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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Practicing Saying Vten Tal UMatar

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: How many times is it required to recite repeatedly “V’ten tal u’matar” (=Vten) until we can assume, when in doubt, that I said the recitation correctly?

 

Answer: If one is unsure if he remembered to cease saying Mashiv haruach …(=Mashiv), we assume for the first 30 days that he continued the now incorrect recitation (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 114:8, based on Yerushalmi). However, the Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 9) accepts the Maharam M’Rotenberg’s (see Tur, OC 114) remedy of reciting the correct version 90 times, after which we assume he got it right. The source that concentrated change is effective like a change over time is the opinion that an ox which gores three times on one day changes its status like one who gored three days (Bava Kama 24a). While many question the comparison’s aptness (see Taz 114:13), this is the accepted practice (see Biur Halacha ad loc.). The Mishna Berura (114:40) says that reciting the new version 90 times is applicable for Vten as well

There are also technical questions about this system. The Rama (Darchei Moshe, OC 114:2) points that 90 times seems an inexact substitute for 30 days, as Mashiv is said more than 90 times (due to Mussaf) in 30 days and Vten (absent on Shabbatot) is said fewer. He says that 30 days is just the average time, but the important thing is the 90 recitations, however long each one takes. (The Rama’s opinion in the Shulchan Aruch is unclear (see OC 114:8 and Mishna Berura 114:37)). The Chatam Sofer (OC 20) posits that often 30 days has 101 sayings of Mashiv, and 101 is known to be a number of repetitions which makes a text absorbed (see Chagiga 9b). The Gra (ad loc.) is among those who say that it is the passage of 30 days that creates the change, even though there are more than 90 Mashivs and fewer Vtens during this time.

The accepted opinion is that one who does not do extra repetitions determines whether to assume that he said the correct text based on a cut-off of 30 days. Yet, the practice of those who do “artificial repetitions” is to do the ostensibly contradictory 90 recitations. The Mishna Berura (114:37) says we accept the lenient opinion in both major questions because of the concept of safek berachot l’hakel. In other words, if we are not sure whether there is a need to make additional berachot, in this case by repeating Shemoneh Esrei or parts of it, we refrain from doing so. (Admittedly, there are cases (e.g., Mashiv slightly before 30 days) when we could have been more lenient than the standard practice.) Most (see Mishna Berura 114:42; Ishei Yisrael 23:(137)) assume that one can mix and match, achieving confidence about the transition by an appropriate mixture of days and repetitions (e.g., 10 days and 60 repetitions).

Some suggest that it is preferable to avoid the artificial 90 repetition system (see Shulchan Aruch Harav OC 114:11; Halichot Shlomo, Tefilla 8:26). The logic is that since it is unclear whether it sufficiently removes doubt that one said the wrong thing, (i.e., it might still be correct to repeat), it is better to leave things with the accepted 30-day guideline. (Rav Yaakov Emdin has a technical issue with the repetitions, as he assumed it required saying Hashem’s Name in vain. However, our practice has us start the recitation after the Name). However, this claim is very surprising. First of all, when not using this system, there are also plenty of doubts (e.g., after 30 days of Vten, which do not include 90 recitations; if one missed some tefillot or made mistakes in some). More significantly, since the repetition, if done with moderate concentration, certainly helps significantly to get things right faster, we are saving a lot of unnecessary berachot by getting ourselves accustomed. It would seem that the approach that one should avoid the repetitions makes sense only for those who rarely make these mistakes anyway.

In summary, doing 90 “artificial repetitions” for Vten and Mashiv, which the Shulchan Aruch/Mishna Berura and minhag ha’olam endorse, is valid and worthwhile (but not obligatory).

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