1) HALACHAH: WHEN DO WE BEGIN TO ASK FOR RAIN
OPINIONS: The Mishnah records an argument about when we begin to ask for rain in the Shemoneh Esreh ("v'Sen Tal u'Matar"). Raban Gamliel maintains that we begin to ask for rain on the seventh of Marcheshvan, fifteen days after Sukos has ended, in order to give time to the people who came to the Beis ha'Mikdash from far away to return home after the festival. Rebbi Elazar says that the Halachah follows the view of Raban Gamliel.
The Gemara cites a Beraisa in which Chananyah states that in the Golah (outside of Eretz Yisrael, in Bavel), the request for rain begins on the sixtieth day after the Tekufah (the autumnal equinox). Shmuel says that the Halachah follows Chananyah.
Based on these rulings, when should the people in Eretz Yisrael begin to ask for rain, and when should the people in Bavel and in other places outside of Eretz Yisrael begin to ask for rain?
(a) The Gemara earlier (4b) explains that we begin to ask for rain on the seventh of Marcheshvan in order to give the Olei Regalim time to return home, as the Mishnah here states. The Gemara points out that nowadays in Eretz Yisrael we ask for rain right after Sukos, because the Beis ha'Mikdash is no longer standing and there are no Olei Regalim for whom we should delay the request for rain. In places outside of Eretz Yisrael where the rain season differs from that in Eretz Yisrael and the fruits are still drying in the fields after Sukos, the request for rain does not begin until the seventh of Marcheshvan.
When Chananyah says that the request for rain begins on the sixtieth day after the Tekufah, the Gemara explains that he refers to an area like Bavel which is naturally saturated with water and does not need rain until much later in the winter. The Rishonim, therefore, write that based on these Gemaras, there should be three different times, for three different places, at which the request for rain begins:
1. In Eretz Yisrael when there are no Olei Regalim, and in areas outside of Eretz Yisrael where the fruits are not drying in the fields, the request for rain should begin immediately after Sukos.
2. In any place where fruits in the field need to dry, or in Eretz Yisrael when the Beis ha'Mikdash is standing and there are Olei Regalim, the request for rain should begin on the seventh of Marcheshvan.
3. In any place in which rain is not needed until later in the winter, the request for rain should begin only sixty days after the Tekufah.
(b) The RIF, however, quotes only the Gemara that says that the request for rain begins on the seventh of Marcheshvan in Eretz Yisrael and on the sixtieth day after the Tekufah in the Golah. He makes no mention of the option of asking for rain immediately after Sukos. The RAMBAM also makes no mention of this option. Apparently, they rule that when the Gemara earlier (4b) mentions the opinion of Rebbi Yochanan who says that we ask for rain right after Sukos, the Gemara concludes that the Halachah does not follow Rebbi Yochanan's opinion and thus that date is not an option.
The Mishnah, however, says that the only reason why we begin to ask for rain on the seventh of Marcheshvan is to give time to the Olei Regalim to return home. Today there are no Olei Regalim, and, therefore, we should begin to ask for rain right after Sukos. Why do we wait until the seventh of Marcheshvan?
Perhaps the reason why we wait until the seventh of Marcheshvan is because once the initial Takanah was instituted to ask for rain on the seventh of Marcheshvan (to give time to the Olei Regalim to return home), that Takanah remains in effect even though the reason for its institution is no longer present. (See Beitzah 5a.)
The RAN gives another reason for why we wait until the seventh of Marcheshvan even today. He asserts that it was customary in his day to travel to Yerushalayim for the festivals in commemoration of Aliyah l'Regel. Therefore, we still must wait for the people who traveled to Yerushalayim to return home before we begin to ask for rain.
(The RAMBAM in Perush ha'Mishnayos adds that the people in every country begin to ask for rain on the date which is their country's equivalent of the seventh of Marcheshvan in Eretz Yisrael -- that is, the date when it normally begins to rain in that land. However, he makes no mention of this in the Mishneh Torah.)
According to this view, there are only two possible times to begin saying "v'Sen Tal u'Matar": the seventh of Marcheshvan, and sixty days after the Tekufah.
(c) The Rishonim (ROSH, RITVA and others) write that the common practice in their areas was to ask for rain on the sixtieth day after the Tekufah in all of Chutz la'Aretz, even outside of Bavel (such as in Spain and Germany). This was a tradition from the Ge'onim.
The reason for this practice is apparently because all of Chutz la'Aretz follows the custom of Bavel (as RASHI mentions in DH Tasa'i). However, applying this rule to the time at which the request for rain is said needs further explanation. The date on which we begin to ask for rain depends entirely on the climate of the region. Why should all countries follow the practice of Bavel if their climates differ from that of Bavel? (ROSH 1:4, Teshuvos 10:4)
The RITVA explains that, in principle, the Chachamim preferred that people in different regions not begin the request for rain at different times. Therefore, the Chachamim enacted only two times to begin asking for rain: immediately after Sukos when there is no Beis ha'Mikdash and there is no reason to delay saying it, and sixty days after the Tekufah when there is a reason to delay asking for rain (such as in Chutz l'Aretz, where the fruits are still drying in the fields). Although the Gemara earlier (4b) says that the request for rain begins on the seventh of Marcheshvan in a place where fruits are drying in the fields after Sukos, the Gemara immediately afterwards says that only in Eretz Yisrael, when the Beis ha'Mikdash is standing, does the request for rain begin on the seventh of Marcheshvan. The Gemara at that point retracts its previous answer and says that nowadays the request for rain does not begin on the seventh of Marcheshvan anywhere. Consequently, there are only two possible dates on which the request for rain may begin: immediately after Sukos, or sixty days after the Tekufah. Similarly, in the times of the Beis ha'Mikdash there were only two possible dates on which the request for rain could begin: the seventh of Marcheshvan (in Eretz Yisrael), or sixty days after the Tekufah (in Chutz la'Aretz).
The Ritva agrees with the Rif and Rambam that there are only two possible times to start saying "v'Sen Tal u'Matar" nowadays, but he argues about what those two times are. According to the Ritva, the two possible times are right after Sukos and sixty days after the Tekufah. According to the Rif and Rambam, they are the seventh of Marcheshvan and sixty days after the Tekufah.
HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 117) rules that the people in Eretz Yisrael begin to ask for rain on the seventh of Marcheshvan (like the Rif and Rambam in (b) above), even nowadays. The people in Chutz la'Aretz begin to ask for rain on the sixtieth day after the Tekufah (like the practice of the Ge'onim in (c) above), in all parts of Chutz la'Aretz.
The Shulchan Aruch rules that if a person said "v'Sen Tal u'Matar" during the summertime in a country which needs rain in the summer, then b'Di'eved he may rely on the opinions that maintain that the request for rain in each country depends on when that country needs rain (Rosh, and Rambam in Perush ha'Mishnayos), and he does not need to repeat the Shemoneh Esreh. (He may recite the Shemoneh Esreh again as a Tefilas Nedavah if he wants to be stringent.) However, the Acharonim argue about what defines "a place which needs rain in the summer." Some maintain that this refers to a country which normally receives rain in the summer and in which rain is beneficial for the land at that time as well. Others say that it refers to a place which is suffering from a drought and is in dire need of rain (and only in such a place does one not repeat Shemoneh Esreh if he asked for rain in the summer). The BI'UR HALACHAH concludes that because of the uncertainty, one should repeat the Shemoneh Esreh as a Tefilas Nedavah if he is in a place in which rain normally falls in the summer but in which there is no drought.
2) DECEMBER 4, 2100
QUESTION: The Gemara rules that outside of Eretz Yisrael, the request for rain in the Shemoneh Esreh begins "sixty days after the Tekufah of Tishrei."
What is special about this date?
RAV YONAH MERTZBACH (ALAH YONAH, p. 22) explains why this date was chosen. In Eretz Yisrael, where rain is needed more, in the event that no rain falls until the first of Kislev, Beis Din institutes days of prayer and fasting. The Chachamim chose to institute the prayer for rain in Bavel on a day which corresponds to this important date in Eretz Yisrael since it is the latest time for the rains to begin in Eretz Yisrael. However, since most people outside of Eretz Yisrael are non-Jews who use a solar calendar, and since the rainy season is actually more closely related to the solar year than to the lunar year, the Chachamim instituted that the request for rain should begin on the first of the "solar month of Kislev." The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (15a) similarly refers to a "solar Shevat" which is 30 days after the Tekufah of Teves. Likewise, "solar Kislev" begins 60 days after the Tekufah of Tishrei, and that is when those outside of Eretz Yisrael should begin to ask for rain.
Tekufas Tishrei, the autumnal equinox, occurs on September 23 (or September 24 in a year which precedes a leap year). Hence, 60 days after Tekufas Tishrei would be November 22 (or November 23 before a leap year), which indeed is the date given by the AVUDRAHAM for when the request for rain begins (as cited by the BEIS YOSEF OC 117). Why, then, in Chutz la'Aretz is the practice today to begin to ask for rain only on December 4 (or 5), 12 days later?
ANSWER: The Gemara in a number of places quotes Shmuel who makes an important statement about the length of the year. Shmuel says that each of the four Tekufos (seasons) of the year lasts 91 days and 7 1/2 hours. Accordingly, a year is 365 days and 6 hours long (91 days and 7 1/2 hours X 4).
In the year 3714 (46 BCE), Julius Caesar arranged the first solar calendar, a calendar based on the earth's position in relation to the sun. His calendar is the basis for the one used by the modern world today. Caesar's astronomers advised him that the solar year is exactly 365 1/4 days (365 days and 6 hours) long, the same as Shmuel's calculation. (Besides the 365 days of the average year, he instituted the addition of a 366th day every four years in order to reflect the extra day that the solar year gained after the passage of four years, due to the four extra 1/4 days of each year.)
This figure, however, is imprecise. The exact length, rounded to the nearest second, is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. Thus, the actual year is 11 minutes shorter than Shmuel calculated. In practical terms, every 128 years the equinoxes and solstices will arrive one day (11 minutes X 128) late on Shmuel's calendar.
As time passed, it became evident that the calendar was not compensating properly for the true length of the year. In order to prevent the summer months from occurring during winter and the winter months during summer, the astronomers modified the Julian calendar and adopted a new version known as the Gregorian calendar. In the year 5342 (1582 CE), they cut out the ten days that were added to the year over the passage of time due to the miscalculation of the Julian astronomers. (The day after October 4 that year was not October 5, but October 15.) They also agreed to deduct three leap years every 400 years. Three out of four centesimal years (for example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900) will not be leap years, even though they are divisible by four (those years have no February 29). Only a centesimal year in which the number of centuries is divisible by 4 (such as the years 1600 and 2000) will be a leap year. According to their calculations, the average year is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds long. This is actually off by approximately 26 seconds, but it is sufficiently accurate for most practical purposes. The calendar will be ahead by one day only after 3,323 years.
At that time, the Jewish authorities agreed that it was not necessary to institute a parallel change to the Jewish lunisolar calendar with regard to calculating when the Tekufos occur (which, in Halachah, affects the date on which we begin to recite the request for rain, and the date on which we recite Birkas ha'Chamah). We still rely on Shmuel's calculation of the solar year. However, as a result of the change made by the Gregorian calendar, sixty days after the Tekufah was changed from the night of November 21 (which becomes November 22 at midnight) to December 1. In 1700, when another leap year was skipped by the Gregorian calendar, the day for saying "v'Sen Tal u'Matar" became December 2, and in 1800 it moved up to December 3 (this is the date recorded as the time to say "v'Sen Tal u'Matar" by the Chayei Adam and his 19th century contemporaries). In 1900, the date was moved up to December 4. This is why "v'Sen Tal u'Matar" is said in Chutz la'Aretz beginning from December 4 (or 5, in the year preceding a leap year) today.
This date, December 4 (or 5), did not change upon the arrival of the year 2000, since that year is a centesimal year divisible by 400, which is a leap year according to the Gregorian calendar. Only in the year 2100 will we have to change the date for starting to say "v'Sen Tal u'Matar" in Chutz la'Aretz, and Mashi'ach certainly will have arrived well before that date.
3) AGADAH: "AL TIRGEZU BA'DARECH"
QUESTION: The Beraisa says that if one mistakenly ate on a public fast day, he should avoid being seen in public so that all of the people who are fasting should not feel bad when they see that he is not suffering (Rashi). This principle -- that one who is not suffering should be concerned with the feelings of others who are suffering -- is derived from the verse in which Yakov Avinu, whose family had ample food to eat, told his sons not to let themselves be seen satiated among the other people of the land who were suffering from famine (Bereishis 42:1). RASHI points out that for this reason Yakov Avinu sent his sons to Mitzrayim to buy food even though they had plenty of food in their home and were not suffering from the famine.
The Gemara quotes another verse, "Al Tirgezu ba'Darech" (Bereishis 45:24), which expresses Yosef's directive to his brothers not to get involved in learning Torah while they travel lest they lose their way. The Gemara continues with other similar Halachos for the traveler, and then it returns to the topic of sensitivity for others who are suffering.
What connection does the Halachah of not getting involved in learning Torah while traveling have with the Gemara's teaching that one should be sensitive to the suffering of others?
ANSWER: To answer this question, some other difficulties need to be addressed.
First, why did Yakov Avinu himself not instruct his sons to avoid getting involved in learning Torah while they traveled?
Second, why did Yosef give them this directive only on their final trip home? The first two times they left Mitzrayim, he did not tell them to avoid getting involved in learning Torah.
Third, since the brothers traveled to Mitzrayim to buy food to bring back to Eretz Yisrael during the famine, they were involved in the performance of a Mitzvah. The Gemara teaches that those who are involved in the performance of a Mitzvah (Sheluchei Mitzvah) will not be harmed (Pesachim 8a, Kidushin 39b, Chulin 142b). Why, then, did Yosef need to warn them to be careful?
Upon further thought, it becomes evident that the third question answers the first two questions. Since Yakov Avinu was sending his sons on a Mitzvah mission, he saw no need to warn them "Al Tirgezu ba'Darech." In contrast, when Yosef sent them back the third time, they were not involved in a Mitzvah. Therefore, Yosef needed to warn them to be careful.
What Mitzvah, however, were they involved in when Yakov Avinu sent them to Mitzrayim? They were not involved in the Mitzvah of procuring food for their family, because they already had plenty of food as the Gemara says. Rather, the Mitzvah that they were fulfilling by traveling to Mitzrayim was the Mitzvah to be concerned for the feelings of others. The Gemara is teaching that concern for the feelings of others is not merely a minor concern, but a fully binding obligation in the laws of Derech Eretz. The Gemara teaches this by pointing out that when Yakov Avinu told his sons to show their concern for the feelings of others by traveling to Mitzrayim (to make it look as though they suffered like the other residents of Eretz Yisrael), he did not warn them to be careful -- because he did not need to: Sheluchei Mitzvah will not be harmed. This shows that the requirement to be concerned for the suffering of others is a Mitzvah and an obligation in the laws of Derech Eretz.
In contrast, when Yosef sent them back to Eretz Yisrael he warned them to be careful because they were no longer involved in the Mitzvah of not being seen by those who were suffering. They had already traveled to Mitzrayim like the other residents of Eretz Yisrael who were actually suffering from the famine. The fact that Yosef told them to be careful and Yakov Avinu did not shows that they were originally involved in the Mitzvah of being concerned for the feelings of others.
This approach answers an additional difficulty in the verses. The full verse of "Al Tirgezu ba'Darech" states, "He sent away his brothers and they went, and he said to them, 'Al Tirgezu ba'Darech.'" The order of the verse is very strange. It says that he told them to be careful after he had already sent them away and they had left! The words "and they went" should be written after the words "and he said to them, 'Al Tirgezu ba'Darech."
Perhaps the answer is that Yosef initially intended to send them to do a Mitzvah, and thus he had no need to warn them to be careful. The Torah relates that Yosef told his brothers not to be concerned about what they had done to him because it was all part of Hash-m's plan (Bereishis 45:5). He told them that Hash-m sent him to Mitzrayim in order to insure the survival of his family (45:7), and that it was only Hash-m Who sent him there to make him the head of Pharaoh's household and ruler over Mitzrayim (45:8). Yosef told his brothers to tell their father that Hash-m made him master over Mitzrayim. Yosef was sending his brothers on a mission of a Mitzvah -- to relate the greatness of Hash-m's providence.
Accordingly, the verse means to say as follows: "He sent away his brothers" with a particular Mitzvah to perform, but "they went" with their own agenda. They began to leave without accepting the mission Yosef had assigned to them. Indeed, when they returned to Yakov Avinu they did not relate to him what Yosef had told them to say. They did not mention that Hash-m had caused Yosef to become ruler in Mitzrayim. All they said to their father was that Yosef was still alive and that he was ruler over Mitzrayim (45:26). They did not mention that it all came about through Hash-m's providence.
When Yosef saw that his brothers did not accept upon themselves the Mitzvah mission which he asked them to do (the Mitzvah of relating the greatness of Hash-m's providence), he realized that they would not be considered Sheluchei Mitzvah and thus would be in danger of harm along the way. Therefore, at that point he needed to warn them to be careful, "Al Tirgezu ba'Darech!" (RAV YAAKOV D. HOMNICK in MARBEH SHALOM #36)