The Rabbi’s Drasha

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sermonby R. Ari Enkin

It is customary in synagogues worldwide for the rabbi or other designated individual to deliver a drasha – a sermon – every Shabbat morning. In most congregations the drasha is delivered immediately prior to the silent Mussaf amida, while in others it may be given before the Torah reading service. [1]Mateh Ephraim 602:42. In other congregations, it is given at the conclusion of the Haftara even before commencing any of the preliminary Mussaf prayers. One will occasionally find congregations where the drasha is given at the conclusion of the entire service. As we will see, it might just be that the different customs as to when the rabbi should deliver his drasha are all based on different halachic considerations.

It seems that the custom for the rabbi to deliver his Shabbat drasha immediately before the start of Mussaf originates in the Talmudic era, and it is likely the earliest recorded source regarding the placement of the weekly drasha. [2]Berachot 28b, Rashi s.v. “lo al l’pirka“. On the other hand, there were many congregations and communities throughout history which placed the drasha prior to the Torah reading. Among the reasons for this was in order to allow the mourners the opportunity of reciting an extra Kaddish following the drasha, which would best be inserted at this time. [3]Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) Vol. II p.96. Additionally, as the drasha is usually based on the weekly parsha, delivering the drasha at this time allows the congregation a “sneak preview” of the Torah reading. A good drasha with inspiring interpretations no doubt assists the congregation in better focusing on the Torah reading. For these and other reasons, Rabbi Dov Lior is of the opinion that the drasha is best delivered at this time. [4]http://www.yeshiva.org.il/ask/?id=17988

In most congregations today the drasha is given after the Torah reading, before Mussaf. There is some discussion, however, as to exactly which point before Mussaf it should be inserted. According to some authorities, the drasha should be given before the start of “Ashrei”. This is because Ashrei is the prayer which formally begins the Mussaf service. It is argued, therefore, that inserting the drasha at this point is preferable as it allows for an uninterrupted flow of the Mussaf service.

Others are of the opinion that it is preferable for the drasha to be given after the Torah has been returned to the Aron Kodesh, immediately preceding the kaddish and silent Mussaf Amida, which is the most widespread custom today. Some have questioned this approach, however, as it is generally preferable not to have any unnecessary interruption between “ashrei” and kaddish. Nevertheless, this concern is readily dismissed by the Maharam Schik, who rules that Torah study (the drasha) is not something which is to be considered a forbidden interruption between Ashrei and the kaddish. He concludes that congregations which insert the drasha at this point are certainly conducting themselves properly, though he personally favors placing the drasha before the Torah reading in order to avoid any question whatsoever. [5]Maharam Schik 126.

In many congregations the rabbi delivers his drasha following the Haftara, even before Ashrei and the returning of the Torah to the Aron Kodesh. This arrangement has been opposed by some on the grounds that it is not proper to unnecessarily postpone the return of the Torah to the Aron Kodesh. [6]Torat Yekutiel 55, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) Vol. II p.99. It is for this reason that in many congregations the megilla is read on Purim morning only after the Torah has been returned to the Aron Kodesh. Similarly, whenever a brit is to take place in the synagogue on Shabbat morning it is generally performed after the Torah has been put away.  Nevertheless, most authorities allow a drasha, brit, or megilla reading to take place while the Torah remains on the bima. It is argued that the mitzva value of such activities justifies performing them even before the Torah is put away.

Finally, the custom of delivering the drasha at the conclusion of the entire service may originate in the words of the Rambam who writes that “the sermon which is customarily delivered on Shabbat is to be given immediately before proceeding with the Shabbat meal”. [7]Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 23:19. All approaches are equally legitimate.

On a related note, there have been authorities in the past who have frowned upon the practice of delivering a drasha from the bima. They argue that standing with one’s back towards the aron kodesh shows a lack of respect for the Torah. [8]Based on YD 282:1. However, most authorities disagree and maintain that there is little basis for such a concern, especially once the Torah has been returned to the Aron Kodesh. [9]Taz, YD 282:1. It is also noted that the drasha is infrequent and brief in nature and the speaker’s back is not constantly facing the aron kodesh. [10]Pri Megadim, OC 150; Shaar Hatziun 150:13. Finally, considering that the purpose of the drasha is in order to teach and inspire the congregation in the ways of the Torah, something which the Torah itself advocates doing, there can be no mistake that anything irreverent is taking place. [11]Aruch Hashulchan, YD 282:2. See there for more. It goes without saying, however, that one must never stand with one’s back towards an actual Torah scroll. [12]YD 282:1; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 282:1.

Endnotes

Endnotes
1Mateh Ephraim 602:42.
2Berachot 28b, Rashi s.v. “lo al l’pirka“.
3Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) Vol. II p.96.
4http://www.yeshiva.org.il/ask/?id=17988
5Maharam Schik 126.
6Torat Yekutiel 55, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) Vol. II p.99.
7Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 23:19.
8Based on YD 282:1.
9Taz, YD 282:1.
10Pri Megadim, OC 150; Shaar Hatziun 150:13.
11Aruch Hashulchan, YD 282:2. See there for more.
12YD 282:1; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 282:1.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

20 comments

  1. “especially once the Torah has been returned to the Aron Kodesh”
    In context this statement is wrong and misleading. What is implied here is that it is normally problematic to turns one’s back to the aron but if the sefer torah is inside of it there is no problem. What Taz actually says is that since the sefer torah is in a different reshut there is no problem of facing one’s back to the sefer torah. He is talking about the problem of facing ones back to the sefer torah and not a problem of facing one’s back to the aron, which he obviously does not consider a problem. This has nothing to do with the sefer torah being put back. In contemporary Ashknazi shuls the problem of facing one’s back to the sefer torah never presents itself because the rabbi will never have his back facing the sefer torah even if he speaks from the bima.

    And what do you mean “All approaches are equally legitimate”? Legitimate– yes; but what makes them equal? Poskim take issue with some of these approaches but there are some which are not halachically objectionable according to anybody. Doesn’t that make some approaches better than others?

    Can you please cite a source for somebody that says ashrei is the start of mussaf. To me this strikes me as strange. Ashrei is recited for several reasons at this point and it might be objectionable to interrupt with a drasha but not because “it is the start if mussaf”. One reason ashrei is recited here is because we are told לעולם יסדר אדם שבחו של מקום ואחר כך יתפלל (see Tur O”CH 93) and interrupting in between would seem to be problematic. The Talmud also says אין עומדין להתפלל לא מתוך דין ולא מתוך דבר הלכה אלא מתוך הלכה פסוקה because a person will still be contained in these thoughts when he starts to pray. The contemporary genre of thought provoking sermons would see to be problematic (and so writes the Maharam Schick). On the other hand Yerushalmi says לא יעמוד אדם ויתפלל אלא מתוך דבר של תורה. Once I mention Maharam Schick I should also point out that his main point seems to be that regular kaddish (as opposed to kaddish drabanan) can be said on a drasha because the rabbi quotes pesukim. He also adds in that perhaps it isn’t considered a hefsek but this is not his main point.

    • Ephrayim-

      Thanks for that. I will examine the Taz again.

      Regarding “All approaches are equally legitimate” — I think the comment is valid. Pesak halacha is not a popularity contest based on how many poskim each position can round up. Frankly, this touches on the issue of the authority of Mishna Berura vs. Aruch Hashulchan. The Mishna Beura DOES seem to take halacha into a popularity contest with his “cover all your bases” method to pesak, whereas the Aruch Hashulchan seems to pasken halacha based on the predominate custom. According to the Aruch Hashulchan, following a minority view is just as “Equal” as following a daas yachid chumra…..if that’s your family/city custom. So yes, I take the approach, especially in an issue such as this that: “All approaches are equally legitimate”. We dont have to survey the number of gedolim on each side of the issue…Do what your father/rabbi/shul did and you in just as sound halachic territory as finding a Brikser chumra of giving the derasha in some other form.

      Regarding Ashrei being an intro to Mussaf: I think that’s pashut. You yourself quote a solid source. So too, Ashrei is always seen as the intro to the upcoming shemoneh esrei, such as by mincha. Even when a tashlumim is in order it is to be preceded by Ashrei. Ashrei is indeed the intro to any upcoming shemoneh esrei. If I’m not mistaken this is also cited clearly in the Beit Yosef, but I forget if it is in the halachos of Pesukei, mincha, or mussaf.

      Ari

      • There is a difference between the start of mussaf, or as you put it “the prayer which formally begins the Mussaf service”, and an intro to mussaf. The only addition the Talmud says is part of shimoneh esrei is hashem sfatai. Even the reason I brought doesn’t make it an integral part of the service but simply a way of prefacing praise before shimoneh esrei that can be substituted with something else. Contrary to what you write, ashrei in of itself has nothing to do with shimonei esrei. The reason it is recited so often before shimoneh esrei is because the Talmud in Brachot says one should recite in thrice daily. Placing it before mussaf is a way to preface shvach and also say it 3 times. For the last few hundred years ashrei doesn’t even serve this purpose before mussaf anymore ever since the introduction of ldavid mizmor/mizmor ldavid which qualifies as shvach. Mincha on Yom Kippur seems to prove this; there is no ashrei and the only shvach is ldavid mizmor. Some poskim might mention saying ashrei before tashlumim but this has nothing to do with ashrei or even shvach but rather a way of separating between the two shmoneh esreis. According to the (sfardi) mekubalim ashrei should actually not be recited because of their opinion about minyan michuvan would not allow reciting it more than 3 times (cf. Remo). I think ashrei was simply chosen as an example of something people know by heart.

        Regarding equal legitimacy, what I meant is that although an approach may be legitimate if it is supported by some poskim it is not “equally legitimate” because there is an objective pesak which says some of the poskim are wrong. This has nothing to do with the legitimacy or strength of minhag. I base myself off Maharshal in his intro to Yam Shel Shlomo where he writes that despite eilu v’eilu there is still only one objective truth (cf. Ritva Eiruvin 9[?]). Anyhow, what I thought you meant by equally legitimate is that one can choose any approach one likes. What you are saying now is that if you have a minhag that you can follow it. I wouldn’t call that equally legitimate but rather following your minhag is legitimate.

      • I think counting shitos more Rav Ovadiah’s thing than the Mishnah Berurah’s. The MB tends to collect shitos and then decide whether the situation merits chumerah. Majority and plurality are lesser factors.

        And in any case, the Chafeitz Chaim wasn’t trying to provide actual pesaq halakhah lemaaseh when he wrote the MB. It’s worth seeing his introduction. It’s also evidence in the CC’s personal practice, which itself followed the AhS over the MB on a number of issues: the CC used community eiruvin, his tzitzis were worn inside his pants, the CC’s becher used for 4 kosos didn’t hold a MB revi’is, etc… The author says the MB was written to be a survey of shitos that post-date the standardization of the page of Shulchan Arukh. It’s reasonable to consider his pesaqim within it to be purely theoretical, ignoring such niceties that are critical to pesaq lemaaseh like momentum. So if we’re going to use the MB as an example of a style of pesaq, perhaps we should speak of R’ Aharon Kotler’s approach to halakha; since he led the charge to turn the MB into a “poseiq acharon”.

        That said, number certainly is treated by the vast overwhelming of rishonim and acharonim a factor to weigh when considering the pros and cons of each shitah. Both number of rabbinic texts (weighted by the gravitas given the author) and the size of the population actually following the practice.

        So, while all are valid, and there are other factors for a poseiq to weigh that could end up more significant according to his shiqul hadaas, I also can’t agree with the implications of “equally valid”.

        In fact, the AhS counts population (“mimetic tradition”) more often than the MB sums rabbinic authority. And upon the grounds of “vekhein nohagim”, the AhS often endorses in practice opinions he just said he found less probable in theory.

        • Great Points Micha!

        • Micha,

          I think it is implausible to say that the Mishna Brurah wasn’t meant for pesak. From his introduction I would conclude the exact opposite. There are other ways of explaining the inconsistencies between what he writes in MB and what he actually practiced himself. As R’ Berel Soloveitchik put it, “the Mishna Berurah was written for a ben geirim.” The CC had his own minhagim which held weight for his own personal pesak, but due to the nature in which he held minhagim he didn’t think it was appropriate to make this a consideration in MB unless it was a very widely accepted minhag. The CC himself took on many minhagim of the GRA (or so says Meir Einei Yisroel, a dubious book), and his reverence for the GRA can be gleamed in the MB as well, but the GRA is never the decisive authority in MB despite the CC own convictions. Precisely because he was trying to write for someone without minhagim he tends to follow the rov more often than other poskim.

          BTW, how do you know the CC used community eiruvin? I know several einiclach through the Zaks line, and I’ve heard a lot of things, but I haven’t heard that one before.

          • You don’t need to trust me about his intent, read the haqdamah to the MB itself.

            זאת ועוד אחרת ראיתי בעני ועמל ישראל כי עתה כשנצרך האדם לידע איזה דין למעשה שאין מבורר היטב בשו”ע הוא מוכרח לחפש בכמה וכמה מהאחרונים בפמ”ג ודה”ח וחידושי רע”א וח”א ומחצית השקל ורבות כהנה ואין קץ לעמלו. אשר ע”כ נתעוררתי ונתחזקתי בחסדי הש”י לתקן את כל אלה, כי עשיתי בעזה”י ביאור מספיק לדעתי על שו”ע הזה עד אחר הלכות תפלה (לע”ע) וקראתי שמו משנה ברורה ובו ביארתי בעזה”י את כל דין ודין שבשו”ע בטעמו ונימוקו מגמרא ופוסקים אשר לא יהיה כספר החתום, גם ביארתי בו במקום שנמצא דיעות בין הפוסקים את מסקנת האחרונים להלכה על כל דין…

            Isn’t the CC describing his work as a survey of other people’s conclusions to aid those doing research so that they can themselves pasqen? (I presume he’s speaking to re’uyim lehora’ah, a rather learned “ben geirim”.)

            As for the Gra, again from the intro:

            ובמקום שראיתי דיעות בין שני אחרונים גופא באיזה דבר לא הייתי עצל בדבר מלחפש בכלל ספרי שאר אחרונים לראות אל מי מקדושים דעתם פונה למעשה, ובפרט בביאור הגר”א ז”ל שהוא אורן של ישראל ויתד שהכל תלוי בו וכדאי להכריע הדבר. גם חפשתי בספרי ראשונים אולי אמצא בם הדבר מפורש או שאר ראיה ברורה. כי ב”ה יש לי הרבה ספרי ראשונים

            So I stand by my earlier-stated conclusion that the reason why it looks like it was written for the minhag-less “ben geir” is because a book of shitos is there for just that — to provide the textual shitos, and isn’t there to take minhag / mimeticism into account.

            • I don’t see how what you quoted proves your point. Yes, it is a compilation. Every posek needs to take into account what his predecessors said before him. This is no way implies that he wasn’t paskining. His note about the work involved in looking everything up is simply describing the use of his sefer for even his fellow poskim.

              The quote about the GRA adds nothing I did not already admit to in my comment above.

              • The CC writes he is giving a survey of later sources as well as the aid of his extensive library of rishonim to aid someone trying to decide the halakhah. The CC does NOT say he’s trying to decide for you, and indeed, quite the reverse — he is trying to open up the SA (shelo yehei seifer chasum) to aid someone who doesn’t have the time to find the sources himself. BTW, a poseiq is excluded — he should be making the time.

                Add to that it gives the cleanest explanation of why his own practices more often resemble the AhS where it conflicts with the MB than his own seifer.

                But if you think I misunderstood the haqdamah, rather than just asserting without explanation or support that the haqdamah says the reverse, kindly explain what he says that leads you to that conclusion.

                See also the Biur Halakhah 668:5:

                בן עיר שהלך לכרך וכו’ – סעיף זה רבו פארותיו מאוד עיין בפמ”ג ובשארי אחרונים והעתקתי במ”ב רק שיטת רש”י שהסכימו עליה הרבה ראשונים וגם זה בקיצור נמרץ ומ”מ למעשה אני מבקש מהקורא שלא יסמוך עלי לענין ברכה ויעיין בפמ”ג ועיין בש”ג ובביאור הגר”א שהעתיקו דברי הירושלמי לדינא שבן עיר שעקר דירתו בליל ט”ו והלך לו לכרך נתחייב כאן וכאן:

                Here the MB tells you that he couldn’t do a survey, the breadth was too great. So instead he settled for giving us Rashi’s pesaq in short, because that’s the consensus of the rishonim. And therefore the CC asks us not to rely on him. For what? He just told you what the halakhah is; if the point is pesaq, the lack of alternate positions wouldn’t make the se’if qatan less halachic. Rather, he is telling us not to be somechim on his survey.

                • This discussion is not going anywhere. If you really want to find out if the CC considered the MB a halacha lmeaasah compendium I would recommend that you simply look in the multi-volume Mei’ir Einei Yisroel for stories where people asked him about what he wrote in MB. I’d bet between the stories a clear picture will emerge.

                  I think you are over reading. You need to read between the lines. Many books nowadays will even have a disclaimer not to rely on it for pesak even though it is clearly meant for pesak. There are few seforim (published by their authors) which write explicitly that they are written for pesak halacha lmassah. You can’t derive from the other reasons the author gives for writing his book that there are no other motives.

                  Just consider CC’s other works. Kuntreisim for practical halachic guidance for soldiers, Chafetz Chaim, Likutei Halachot and many other small halachic kuntreisim. To think his magnum opus was just a collection when he had already been publishing halacha lemaaseh for decades does not seem likely. Just look at the structure of MB. Half of the time he will write וכ”כ ש”א. Does that seem like a survey to you?! Have you ever seen a book that tries to make a survey just write “all other” or “most authorities say” without quoting who? I’m sorry but your contention seems absolutely unreasonable to me.

                  The piece you quote from Biur Halacha says nothing about being unable to conduct a survey. It says that there are many parts and it is difficult to write down this complicated halacha. If anything what he writes implies that generally he meant to pasken but in this particular instance instance he asks that the reader not rely on him.

        • “It’s also evidence in the CC’s personal practice, which itself followed the AhS over the MB on a number of issues: the CC used community eiruvin, his tzitzis were worn inside his pants, the CC’s becher used for 4 kosos didn’t hold a MB revi’is, etc”

          Can I ask where we know this from? This was (surprising) news to me.

          • R’ Hillel Zaks (a granson) is quoted (Shorashei Minhag Ash’knaz vol. 1, pt 164) as saying “the CC conducted himself in many matters differently than what is written in the MB, whether lequla or lechumra.”
            As for the examples, I got them from an Avodah discussion in the ’90s. We know it from family, former students in Radun, people like my grandfather, whose parents hosted the CC when he made rounds of the Pale of Settlement fundraising, etc… The Zaks’ famously measured the CC’s qiddush cup, and confirmed it for numerous surprised skeptics.

            (There is photographic evidence that at least on that occasion his tzitzis were not showing.)

            Another example: the MB didn’t say Berikh Shemeih.

  2. Although the majority of Shuls have the drasha after returning the Torah to the ark, all, at least all I have seen, have the Yizkor drasha after the Haftora. Inconsistent, isn’t it?

  3. It was more practical in my shul (where there’s no rav and a member gives the d’var torah): Women tend to come a bit later, so they were asked if they’d rather miss the d’var torah or the beginning of layning. They said they’d rather miss the d’var torah, and so there it is.

    A friend once pointed out that the placement of the drasha is one major dividing factor between “classical” shuls (everyone, even Reform, has it before Musaf) and modern “yeshivish” ones (putting it before layning makes it a bit more of a learning experience). (I think the other differences were tables vs. pews, Kiddush Friday night, and Anim Zemirot.)

    In my New York shul, the Rav gives an overview of layning before (and sometimes between aliyot and before the haftarah as well), and then a regular drasha before Musaf).

  4. MiMedinat HaYam

    The drasha precedes yizkor, because it is always followed by the appeal, then actual yizkor. And the appeal has elements of de’Oraita since the ending of “asser te’asser” (read on yizkor day in ch”ul, on chag) includes an appeal for funds.

    • My shul had a similar experience with a different result. Initially, the rabbi spoke before kriat haTorah. When the shul’s demographics changed and there were more women whose child-care obligations made it difficult for them to come to shul early, they asked the rabbi to shift his drasha to before musaf, which he did.

      As for appeals before yizkor, I have to go back to my teenage years to recall such appeals. Of course, that may be why it started, and the custom stuck even though those type of appeals are gone.

  5. minhageiashkenaz

    Note that minhag Berlin would switch ashrei and putting back the sefer torah so that the derosho could be after the sefer torah is put away but still before ashrei. See http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=33769&st=&pgnum=8. I believe that this is the minhag in Munk’s (GGBH) shul in London to this day.

    • Gevul Ya’avetz in Brooklyn (Rabbi Dovid Cohen) and Beit Midrash Torani Leumi in Biet Shemesh (Rabbi Avishai David) both follow “minhag Berlin” — the Torah is put away, followed by the drasha, then ashrei, then kaddish.

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