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When Should Kohanim Make Their Way Towards The Front To Make Birkat Kohanim

The Shulchan Aruch writes that the Kohanim must begin making their way toward the Duchan (place where they recite Birkat Kohanim) as soon as the Hazzan begins the Bracha of "Retzeh." He emphasizes that regardless of when they will actually arrive at the Duchan, they must make an "Akira" – meaning, lift their feet and begin heading toward the Duchan – when the Hazzan recites the word " Retzeh."

If a Kohen did not make an "Akira" when the Hazzan recited the word " Retzeh," he may still do so until the Hazzan recites the word "Modim," at the beginning of the subsequent Bracha. So long as a Kohen left his place at some point before the Hazzan recited the word "Modim," he may participate in Birkat Kohanim. Of course, as mentioned, it is preferable for a Kohen to leave his place immediately when the Hazzan recites the word " Retzeh."

Both Kohanim and Hazzanim should be aware of this Halacha. Kohanim should make a point of heading toward the front of the synagogue as soon as the Hazzan recites " Retzeh," and the Hazzan, for his part, should slow the pace somewhat before reciting "Modim" to ensure that all the Kohanim make their "Akira" in time.

Kohanim generally wash their hands before going to the Duchan for Birkat Kohanim. If a Kohen suspects that if he leaves to wash his hands he will not have time to make an "Akira" before the Hazzan begins "Modim," then he should preferably begin walking toward the Duchan after the Hazzan recites " Retzeh " and then go wash his hands. This way he ensures to make his "Akira" in time so that he can participate in Birkat Kohanim.

In conclusion: The Kohanim should begin walking toward the front of the synagogue for Birkat Kohanim as soon as the Hazzan begins the Bracha of " Retzeh." If a Kohen did not begin walking at that point, then so long as he did so before the Hazzan began the Bracha of "Modim," he may participate in Birkat Kohanim. But if a Kohen did not begin walking toward the place of Birkat Kohanim until after the Hazzan recited the word "Modim," he may not participate in Birkat Kohanim.

The Importance and Significance of Birkat Ha’levana (Blessing of the Moon)

A number of sources emphasize the special importance of reciting Birkat Ha’levana, and of doing so specifically on Mosa’eh Shabbat. It is written in the work Maggid Mesharim that one who recites Birkat Ha’levana on Mosa’eh Shabbat is blessed with success.

Numerous stories are told of Tzadikim who expended great efforts to recite Birkat Ha’levana. Rabbi Yisrael Abuhasera (the Baba Sali, 1889-1984) was once in Europe and the moon was not visible due to cloudiness as the final time for reciting Birkat Ha’levana was approaching. He went on a plane, incurring considerable expense, in order to fly to a different location where the weather was fair, so he could recite Birkat Ha’levana. And it is told that he would often stay up well past midnight waiting for the clouds to dissipate so he could fulfill this Mitzvah. On one occasion, he took a stick and waved it toward the sky, and the clouds moved away so the moon would be exposed and he could recite the Bracha.

It is mentioned in a number of books that one who recites Birkat Ha’levana does not have to worry about leaving this world that entire month. This is brought down both by the Kaf Ha’haim Sofer and by Rav Haim Palachi (Turkey, 1788-1869), in his Kaf Ha’haim (35:3). The Elya Rabba (Rabbi Eliyahu Shapiro of Prague, 1660-1712) adds that a person who recites Birkat Ha’levana does not even have to fear a decree of death being issued against him. It is told that a certain pious Jew was once approached by non-Jews who told him they were going to kill him. He asked as his last wish for a chance to recite Birkat Ha’levana, and when he fulfilled this Mitzvah, the men ran away. Rav Haim Palachi mentions that this protection is earned specifically if one recites Birkat Ha’levana with Kavana (concentration).

The Sefer Ha’berit raises the question of how to reconcile this tradition with empirical evidence. After all, there are Tzadikim who die, and it is difficult to imagine that they all neglected to properly recite Birkat Ha’levana the month they died. He suggests that we need to add two words to the text of the Kaf Ha’haim where this tradition is recorded, namely, "Bi’ydeh Adam" – "by people." Meaning, one who properly performs this Mitzvah is guaranteed protection from being killed by people, but when a person’s time to leave this world comes, he will be taken despite performing this Mitzvah. Other sources say that performing this Mitzvah protects one from "Mita Meshuna" – an unusual death, but not from death of natural causes.

Of course, it is imperative to fulfill the Mitzvah of Birkat Ha’levana for the simple reason that it is a Mitzvah. But additionally, as we have seen, the merit of this Mitzvah offers special protection, and thus it assumes particular importance. As such, one should seize the first opportunity to perform this Mitzvah, without delaying the recitation. This is especially important for Sefaradim, as we do not recite the Bracha before the 7th of the month, and thus have a small window – about one week – in which to perform the Mitzvah. (Ashkenazim allow reciting the Bracha already from the 3rd of the month, and thus have close to two weeks.) And, as we know, here in North America there can be cloud-cover for an entire week. In light of all this, one should make a point to recite Birkat Ha’levana at the first available opportunity, and not delay it at all, in order to ensure to reap the great benefits offered by this very special Mitzvah.

Lending & Borrowing Tefillin

The Avneh Nezer (R. Avraham Borenstein of Sochatchov, 1838–1910, Poland) in Siman 183, discusses whether one may lend his Tefillin to someone else. Ostensibly, this should not be a problem, since there is no requirement that one own the Tefillin he wears. Nevertheless, the issue here is when the person borrowing the Tefillin will adjust the knot, to make the straps longer or shorter, or to switch it from left handed to right handed, afterward returning it to its original measurement. The problem is that the Halacha requires that the knots of the Tefillin be "Kesher Shel Kayama"-permanent knots. If the borrower adjusts the knot for his immediate use, with intent to readjust the knot right after he finishes, the knot is not considered permanent. Therefore, the Avneh Nezer concludes that in such a case, the borrower does not fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefillin.

The Mishneh Halachot in Vol. 10:11 cites that the Shem MiShmuel (R. Shmuel Borenstein, 1856-1926, Poland) the son of the Avneh Nezer, explained that even his father would agree that when the knot is not completely untied, but simply adjusted, it is permitted, since it still constitutes the original knot. He only ruled regarding a case when the knot is completely untied.

The Rabbi Yishak Beracha, in his work on Hilchot Shabbat, (Tamsit HaBeracha p. 203) holds that the Halacha is not in accordance with the Avneh Nezer. He cites a number of Rishonim (early authorities) who do not even require that the knot of the Tefillin be a "Kesher Shel Kayama." Therefore, even if the borrower will completely untie the knot, he may still fulfill the Mitzvah.

In conclusion: If one borrowed Tefillin, he still fulfills the Mitzvah if he temporarily readjusts the knots.

If the Tenth Man Leaves in The Middle of Tefilah

The Halacha requires a Minyan in order for the Chazan to begin the Chazara of the Amida. This Minyan must consist minimally of the Chazan and nine other men who can answer Amen to the Berachot. Some people mistakenly think that having six people, a majority of a Minyan, is sufficient.

Unfortunately, sometimes the Chazan begins the Chazara with exactly a Minyan, and someone leaves in the middle, leaving the Tefila without a Minyan. In such a case, The Shulhan Aruch (55:3) rules that as long as a majority of the Minyan remains, the Chazan may continue to recite the Chazara. Any unit of Tefila that was started with a Minyan, may be concluded even without a Minyan. This principle applies even to the Kedusha, and the Chazan may recite the Kedusha without a Minyan. Even though the tenth man left before the Kedusha, it is considered one unit together with the Chazara. However, Birkat Kohanim and the Kadish Titkabel (which is connected to the Amida) are considered separate units and may not be recited without a Minyan.

This Shulhan Aruch (55:2) also applies this principle to Kaddish. If the tenth man left the Minyan in the middle of the Kaddish, it may be concluded without a Minyan.

Even though the Tefila may be concluded without the missing person, clearly, one should make every effort to remain in the Minyan and not leave before the end of the Tefila.

In conclusion: Any unit of Tefila begun with a Minyan, may be concluded without a Minyan, as long as the majority remains.