfully ensured that his hapless slaves were so overworked and utterly drained that they had no hope of revolution. By ensuring that the Jews had no hava aminas, Pharaoh ensured that they would never revolt. It took the power of God to destroy the will of Pharaoh and to infuse within the nation the hope and striving for greatness.
Every major revolution in history—including the French, Russian, American, and Israel in 1948—was precipitated by individuals who dreamed and were able to make those dreams a reality, despite the dangers and challenges of doing so. It was the “hava aminas” of those dreamers that brought about the eventual change.
Everything starts with a hava amina; without a hava amina there can never be a maskana.
We have to have hava aminas about the great people we can become and the great things we can accomplish. Then we have to have the tenacity to strive for the maskana!
By Rabbi Dani Staum
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at [email protected].
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