Can or should an Avel perform Bircas Cohanim (part 3)

I was touched, and appreciated by the fact that the Dayan, with whom I am having a respectful Torah discussion on this issue decided to read and follow up my previous blog in a publication dedicated to Yud Tes Kislev: the Yom Hillula of Rav Dov Ber of Mezeritch, the father of all Chassidic Rebbes, and the occasion of the freedom from a short incarceration by the great Acharon, the Shulchan Aruv HoRav and Ba’al Hatanya.

The Dayan felt compelled to respond because a failure to do so might imply that he agreed with me. Chas VeShalom! Much of the material presented was a previous listing of the same Mekoros brought prior,  which are well known. We know from whence the Ramoh recorded the Minhag Ashkenaz, and we are well aware that this is related to the the Maharam MiRotenbug and the subsequent line of students after him, who had had identified this same minhag during their time.

We are also well aware that Minhag can uproot Halacha; the implication being that the Tri-Torah command of Bircas Cohanim can theoretically be supplanted by a Minhag. None of this is new and added no more to the discussion in my opinion. It is not a universally accepted anyway in this issue, despite the quotation of chosen latter day Acharonim. I’m surprised the Kitzur was quoted as a source. From the Hakdama of the Kitzur, we know his methodology of Psak, based on three acharonim. In my opinion, that adds nothing either.

It is important to note that the Dayan misquoted some of the sources in his original article. Indeed, a careful reading of these shows an omission of important facts. This will be expounded upon in due course. Much to my sorrow, I don’t have the time in the day to do such things in the proper academic way. I would have liked to be בבית ה׳ כל ימי חיי but it’s not my current Goral. I can’t wait till I can spend more time learning, and conducting shiurim. I have seen some of the material in its full form, and not the quoted parts in the Dayan’s original article, and it is clear and compelling and is somewhat not consonant with the Dayan’s proof.

As pointed out by the Gaon R’ Yekusiel Farkash in his Klolei Piskei Admor HaZoken, where there is no minhaga individuals need not  follow or adopt a Minhag (even quoted by Admor HaZoken). Perhaps the Dayan will consider Rav Farkash’s comments as invalid. I don’t know. Rav Farkash is a very widely accepted expert. Having heard his Shiurim, and read some of his Sforim, he is clearly a deep and careful thinker. If so, perhaps the Dayan should write to him. I might.

Ironically, the Dayan garnered some support from the Giant, R’ Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik inter alia. What the Dayan didn’t tell us is that the Rav Soloveitchik himself stated that an Avel should Duchen! This was also the opinion of his illustrious and legendary grandfather, the famed and revered Gaon, R’ Chaim Brisker. These are giants of the last few generations who knew the Ramoh and those who preceded him, very well. Admittedly, they aren’t as influenced by Acharonim, but this is an accepted mode of Psak. As the Rav once said when someone tried to tell him that his Psak was not the same as the Mishne Brura.

“Nu, I am an Acharon, and I have a license and may certainly argue. I don’t force anyone to accept my Psokim. If you want to follow the Mishne Brura, go right ahead.

Indeed, we don’t need to look to Brisk/Lita. We can simply list many examples where the Ramash (R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson) instituted Minhogim against the explicit ruling of the Admor HaZoken. A famous example is the Ramash’s campaign to ask females to light Shabbos candles before they were married. We all understand why he did this, and what a wonderful initiative it was, however, if we are to remain unfaltering fidelity to the Admor HaZoken and the Rishonim and Acharonim who preceded him, this is against the Psak of the Admor HaZoken and yet is accepted. One couldn’t imagine the Dayan quoting the Ramoh or similar to the Ramash and saying “you are contradicting an open Admor HaZoken”. Sure, all manner of justification has been tended about that Takono, but if we are to be intellectually honest, the Psak of the Ramash, which he is most entitled to enact as a Gadol B’Yisrael of the last generation, amounted to an expression consonant with exactly what Rav Farkash expressed. The Dayan knows there are many other examples of this type.

It is simply amazing when one reads that the Dayan is untroubled about the fact that the Avel can be involved, no, is enjoined to be involved in public expressions of Simcha during a Yom Tov, and yet on the matter of a blatant and obvious example of Aveylus D’farhesya, the Dayan resorts to a quasi-Hungarian mode of Psak, which is as immovable as Chadash Assur Min HaTorah, even if we don’t understand the reason. I am reminded of the (incorrect, according to many Poskim) Psak of the B’eer Moshe, the Debreciner, who said that any form of Bat Mitzvah celebration is Chukas Ho’akum and the act of Reshoim! This is of course plain wrong on many accounts, and has been shown to be so by many Acharonim, but it is indicative of the type of lack of response that the Dayan tended in respect of this issue. To say that once a Cohen leaves the Shule before Retzeh, there isn’t Farhesya, is incomprehensible! Farhesya has nothing to do with Akiras Raglov and the technical ramifications of someone who didn’t leave. Well before that, people ask me for special requests, and of course Cohanim leave the Shule to wash their hands! Everyone, especially in Lubavitch where they are Makpid to bring babies to get Birkas Cohanim, are most serious about this Mitzvah. To me, it not only allows me to be a conduit, but my ability to obtain a Bracha, something one especially craves in a year of Aveylus, is negated if I don’t perform it! Now that makes me sad!

Interestingly, Rav Marlow paskened explicitly that a Cohen Avel who finds himself in Shule at Birkas Cohanim, and was unable, or perhaps forgot, or was pre-occupied, MUST Duchen on Yom Tov. I heard this directly from a completely trustworthy source. It would be Aveylys D’Farhesya. Now, Crown Heights is a different scene to Melbourne’s comparatively empty Yeshiva Shule where there were only four Cohanim. The Cohanim are like rare movie stars! How could the Avel Dyuchen? He isn’t (can never be) B’Simcha UveTuv Levov! According the the Dayan, this alone seems to be the only relevant factor!

Next we need to consider the Dayan waving his hand regarding my argument that someone who has already Duchened multiple times, according to the Psak of (Chabad) Rabbonim who do not agree with the Dayan, imbues no important ingredient to the situation. Really? Imagine the following scenes:

A Cohen sits in the Dayan’s Shule, and has the well-supported custom not to sit in his usual seat. Should the Dayan instruct the Avel to go back to his seat as it is Minhag Chabad? I witnessed no such thing at Yeshivah. I saw some who did and some who did not. It was up to the Minhag of the Avel. Aveylus, is most definitely tied to subjectivity and personal Minhag. To dismiss those because there exists another Minhag not favoured by the Ramo, is ingenuous.

What of an Avel who dances B’Simha on Friday nights around the Bima during L’Cha Dodo (a minhag I haven’t seen brought in the Ramoh or indeed the Shulchan Aruch HoRav). Chadoshim LaBekorim? Should a Dayan intercede and advise the Avel that he is doing the wrong thing? What if the Avel retorted that he does this every Shabbos, and if he stopped it would be Aveylus D’Farhesya? Maybe we can use a guitar for Kabolas Shabbos if we raven early enough?

(Personally I don’t understand the new hanhogo of dancing in the middle of davening, even if it is before Barchu. Is this what Admor HaZoken paskened or approved?)

What of an Avel who refuses to do Hakofos as brought by many Acharonim. He saw this from his own father. I personally witnessed the Dayan’s father in law and brother in law encourage Hakofos by suggesting that they do so together with a few people who surround him. If the Avel doesn’t feel comfortable adopting this approach would the Dayan say that the Avel has done wrong and that he must adopt Minhag Chabad?

Dismissing the powerful arguments of the Gaon as not being necessarily consonant with Admor HaZoken, is fair enough, although I didn’t appreciate the tone of the sentence in the Dayan’s article. (On the other hand, for example Zman Krias Shema the Gra and Admor HaZoken do agree). One may choose not to follow the Gro and the Beis HoRav after him, as mentioned above, that is, those who share the Gra’s insistence that there is a Bitul of three positive Torah commands. But it becomes somewhat different when someone insists that in his Shule, a Minhag HaGro on Hilchos Aveylus cannot be practiced by an individual! Are we still in the time of the Cherem on Chassidim? Perhaps there is now a Cherem on Beis HoRav? Was it not the Ramash himself who said to the Rav (on Yud Tes Kislev?) that when they two got together as the Dor Hashevii of each of their illustrious lines of Beis HoRav that Moshiach would come?

Is there indeed a “Minhag Chabad”. We know very well that the psak of the Shulchan Aruch Admor HaZoken, doesn’t necessarily constitute Minhag Chabad at all. Many Chabad Rabonim duchen! It is a hazy issue, at best. Those Rabonim cannot be dismissed. They include Rav Hendel of Migdal Emek, and he writes about Chu”l.

Indeed, the Ramash expressly said that he would like to re-institute Bircas Cohanim each day in Chutz La’aretz, like Sephardim, but he doesn’t have the “ability” to do so. That in of itself is a puzzling comment. He could have instituted it in all Chabad owned/led Minyanim? Perhaps he felt he needed the agreement of other Gedolei Yisrael. I do not know.

Next, we move to the issue of “what if”. What if a Cohen Avel does duchen. He may have done so because he assumed it was Minhag Chabad anyway in that Shule, or he may have done so because he knew it was most definitely a valid approach as quoted (and ignored by the Dayan) in the Nitei Gavriel where he states that “most chassidim DO Duchen in Chutz La’aretz as Aveylim on Yom Tov. I wonder whether the Dayan will respond in a vitriolic fashion and raised voice against such Chassidim and tell them “It’s an open “din” in Shulchan Aruch HoRav or the Ramo”. To use the style of argument the Dayan has used “they know the Ramoh’s opinion” and yet they Duchen! How can this be? It’s a Minhag the Ramoh quotes, remember.

Next we move to the issue of: okay, an Avel just does it. Nu, so what happens to the Birkas Cohanim. Is it invalidated? If he is the only Cohen and does so, is it a Bracha Levatala. According to the Mishna Brura it most certainly is not. Does the Alter Rebbe say that a Cohen who does so is making a Bracha Levatala and/or his Bracha is useless?

The Dayan sets the Halachos of a Shule and answers the questions of those who seek his Psak. It isn’t at all clear, however, to me that the Dayan should seek to impose a Minhag, albeit based clearly on the Ramoh on someone who has Duchened, and castigate a person for doing so! Is there a Din Macho-oh here? I think not.

Hilchos Aveylus have limits on their objectivity. Much is subjective, and changed and changes with time, person and circumstance. As I pointed out to the Dayan, why didn’t he issue a Psak saying that Aveylim should not attend the Simchas Beis HaShoeva Farbrengens each night, with food and drink and great merriment. Furthermore, if an Avel did not do so, would he approach them and say that it’s “Minhag Chabad” to attend, and therefore you should attend. What is the Avel doesn’t feel comfortable! Is he saying that they aren’t B’Simcha? Shomu Shomayim!

Finally let me open up the can of worms which relate to an unmarried man (who is also NOT considered B’Simcha according to Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi because he isn’t married). The Dayan is well aware that this is a Minhag in Hilchos Aveylus which has definitely fallen by the way side, ואין פוצץ פה with convincing argument. The Shulchan Aruch HoRav has chosen not to give credence to the Kabala on this issue (and on the issue of Duchening). That of itself requires elucidation and an article of its own. He is of course perfectly entitled to do so as a most respected Acharon.

There is more, but this will do, for now. I am no Posek, but on such touchy issues, where the הלכה is כמיקל באבילות and there are many bluff procedures in place to enable simcha participation, I would (as has always been the case at Yeshiva) leave each Cohen to do as they see fit (unless they ask for a formal Psak Din from the Dayan/Rav, as was the case of the Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Cohen, for whom there couldn’t be a bigger Aveylus D’Farhesya!).

I’m afraid I didn’t see answers to the powerful arguments laid out by R’ Shlomeleh Vilner despite the claim from the Dayan, that they were answered. Perhaps its my ignorance.

PS. If one can’t see the connection between happiness and the ability to proffer love in a Bracha, then I’d have to say they were somewhat Misnagdic; it’s not a chassidic approach.

PPS. I followed the Psak of Mori V’Rabbi R’ Schachter, and avoided the Shule on Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah so as not to cause a Machlokes, and so in no way did I ignore the practice the Dayan wanted to see uniformly applied to all decreed unhappy Cohanim. As such, this really is a theoretical discussion, LeTorah U’Lehadira.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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