Halacha for Thursday 6 Iyar 5780 April 30 2020

The Custom of Spreading One’s Palms Wide Open While Reciting the Verse “Pote’ach Et Yadecha”

Question: Is there any basis for the custom of opening one’s hands wide while reciting the verse “Pote’ach Et Yadecha U’Masbia Le’Chol Chai Ratzon” or is this an incorrect custom? Similarly, should one rise while reciting “Yishtabach Shimcha” during the Shacharit prayer or may one remain seated?

Answer: Regarding opening the palms of one’s hands while reciting the “Pote’ach Et Yadecha” verse (in the “Ashrei” prayer), indeed, it is true that not every custom followed by the general populace, for instance, turning one’s head to the right and then to the left while saying “Yamin U’smol Tifrotzi” in Kabbalat Shabbat, should be observed, for these customs were not instituted by Torah scholars and were only put into practice by the masses until they became commonplace. This is especially true regarding those who customarily jump or make all sorts of other peculiar movements and gestures while praying which is incorrect and against Halacha.

Nevertheless, the custom of opening up the palms of one’s hands while reciting “Pote’ach Et Yadecha” is an ancient Sephardic and Middle Eastern custom quoted by some of the greatest Sephardic luminaries as Hagaon Rabbeinu Chaim Palagi and Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim, author of the Ben Ish Hai. Similarly, Hagaon Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l upholds this custom in his Responsa Tzitz Eliezer and writes that it is a symbol of our acceptance of the abundance Hashem showers upon us from Heaven. This is similar to the incident recorded by the Navi where the false prophet, Tzidkiyah ben Kena’ana, showed Yehoshafat iron horns and said, “With these shall you gore Aram.” He had certainly learned this strategy from the true prophets that when one performs any sort of action to depict an idea, the physical action likewise serves to arouse one’s concentration. Thus, this action of spreading one’s hands wide open while reciting this verse will surely remind us to believe that one’s entire livelihood comes only and directly from Hashem. Similarly, we find this idea illustrated in the incident with the war against Amalek where the verse states, “And it was when Moshe would raise his hands, Israel would be victorious.” Our Sages ask, “Do Moshe’s hands win the war or lose the war?” To which they answered, “Rather, when Moshe raised his hands, the Jewish nation would raise their eyes towards Heaven and they would win the war. We thus find that Moshe acted in a similar manner by raising his hand to Heaven while praying which served to arouse the collective concentration of the entire Jewish nation. Hagaon Harav Waldenberg derives from here that the act of opening one’s hands is indeed auspicious for one to earn an honorable livelihood. He proceeds and writes that the primary source of one’s livelihood is indeed one’s concentration while reciting this verse and it is therefore proper to do whatever possible in order to arouse one’s concentration while reciting it.

It is therefore appropriate to uphold this custom of ours of spreading our palms towards Heaven while reciting this verse and this custom was indeed observed by Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l. Indeed, Hagaon Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l adopted this practice although it was not the custom of his fathers.

Regarding our second question whether or not one must stand while reciting the Yishtabach prayer, this matter is subject to a disagreement among the Rishonim: The Hagahot Maimoni quoted by Maran Ha’Bet Yosef (beginning of Chapter 53) writes that one must remain standing for the entire duration of the Yishtabach prayer. Nevertheless, other Rishonim write that the obligation to stand during Yishtabach applies only to the Chazzan, for it is he who must recite Kaddish upon the Yishtabach text; thus, only he must stand, but the rest of the congregation may remain seated.

Halachically speaking, the Rama rules in accordance with the opinion of the Hagahot Maimoni that all must stand while reciting Yishtabach and this is indeed the custom of Ashkenazi Jews who usually follow the rulings of the Rama. Hagaon Ya’abetz rules likewise in his Siddur Amudei Shamayim. Nevertheless, Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews rule in accordance with the other Rishonim, Rav Amram Gaon, the Samak, and others and they do not stand while reciting Yishtabach. The Magen Avraham deduces that this is the opinion of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch as well.

Summary: One must concentrate intently while reciting the “Pote’ach Et Yadecha” verse, for the primary source of one’s livelihood is dependent on the recitation of this verse. Our custom is to open our hands wide while reciting this verse, as one would do when receiving something from one’s friend, as a symbol of our acceptance of Hashem’s abundance and in order to arouse our concentration. Similarly, the custom of the Ashkenazi community is to stand while reciting Yishtabach while the Sephardic custom is that only the Chazzan stands while reciting Yishtabach while the rest of the congregation remains seated.

Ask the Rabbi

8 Halachot Most Popular

The Laws of Glassware and Pyrex Regarding the Prohibition of Milk and Meat Mixtures-Continued

In the previous Halacha we have written that according to Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch, glassware does not absorb any flavor from foods placed in it and thus, there is no prohibition to use a glass vessel for meat and then after it is washed well, to use it for dairy (although the Rama does rule st......

Read Halacha

Question: Must one designate two different sets of glassware for dairy and meat as one would with other utensils?

Question: Must one designate two different sets of glassware for dairy and meat as one would with other utensils? Answer: We have already established in the previous Halacha that one is obligated to designate two separate sets of dishes and flatware for dairy and meat, for dishes used with either......

Read Halacha

The “Shehecheyanu” Blessing on a New Garment

Question: When is the appropriate time to recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing on a new garment, at the time of purchase or the first time one wears it? Similarly, must one recite this blessing for every new piece of clothing one purchases? Answer: The Mishnah (Berachot 54a) teaches us ......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Milk and Meat Dishes and the Laws of Giving Putrid Taste

When one cooks meat in a pot, the walls of the pot absorb some of the food cooked in it and is therefore considered “meat”. If dairy is later cooked in the same pot, the pot will release some of the meat flavor contained in its walls into the dairy food and will therefore prohibit the en......

Read Halacha

Reciting the “Shehecheyanu” Blessing on Similar Types of Fruit

In the previous Halacha, we have established that one should recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing on citrus fruits, such as grapefruits or oranges, which are not so readily available throughout the year. When one merits eating from these fruits the first time during the year and the fruits......

Read Halacha

Reciting the “Shehecheyanu” Blessing on Grafted Fruits

Question: May one recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing the first time during the year one eats citrus fruits, such as grapefruits or oranges? Answer: We must first preface this discussion with the law that when one eats a new fruit that one has not yet partaken of that year, after recit......

Read Halacha

The Prohibition of Milk and Meat Mixtures

The Torah states three separate times (Shemot 23 and 34; Devarim 14): “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” Our Sages (Chullin 114a) expounded that each of the times this prohibition is mentioned comes to teach us another law: The first time it is mentioned teaches us ab......

Read Halacha

The “Three Weeks”

The three-week period between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av is dubbed by our Sages “Between the Straits,” based on the verse (Eicha 1, 3), “All of her enemies overtook her between the straits.” Our Sages tell us that these three weeks between the Seventeenth o......

Read Halacha