A Kohen and His Colorful Socks

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

There are many complex halachos about interrupting one’s prayers for various responses. At some points in davening, it is forbidden to respond, “Boruch Hu u’baruch Shmo.” At other points, one cannot even respond amein. At some points, virtually every response is forbidden. Which point during davening would one assume would be most restrictive? A) Birchos Kriyas Shema B) Silent Shemoneh Esrai C) Kriyas Shema D) A Yisrael listening to Birchas Kohanim. The answer is surprisingly D, Yisrael listening to Birchas Kohanim. The Gemara discusses various verses that a Yisrael may recite while listening to Birchas Kohanim. (Sotah 39b-40a). Rebbe Chanina Bar Pappa, however, strenuously objects to their recital. “Could there even exist a servant whose king is blessing him, and he doesn’t listen?!” Hashem is blessing us, and we should be preoccupied with reciting pesukim?! Rebbe Chanina Bar Pappa’s reasoning is codified by the Mishna Berura. (128:102) There are differing opinions about whether or not is appropriate to recite the pesukim while the Kohanim are singing. However, while the Kohanim are actually blessing K’lal Yisrael, those verses may not be recited. While one is reciting his private Shemoneh Esrei, he may not respond to kaddish or kedusha. However, he may pause his recital and listen to kaddish or kedusha. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, ruled that this would be wholly inappropriate during Birchas Kohanim. “Could there even exist a servant whose king is blessing him, and he doesn’t listen?!?”

This could be relevant to a Yisrael who is davening in a minyan factory in Eretz Yisrael, for example. He hears kaddish or kedusha during Birchas Kohanim. He must ignore the kaddish or kedusha. His King is blessing him, and his mind should be elsewhere?! Of course, everyone knows how important Birchas Kohanim is. This halacha just gives us added depth to our understanding. We should realize and internalize that Hashem is directly blessing us during Birchas Kohanim. There is another dalacha discussed on the same daf that may expand our understanding of a concept that everyone knows. The halacha is that a Kohen must remove his shoes before duchening. The Gemara offers two rationales that are both somewhat unexpected. The first is that it is not proper kavod for the tzibbur to see the Kohen’s muddy shoes. Typically, Birchas Kohanim is on a raised area, and the Kohen’s dirty shoes would be on display. Therefore, the Kohen wears just socks. However, the same halacha would similarly apply to dirty socks. (MB 128:18) Two additional halachos are based on kavod ha’tzibbur. There should not be a lineup of shoes visible near the Kohanim. The Kohanim should try to hide their shoes under a table or bench. Also, a Kohen who is simultaneously acting as the Chazzan and duchening should not remove his shoes in middle of his prayer. Rather, he should remove his shoes beforehand (RSZ). The second reason for the Kohen to remove his shoes is that the Kohen’s laces may become untied while duchening. Out of embarrassment, he may descend off the stage/platform while duchening. Some may surmise that the Kohen stopped duchening because he was really the son of a divorcee and not a fullfledged kohen. To prevent this mistaken perception from happening, it became the custom that Kohanim do not duchen with shoes. Even loafers without laces are excluded due to this custom. During Birchas Kohanim, one therefore has a chance to admire the fashionable and colorful socks that some Kohanim wear. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, said that there is no issue in halacha with this.

We do not need to be concerned that people will become distracted due to someone’s bright orange socks. There is a hint of this halacha in the Torah. Hashem told Moshe by the Burning Bush to not come near and to discalceate (a rare word, meaning remove shoes.) The word used in the Torah, for “here” is “halom,” which has the same numerical value as “Kohen.” What’s fascinating is the halacha that Rabbeinu Chananel extracts from our Gemara. He rules that one is allowed to wear shoes in shul! There is a well-known concept that a shul is like a miniature Beis Hamikdash. One may have assumed that it is just a theoretical concept. That would be erroneous. It has halachic ramifications. Indeed, Rabbeinu Chanael even assumed there was a legitimate reason to believe one is not allowed to wear shoes in shul, the same way shoes cannot be worn in the Beis Hamikdash. He concludes, however, that shoes may be worn in shul. From the fact that the Gemara states that Kohanim must remove their shoes before duchening, it must be that they were wearing their shoes until now in shul. However, from the initial assumption of Rabbeinu Chananel, we can understand that he took Chazal’s dictum that a shul is like a miniature Beis HaMikdosh quite literally. This, too, gives us an added depth of understanding of a concept we previously knew.

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@ gmail.com.

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