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Shabbat Parashat Haazinu| 5767

Ask The Rabbi

Question: It is hard for me to stand the whole time during Ne’ila, when the aron kodesh is open. Am I required to do so?
Answer: It is easier to summarize the halachic sources than to give an absolute ruling.
 The gemara (Kiddushin 33b) derives from the mitzvah to stand for a talmid chacham that certainly one must stand before a sefer Torah. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 282:2) rules that this is only when the sefer Torah is being moved before the people. When it is out of sight or has rested at its destination, one may sit. This is derived from the Torah’s mention that Bnei Yisrael stood for Moshe until he entered the ohel moed (Shemot 33:8). As the laws of standing before a sefer Torah are derived from standing before talmidei chachamim, they are equated in this regard as well. Thus, when the sifrei Torah are stationary in their place (the aron)the Torah law to stand for them does not apply even if they are visible.
  Furthermore, the Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:18) rules that one need not stand for a sefer Torah on the bimah because it is in a separate domain from the people. The Taz (ad loc.:13) comments that similarly, when the sifrei Torah are contained within the domain of the aron, halacha should not require one to stand. However, he points out that the minhag is to stand in their honor anyway.
 Some minhagim become binding practices, whereas others do not. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim V, 38) wonders whether the Taz is claiming that standing when the aron kodesh is open is a minhag which became binding halacha or one which remained a positive, voluntary practice. He infers from the sources that the Taz saw it as voluntary. This would occur if those who began the practice did not institute it formally; future generations are assumed to continue it with the same level of obligation of their predecessors. He posits that even if there is a doubt which type of minhag it is, one could decide the matter leniently. However, The Panim Me’irot (I, 74) views the practice more strictly, and even Igrot Moshe urged (without outright requiring) a community that sat before an open aron kodesh to conform to the prevalent practice.
 Is there, then, a difference between the different approaches? If the minhag is binding, the obligation applies, in principle, to all. Of course, even when all are obligated, some are not physically capable of doing so. Someone recuperating from knee surgery may sit even for Kedusha, where halacha requires standing. However, when it is only uncomfortable to stand, one must do so. If the minhag is not binding per se, one can consider other factors more liberally and waive the practice due to moderate discomfort or if it compromises one’s concentration, etc. (see Igrot Moshe, ibid.). Admittedly, it is hard to give absolute guidelines on the matter. However, if we assume like Igrot Moshe, as we do, there is more leeway in treating personal needs as the deciding factor.
 The Aruch Hashulchan’s (Yoreh Deah, 282:13) formulation of the matter hits a mainstream chord. After explaining that halacha does not require standing before an open aron kodesh, he writes: “Since [people] developed the practice to do so to honor the Torah, it follows that one who does not stand in effect shows a lack of honor for the Torah. Therefore, he must stand. However, if he is weak in his legs and people will not suspect him [of disrespect] it is permitted to sit.” On Yom Kippur, and certainly, Ne’ilah,we try our hardest to act properly and certainly avoid anything that could be construed as disrespectful to the Torah. However, people are aware that many fellow congregants are physically “spent” and can no longer stand, and it is permitted to sit. If one feels that his sitting will be misunderstood or will adversely affect others, he should find a couple of minutes in which he can go out to sit without missing critical sections of the tefilla and regain strength to continue davening and standing.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois
                in loving memory of                 
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