Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Understanding Sukkot: the season of our joy

Posted on 10 October 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could you please explain what is accomplished by sitting and eating in a sukkah. We understand it is a mitzvah to do so and the kids love it, but truth be told, it is sometimes quite a schlep, both building it, taking the food in and out, and sitting in the sometimes not ideal weather. Could you provide some insight which would perhaps add some meaning?
Bart and Kimberly

Dear Bart and Kimberly,
The holiday of Sukkot is referred to as “our time of joy” (Siddur, Holiday prayers). There is a mitzvah of joy on every holiday, as the Torah says “vesamachta bechagecha,” be joyous on your holidays, (Deut. 17:14). Sukkot however, has something unique about it, as a time of joy which transcends that of any other time in the Jewish year.
Let’s consider for a moment what brings us happiness. Most people would say that they feel happy and comfortable in their homes, where they have their nice furniture, creature comforts and familiar surroundings. If that was truly the source of joy, that joy is quite vulnerable and transient. What if one suddenly lost their home in a flood? What if someone lost their job and had to foreclose on their home? As tragic and unsettling as that would be, Jewishly one would still need to find a way to be joyous in life. In order to do so, we must find a deeper source of joy than our physical surroundings. We have been “wandering Jews” for thousands of years, uprooted from homes and communities with barely the clothes on our backs, but have somehow never lost our joy for life.
The true source of Jewish joy is our timeless connectedness to a higher Essence. Our connection to the Almighty has no relationship to time and place. We had a special connection in Israel with the holy Temple, but even when we lost both of those, we retained our connection through Torah and mitzvot. For millennia, Jews lived an interconnected — yet separate — existence with our Diaspora neighbors. The “place” we live in is our Jewish world, with its own language, customs and loving relationship to G-d.
We bring that relationship alive on Sukkot. On Rosh Hashanah we “coronated” the King and entered His palace. On Yom Kippur we purify ourselves, transcending food and drink and forge a new, deep connection. This bond is not of a transient nature, rather it becomes part of our very existence.
Sukkot is the time we celebrate that eternal bond. By the very nature of the celebration, it’s not sufficient to simply “do something,” rather we need to “live” that bond. Hence the mitzvah of Sukkot is to build a spiritual place to live, to live our lives outside of our usual physical surroundings. In that way we can focus on our real, grounded existence, our loving connection to God. This brings us to unique joy, as we know that this is the one thing that no foreclosure or flood can ever take away from us. We are that connection!
After solidifying that relationship with joy for an entire week, we can then transition it back to our regular homes. Although we return to our familiar places after Sukkot, somehow something seems different. What’s changed is that it’s not all about the house anymore — we’ve learned that our joy is linked to something much greater and higher. We can then use our homes and everything in them as vehicles to elevate us even higher. This cycle spirals us upward higher and higher every year!
Best wishes for a joyous Sukkot holiday to you and all the readers!

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Coming clean: teshuvah at the core of Yom Kippur

Posted on 02 October 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
What is the literal meaning of “Yom Kippur”? Somehow, the name “Day of Atonement” never connected with me; is that correct or is there some other meaning?
Thanks, and a happy new year,
Melanie S.

Dear Melanie,
The name Yom Kippur is based on the verse (Leviticus 23:27), “…but on the 10th day of the 7th month it is the day of kippurim unto you…” The translation “Day of Atonement” is not incorrect, as “atonement” in English means “to make amends” or reparations for a wrongdoing. This translation is, however, not entirely precise, as you have felt. The literal meaning of “kippurim” is “cleansing,” as the root kaper means “to cleanse.” It means that on Yom Kippur, not only can we make amends for our misdeeds, we can actually become cleansed and purified from them as if we had never performed them.
This is a profound understanding of the concept of teshuvah, which is the primary mitzvah we perform on Yom Kippur. Teshuvah is usually translated as “repentance,” but the literal meaning is actually “return.” It entails the return back to one’s original, pristine state of being before performing a wrongdoing.
This is learned from the 13 attributes of G d’s mercy which were revealed on the first Yom Kippur in history. After the episode of the golden calf, the Jews were dealt a death sentence. But they overturned that sentence through an intense period of teshuvah for 40 days and nights. The culmination of that teshuvah was on the first Yom Kippur, when G d taught Moses to recite before Him 13 attributes of Divine mercy (Exodus 34:7-8). The final attribute of mercy is venakei, which means G d not only atones for the sins, but actually cleanses us from our sins through the teshuvah process. Teshuvah and Yom Kippur are not just ways to be forgiven; they are opportunities to transcend forgiveness and “come clean” of the wrongdoings.
The Kabbalists explain this concept in the following way. The internal self, the soul, is the essence of our eternal existence. The soul itself is pure and free of sin. When one performs a wrongdoing, at that moment he or she is mainly connected with the external, physical existence. This, in a sense, is an act of pulling away from the soul, the “real self,” and connecting with a surreal, transient existence.
The more one succumbs to temptation, the more the soul becomes covered and hidden under layer upon layer of physicality. If one identifies with those negative actions and feels that is the “real me” performing them, then one is identifying with the external self, forgetting the soul. When one performs teshuvah, he returns to the real, pristine self, the soul. He proclaims, “I’m not the one who performed those misdeeds, it was another” (Maimonides, Code, Laws of Teshuvah, Ch. 2). Teshuvah is the power to leave the external self behind as someone else, and to begin anew, with a refreshed and rejuvenated connection to the real self, the internal, spiritual soul, which is the kernel of our existence.
This concept was unmasked through the revelation of G-d’s 13 attributes of mercy, (Exodus 34:6-7). The greatest mercy of all, which is the final attribute of the 13, is the ability to become totally cleansed of any wrongdoing. This is the amazing power of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Cleansing.”
Maimonides explains that three elements are necessary for teshuvah on Yom Kippur and throughout the year.
• Firstly, a recognition of wrongdoing and feeling of remorse for the specific sin.
• Secondly, a solid, wholehearted resolve with full integrity never to return to that wrongdoing or path again.
• Lastly, to confess the misdeed before the Al-mighty and pray to Him to have the strength never to return to that negative behavior again.
May you and all the readers enjoy a meaningful Yom Kippur with the teshuvah that will bring you into a year of growth, joy, prosperity and nachas, with peace in Israel and for Jews everywhere they may be.

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Synagogue attendance during the High Holidays

Posted on 25 September 2019 by admin

A better understanding about being present at holiday services

Dear Rabbi,
I know we don’t confess to rabbis, but I have a confession! Even as I read some of the prayers on Rosh Hashanah, I don’t understand what I’m saying…to tell you the truth I’d rather take a quiet, reflective walk in the park this year on Rosh Hashanah, than spend all those hours in synagogue saying a bunch of words that don’t mean a whole lot to me anyway. I’m not a member anywhere, anyway. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Marc,
I’m quite confident that your words echo the sentiments of many. The prayers are meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience. Sadly, our distance from the original Hebrew, coupled with a lengthy synagogue service, can be intimidating (to say the least) and often a tremendous letdown for individuals seeking a spiritual experience. As a matter of fact, according to many studies, some 80 percent of Jews don’t even enter a synagogue or temple over the course of the High Holidays.
I will offer a few words of advice that can perhaps alleviate your challenges and help you get more from the service and the High Holidays.
Firstly, five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling and emotion means far more than hours of lip service. Don’t look at the prayer book as an all-or-nothing proposition. Try looking at each page or prayer as a self-contained opportunity for reflection and inspiration. If a particular prayer doesn’t speak to you, move on to the next one. Don’t expect to be moved by each and every prayer.
Read the prayers at your own pace, thinking about what you are saying, without being so concerned where the congregation is reading. You don’t need to always be “on the same page” with everyone else. If a particular sentence or paragraph touches you, linger there for a while, chew it over and digest it well, allowing the words to caress you and enter your soul. Apply that prayer to your own life and use it as a connection to God. If you’re really brave, close your eyes and meditate over those words for a while.
Don’t let your lack of proficiency in Hebrew get you down. God understands English. Like a loving parent, He can discern what is in your heart in the language in which you express yourself.
By sitting in the synagogue (as opposed to the park), you join millions of Jews in synagogues around the world. You are a Jew, and by joining hands with fellow Jews, you are making a powerful statement about your commitment to Judaism and your place in Klal Yisrael, the Jewish people.
The theme of Rosh Hashanah is our coronation of God as King. The Midrash teaches us that “There’s no king without a nation.” If someone rules over many disconnected individuals, he’s not a king. A kingdom exists when all the subjects bind together as one, with one beating heart, to accept the glorious rule of the king.
This applies to us as well. Only when we join together, as a congregation of Jews to coronate the King on Rosh Hashanah, do we create a Kingdom of God. When you join the congregation by attending synagogue, listening to the call of the shofar and praying with your fellow Jews, whether a little or a lot, you become a subject of the King and a partner in the establishment of His Kingdom. This is true, regardless of the pace at which you pray or what particular prayer you might be saying at any given time, or if you spend time uttering your own prayer straight from your heart. The main thing is, you’re with your fellow subjects and you’re on the team. And trust me, the team won’t be the same without you.
With blessings for a joyous and meaningful Rosh Hashanah, which will be the foundation of much continued growth throughout the coming year, to you and all the readers.

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Learning from Joseph’s rebuke in Genesis

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

Defining the difference
between rebuke
and judgment
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Every year, at the end of the Book of Genesis, I’m always bothered by the same question. In the episode of Joseph and his brothers, when Judah is pleading to let their brother Benjamin free (as his capture would cause the death of their father), suddenly Joseph reveals himself to them by proclaiming, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” Why would he ask if his father is alive, if the whole point of Judah’s pleading is to save the life of his father?
Dru R.
Dear Dru,
Your question is posed by a renowned commentary, the “Bais Halevi.” He answers the question in true Jewish fashion: with another question! The Midrash quotes a verse saying, “Oy to us for the day of judgment, oy to us for the day of rebuke.” Explains the Midrash, “This is referring to Joseph and his brothers on the day he rebuked them, and they could not answer him, since they were dismayed by his rebuke.” This is referring to Ch. 45 verse 3, which you mentioned in your question. The problem is, that verse seems to say nothing about rebuking the brothers.
The Bais Halevi explains the difference between judgment and rebuke:
•Judgment looks at the action itself being judged at face value, if it was proper or forbidden, based upon the laws of Torah.
•Rebuke, however, looks at the action in a different light. Rebuke, in Hebrew, comes from the word hochiach, which means to prove to the other person inherently, from within the action itself, the wrongness of the act.
The first is fairly straightforward.
The second requires some explanation. For example, when one comes before the Heavenly court after leaving this world, he or she may be asked why they gave so little tzedakah. If the person will answer they couldn’t afford any more than they gave, they may be asked, “So then why did you have enough to buy a new car every year? Why was the yearly trip to the Caribbean within the budget? If you didn’t have enough money to do what’s important, why did you have enough for that?” In this situation, the act is being judged against itself: giving for one thing against giving for another, which is the ultimate rebuke.
This is what Joseph was expressing to his brothers during the plea of Judah to free Benjamin — rebuke. Judah’s argument was the unfairness of capturing Benjamin, as he is the most beloved son to Jacob their father, and his capture would surely bring their father’s untimely death. To that proclaims Joseph: “I am Joseph, the son who, at the time of my kidnapping and sale by you, was the most beloved to my father. Is my father still alive?” Meaning: Did my sale kill him? And if you’re concerned that Benjamin, my only maternal brother, being taken will kill our father, why weren’t you concerned about the exact same effect when you sold me away from my father? They couldn’t answer them due to their dismay from the penetrating power of that rebuke.
The lesson is to take a careful look at one’s own actions and see how many things we don’t do that we should be doing, based on lame excuses. We need to ask ourselves honestly: Will our answers hold up against the questions of rebuke at the time of truth? Will our answers be turned against us, showing us that all our excuses don’t hold water because what we claimed we couldn’t do, we actually did do, just at the wrong time and for the wrong purposes? We need to be ready for the day to come when we will hear: “I am God, did you care about me?!”

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Why Jews point to matrilineal descent

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

Writings indicate that mothers determine Jewish status

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have a friend who is presently a practicing Methodist minister. He asked me to find out for him why the religious status of a Jew is determined by the mother, not the father. Could you please help me with this?
Marshall L.
Dear Marshall,
Let us analyze the source of matrilineal descent in Judaism.
Although the determination of which of the 12 tribes one would belong to depends upon the father, the essential Jewish status, itself, depends upon the mother (Talmud Tractate Kiddushin 88b).
Before the transmission of Torah at Sinai, the definition of belonging to the Abrahamic lineage was patrilineal, as we find that many of the sons of Jacob married outside the family. The principle of matrilineal descent was introduced at Sinai, when the Abrahamic nation technically became Jewish.
Furthermore, the Torah states: “You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, for he will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others…” (Deuteronomy 7:3). The question is, why is the Torah only concerned that “he,” the son, will sway your grandchildren away from God, but not that “she,” the non-Jewish mother, will do the same?
The Talmud infers from this verse that only the non-Jewish father could sway your Jewish grandchildren away from Judaism, as he is Jewish if his mother is Jewish. But, if the mother is not Jewish, then it is too late to worry. The grandchildren will be swayed away as they are not Jewish to begin with, as the Jewish status depends upon the mother, not the father.
We were not given an explanation in the Torah, explicitly, why God established this definition of a Jew. I understand it as follows. We are, as humans, not just bodies, but bodies and souls. We received our spiritual handbook at Mount Sinai. The Kabbalistic writings tell us that the Jews at Sinai were endowed with unique, expanded souls, as a receptacle for all the amazing spiritual energy about to be unleashed. We continue to receive those expanded souls throughout the generations, to continue to hold all the energy of Sinai, and to emit that energy to illuminate the world as a “light among the nations.”
The Talmud says that the soul is endowed in the fetus on the 40th day from conception, while in the mother’s womb. According to this Talmudic teaching, where the baby was on Day 40, i.e., whose womb he or she is in, is the key determination as to which type of soul they will receive, a Gentile soul, or a Jewish one. (Location, location, location!)
Hence, the Judaism of the child depends upon the mother, as the fetus rests in the mother’s womb. Although there’s much more to discuss on this matter, those are a few points in a nutshell.

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Explaining population size: Jews versus Muslims

Posted on 28 August 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In Genesis 21:9, the Lord said for Abraham to “look at the stars, see if you can count them. As many stars as there are up in the heavens, so many will be the children of your family.” The Lord also promised that Ishmael would have many children, and God would make of him a great nation. Today, there are 12 million Jews (from Isaac) and more than 1 billion Muslims from Ishmael. If Isaac inherited the covenant, why is there such a huge difference in the numbers of descendants today? Why are there so many more Muslims than Jews?
Joel B.
Dear Joel,
I don’t think you are asking me to explain the sociological reasons the Jewish nation is so small in numbers; those reasons include persecution, murder of the Jews, assimilation and so on. Rather, I assume you are asking why God would allow those factors to persist if He truly wanted the Jews to be as abundant “as the stars of the sky.”
Truthfully, the Torah itself elucidates this strange fact of history. “Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did God desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples. Rather, because of God’s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers did He take you out with a strong hand…” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). We see that God, Himself, considers us “the fewest of all the peoples.” How does this fit with “like the stars”?
The commentators explain with an example of fruit from a tree. The farmer grows a tree for its fruit, but the fruit is very minuscule in comparison to the roots, trunk, branches, leaves and peel. All of this exists for what the farmer loves most: the succulent fruit. Although the tree is vastly greater than the fruit it produces, in the mind of the farmer, it’s about the fruit.
The Jewish people are charged to be a “light unto the nations.” This, in short, means that we are to be the ambassadors of God’s teachings at Mount Sinai, where He revealed the purpose of creation. In that way we, the Jewish people, are like the fruit, while the other nations are like the larger tree. In other words, the Jews are built upon quality, not quantity.
Mark Twain put it so well: “…the Jews constitute but 1 percent of the human race…the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of…extravagantly out of proportion to his bulk. His contributions to…literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers…” (Harper’s Magazine, September 1899).
To prophetically receive the tremendous spiritual energy carried by the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish nation was endowed with an expanded soul, which could contain all that energy. Hence, that expanded soul excels in other areas of study as well.
The contributions of the Jews to the world, their positive impact is “as numerous as the stars,” similar to a nation of hundreds of millions. Despite such small numbers, some 30 percent of Nobel Prizes have been won by Jews. In contrast, the Muslim nation, with over a billion adherents, holds nary a Nobel Prize in anything but “peace”!
Until, perhaps, the future messianic times, when the count will be literal, the meaning of the Jews’ numbering like the stars takes on a different meaning. Consider a star; it looks like a minuscule point of light at night, but we know that as we approach the star, it is a massive light and heat source almost beyond comprehension. So, too, with the Jewish people. As much light as we are able to radiate unto the nations, is simply a tiny point of light compared to how we will shine when the “cover comes off” and our full illumination will be felt, beyond our comprehension today.

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Beis din is necessary to deal with disputes

Posted on 22 August 2019 by admin

Legal Jewish matters should be adjudicated through a rabbinical court

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have a long-standing monetary dispute with a local Jewish man, who insists that we take it to a Jewish court to resolve it. I want to sue him in secular court but want to first understand why he’s so adamant about going to a Jewish one. As Jews, we say dina demalchuta dina, the law of the land is the law. Doesn’t that apply to a monetary dispute?
Marvin T.
Dear Marvin,
Dina demalchusa dina, “the law of the land is the law,” means that one must uphold the laws of the land, pay taxes and so on. (Talmud, Bava Kama 113b) When it comes to a monetary dispute, secular law recognizes the right of the two litigants to have their dispute adjudicated by any mediator they mutually choose. This includes a rabbinical court, or beis din, which is acceptable mediation, and would fall within the parameters of dina demalchusa dina.
Furthermore, Jewish law requires that two Jews take their disputes to a rabbinical court, rather than a secular one. As an aside, the beis din would also hear the case of a Jew and a Gentile, if the Gentile would agree to do so, and save a ton of time and fees to boot. Jewish law equates one who takes a case to secular court, when he has the option to go to beis din, as if he is worshipping the sovereign religion of the court.
This means the following: The laws of jurisprudence appear in the Torah, beginning in Shemos/Exodus Chapter 21, immediately following the laws of building the altar in the Temple. The rabbis explain this juxtaposition, stating that the High Jewish Court, or Sanhedrin, should be situated right near the altar in the Temple. (Rashi, Exodus 21:1) This raises a question: Why can we not build a separate courthouse, where there’s peace and quiet, rather than to sit in judgement in the noisy, busy Temple?
My late mentor, R’ Shlomo Wolbe ob”m, noted that in every court of law, the seal of its country is prominently displayed. The reason is that the court judges its cases with the backing of their ruler, in accordance with the law of the country. In a similar vein, the laws of the Torah are the symbol of God’s Kingship. The laws of the Torah did not originate by our own mutual agreement; they are God’s commandments. The Sanhedrin is located in the House of God precisely because they represent His laws — laws that are the truth, as they are God’s word. To opt out of those laws to adjudicate by secular laws is, therefore, considered a desecration of God’s Name, and a worship of the sovereign belief.
R’ Wolbe offered an additional reason as to why the Sanhedrin was in the Temple. It is not acceptable for a Jew to separate his ritual service to God, such as the Temple worship, from the way he acts towards his fellow man. To be meticulous in the observance of the mitzvos between man and God, while derelict in his observance of the mitzvos between man and fellow man, is antithetical to the Torah way of life.
Relegating monetary matters to secular sources is making a statement about one’s Judaism, that it is not applicable in “real life.” Of course, if the other litigant is not willing to approach a beis din, one can receive a dispensation from the Jewish court to resort to secular court. When possible, however, it is a tremendous mitzvah to have the matter decided in accordance with our holy Torah. This sanctifies money matters, raising them to a new spiritual plateau.

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The historical significance of Tisha B’Av

Posted on 07 August 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could you please expand a little about Tisha B’Av? I heard that historically it has been a tragic day for the Jews, but what happened on that day besides the destruction of the Temple?
Jilian C.

Dear Jilian,
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, falls out this coming Saturday night, Aug. 10, and Sunday, Aug. 11. It is the day the Torah established for mourning all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout our history. Many of those calamities have, actually, transpired on that date.
To name some of the key events:

  1. During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 12 spies, and the decree issued forbade them from entering the Land of Israel (1312 BCE).
  2. The First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. One hundred thousand Jews were slaughtered and millions more were exiled (586 BCE).
  3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some 2 million Jews died, and another 1 million were exiled (70 CE).
  4. The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by the Roman emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar — the Jews’ last stand against the Romans — was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered (135 CE).
  5. The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city, renamed Aelia Capitolina, and access was forbidden to Jews.
    These are the five national calamities mentioned in the Talmud and other early literature, upon which the Sages enacted Tisha B’Av as a day of national mourning, fasting and recital of special prayers. Since then, many more tragic events have befallen us on the same Jewish date of Tisha B’Av:
  6. In 1492, the Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain, ending nearly a thousand years of glorious Spanish Jewish flourishing.
  7. In 1914, World War I broke out when Germany declared war on Russia. This totally disrupted the Jewish communities of Europe and set the stage for the soon-to-come Holocaust.
  8. In 1942, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began, sending them to Treblinka. The destruction of Warsaw, with its massive infrastructure of Jewish learning and huge Jewish population, has been likened to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
    When the great Jewish leader R’ Don Abarbanel led the Jews into exile from Spain in 1492, although it was Tisha B’Av, he instructed the Jews to have a marching band accompany them with joyous music. He saw the clear Hand of God waving at them at their time of greatest tragedy, letting them know that He was still with them behind the canopy of darkness. This was made clear by this event, as the others, occurring on that same ominous day.
    Hence, during this one and only sad time on the old Jewish calendar, the Code of Jewish Law makes the following statement: “When the month of Av enters, one should minimize one’s joy.” The commentaries point out that the Code does not say one should not be joyous, but rather to minimize one’s joy, indicating that even during the darkest times, a Jew never totally loses his or her joy. This, like Don Abarbanel taught us, comes from our profound belief that God is always with us, ensuring the eternity of the Jewish nation.
    The Chasidic masters teach us that the above message is implicit in the name of the month that all these calamities befell us: Av. The meaning of this word, besides the name of a month, is “Father” in Hebrew. This is a reminder that all that happened to us was not happenstance, nor meted out by an angry, vengeful God, rather by our Father is heaven, a loving Father, who wants only for His children to have the best and be the best, but sometimes needing to painfully inflict us with reminders to heed our mission as his chosen children.
    I recommend you join a synagogue and those sitting on the floor and lamenting the events of Tisha B’Av. (Especially to mourn the current holocaust of the loss of some 100,000 Jews per year to assimilation and cults in the USA alone.) Why? Because the Talmud says that anyone who joins the congregation and mourns the destruction of the Temple will surely merit to witness its rebuilding.

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Origins of the Jewish calendar

Posted on 31 July 2019 by admin

Sages, witnesses, and new moons formed today’s lunar calendar

Rabbi Fried,
We all get Jewish calendars at the grocery store or in the mail and take them for granted. What are the origins of the Jewish calendar? I’ve been wondering about this for years, and hope you can provide some insight.
Marvin G.

Dear Marvin,
The very first mitzvah that the Jewish people were commanded while still in Egypt was to sanctify the new month. “This renewal [of the moon] shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus/Shemos 12:1-2)
This means that the Jewish people are not to simply calculate our dates. We need to sanctify the first day of each month, which is called Rosh Chodesh, or the “head of the month.” From the time of Moses, and for nearly a thousand years, the high Jewish court, or Sanhedrin, calculated and sanctified the new month. Each month, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem would wait for two witnesses to appear, stating they had observed a new moon. After testing the veracity of the witnesses, the court would establish the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh by the power vested in them, and by proclaiming “Mekudash, mekudash,” meaning, “It is sanctified, it is sanctified.”
From the time Joshua led the Jews into their land, conditions existed to carry out the sanctification of the new months. As long as the months were sanctified in this divinely ordained manner, there could not be an annual set “calendar.” Because each new month required witness testimony, no one could guarantee whether the current month would be 29 or 30 days. Jewish holidays, such as Passover, depended upon when the Sanhedrin proclaimed the new month.
Jews would wait to be informed when Pesach would “fall out” that year, an uneasy feat in a pre-electronic communicative world. A system of bonfires, lit atop mountains across Israel, would announce from Jerusalem when the new month was established. When saboteurs maliciously lit fires on the wrong days to mislead the people, the Sanhedrin had to send actual messengers by horseback across the country to inform all of the new month.
This process continued until one of the last generations whose leaders still had actual semicha, or ordination, through an unbroken chain from Moses. That type of semicha was a prerequisite to sanctify the new month. Because this semicha was in danger of cessation, the entire institution of Rosh Chodesh and Jewish months were in danger. To ensure continuity of Jewish months, Hillel the Last and his court, who still held that form of semicha, calculated and sanctified all the coming months until the time of the messiah. By doing so, they established the first actual calendar, in the year 359 CE. From that time, and onward, they no longer needed to wait for witnesses. Rather, they relied upon calculations sanctified with the semicha power vested in them.
The Torah established that our months be lunar, or moon-based, as opposed to the solar, or Gregorian, calendar used today in most of the world. The Torah also commands that Passover always fall in the spring. (Deuteronomy/Devarim 16:1) These two commands, however, conflict with each other. For this reason, an extra month or leap year, was established to synchronize the solar with the lunar calendar, seven out of every 19 years. In this way, the months have remained successfully synchronized for more than 3,300 years since we received this commandment.
As an aside, it is fascinating to note the precision of our sages’ calculations. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 25a) and Maimonides (Code, Laws of Sanctifying the Moon 6:2-3) calculate the length of a solar month as 29.53059 days. A number of years ago, NASA made the following statement: “After years of research based on calculations using satellites, hairline telescopes, laser beams and super-computers, scientists at NASA have determined that the length of the ‘synodic month,’ i.e., the amount of time between one new moon and the next, is 29.530588 days.”
Jewish dates don’t arbitrarily fall out. They are calculated. We don’t just follow along with the flow of time. Rather, the Torah empowers us to actually change time and dates. The Torah puts us above time, and to live above time is to connect to the eternity of the Jewish people.

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Foundation stone: More than just a rock

Posted on 25 July 2019 by admin

A discussion about the Temple Mount’s even she’seeah

Jerusalem, Temple Mount
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was fascinated by what you said about a stone on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (where the altar was), that began God’s creation of the universe. Could you expand on that thought? Thanks,
Leigh A.
Dear Leigh,
The stone I was referring to is a profound Jewish concept and is referred to in Hebrew as the even she’seeah, or “foundation stone.” One of the leading Kabbalists was R’ Moshe ben Nachman, better known as Ramban (Nachmanides, 13th-century Spain and Israel). In the preface to his classical commentary to the Torah, he writes at great length about this stone. This stone, at the Temple Mount, is said to hold within it all the world’s powers. Ramban said, for example, that various fruits and vegetables thrive in specific parts of the world. Fruits that are indigenous to central Africa won’t necessarily grow well in Japan, and vice versa. An “artery” extends from this stone to Africa, Australia and every part of the world, giving that part of the world a power to sustain its particular flora.
King Solomon, whom the Torah refers to as the wisest of all men, perceived and recognized those arteries. He was then able to plant the trees and plants which were specific to different parts of the world in Jerusalem, right above their specific artery of power. These plants thrived right in the middle of Jerusalem, as if they were grown in their natural habitat.
It was at the very same spot that the earth was taken by God to create the first man. Rashi (Genesis 2:7) gives one explanation, that since the earth of that place is the center of all of the earth, wherever in the world men die, they will be able to be “returned” to the earth, since all men emanate from the very earth that all the world’s earth emanates from. This has led to the custom, at Jewish funerals, to add a little dirt from Jerusalem to the casket, making the burial as if the deceased is returning back to his ultimate source.
This even she’seeah reflects a deeper understanding of Jerusalem and its pinnacle, the Temple Mount. The Midrash and Kabbalah explain that both a man and the Temple were created as a microcosm of the entire universe. Every part of the Temple coincides with an organ or limb of man, and represents that concept in the universe. The central focus and holiest place of the Temple was the Holy of Holies, the inner chamber which housed the ark and the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. Only the Kohen Gadol, high priest, entered that place once a year, on Yom Kippur. That place, spiritually, coincides with the human heart. From there, the Jewish hearts were connected to the Al-mighty.
The heart is the organ that pumps the blood to the most distant extremities of the body, bringing oxygen and nourishment to its capillaries and cells, bringing the gift of life. The Holy of Holies was the Jewish heart beating in Jerusalem, giving power to that stone, to extend its arteries to the entire world, bringing the spiritual energy to far-flung places, the source of bounty and goodness.
May we merit to see the ingathering of all our exiles to that place, with peace and joy, once and for all.

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