“...As2 to your comment and query on our custom as cited in HaYom Yom, entry for 1 Tishrei, 5704: ‘The Yehi ratzon over the apple [is recited] after the blessing3 and before eating.’

“Every Rosh HaShanah I saw my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], following this procedure. I once asked him if this was one of the customs observed only by the Rebbeim, or a custom observed by the members of the Rebbe’s household, or a custom to be observed by the public as well. The Rebbe answered that this practice was applicable to everyone, and that I could make his statement public. I therefore included it in HaYom Yom.

“He did not tell me why this practice differed from the directive in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, but only that this was the custom of the Rebbe [Rashab]. (The same applies to the instruction — which I consider to be even more of a novelty, and which is also recorded in HaYom Yom at the same point — that the blessing over the lighting of the Rosh HaShanah candles4 concludes with the words, של יום הזכרון. My father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], once related that R. Raphaelovitch of Kremenchug debated this point with the Rebbe [Rashab], who told him that this wording was confirmed by the practical example of the household of the Rebbeim [of previous generations].)

* * *

“Before noting my humble opinion on this question, I should first like to point out that even according to Magen Avraham, the practice of eating the apple before saying the Yehi ratzon is only the preferred procedure (לכתחילה); however, [if one were to reverse the order and recite these words before eating,] this would not (בדיעבד) constitute an unwarranted interruption [i.e., a hefsek, between (a) reciting the blessing over the fruit and (b) eating the fruit].

“In the relevant section [in the Shulchan Aruch], viz., sec. 583:2, Magen Avraham cites the view of M[aaglei] Tz[edek],5 that one should first recite the text and only then eat the apple. Similarly, it is recorded in Sdei Chemed (Aseifas Dinim: Rosh HaShanah 2:4) that this is also the view of the author of Chemdas Yamim. However, I do not have copies of M[aaglei] Tz[edek] and Chemdas Yamim at hand for further study.

“Though in his Shulchan Aruch the Alter Rebbe ruled in line with the view of Magen Avraham, who differs from the [above-mentioned] view of M[aaglei] Tz[edek], in various cases the Alter Rebbe retracted the ruling that he had earlier given in the Shulchan Aruch. This is evidenced from various rulings which he [later] published in his Siddur, and, in the present case, from the custom actually practiced in the household of the Rebbeim [of their respective generations].

“Concerning this, the author of the Responsa entitled Divrei Nechemiah (Chelek Orach Chayim, beginning of sec. 21) writes that ‘it is well known that in his Shulchan Aruch [the Alter Rebbe] went to extreme lengths to avoid differing from any ruling of the Acharonim, [i.e., those of the latter halachic authorities who preceded him,] and especially so with regard to the author of Magen Avraham. Later in life, however, as his scholarship matured further, he stood his ground and ruled independently, even in the direction of leniency, wherever an earlier ruling did not seem well founded. (As is well known, he was heard to say explicitly [in his later years] that he regretted having placed excessive trust in the stand of the author of Magen Avraham.) His later independence was especially felt in rulings which his predecessors had arrived at by their own efforts, [and so on].’

“Concerning this too, see the Responsa entitled Tzemach Tzedek, Chelek Orach Chayim 18:4.

“Early in Shaar HaKollel the author writes that wherever the Alter Rebbe had not received a clearly binding ruling, in his Shulchan Aruch he ruled in the spirit of the preceding poskim; in his Siddur, however, and this is the work which expresses his final stand, he ruled in the spirit of the Kabbalists. This distinction can be applied too to our case, especially when one considers the spiritual dimension of the explanation offered by Sdei Chemed as to why the Yehi ratzon should be recited before the apple is eaten. This is particularly true in the light of the above observation that even according to Magen Avraham, the procedure of eating the apple before saying the Yehi ratzon is only preferred (לכתחילה), [but after the event (בדיעבד) it is not the only acceptable procedure]. (Incidentally, the wording of the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch, sec. 583:3, is thus somewhat problematic.) And the above-mentioned reason given by Sdei Chemed carries sufficient weight to equate the procedure preferred initially with the procedure acceptable after the event.

* * *

“In my humble opinion, the best and simplest reason — according to nigleh, the revealed levels of the Torah — as to why the Yehi ratzon should be recited before the apple is eaten, is the following: This procedure enables the Yehi ratzon to follow immediately after the blessing over the fruit, so that the opening phrase of that blessing can now [not only serve as an introduction to its own remaining words, but] carry over to the ensuing Yehi ratzon as well.6 (This is the reason for which one blessing which immediately follows another does not begin with Baruch, as is explained in Pesachim 105b).

“The Yehi ratzon which opens Tefillas HaDerech, the Prayer for Travelers,7 is a berachah in its own right. Nevertheless, the Sages taught that it is advisable to make it immediately follow some other berachah, so that its initial words should also open with a berachah. (Cf. the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 110:6, and see also sec. 6:7.) How much more, then, is it advisable to make the above Yehi ratzon immediately follow a berachah. This is particularly appropriate with regard to the blessing recited over the sweet apple, for it serves as a tangible expression of the very request articulated by the Yehi ratzon, which will be strengthened thereby.

“For since we are not in a position to innovate berachos that are not recorded in the Talmud and in the writings of the geonim, the Yehi ratzon has at least been placed next to the berachah, so that it will borrow something of the power of a berachah. And since nothing more than this is feasible, this arrangement may be considered acceptable after the event.

“Another point might be made in favor of saying the Yehi ratzon at the earliest moment possible. Since the entire point of eating the apple is that it is an auspicious omen, one must be vigilant that it should not bring about any contrary result. This concept conforms with the teaching of the Sages (in Berachos 56b), that ‘a person who sees [a particular object in a dream] should seize the occasion and promptly recite [an appropriate verse with an auspicious connotation], before he is encountered [by the fulfillment of an alternative verse with an unfavorable connotation].

“This does not mean that the Yehi ratzon should be brought forward to precede even the blessing over the fruit, just as [on Sukkos] the blessing made over the sukkah does not precede the blessing of hamotzi (Shulchan Aruch, end of sec. 643). In our case one should most certainly not make the Yehi ratzon precede the blessing over the apple, for an additional reason — so that a man should not request his needs of the Creator before he praises Him.

“All the above reasons should be buttressed by the well-known consideration (in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch 582:7), that ‘on these days [of Rosh HaShanah], which are days of judgment, one ought to be punctiliously [explicit in one’s prayers], even though on other days of the year we...are less anxious.’

* * *

“Your learned letter proceeds to query as follows: Even if it could be argued that for whatever reason the Yehi ratzon has to be said before the apple is eaten, surely it would be possible to taste it immediately after the berachah and then to say the Yehi ratzon and then to continue eating it.

Sdei Chemed cites this compromise in the name of the Responsa entitled Orach Chayim (end of sec. 3) and in the name of Maamar Mordechai, but neither of these works is at hand.

“Other works cited by Sdei Chemed offer an alternative solution — that one should recite the blessing and taste a different fruit, then say the Yehi ratzon and eat the apple. In the light of the above explanations this is no solution, for the whole point is to make the Yehi ratzon immediately follow the berachah.

“Now, then, one can clearly understand the custom of the Rebbe’s household and of the chassidic brotherhood.

“Moreover, this procedure enables one to appreciate the precise wording of the Alter Rebbe’s instruction on this subject, as it appears in his Siddur:8 ‘One should first recite the blessing, ברוך...בורא פרי העץ, and then say, [Yehi ratzon...].’ At first glance, the words first and then are superfluous. In the light of what has been explained above, however, it could be suggested that with these words the Alter Rebbe intends to make an innovative point: (a) ‘One should first recite the blessing’: i.e., specifically first, despite the possible argument in favor of saying it after the Yehi ratzon. (The word first also alludes to the fact that the blessing serves to introduce the whole subject, including the Yehi ratzon.) (b) ‘One should then say the Yehi ratzon’: i.e., immediately after the berachah.

* * *

“There is still, however, room for further study of the subject, for one can find support [in the Shulchan Aruch] for the compromise proposed by your learned self and by the above-mentioned authorities, namely, that one should first taste the apple and then say the Yehi ratzon and then continue to eat it. I refer to the end of sec. 643, in its discussion of the blessing that concludes, לישב בסוכה, at least as regards the most preferred manner of fulfilling that mitzvah. Note especially that the blessing over the sukkah may be recited only if one is about to eat a quantity of food which weighs the equivalent of an egg, (unlike the Yehi ratzon over the apple, which has no specified minimal quantity). Why, then, is this not the accepted procedure?...” [The continuation of the body of this letter has not been published.]

“P.S. I have not found the machzor with the commentary entitled Maaglei Tzedek (which is evidently the title indicated by the initials מ"צ in Magen Avraham). However, I have seen a machzor with a commentary entitled Hadras Kodesh, which incorporates most of the customs recorded by the author of Maaglei Tzedek, and which states: ‘One should recite the blessing בורא פרי העץ over the apple, and then say, תחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה, and then eat the apple [dipped] in honey.’

“Maaglei Tzedek was first published in Venice in the year 5328 (שכ"ח; 1568), according to ‘the custom of Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, Belorussia and Lithuania.’9 Our custom thus enjoys a venerable history.

“A list of the customs of Iraqi Jewry has just reached me (from David Suleiman Sassoon’s Masa Bavel, p. 222). Their custom is the same as ours, whereby the Yehi ratzon is said after the blessing has been recited and before the apple is eaten.

“While I am on this subject: As to why specifically an apple is used for this custom, the author of Darchei Moshe10 quotes Maharil11 as saying that it serves as an allusion to Chakal Tapuchin Kaddishin.12

“At first glance one would have expected him to say that it alludes to the Zohar III, 133b, which states that ‘life derives from them,’ i.e., from the Supernal ‘apples’; and see also III, 74a. Both sources speak of ‘apples’ rather than ‘esrogim’ (cf. Tosafos on Shabbos 88a, s.v. פריו), for they are extolled for their ‘sweet flavor’ and for their ‘three colors.’

“Nevertheless, perhaps Maharil preferred the first-quoted allusion because Rosh HaShanah is the time of binyan haMalchus, which is represented by specifically the ‘orchard’ of Tapuchin Kaddishin. The ‘apple’, by contrast, is distinguished from other fruits in that it represents [the six Sefiros of] Ze’er Anpin rather than [the Sefirah of] Malchus (cf. Zohar II, 15b).”