Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Death of patriarch prompts questions

Posted on 18 April 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
My father passed away this past year. I will be leading the family Seder this year for the first time; we are expecting 30 people. My father held a somewhat traditional Seder, which didn’t go too far in holding the interest of people our generation and younger. What points do you think should be stressed in a Seder? Also, is there a Haggadah that would help make this Seder more relevant?
Art K.
Dear Art,
I am sorry to hear about your father’s passing. I’m sure your running the Seder in his stead and honor will bring him much nachas as he participates from on high.
I’m not sure how your father led the Seders, but yours should be conducted mostly in English, so all will understand the meaning of what is being said. Even if songs you sing from the Haggadah are in Hebrew, be sure someone reads the English first, so everyone understands the meaning of the songs.
An important point to stress is that the Haggadah story is the first time in history God revealed Himself to the entire world. Egypt was the seat of world trade and culture at that time, and people from all the inhabited world frequented that country for trade and other reasons. The 10 plagues took place over a period of 10 months, close to an entire year, in front of the entire civilized world. This showed the world there is a Creator who knows what is going on in the world, who controls and interacts with people, and even speaks to them directly. This event caused a paradigm shift in the world’s concept of God. This shift continued through Sinai and the following 40 years in the desert. Our belief in God and what He stands for came from this period. The Passover story is the key to the core Jewish belief in God.
Another key concept to stress is that of appreciation. All Seder rituals express our thanks to God for having redeemed us from Egypt and all the troubled times throughout our often-rocky history. Many have said that the greatest miracle since leaving Egypt is that we have survived. When is the last time you bumped into an Egyptian, a Babylonian, or even a Roman in Tom Thumb? Jews were the downtrodden, the vanquished, and they were the powerful conquerors, so where are they? The Seder focuses on appreciation and thanksgiving, and ends with the Hallel prayer, a prayer of thanks in its entirety. Some classical commentators stress that we need to tell the Seder story in a way that allows all participants to feel they have been redeemed, and to express their appreciation to God. This also is meant to be the cornerstone of teaching Jews to be an appreciative people, always expressing their thanks, not only to God, but to anyone from whom they benefit.
Finally, the real key to a meaningful Seder is to make it fun. Use your imagination to dress up the room or the table in a way which will draw everyone in. Use toy animals and army men to act out the plagues or to tell the story of slavery. A handful of marbles (or small Passover marshmallows) can create great hail. I always strongly recommend the “Passover Survival Kit Haggadah” (Shimon Apisdorf/Leviathan Press), which makes the Seder fun, meaningful and relevant.
Good luck with your Seder this year. I wish you and all the readers a pleasant and successful journey in making this year’s Seder the best one ever.

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Understanding the selling of chametz

Posted on 11 April 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
We have recently become observant, this being our first Passover kept according to strict Jewish law. We never heard about selling the “chametz” to a non-Jew before; all we knew was not to eat bread. We also learned that whatever leavened products are not sold to a non-Jew are forbidden even after Passover, which was a real shocker to us! This leads to our question: We have a significant amount of scotch and bourbon from years past; some of it consists of rare limited edition bottles passed down from our parents to be used for simchas and special occasions. Since this is made from barley and wheat hops, it would constitute “chametz” which was not sold all the years before we became observant, so (we’re a little afraid to ask) what is the status of all that schnapps we own?
Marc and Stacie
Dear Marc and Stacie,
Congratulations on your new level of observance! I trust you will have a very meaningful Pesach this year given your heightened sensitivity to many of the subtleties heretofore unnoticed, which reveal the true richness and depth of this beautiful holiday experience.
Generally speaking, you are correct in your understanding that leavened items owned by a Jew and not sold to a Gentile for Passover become forbidden for consumption after Pesach. This is actually a rabbinical law, under the category of “k’nas,” or penalty, for the transgression of a Torah law. The Torah prohibits not only the consumption of leavened grain products on Passover, but the ownership of those foodstuffs as well. This applies to all of the five species of grain: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats. This is outlined in the Torah’s statements: “For a seven-day period you shall eat matzos, but on the previous day you shall nullify the leaven from your homes…For seven days, leaven may not be found in your houses…” (Exodus 12:15, 19). “No leaven of yours shall be seen throughout your boundary for seven days…” (Deuteronomy 16:4).
The simple meaning of these verses is that one must eliminate all leavened products from one’s home completely during Passover, beginning with the day preceding the holiday. The Talmud, however, explains that the prohibition is only upon leavened products, or chametz, owned by a Jew. Chametz owned by a Gentile is permitted to be in the home of a Jew during Pesach, provided it is in a separate area marked as a reminder not to consume of that food. This opens up the possibility of one owning storehouses of leavened products and not having to dispose of them, as one can sell them to a Gentile. The nature of that sale is complicated and not relevant to this discussion, but it is performed by most rabbis for those who request of them to be their messenger to sell their chametz before Pesach.
When one had the ability to sell his or her chametz and did not do so, the penalty of the chametz becoming forbidden as a reprimand for the transgression takes hold. Those unsold products become forbidden for consumption or any other form of benefit.
This, however, applies only when the items not sold constitute a Torah-level transgression of owning chametz. Not all leavened products fall under that category, and some authorities believe that “schnapps” is a rabbinical, not Torah-level, transgression on Pesach. This has to do with the nature of the production of schnapps (chametz that is part of a recipe which is not principally chametz may be only rabbinical in nature — based on the early sage Rabbeinu Tam, who takes the position that in a mixture there is no Torah prohibition of possessing chametz, as well as its mode of consumption, based on Talmudic discussions that get quite complicated). This means that although it should be sold, if it was not, it is not forbidden after Pesach.
Since now you are trying to fulfill these laws, you are revealing that you do not take them lightly. The only reason you did not fulfill this law previously was out of ignorance, not malice. This, coupled with the opinions that schnapps is not a Torah-level transgression, frees you from this penalty. Therefore, you may continue to use your schnapps; it is still considered kosher and will be sold with the rest of your chametz for years to come. L’chayim!

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Passover, selling chametz

Posted on 04 April 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
For the first time, this year, I intend to sell my non-Passover products to a Gentile through a rabbi. This is after attending a class where the rabbi taught that not only can we not eat leavened items on Passover, we can’t even own them (something which I never knew before — despite over six decades of observing Passover!).
What I had trouble understanding was the veracity of the sale: if I know that the Gentile knows — that I know — that he’s not going to really keep all the stuff sold in the synagogue and will be coming in to the rabbi right after the holiday is over to “sell” it back! This looks to me like some kind of subterfuge just to get around the problem! How does this sale fulfill the Torah’s requirement to truly release ownership of your bread-products in keeping with the spirit of the law? I’ve asked this to many and not received a satisfactory answer, so your comments will be much appreciated.
Micheal T.

Dear Micheal,
Great question, one actually raised by early commentaries to the Code of Jewish Law! The answer goes deeply into the crux of the Torah’s requirement to relinquish ownership of chametz, or all leavened products made from the five species of grains.
Any chametz that we own, we are commanded to destroy by burning or in some other way (or to remove from our legal possession, in which case we would not need to destroy it, as the Torah only requires one to destroy chametz he owns. See Exodus 12:15, 17-20).
The Talmud explains the underlying theme of this mitzvah is the Torah’s very stringent attitude toward one who consumes chametz during Pesach. The Torah itself, to help ensure that one would not come to eat that very chametz which is permitted all year, erected “fences” around the prohibition of eating chametz, that one should not even own it or see it in their homes.
What you are referring to, the sale of chametz, is not actually an enactment per se, rather a method devised by the rabbis to essentially remove the chametz from one’s possession through the sale to a non-Jew. It was initially devised to help those who would sustain a considerable loss to destroy their chametz, such as the owner of a liquor store or a flour mill, etc. It later became customary for all Jews, especially as our home storehouses of food have grown considerably over recent years rendering it quite difficult and expensive to remove it or destroy it all.
In order to make sure the sale is real and legally binding, both halachically and by secular law, the rabbis instituted a number of methods of acquisition to be performed between the rabbi (as agent of all those who appointed him to sell their chametz) and the Gentile.
To answer your specific question, there is another act we also do with our chametz, called bitul. Bitul means to declare null and non-existent all chametz still remaining in your possession that you may not have found during your search. This is performed through a special statement uttered the night of bedika (checking) and the morning before Pesach.
This is based upon a statement in the Talmud that the Torah itself proclaimed all Jewish-owned chametz to be essentially ownerless on Pesach, as it forbade any benefit from chametz whatsoever. If so, how could one ever transgress owning chametz if the Torah proclaims it ownerless?
Answers the Talmud, the Torah itself, to emphasize the stringency of chametz, made it as if it is owned by the Jew so that he would commit a transgression if he flagrantly does nothing to remove it from his possession.
To do the act of a sale exhibits one’s desire to have the chametz out of one’s possession, showing that he indeed cares and takes seriously the Torah’s obligation of not owning chametz. Although he will re-acquire it after Pesach, he has upheld the spirit of the law.

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Pain medications for terminal patients

Posted on 28 March 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently came across an interesting moral dilemma. A terminal cancer patient in severe pain was on a very high dosage of opioids. He requested more of the medication for pain control. The physician knew that increasing the dose of the medication would mean the patient would stop breathing, and die. Yet, not increasing the medication would result in the continuation of severe pain, with the patient’s death in a few weeks, anyway. Essentially, administering the higher dose of pain medication would kill the patient; is this allowed?
Thanks,
Yuri, M.D.
Dear Dr. Yuri,
Your question is a very difficult one to decide on a purely moral, or philosophical basis, but one for which we have clear guidelines from our rabbinical leadership, based upon principles taught in the Talmud.
We’ll start with a different situation: A patient has a condition that will only allow him to live temporarily. Jewish law defines this as dying within a year. A treatment is available that, if successful, will enable him to live for many more years; if not successful, it could kill him immediately. Jewish law teaches that the doctor may ethically and morally administer that treatment, and even should do so, although it runs the risk of killing the patient. One can and should run a lethal risk to potentially save a patient’s life.
The authorities apply this reasoning, albeit with a caveat, to a question similar to yours: A patient is terminally ill, has no hope for recovery and is suffering great pain. To administer more pain killer will certainly relieve his pain, but could stop his breathing, causing him to die. In this case, the risk we are taking is not to potentially cure the patient, but to relieve his pain and suffering. Would the above reasoning apply even in this situation?
Rabbi M. Feinstein ob’m ruled that not only can the doctor administer the medicine but is obliged to administer the pain medication despite the risk (Igros Moshe Ch. M. 2:73). Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling is predicated upon the understanding that pain is not innocuous; it is not only a symptom of another condition. Pain is a condition in its own right. The suffering and despair it can cause could render the pain, itself, as a lethal condition. Every doctor knows how profoundly the mental state and emotional well-being of a patient can affect the overall medical condition and the mortality of his sickness, especially as it pertains to intense pain.
We also find a precedent for this in the laws of Shabbos, which require us to desecrate the holiness of Shabbos to save Jewish life. When a patient is deathly ill, one is allowed to desecrate Shabbos to perform actions that will calm the patient or make him/her more comfortable. This is true if they improve the patient’s mental state, even when those actions do not directly affect his/her condition. The Talmud considers the mental state to be directly related to the mortality of the condition.
Rabbi Feinstein concludes that a patient should never be allowed to suffer uncontrollably, even when treating that suffering means a risk of mortality. This ruling, however, carries two important stipulations:
• The medication is given to control the pain, not to kill the patient. We are only allowed to take a risk to take the patient out of his or her suffering, not to administer a medication that would clearly kill the patient or with the intention of hastening his or her death.
• The medication must be administered by an expert, who will know how to manage the therapy in a way that will minimize the risk of the suppression of breathing; this is not an area to be trusted to a student or amateur.
Your situation would, then, not be permitted, as we never have the license to take the life of a patient, and you said that the physician knows the dose requested by the patient will take his life.
Although watching the suffering of another is a profoundly difficult thing to endure, it is an area where we need to entrust the suffering of the patient to the just judgment of God, whose ways we do not always understand. We well know we cannot switch roles with Him.

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3 questions for Purim

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

Hi Rabbi,
I have three questions regarding Purim:
1. I know that we have a mitzvah to make a feast on Purim because we survived the attempt of physical bodily destruction. What I don’t understand is why our celebration needs to be a drinking party? Is it perhaps a resemblance to King Ahasuerus’ party, for which, for their participation, the Jews were decreed complete annihilation?
2. Why did Mordechai encourage Esther to commit adultery with Ahasuerus, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps this was because Mordechai felt her role was to save the entirety of the Jewish people? Does that make this OK?
3. Why was a special decree needed for the Jews to fight back against their enemies? They were still under attack. Couldn’t they defend themselves without a decree allowing them to do so? I would have considered it a much greater accomplishment for Mordechai and Esther if they could have gotten the decree of annihilation rescinded rather than keeping it in place and just having a counter-decree to fight back!
Thanks,
Judah
Dear Judah,
Three great questions!
You may have heard of the famous summary of all Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!
1. You are correct that on Purim we have a mitzvah to eat a joyous meal which is our way of celebrating the miraculous rescue from the first attempt at the “final solution,” first suggested by Haman, a member of Amalek (the progenitors of the Germans/Nazis).
We celebrate our physical rescue in a physical way, as opposed to Hanukkah when we celebrate in a spiritual way (lighting candles), as that was a spiritual, ideological battle.
The drinking a bit more than one is accustomed to (to say the least!) is to fulfill the Talmudic injunction to “eat and drink until one doesn’t know the difference between the curses of Haman and the blessings of Mordechai.”
On one level, this is to come to the realization that even when things seem to be going badly, ultimately it is for the good. Even when God seems to have forsaken us completely, He is always still there behind the scenes to protect us from complete annihilation. God’s love for us, although at times it is hidden, is always present. There are even deeper meanings of this, which we can’t get into here.
2. You are correct about the permissibility of Mordechai sending Esther to be married to the king despite her being married to Mordechai (according to one opinion in the Talmud). The commentaries explain, as you surmise, that although relations with a married woman is something that one needs to forfeit his or her life for rather than transgress (as this is one of the three cardinal sins), nevertheless when it involves the rescue of a multitude of Jews, and certainly the entire Jewish people, it is allowed.
3. The Megillah relates that, when asked to rescind his decree, King Ahasuerus replied that “a royal decree cannot be retracted.”
Mordechai and Esther felt that if the decree was still in full force without a counter-decree to defend themselves, the Jews would cower, rather than attempt to fight an enemy who were attacking them with the full license of the king. So, they sought to, at the very least, have royal permission granted to fight back to give the Jews the confidence that they could destroy their enemies, the Amalekites, without worrying about retribution from the king.
This confidence, coupled with their renewed trust in God, gave the Jews the resolve and determination to overcome their enemies.
May we continue to renew that trust in God and overcome the hardships of exile and all our enemies that seek to destroy us today.
A joyous Purim to you and all the readers! L’chaim!

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Here’s a question; do you have an answer?

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Dear Friends,
I would like to put before you a question I recently received, and, before I offer an answer, I would be interested in challenging the readers to get your feedback and thoughts about the following query.
I’m looking forward to your responses!
– Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, yfried@sbcglobal.net
Hi Rabbi,
I understand there is a Torah imperative to give to one’s fellow Jew and I had the following question:
Is the obligation to give to my friend what he wants or is the obligation to give to my friend what would be best for his service of Hashem? (God)
Scenario 1:
Let’s say my Jewish friend (religious or secular) appreciates being praised for his talents and abilities, such as being smart or handsome, because he defines his value based on these characteristics. If my obligation is to give him what he wants, then it would seem to be advisable that I praise him for being smart and handsome.
But if the obligation is to give him what would be best for his service of Hashem (in the case of my secular Jewish friend, the “potential” service of Hashem) then it would seem to be advisable that I not praise him as my praise would simply reinforce the false notion that his value and success is a function of results, when from a Jewish perspective, his true value and success is a function of his effort in performing Hashem’s will.
Indeed, according to this understanding, there would seem to be little room for any praise from a Torah perspective, as praising my friend’s results would be reinforcing this false notion of success and praising my friend’s effort in performing Hashem’s will is very difficult to do as I can’t see his effort and therefore don’t know how much effort he is putting forth!
Scenario 2:
My Jewish friend (religious or secular) comes over to my house and would like something to eat. Let’s assume he would much prefer that I give him cake/cookies over salad/fruit as he loves indulging in sugar and carbohydrates. If the obligation is to give him what he wants, then it would follow that I should give him the cake/cookies.
But if the obligation is to give him what would be best for his service of Hashem ((in the case of my secular Jewish friend, the “potential” service of Hashem) then it would seem to follow that I should give him the salad/fruit.
Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank you for your time and effort!
Sammy

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Beyond treif symbolism, pork has added significance

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve often wondered, if there are many animals which are forbidden by Jewish dietary laws, such as horses, dogs, cats and many others, then why is pork considered the classic symbol of “treif”? Is there something more “treif” about pork than all the others?
– Shawn P.
Dear Shawn,
Sorry, I can’t resist! There were once a rabbi and a priest having breakfast together; the rabbi was having scrambled eggs and the priest, bacon and eggs. The priest suddenly exclaimed, “You know, Rabbi, this bacon is so delicious! The Lord gave us the pleasures of this world to enjoy them, not refrain from them. When are you finally going to taste some bacon?” The rabbi replied, “At your wedding, Father!”
The Torah gives two signs which signify that an animal is kosher: that they chew their cud and they have split hooves. All animals lacking these two signs are “treif,” or non-kosher. The Torah further cites four examples of animals which present only one of these two signs: The camel, hyrax and hare all chew their cud but do not have split hooves, and are therefore not kosher. The pig is the opposite, it has split hooves but does not chew its cud, and therefore also not kosher. (See Leviticus 11:1-8.)
The early Sages noticed this distinction between the pig and the first three animals; what does it teach us about these animals?
They explain that the “kosher sign” of the first three, chewing their cud, is internal. Internally they are kosher, but externally they are not, and therefore cannot be consumed as we need both. The pig, however, is internally not kosher; its very essence is “treif”; it’s only on the outside that it presents itself with the appearance of being kosher.
The rabbis cite a verse which compares Esau to the “pig of the forest.” Esau presents himself as being righteous, excelling in the honoring of his father, tithing foods that don’t require tithing such as salt, but inside harbors a hatred toward true holiness and to his brother Jacob, who represents holiness and sanctity in every aspect of life. The Sages remark that Esau, like the pig, holds out its paw and proclaims: “Look at me, I’m kosher!” In reality, however, he’s rotten to the core. The Amalekite nation, which the Talmud places as the forefathers of the Germans, traces back to the lineage of Esau. It was the most cultured of nations, the most polite and polished on the outside, that gave birth to the Nazi fascists who committed the most heinous of crimes ever known to mankind as a result of their hatred for us deep inside.
The rabbis further explain that the Jews were destined, from the time of creation, to suffer four exiles among the nations. The first three, the Babylonian, Persian-Median and Greek exiles, correspond to the first three animals mentioned above. These three were clearly and obviously idolatrous nations. They are linked to the state of the Jews of that time. The three cardinal sins were at the root of the First Temple’s destruction and subsequent exiles: idolatry, murder and illicit relations. These were clear and open sins, and they were subjugated to nations which were openly sinful.
The reason for the Second Temple’s destruction and subsequent exile was far less clear; the true reason was hidden, since on the surface the Jews seemed to be very observant. Only through prophecy did we learn that their deep-down hatred for one another was the reason for the destruction. That’s why the fourth destruction was by the hand of the Edomites, the great-grandchildren of Esau, the pig. They claimed to be righteous, and gave birth to Western civilization, of which many claim to be the “real Jews,” extending their “kosher hoofs,” but with something rotten to the core — the core which has wrought pogroms, crusades, inquisitions and the unspeakable Holocaust.
Your question comes at a great time. March in Dallas is “Kosher Month,” when you can join Dallas Kosher and the entire Dallas Jewish community to learn more about kosher! Just check out dallaskosher.com and join the fun!

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Understanding abortion in the Torah and Talmud

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
It has been my understanding that Orthodox Judaism is pro-life, and abortions are prohibited. Yet, I recently learned about an Orthodox woman who was granted permission by her rabbis to have an abortion. What is the Orthodox view on abortion?
Jessica M.
Dear Jessica,
The recent passing of the New York abortion law has churned up much discussion as to how to ethically view abortion. But neither the standard interpretation of pro-life or pro-choice accurately describes the Torah viewpoint.
The simple answer is that, in Judaism, the question of abortion is a very complicated one and, in part, depends upon the stage of the pregnancy.
Of course, the Torah is pro-life, as Deuteronomy 30:19 supports choosing life; we also value life over nearly all values. Yet, even the most important of Torah laws are trumped by even the slightest concern of danger to life. For example, Talmud Yoma 82a rules that danger to life supersedes Yom Kippur, Shabbat and other mitzvos, besides the three cardinal sins.
The popular concept of pro-choice, which puts the decision of whether to or not to discontinue a pregnancy in the hands of the mother, does not jibe with the Torah decision-making process.
However, the Catholic edict that one can never terminate a pregnancy, even to save the life of the mother, is equally at odds with traditional Torah thought and practice. To say that a mother can herself decide matters of life and death for her fetus — a life in its own right — based on her own rationale, convenience or other reasons would run contrary to the entire process by which matters of life and death are decided in Jewish law.
Judaism considers the unnecessary termination of the life of a fetus to be murder, albeit a category of murder not punishable in a court of law.
This applies from the 40th day of conception, since according to Jewish tradition the soul enters the body of the fetus on that day. From then and forward, the fetus is deemed a living human being. Before the 40th day, according to most opinions, killing a fetus is a lesser transgression than murder, but a transgression nonetheless, unless a number of criteria are fulfilled.
There are, however, situations where the health or the life of the mother is sufficiently compromised by the fetus. In such situations, Torah law allows us, or requires us, to intervene.
The Talmud discusses the case of a woman whose pregnancy put her life in danger, where the Mishna (Yoma 82a) ruled to terminate the pregnancy in order to save her life. The rationale given by the Talmud and Maimonides is based upon a distinction between the the mother’s “complete life” vis-à-vis the fetus’ life, which is considered only a “partial life.”
Consequently the mother’s life, when endangered by pregnancy, trumps that of the fetus, and the performance of an abortion is indicated. Once, however, the head or the majority of the body of the fetus is presented, the mother and baby are then considered as equals, and one life doesn’t supersede the other.
There are additional difficult and thorny questions that arise, such as if the fetus is a carrier of a genetic disease, or the pregnancy results from rape. Such cases must be referred to a competent rabbinic authority that is well-versed in this specific area of Jewish law, to discuss the option of abortion.
One message that is clear from Jewish law is, we do not have a “fundamental right” to control our bodies, and a woman does not have such a “right” which allows her to terminate her pregnancy at will.
This world view is totally at odds with the New York abortion law.
Although there is much to debate about the specifics of this law and in what cases might Jewish law conform, the overall outlook on both the ownership of our bodies and the definition of abortion as just another medical condition, is diametrically opposed to the timeless truths of Torah, the truths passed down to us by the very Creator of our bodies, which are endowed with the reproductive powers, enabling the creation of life we call a fetus.

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Should pleasure be minimized? Or not?

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your elaborate response clarifying the concept of comfort and pleasure, which was published in last week’s TJP.
As a follow-up, when I engage in pleasure, it is not for the purpose of enjoying God’s gifts, as indicated, but rather out of pure desire. I think this makes me more materialistic which, in turn, hurts my service toward Hashem.
As far as “giving one joy to better fulfill mitzvos,” this would seem to imply that engaging in pleasure is simply a necessary means so as to enable one to perform direct service of Hashem through Torah learning, mitzvos and others, at the highest level. If this is the case, this would line up with my suggestion that it would be best, through a baby-step approach, for one to minimize one’s engagement in pleasure, thereby minimizing the amount of pleasure one needs to be a happy and content person. This in turn, would eventually present maximum time, money and energy dedicated to the service of Hashem.
Based on the points above, wouldn’t it be ideal for someone like myself to minimize pleasure through a baby-step approach, thereby maximizing my efforts toward the service of Hashem?
Thank you again!
Sammy
Dear Sammy,
As we elaborated in the past columns, refraining from physical pleasures is not necessarily the Jewish ideal, as God created pleasures to be enjoyed. There is, however, a level that you describe for individuals who seek a higher existence.
It would be very dangerous for one to embark on such a path without proper guidance, however. A template to what you are asking is outlined in the classical Jewish philosophical and practical guide to Jewish growth, the “Mesillas Yesharim.” This was written by the renowned 18th-century sage R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, first published in Amsterdam in 1738, and known in English as “Path of the Just,” Feldheim Publishing Company.
This unique and profound work is one of the foundational treatises of the “Mussar Movement,” which we discussed in previous columns. This Jewish scholarly movement focuses on character growth, self-improvement and utilizing the mitzvos to “climb the ladder” to a higher and closer connection to God. That “ladder,” its rungs and how one is able to climb it, is outlined and elucidated in great detail.
Among other suggestions which flow from a profound understanding of the world and man’s place and purpose in it, Mesillas Yesharim deals with the proper attitude toward pleasures: the extent that one should seek them or be involved in them when they present themselves. Luzzatto often explained that the attitude toward pleasure depended on what rung of the ladder on which the individual stood.
While this work is recommended if you are sincerely seeking a path of growth in the spiritual realm, I would caution you to do so under the guidance of a Torah scholar to whom you can address your questions.
Although Luzzatto’s teachings are timeless and, indeed, are a pillar of Jewish thought, many people today are not truly at the levels he discusses. If you study this work slowly and deeply you may, however, truly find the path you seek.
The only other practical advice I would offer is something first offered in the classical 13th-century guide to repentance, “Shaarei Teshuva” by Rabbi Yonah of Girondi, Italy, in the essay “Yesod Hateshuva.” Quoting the holy sage Ravad, Yonah suggests a new type of “fast,” though he suggests we should not refrain from foods that the Torah allowed and encourages us to enjoy.
However, as gluttonous eating is the source for many spiritual and emotional downfalls, one should not eat until one is overly full. But rather than completely finishing off a good meal and cleaning the plate, leave a small amount to the side as a “fast,” to demonstrate you are in control of your desires. Because you do this to gain strength to serve God, such a “fast” is more beloved by God than even the offerings brought in the Holy Temple. That is because, unlike the offerings one could only bring from time to time, you bring this “offering” day in and day out. With it comes the strength to serve the Almighty in every situation.
This is known in scholarly circles as “Ravad’s Taanis,” or the “fast of the Raavad.” Perhaps this is something you could try, in conjunction with the study of the Mesillas Yesharim, and you will find a healthy and satisfying path to growth.

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The positive sides of pleasure in Judaism

Posted on 14 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you so much for the response concerning pleasure in last week’s TJP. I have a couple of follow-up questions:
1) The more comfort one engages in, the more one’s desire for comfort increases. The more one’s desire for comfort increases, the more likely one will be to serve himself than Hashem. Doesn’t logic dictate that it would be best for both man and Hashem if the former minimizes his comfort as much as possible? If so, more time, energy and money will be available to serve Hashem which will, in turn, generate more of the ultimate good for man.
2) The Mishna in Pirkei Avos 6:4 seems to corroborate the above logic: “Such is the way [of a life] of Torah: You shall eat bread with salt, and rationed water shall you drink; you shall sleep on the ground, your life will be one of privation, and in Torah shall you labor. If you do this, ‘Happy shall you be and it shall be good for you… Happy shall you be in this world, and it shall be good for you in the world to come.’”
How does your analysis fit with this Mishna?
Thank you for the help!
Sammy
Dear Sammy,
I will start by addressing your second question first.
There are commentaries who explain the Mishna you reference not to mean that one should strive to live that way. Rather, that if one finds himself in dire straits, he should still be willing to toil in study of Torah. That would be the application of the Mishna for most people.
So, the answer to your first point is that it is not a Jewish ideal, for the vast majority, to strive towards asceticism. It is, in fact, considered sinful to live an ascetic life. This is why, for example, a Nazirite is required to bring a sin offering at the end of his or her period of Nazirus, because they vowed not to drink wine during that period. Additionally, additional prohibitions should not be added upon oneself beyond those already mandated in the Torah. See Numbers Ch. 6 and Talmud Tractate Nazir 19a for additional information.
In this way, among others, Judaism is in direct opposition to the philosophy of Catholicism, which lauds asceticism and holds that to be holy, one needs to refrain from the pleasures of this world, such as the life of a monk, or most priests who refrain from marriage as it represents sin. From the Jewish standpoint, a life of refraining from marriage and its pleasures is considered a sin.
That being said, you are correct that one can easily become overly engaged in pleasures that could pull him or her away from spiritual pursuits and into a life of physicality. Our sages teach that the antidote to that concern depends on one’s mindfulness when engaging in any sort of pleasure.
When one engages in pleasure for pleasure’s sake, as an end in and of itself, it carries the concern you voiced in your question. Pleasures have the potential of becoming addictive and becoming one’s life pursuit, not a positive thing.
If, however, one has in mind to enjoy this world as a vehicle for enjoying God’s gifts, and to give oneself the joy to better fulfill mitzvos, to study Torah, to be a positive force in the world and better help others as a happy and content individual, the life’s pleasures take on a spiritual perspective. If one enjoys a deliciously prepared steak to bring honor to the Shabbos, the consumption of that steak itself becomes a mitzvah. When one takes the family to a beautiful national park to enjoy the creations of God and to bring the family closer together, that trip becomes a mitzvah.
Such pleasures don’t carry the potential of addiction to bigger and better pleasures, or a movement away from spiritual pursuits. The pleasures themselves enhance one’s spirituality, leading to higher goals and aspirations. This is the beauty of Torah.

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