Monday, 31 August 2015

What's a Prozbul

Every seven years we have a Shemitah year. MOst of the laws are agricultural and only affect those living in Israel. But one of the laws of Shemitah has an impact on us living outside of Israel too. It is that all debts are nullified. This is one of the many laws in the Torah meant to protect the poor and disadvantaged, affording them a chance to escape from eternal debt.

“At the end of seven years you will make a release. And this is the manner of the release; to release the hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because time of the release for God has arrived.” (Devarim 15:1-2)

However, this law wasn’t great for lenders who would never be reimbursed once the Shemitah ended. The rich refused to loan money during the latter years of the seven-year cycle, refusing the poor even a temporary opportunity to make ends meet. They began to fulfil the verse “Beware, lest there be in your heart an unfaithful thought, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release has approached,’ and you will begrudge your needy brother and not give him, and he will cry out to God against you, and it will be a sin to you.” (Devarim 15:9)

The wealthy were concerned that the poor would always rely on the shemitah year to cancel their debts so they stopped loaning money in the latter years of the shemitah. This caused tremendous hardship on the poor and caused the wealthy to be going against God’s commandment. Hillel the Elder came up with a wonderful loophole to solve the problem. The answer was the prozbul (can be pronounced pruzbol or pruzbul).

The prozbul is a legal document signed in front of the Beit Din or in front of 2 witnesses which technically changes the status of individual private loans into loans to the public administration. Loans to the public administration are not nullified by the Shemitah year so the debts can now be collected after the Shemitah year. The Beit Din can now appoint the lender to collect the “public funds” owned. This legal loophole benefited both borrower and lender; because lenders knew their money was safe even following the Shemitah year, they were likely to loan to the poor.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Power of Elul

This Shabbat and Sunday are Rosh Hodesh Elul which means starting next Monday Sephardim will be saying Selihot every morning except for Shabbat until Yom Kippur. At SBH we will be starting at 6:00 AM Monday to Friday and 6:30 AM on Sundays. Elul is the last month of the year and starts our preparations for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

Why do we say Selihot during this time period? 
What unique power is in this special month of Elul?

After the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, Moshe smashed the two tablets that Hashem had given him. Two days later Moshe went back up the mountain for another 40 days to atone for the Jewish people. Moshe went up for a third time on Rosh Hodesh Elul and came down 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri with the Second Tablets. This 10th day of Tishri became Yom Kippur, the day that God forgave the Jewish people for the Golden Calf. This day became the annual day of forgiveness for the Jewish People. So too, the 40 days before Yom Kippur became an essential period of God coming closer to us. A time of rahamim - divine mercy, where Hashem is considered closer to his children than at any other time of the year. The month of Elul, therefore, which is the last month before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – is a time when we should dedicate our thoughts to teshuva - repentance in all things and examine our deeds.

One of the most famous acronyms that we have to show this closer relationship with God at this time is Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li - I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me, a verse from Shir HaShirim - Song of Songs. The linkage to this verse implies that both we should all spend Elul thinking about our special relationship with God and how to improve it. Elul is a time to reflect on the year and prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. If we truly want to be ready for these Days of Awe we must put in the hard work before hand.

The Selihot that we recite are very powerful prayers. And the melodies that we sing them to are wonderful. I marvel every year at the excitement we Sephardim have to get up super early for a month to sing Selihot. But the powerful melodies and tunes carry us through for the month. At the end of Selihot we blow the Shofar to awaken in ourselves the call to teshuvaHere's an audio of SBH Hazan, Rabbi Frank Varon singing Kamti BeAshmoret and Ben Adam Ma Lecha Nirdam

May we use this month of Elul to work on ourselves, to get closer to God and start our teshuva process.