Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Storm prompts our contemplation of wonders

Posted on 13 June 2019 by admin

Dear Friends,
We are sitting without power for the third day and expecting to be so for another couple of days — some five days (hopefully not more!) without power — due to the Sunday event which “took Dallas by a storm.” As the Rebbetzin and I entertained our guests by candlelight during the holiday of Shavuot, until now seeing some of the more serious devastation wrought upon many, it has been a special time for thought and contemplation.
My first thought was tremendous thanks and appreciation to the Al-mighty for sparing our community what could have easily been much worse devastation. Although many of us have had to trash food which has thawed in our freezers and refrigerators, that’s a very small loss compared to the many whose homes were crushed by the falling trees and winds. Just thinking about what our friends in Houston endured not long ago made me appreciate what did not happen here.
As my wife mentioned, perhaps as a community we need to do some soul searching to think about what the “message” is to us…
Another thought was — as a student mentioned to me — the extent of our frailty. A bit of wind and everything could be gone in the blink of an eye. How could we be haughty after contemplating that?!
Another feeling which struck us was the unbelievable power of God. When the storm began we recited, upon hearing the thunder, the special bracha which praises God, “ … Whose power and strength fill the world.” Seeing afterward how He snaps powerful trees like matchsticks is an overwhelming feeling upon contemplation.
Finally, how great are our people! The moment the word was out that many of us were without power, so many around us offered us and our neighbors to come over for a meal, sleep over, use their freezers to transfer our food and more. “Mi k’amcha Yisrael!”
May we use this opportunity for thought, contemplation and growth, to learn important messages which make it all worthwhile.

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Shavuot: minor holiday?

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
This year we were invited to an observant family’s home for a meal on the eve of the holiday of Shavuot. We are sort of nervous since we don’t know much about it, and don’t want to sound ignorant at their table. Is Shavuot a minor holiday? Could you “fill us in”?
Noah & Sarena
Dear Noah and Sarena,
This year Shavuot begins Saturday night, June 8, and continues through nightfall Monday, June 10 (in the Diaspora; in Israel it ends a day earlier).
Shavuot is the day the Jewish people celebrate the anniversary of God giving us the Torah. It occurs on the 6th of the Jewish month of Sivan and commemorates the anniversary of our nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai over 3,000 years ago.
Shavuot is actually not a “minor holiday” but is mentioned in the Torah numerous times. (Just for the record, although it seems to be a common concept, there actually is no notion of a minor holiday in Judaism. There are Torah-mandated holidays, and later, rabbinically-mandated holidays, such as Purim and Chanukah, but even those are not considered “minor.” All the holidays, regardless of their theme, are considered of the highest importance and all made it to the “major” leagues.)
Shavuot is observed for two days in the Diaspora, one day in Israel. Its laws are similar to that of Shabbat, with certain exceptions. There is a custom to eat dairy at one of the Shavuot meals. One of the reasons for this custom is that Torah is compared to milk and honey, which is the epitome of sweetness. When the Jews received the Torah, God revealed that Torah is the greatest enjoyment and ecstasy which is available in this world. It is a piece of the next world available to taste in this world; a transcendental, eternal pleasure which dwarfs all the transient, physical pleasures which the world has to offer.
Although Shavuot is such a critical holiday, the source of our nationhood by God’s presenting us with His mission as a nation, don’t be embarrassed by not knowing much about it. You’re in good company; I have found that many Jews who are very cognizant about Passover or Chanukah have no idea about Shavuot. I think one reason for this is that the other holidays have some tangible object around which the holiday revolves. Pesach has its matzo, refraining from bread and the entire Seder experience. Sukkot has its sukkah, etrog and lulav. Chanukah has its menorah, and Purim has the Megillah and all the joyous festivities which accompany it.
Shavuot, on the other hand, has no such concrete, touchable item or ritual article upon which to focus the celebration. It’s all about a concept: the receiving of the Torah. All the other holidays are available in their celebration even to Jews who may not study Torah. The main celebration of Shavuot, besides the usual holiday meals and cheesecake, is the study of Torah. It is customary in congregations worldwide for many to spend a portion of Shavuot night, even the entire night, in the study of Torah. The greatest celebration of Torah is Torah!
This custom, together with the cognizance of the holiday itself, fell by the wayside when a large segment of our people were no longer students of the Torah. Sadly, the “People of the Book” closed the book.
It is a well-known adage that throughout Jewish history any community, albeit observant, that did not maintain institutions of Jewish learning assimilated within two-three generations. Less observant communities that remained staunch in their study of Torah always endured, as the rabbis of the Talmud explain, “the light within it (the Torah) will return them to the path.”
One of my mentors once related an incident which transpired when a friend of his visited pre-perestroika Russia. Customs asked him the reason for his visit; he answered, “Tourist.” They opened his suitcases and emptied out the contents: mezuzos, shofars, tallitot, many pairs of tefillin, and books on the Torah. They said, wryly, “Tourist, huh?” They returned back to the suitcases all the religious items but held back the books. They told him, you can have all this stuff, but the books, “those are the enemies of the people.” Those customs officials realized that the strength of the Jewish people comes from their study of Torah. Let us realize it as well and may this Shavuot holiday be for you and all of us a renewed acceptance of the study of Torah!
One more idea
The Torah describes the Jews at Sinai “and the nation encamped across from the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). The encampment adjacent to the mountain is expressed in the singular (vayichan), not in the plural (veyachanu), which is incorrect for a group of people. Why did the Torah use a word that seems to be incorrect?
The sages explain that something very significant is being hinted to by that subtle change of referring to the Jewish people in the singular. This was the only time in Jewish history that the entire nation was together with no dispute, like one person with one heart!
Why was this so? If we are so prone to divisions and arguments, how were we able to be completely and totally united when receiving the Torah?
The Torah is the great uniter of our people. Every Jewish soul is connected to a letter, line or crown of a letter of the Torah. Only a Torah which is complete, with no letters missing, is kosher. Only a totally united Jewish people is complete, all Jews connecting the lines, letters and crowns of their souls into one huge Torah scroll which is the Jewish nation. The Jews understood at Sinai that without complete participation the Torah will not be brought down from Above and be presented to them, because any Jewish soul which would not participate would constitute an incomplete Torah scroll. The Jews, therefore, went beyond all divisions, accepting the yoke of Torah as one soul, with all Jewish hearts beating in unison in their acceptance of Torah!
This is a very profound message for us today.
Unfortunately, there are many divisions in our people. The best way Jews can repair their divisions and reunite is to study Torah together. We are reminded of the profound words Senator Joe Lieberman once said many years ago: “Although we can’t necessarily all pray together, why can’t we all study together?”
Shavuot is a time to join a study session, a class or program! By doing so, one joins hands with hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world who are also studying Torah on this day. You are also being a link to the millions of Jews who have done so over the generations from Sinai, linking the past generations with the future.
Furthermore, by joining such a session, we express an acceptance to increase our Torah study and Jewish literacy throughout the year, much as the Jews accepted upon themselves the yoke of Torah for all time over 3300 years ago.

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During Omer, focus on self-improvement

Posted on 23 May 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,

Thank you for answering my recent question concerning the counting of the Omer. I was fascinated by the point you made at the end of your remarks, that one can connect, during this seven-week period, to the seven Kabbalistic sefiros. Could you please elaborate on that point?

Thanks again,

Marc

Dear Marc,

Rabbi Yaacov Haber, in his work “Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer,” sums it up the best. The energy that God uses to create the world can be likened to a bright light. This light is so bright and so complex we cannot even begin to comprehend it in its totality. White light breaks down into seven different colors when we shine it through a prism. Similarly, we can begin to understand God’s connection with the world by understanding seven aspects of His interaction with mankind and creation.

In Jewish thought, these seven aspects are seven of the 10 sefiros. In Hebrew, a sefira means a sphere, but its root, safar, is also the foundation of the words story, number and boundary. Thus, the sefiros divide the infinite unity of God into perceivable parts, enabling us to read the story of creation and subsequent unfolding of history and Jewish life.

The seven sefiros connected to the 49 days (seven times seven, of counting the Omer from Passover until Shavuos) are the following:

1. Chesed/kindness

2. Gevurah/strength or restraint

3. Tiferes/glory or harmony

4. Netzach/eternity or victory

5. Hod/splendor or beauty

6. Yesod/foundation

7. Malchus/kingship

These seven categories of God’s interaction with the world break down to 49 subcategories (seven times seven). Each attribute combines with all six other attributes. For example, chesed shebachesed (kindness within kindness), kindness within kindness, gevurah shebachesed (restraint within kindness), and so on. Just as the wavelengths of light move from red to violet, so too the sefiros appear to us in a certain prismic order, reflecting the full range of God’s actions in the world. These range from pure kindness at one end of the spectrum, to kinship on the opposite end.

Mankind is created in the image of God. Therefore, these traits and behaviors of God are also our potential behaviors. During these 49 days we not only can study how God interacts with the world, but how we interact with the world. We can learn how to act like and emulate God.

The Kabbalists revealed that the specific aspect of each day of the counting of sefira allows us to perfect that sefira within ourselves. In examining these behaviors, we not only gain a deeper, more beautiful understanding of God, but we gain profound insights into ourselves. For as much as the sefiros reveal about God Himself, they also hold the key to understanding what it means to be created in God’s image.

Furthermore, the keys to opening, maintaining and repairing our relationships with others are also held within these behaviors. In the process of examining the sefiros, we perceive the eternal bond that ties us to God, as well as the equally strong bond that ties us to each other.

This is our goal during this period; to appreciate the way God interacts with the world it is necessary for us to act in a Godly manner. This is the way we prepare to “receive the Torah” every year on the holiday of Shavuos.

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The Omer: countdown between Passover and Shavuot, explained

Posted on 20 May 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
In our Haggadah which we used for our Seder this year, it says, “On the second night of Passover, we begin counting the Omer.” No one attending our Seder had previously heard of this practice. Could you give us some insight?
Sincerely,
Mark

Dear Mark,
The Jewish people’s journey toward nationhood began on Passover. The Exodus redeemed them from physical slavery and subjugation, but they still lacked a national identity and purpose. This was conferred upon them only later, when the Jewish people heard the words of God at Mount Sinai (Exodus Ch. 19-20). In those moments, the newly formed nation obtained its spiritual identity and national calling through the Torah, and the redemption was complete.
This world-altering event, the revelation of the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai, took place on the seventh day of the Jewish month of Sivan, in the year 2448 (1313 BCE). Every year, the anniversary of that revelation is celebrated as the festival called Shavuot.
The Torah emphasizes the link between Passover and Shavuot through the commandment of “Counting the Omer,” or Sefiras HaOmer. We count the days and weeks from the second day of Passover until the festival of Shavuot. We begin the counting only on the second night of Passover, not on the first, so as not to detract from the celebration and joy of the Exodus, as noted in Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 306.
Sefiras HaOmer refers to the Omer offering of newly harvested barley that was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on 16 Nissan, the second day of Passover, as outlined in Leviticus.
Leviticus also notes that, in contrast to the Passover offering of barley, the offering on Shavuot was bread made from wheat flour. What is the significance of this change from barley to wheat?
The Sages explain that barley is often used as animal fodder, while wheat is predominantly for human consumption; bread is an exclusively human food. Thus, as we count from Passover to Shavuot, we also mark our spiritual progression from slavery to our material, animalistic passions, to the increasingly human realm of free will, intellect and attachment to God. Through the counting of 49 days, we count our elevation, day by day, into the realm of Torah life and our growth as a mensch.
The Kabbalists also explain that the 49 days of counting, comprising seven weeks of seven days, represent the epitome of the physical world. The number seven in Judaism represents physicality. The multiple of seven times seven is the epitome of that concept.
The Jews had sunk to 49 levels of impurity during their sojourn in Egypt. Egypt, itself, was at the level of 50, the point of no return. The Jews needed to leave immediately at that point, because to tarry any further endangered them to sinking to the point of no return. Hence, there was no time for the bread to rise, leading to matzo.
The rising of the bread, the chametz, represents the inclination to haughtiness and evil. By leaving with great alacrity to fulfill God’s command they stopped the “rising of the bread,” the inclination toward evil, in its tracks.
The following 49 days were devoted to growing and acquiring positive character traits, one by one, day by day. At Day 49, the Jews had perfected themselves and freed themselves of the 49 levels of impurity, and were ready to receive the Torah. On Day 50, they entered the spiritual realm, which transcends the physical, the square multiple of seven, into the realm which is diametrically opposed to the negative “50” of Egypt. This is the world of Sinai, of Torah, of the Almighty. This is the real purpose of our redemption on Passover; hence it begins with, and connects to, the Haggadah.

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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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