Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Intellectual pursuit important in Judaism

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Over the past year, I read all the books I could on the topic of Judaism versus other religions. It did not take long to decide Christianity is illogical. I don’t find it bothers me that it is the largest religion because they “just believe.” They are no different from the vast majority of my Jewish friends in yeshiva who “just believe” what they hear without putting much thought into it. Do you feel there’s any difference?
— Aryeh
Dear Aryeh,
We need to draw a vital distinction between the fact that Christians “just believe” and that many of your friends in yeshiva “just believe.” It is true that, when you compare people to people, the masses that accept things at face value without putting thought into it and do things by rote, you may not find much difference. They are oftentimes buying into different belief systems by rote. If many of them would have happened to have been switched and brought up by the families of the opposite beliefs, many would probably fall right in line with whatever is being taught to them. That does not show a similarity in the belief systems, rather a similarity in some of the people following them.
When it comes to the actual systems of belief, however, they could not be more diametrically opposed in their outlooks, especially with regard to taking their beliefs for granted! Often in certain branches of Christianity, to “just believe” is meritorious. Numerous times former Christians have approached me to discuss conversion to Judaism because they were not allowed to ask questions! When they would approach their religious leaders with difficulties about their religion, contradictions in teachings and the like, they were dealt with like heretics or told they need to “just believe” and not ask questions.
For some reason, otherwise inquisitive people, even people of science who are rigorous in their criticisms of scientific theories and in their peer reviews of the ideas and postulates of their colleagues, see fit to have a double standard about religion. They have been brought up since their youth that, with regard to religion, you are required to “just believe.” With regards to much of Christianity, to “just believe” is not a lack of effort by the masses; it goes to the heart of the belief system.
The Torah and Judaism, however, could not be more diametrically opposed to that outlook. The first thing a child is taught, at the Pesach Seder, is to ask questions! We have an entire, vast Talmud which consists largely of rigorous challenges to anything and everything stated, whether in verses, Mishnah, rabbinical statements, even acts of the Al-mighty! Our greatest teacher of all time, Moshe, strongly challenged God on some of His actions, and God accepted his challenges — not only without rebuke, but He changed many of His decrees due to Moshe’s challenges! We also point out the mistakes and misdeeds of our greatest leaders, those of Abraham, Moshe and others.
With regards to our essential belief system, the monumental work Daas Tevunos by the esteemed sage R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Italy 1700s) writes that we have an obligation to not take our beliefs at face value, rather to delve deeply into them, challenge them and come to a deep understanding — an understanding that sits well in our hearts and satisfies the inquisitive, intellectual part of our souls.
Most people, many of the friends you mention, may not be so intellectually inclined and they’re satisfied, perhaps, with what we call emunah peshuta, or simple belief. I’m not out to judge them, but that’s the people, not the religion. As a religion, certainly anyone who has an intellectual side to them needs to work on achieving a profound understanding of everything Jewish.

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Why God’s name is missing in Esther

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently heard a talk where the lecturer was challenging the choice to include the Book of Esther in the Tanach since the name of God doesn’t appear in the entire book, unlike other books of the Tanach, which would imply that it is a secular work and not fit for the Tanach.
Do you have an explanation why it is included?
Bart W.
Dear Bart,
The Talmudic sages address this question, and explain that whenever the Book of Esther says “the King” without the name Ahasuerus, it is hinting to “The” King, the Al-mighty. This, however, is also strange; why, in fact would it only “hint” to God and not come straight out and say His Name?
The answer goes to the crux of the Purim story and message. The Talmud says that the hint in the Torah that there will one day be an Esther and a Purim story is in a verse which foretells the future downfall of the Jews when they will sin and will be presented with tremendous trials and tribulations: “… and they will say because God is not with among us that these tribulations are befalling us, and I will surely hide My Face from them on that day” (Deuteronomy 31:18). The word I will “hide” My Face in the verse is pronounced astir but written without a yud; it has the same spelling in Hebrew as “Esther”!
Unlike Pesach and the other holidays which celebrate great miracles by which we were redeemed, the events of Purim were in the category of “hidden miracles.” It was clear to all that the 10 plagues were an act of God; the splitting of the sea was obviously an open miracle. What transpired in Shushan over a period of nearly a decade, with many of the events seemingly antithetical to what was good for the Jews, was not at all clear to anyone as to what was happening. It was only at the end that the Jews realized, after piecing together these events, that they were pieces of an intricate puzzle which made a big picture. That picture told a thousand words: that God still loves the Jews even as they have sunken to their lowest spiritual level and have distanced themselves greatly from their Creator.
The commentaries point out that any time God’s Name appears in Tanach, it means at that moment God revealed Himself to those involved in the story. Since in the Purim story God was controlling events from behind the scenes, His Name doesn’t appear; only a hint in the form of “The King.” It was upon us to delve more deeply into these events and to realize that the actions of the lowly King Ahasuerus are ultimately in the Hands of a Higher King.
The Vilna Gaon, some 250 years ago, explained this with the following parable: A rich and powerful king showered innumerable gifts upon his only son, who quickly began to become spoiled and haughty, to the ire of many in the palace who craved his demise. One day the prince was so brazen as to slap his father in the face! At that moment, the king realized that all the warnings of his advisors were true and he needed to teach his son an important lesson. He would banish him to the dark, dreary forest to get the message. Knowing how many were savoring the opportunity to finish the prince off, the king called his closest confidants and instructed them to protect his son that no harm should befall him. He wanted to teach him a lesson, not find him dead. They must, however, in no way let the prince know they were sent by the king!
The prince entered the forest thinking his time is near. Soon thereafter he saw a man brandishing a large knife running in his direction. At the last moment, he heard an arrow swish by, taking down his would-be killer. The next day the prince found himself surrounded on four sides by huge men, and as they closed in on him, he heard the quiet swishes of arrows and all four men fell. Like the day before, he looked around to see who saved him and saw no one. He thought, what a lucky break twice in a row! On the third day, he knew it was all over when he was being charged by a huge bear and, again, a few arrows took it down at the last moment. But, no one was to be seen!
The prince then sat under a tree and began to contemplate. Once, twice, could have been good luck. Three times in a row is more than good luck. Someone was looking out for him. Who could it be?! Surely not his father, for he now hates him after slapping him in the face. But, there’s nobody else out there with the power to do this…could it actually be his father after all? It must be, showing that he still loves him despite what he did! The prince, upon realizing this, began to weep and resolved to ask forgiveness and change his ways, which he soon did.
We also slapped God “in the face” by performing the sins which got us banished from our Land to the dark, dreary and dangerous forest of the Diaspora, with many wanting our demise. With the decree of Haman, the first “final solution,” we thought we were finished. Then we saw that our Father, the King, still loves us and was protecting us behind the scenes despite the chutzpah we had shown Him. We learned the lesson which instilled into our hearts even a deeper love than when we were in the palace, in our Land with the Temple. We went from a time of mourning to a time of great joy and celebration.
This is why God’s name is absent in the Book of Esther, but why it very much belongs in the Tanach!
A joyous and meaningful Purim to all!

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Purim’s joy heightened by reversal of certain death

Posted on 02 March 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I always have trouble feeling joyous on Purim. That salvation happened thousands of years ago, and we have had so many troubles since then and have scores of problems now here at home and in Israel. Any suggestions?
— Martin W.
Dear Martin,
The miracle of Purim was one of a great “Reversal.” What was going to be our destruction became our redemption. Just when Haman went to the king to have Mordechai deposed, he became the very one who was ordered to lead the Jewish leader through the streets of the capital, according him the greatest honors. The enormous gallows he erected to have Mordechai hanged was the very same gallows he himself was hanged upon. The date that the Amalekites had decreed to kill every last Jewish man, woman and child became the very same day that their enemies were destroyed. The Megillah of Esther calls the month of Adar “the month that was reversed, from sorrow to rejoicing, from mourning to festival” (9:22).
The precedent to this phenomenon was the episode of Balaam, the Gentile prophet who, in the employ of the wicked Balak, sought to decimate the Jewish people by curse (Numbers Ch. 22-24). Instead, all of his curses were reversed into blessings. “But HaShem, your God, refused to listen to Balaam, and HaShem, your God, reversed the curse to a blessing for you, because HaShem, your God loved you” (Deuteronomy 24:6).
This occurrence was a sine-qua-non for much of Jewish history. Truth be told, for the Jewish outlook on life!
The Talmud speaks of a pious man nicknamed Nachum Ish Gamzu. He was called that because his motto in life was “Gam zu l’tova,” or “This is also for the good.” No matter how dark and despairing a situation he found himself in, he would always utter, with complete faith and trust in God’s goodness, “Gam zu l’tova.” Only later would the others around him perceive how the terrible situation was actually the best circumstance they could have hoped for. Through his remarkable trust in God, Nachum lived a life of reversals.
I once read the account of German Jews who had gained transport on a British ship to escape the Nazis to England near the outset of the war. They were treated very roughly by the British crew, who stole many of their valuables. Their hearts sank when they passed England, obviously rerouted to another undisclosed locale. During the long voyage they were harassed, the remainder of their belongings stolen from them. All they had left were their pictures and letters from their loved ones, their final vestiges of humanity. Then the British confiscated from them that final remnant of their past, and they cast the Jews’ letters into the sea. At that point the Jews sank into despair, and felt that all was lost. As soon as they disembarked and the ship returned to the high seas, it was blown up by a German submarine.
After the war the German commander of that submarine was interviewed and asked to explain why he blew up the ship full of Jews only after they disembarked. He explained that they were about to sink the ship when it left England’s waters, but suddenly they noticed the sea was full of papers.
They pulled the papers onto the submarine, and, although they were very blotted and impossible to read, they could at least tell that the letters were written in German, making them realize the British had a ship full of German nationals. They decided then to guard the ship until they were sure the German prisoners on board had gotten to safety and only then destroy it. Little did they imagine they were protecting a ship full of Jews! What those Jews had thought was their destruction was actually their salvation!
The reversal of Purim is a Jewish paradigm; we need to rejoice in God’s love for us and look for the reversals in our own lives today, on both a personal and a national level. Purim is just over a week away, so we have a little time to contemplate this and notice the surprisingly good occurrences in our lives and that of our people, so we can truly be joyous on the day of Purim!

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Human uncertainty simply 1 of God’s tools

Posted on 23 February 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been following your treatment of the parallel universe theory in physics as it relates to Judaism. What I see as a real problem with relation to Judaism, or any religion that believes that God created the universe, is the uncertainty principle in physics; how could there be uncertainty on the part of God?
Rick B.
Dear Rick,
Your question is an excellent one, and was first raised by none other than Albert Einstein, as I will explain.
For the readers, Rick is referring to a principle first elucidated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927. It states, based on the mathematics of quantum mechanics which govern subatomic particles, that we cannot know both the position and the velocity of a subatomic particle. If you know its exact position, you will not know its exact direction or speed.
This principle is based in mathematics and is not to be confused with another principle of quantum mechanics, known as the observer effect, which notes that the very measurement of a system affects the system. This effect is worthy of discussion in its own right. It is, however very different from what Heisenberg, and after him Niels Bohr, stated, that even if we could develop a mode of measurement which would somehow not affect the system, it is a deeply-rooted fact of our universe that there is uncertainty in the knowledge of a particle because every particle acts in an uncertain way. All we can know is the likelihood of a certain number of particles to act in a certain way; we can never know exactly how any given particle is acting by its very nature.
Einstein’s famous reaction to Heisenberg was, “God doesn’t play dice!” Einstein, although not an observant man, was a believer in God, and could not accept that there is inherent uncertainty in His creation. It must be that God created the world with certainty and we are simply missing the appropriate equations, just as there is certainty in the macro level as elucidated by his own theories of relativity. Einstein, over the course of years, attempted to disprove uncertainty with a series of thought experiments, but, alas, experimentation proved him wrong and uncertainty triumphed. Uncertainty remains (in various forms) a pillar of quantum mechanics with tremendous ramifications on a practical level besides in its understanding of the universe.
Your question, Rick, which was the question inherent in Einstein’s “dice,” remains for us a profound theological question. How do we, in fact, reconcile uncertainty with a universe created by God?
I think the answer is precisely the opposite of what was bothering Einstein. God created the world with inherent uncertainty to relate to us humans the profound message that we are not in charge and ultimately only He is in charge! Uncertainty for us doesn’t spell uncertainty for Him, it just limits our control.
There are scientists who have further theorized that uncertainty is the scientific source of the concept of free choice, which is a core Jewish belief. Absolute determinism would present a challenge to free will; uncertainty could be its foundation.
This relates to another area of science which we have discussed in past columns, that of the determination of weather. Many scholarly articles have been written on our inherent inability to predict rain with true accuracy. We explained this with the Talmudic statement that rain is one of the areas for which God didn’t “hand over the keys” to man. The intrinsic nondeterministic nature of rain is actually a God-given quality. This is explained in the deeper sources of Judaism that rain is the physical example of how all of life receives its sustenance, physical and spiritual, from Above. That is why, in Hebrew, the entire physical world is referred to as the olam hagashmi, or the “world of rain.” In order to keep the message alive and well that the existence of the universe depends upon the will of God, He created rain and the entire weather system to be innately nondeterministic.
So too, as mankind forges forward boldly in the understanding of the inner workings of the universe with the massive intellectual achievements of quantum mechanics, we may have come to the point that we would truly feel we are the ultimate controllers of the cosmos and life itself. So at the point that we are nearly there, God winks at us through the equations of Heisenberg, letting us know that Someone else is in charge!

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As physics progresses, ideas return to Torah

Posted on 09 February 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was wondering about your discussion of the parallel universe theory. You said it could possibly fit with Judaism’s idea of God constantly recreating the world and that all those infinite creations of worlds continue to exist as parallel universes.
What would be the purpose of God sustaining an infinite number of universes if they never will meet each other? Or, is there some time in the big scheme of things that they will somehow meet?
— Joseph T.
Dear Joseph,
Allow me to begin with a different, little understood, belief within Judaism. In Maimonides’ listing of the 13 core Jewish beliefs, he ends his list with the belief in the Revival of the Dead, which, we believe, will be a period after the Messianic age. This means, in part, that the righteous who have died over the history of the world will have their bodies reunited with their souls and come back to life to receive the ultimate reward for the good they performed in the world.
This does not mean that people will be revived and continue life wherever they left off. It will be a completely elevated zone of spiritual existence in a world which will also be renewed, with a body which, although it will be built from the old body, will be more spiritual than physical. The main thing we will see in another will not be their physical appearance but their souls, which will shine right through the barely physical body. We will be the same people, albeit with the role of the body and the soul reversed from the way it is in this world.
What will we do there in that state of existence? We will relive everything we did in this world from an elevated perspective. We will see the full meaning and impact of every mitzvah we performed and bask in its light and the light of the connection to the Al-mighty which that mitzvah provided.
The deeper sources of Torah thought explain that not only does this apply to people; it applies to the entire universe. Everything which God created will “come alive” and exist in its fullest potential, shining with the full illumination of the purpose of its creation.
Everyone and everything will receive its full tikkun.
These kabbalistic sources go on to explain that this “revival” includes all the universes created by God throughout history. When God recreates the universe every instant he infuses each instantaneous creation with a different spiritual essence (in their words, different combinations of God’s names are used to recreate the universe, each combination carrying a different spiritual essence).
The perfection of the totality of creation entails the combination and harmonizing of all those myriad, nearly infinite spiritual messages into one great spiritual revelation, one great symphony of Godliness with each level of spirituality providing its unique music. At that time all the parallel universes will be weaved together in one tapestry of existence, the ultimate revelation of the oneness or unity of God. That is when the separation between these universes will cease to exist and they will, together, come alive.
Although parallel universes or existences is only a theory in physics I believe it may have joined many other current theories which mesh with deep Torah thought. Superstring theory, which attempts to resolve the contradictions between general relativity and quantum theory, touches upon this reality as well, as it claims that reality exists not of three dimensions and time, but of nine dimensions and time! (One version, known as M-theory, makes it 10 plus time.)
In the words of the scientist Brian Greene, “as we don’t see these extra dimensions, superstring theory is telling us that we’ve so far glimpsed but a meager slice of reality.” As physics continues to march forward with breathtaking new revelations of our existence, these revelations come closer and closer to the same ideas revealed in our timeless Torah.

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Isaac’s sacrifice: Kabbalistic interpretation example of ‘altar’-nate reality

Posted on 02 February 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was very fascinated by your discussion last week of the parallel universe theory of quantum physics and how it mirrors a kabbalistic interpretation of the ongoing creation of the universe. I was intrigued by your ending that this would obviously raise deep philosophical and moral questions which would have to be dealt with, but you did not explain those questions. Could you please elaborate?
— Mike W.
Dear Mike,
First I will begin by mentioning that the concept of parallel universes existing in the spiritual realm is a theme which runs throughout Torah thought when one approaches the deeper sources. For example, it is a well-known axiom among commentators to the Torah that is hinted in the Hebrew word pardes. Pardes, meaning orchard, is spelled pey-reish-dalet-samach, each of those letters hinting to another layer of meaning within Torah. Like an orchard, which offers multiple fruits, so too each verse, mitzvah and concept of Torah offers multiple levels of understanding, depth and meaning. At times these meanings may be contradictory or even diametrically opposed, which is the crux of our conversation.
The first letter of orchard, pey, stands for peshat, or “simple meaning.” The second letter reish, stands for the word remez, meaning “hinted meaning.” The third letter, dalet, represents the word derash, or inferred meaning by comparison of texts. Lastly, the letter samach refers to the final level of Torah interpretation, sod, which means the hidden, secretive meanings within the kabbalistic tradition. This system represents four categories of interpretation, each category representing multiple facets within that category. What all this tells us is that the Torah is not simply what it seems to be at face value, but represents untold layers of meaning, all which are part of the big picture of the truth and message of Torah.
One example of this would be the sacrificing of Isaac, of which the Torah, at face value, says that he was taken off the altar before he was actually sacrificed. In a well-known statement of the Zohar, the foundational work of the Kabbalah, Isaac was sacrificed and then brought back to life, albeit in a higher level of existence.
So, we ask, what happened, was he sacrificed or not? The answer is, both! (A very Jewish answer, it depends! Or one may say, an “altar”-nate reality!) In the realm of peshat he wasn’t sacrificed; in the realm of sod he was. The two mesh together in Isaac’s continued existence. This is example of Judasim’s inherent parallel universes.
Another example goes back to the story of Creation. The simple reading of the Torah confines the entire episode into six regular days. This presents an internal problem, given that the sun was only put in place on Day Four, and days are measured by the sun. There is a profound kabbalistic explanation which explains that the primordial days were enormously longer than our 24 days. I was told by a leading kabbalist in Jerusalem, based on that calculation, that kabbalistically the world is billions of years old. This interpretation far pre-dates any knowledge of the carbon dating issue, as well as the discovery of the red-shift in the background radiation, which seem to put the age of the universe at some 15 billion years. So, which one was it, six days or billions of years? The answer is, peshat and sod; both!
Examples of this abound in Torah, such as the simple meaning that man and woman were created as separate beings, and the Talmudic interpretation that they were created as one androgynous being; again, the answer is both! Did dinosaurs exist or not? The answer is, both, depending on which world we are discussing. We are living in multiple realities, depending upon which world we are addressing. This becomes more palatable to our minds when we see that even some of the giants of physics maintain, or at least entertain, the possibility of multiple physical universes.
Some of the moral questions which arise in the multiple universe theory would include who is rewarded for their merits, the person who performed them or the spin-off of that person in the next universe, or both? The entire concept of reward and punishment would need to be understood within the context of each soul becoming an infinite number of souls, with infinite possibilities of existence.
Alas, all this is highly theoretical, and halevai, it would be great if we would just do what we need to do in the one world we know!

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Schrödinger, his cat and a limitless God

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been fascinated by a theory called Parallel Universes. This theory postulates that there are infinite universes constantly being created which are nearly parallel to our universe, and different things are happening in each one without the ability for one to communicate with the other.
Are you familiar with this theory, and how does it mesh (or clash) with Jewish thought?
— Margie Z.
Dear Margie,
It is important to understand briefly the source of this theory before considering if it jibes with Torah.
This theory was contrived by an American physicist, Hugh Everett, in 1957 to attempt to solve a conundrum in physics known as “Schrödinger’s Cat.” This is a thought experiment in quantum physics, where a particle such as an electron manifests dual properties: that of a particle and of a wave. It behaves as a wave until it is observed as a particle; the observation itself causes the wave to “collapse” into a particle. At that point, it was, retroactively, always a particle!
This dual-property situation would seem to apply to macroscopic objects. So if a cat were trapped in a box containing a small amount of radioactive material which may or may not emit a photon, if it does it would be read by a Geiger counter on the other side of the box, which would release a hammer which would shatter a flask containing cyanide, which would kill the cat. (All theoretically!) At any moment the cat could be dead or alive, but nobody knows because the door is closed, and the objects in the box could be treated as a quantum wave. Like a quantum wave which must incorporate all possibilities, there now exist dual possibilities that the “wave” killed the cat, and that it didn’t. It must be both dead and alive!
A number of answers have been offered to resolve this conundrum, the most dramatic solution being what you mentioned, the parallel- or many-universes or alternative-histories theory. In this theory, rather than the wave collapsing when observed, the wave continues to exist, in its own universe, and at that moment it becomes a particle in the universe of the observer; that universe has split into two.
This would be going on infinitely with the so-called collapse of every quantum particle, spinning off an infinite number of parallel universes, each with its own reality. Although this sounds like science fiction, it is supported by several leading theoretical physicists. (It also has many problems raised by its detractors.)
This theory fascinates me as it is, in a physical sense, very close to the Torah concept that God is constantly recreating the universe. The deeper sources explain this with the Kabbalistic idea that God is continuously recombining the different letters of His Names to recreate the universe with unique spiritual qualities and opportunities. Every instant contains within it spiritual possibilities which never did, and never will, exist again.
I have always wondered: What happens to the previous worlds if God recreates the world anew?
Perhaps this theory of physics lends an insight to understanding that there are infinite parallel universes which continue to coexist, although one can’t communicate with the other because they exist in a different realm.
This viewpoint would obviously raise numerous deep philosophical and moral questions which we would have to deal with.
We see however, once again, how with the advance of modern science the truth of the world and its inner workings gets closer to the timeless truths of Torah.

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Comfort in seeing God’s hand behind world events

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
It just doesn’t seem to end! First the UNESCO vote that the Temple Mount doesn’t belong to us, then the U.N. vote that Jerusalem and many parts of Israel that we inhabit are stolen from the Palestinians, then Kerry’s exit speech rebuking Israel.
And finally, 70 nations join together — not to deal with the world’s real problems — but to proclaim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of the world’s problems! Any thoughts?  
— Diane K.
Dear Diane,
One night this week, at a community dinner, I was discussing this final point with a friend and was pointing out that anyone with their eyes open after this recent meeting in France would have to become a complete believer in the Torah! The concept of 70 nations opposed to Israel is a thread which runs throughout the entire Torah. (I believe 72 ended up attending, but it was billed as a 70-nation conference.) As always, if we look deeply we find the answer in the Torah.
The scheming of this conference and the thinking of its participants was best summarized by the statement of Hollande that of all the bloody conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq and Iran, Syria and ISIS and more, none of them could be resolved until the source of all troubles in the Middle East — of course the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is solved. And, of course, one of the main impediments to that resolution is Israeli settlements. So what’s really causing the death of half a million Syrians and ISIS slitting the throats of thousands is some Jews extending their balconies in Jerusalem?
As to your point that, not at all for the first time, the nations of the world seem to have no other business to attend to than to take shots at Israel — this is not a new phenomenon, as we find in the timeless words of the Midrash: “… the Jews proclaim before God: ‘Master of the universe, look how the nations make trouble for us! They have no other preoccupation than to sit and scheme against us, as the verse says, in their sitting and their standing I see their plots.’ God answers them, ‘What do their plots really accomplish? They enact decrees and I nullify and break them…’” (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Toldos 5)
In this beginning of this coming Shabbat’s Torah portions, as Jews in synagogues around the world begin to read the Book of Exodus, the parsha begins by recounting the number of Jews going down with Jacob to Egypt: the number 70 (Exodus 1:5). This number of 70 Jews going with Jacob to Egypt was already related near the end of Genesis (46:27). Since no word in the Torah is for naught, why this seeming redundancy, why does the Torah emphasize this number of 70?
The answer lies in a verse near the end of the Torah, “When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:8). Rashi, the classical commentary, explains that the time God “separated the children of man” is referring to the incident of the Tower of Babel, when all of the world spoke one language (Hebrew), and they used their unity to build a tower to stage a war against God. God responded by separating them by the barrier of language, mixing up their language into many tongues and thereby annulling their plot and separating them, by language, into different nations whom he dispersed throughout the land.
The verse in Deuteronomy reveals, says Rashi, that the number of languages, and nations that were separated at that time, was 70. That number corresponds to the foundational number of the Jewish nation when they interface with the nations: the number 70 who went down to Egypt and began the first exile. The deeper sources explain that each nation was assigned its own “patron angel,” its spiritual emissary in the upper worlds, the total number equaling the number of Jews interfacing with those nations who control those very spiritual powers with their actions.
Hence, we bring 70 offerings on the holiday of Sukkot, equivalent to the nations of the world; those offerings that we bring are what actually provides the nations with their spiritual power and essence. Hence, says the Talmud, if the nations had realized how much benefit they receive from the Jews’ worship in the Temple, not only would they have not destroyed it, they would have put guards around it!
This explains, in part, why our tradition is that the final world war, which will be an uprising of the 70 nations against Israel, will be fought on the holiday of Sukkot.
As the footsteps of the Messianic time march nearer, we stand back in awe to observe that 70 nations of the world stand up to Israel, and we take comfort in seeing the signature of the Al-mighty behind world events, inspiring us to wake up, take notice, and do our part to bring the final redemption.

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Rashi’s words ring true after UN resolutions

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Between the UNESCO vote not long ago, then the U.N. sanctioning Israel, and then John Kerry making his final public address to scold Israel for …living in Israel (!!) I am just beside myself, and wonder if it’s foretold in the Torah that the world would one day accuse the Jews of stealing Israel from someone else! How is this possible when we’ve had Jews living there for some 4,000 years?
— Patricia
Dear Patricia,
You are raising a fascinating point; these current events have been very much foretold in Torah sources!
The classical commentator to the Torah, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known by the acronym Rashi, actually begins the very first line of his renowned commentary with reference to your question, albeit from a different vantage point.
Rashi begins his remarks by raising the question: Why does the Torah begin with the Book of Genesis? If the Torah is not a “story book,” rather a book of law, why does the Torah not begin with the first mitzvah, or law, commanded to the Jews? How does the story of Creation figure into a lawbook?
Citing the Midrash, Rashi answers this question with the verse, “The power of His actions He (God) has related to His people in order to bequeath them the inheritance of the nations” (Psalms 111:6). He explains that “if the nations of the world will tell the Jewish nation, ‘You are thieves, you have stolen the lands of the seven nations (Israel),’ you can answer them, ‘The Land belongs to God, He created it and just as He has desired to grant it (temporarily) to the seven nations, He has also desired that it be taken from them and given to us.’ ”
As shocking as it sounds, Rashi is telling us that we need the entire book of Genesis in order to relate the Creation story, so that everyone will know who created the world, and that that Creator has the right to take the Land from other nations and give it to us. It sounds almost ludicrous that we would need so much Torah for something that would probably never happen! If, however, Rashi reveals to us that an entire book of the Torah was given to us for this reason, the Creation story itself, then the claim that we stole the land of Israel goes to very core of the existence of the world. Why is this so? Why is this particular lie so much more foundational that the many falsehoods conjured up against us throughout the millennia of anti-Semitism?
It is because the Jewish people living in the Land of Israel, with all its holiness and fulfilling its laws, with the holy Temple in Jerusalem as the focal point of the nation, is truly the foundation of the world and the fulfillment of its purpose. From their high place in Israel the Jews are meant to be a light unto the nations, teaching by example the entire world its purpose and giving the Gentile nations their direction and calling. That is why we refer to the traveling or moving to Israel as “aliyah,” or “going up” to Israel, unlike any other country in the world. Israel is an elevated place, the dwelling place on earth closest to heaven. From the spiritual heights of Israel that light is meant to shine from above, through the Jews, to the Gentile nations and to provide their illumination. For this reason the world was created!
Hence, the claim that we stole the land is the way evil can justify itself by bucking the teachings and examples of the Jewish people and closing its eyes to the beautiful light emanating from Israel. This claim goes to the core of Creation, to the foundation of the purpose of life. If, at the time of Creation, there was destined to be a struggle between good and evil, truth and falsehood, then it would be manifest by claiming “You are thieves!,” that we stole the land and are not to be the nations’ mentors.
For much of our history, although Israel was conquered time and again, we never imagined it could possibly come about that someone would have the audacity to claim that we have stolen the land of Israel! And now, here we have it! The motion that was submitted and passed (sans the veto of the Obama administration), which officially makes us thieves of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall and much more of Israel. From here on in, the “negotiations” with the P.A. will begin with us having absolutely zero leverage, because all the land we occupy since 1967 is stolen property!
All this is foretold in a few words of Rashi, and is a lesson to us as to our lofty purpose in this world.

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Use lights of Hanukkah to illuminate world

Posted on 28 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
What is your take on the U.N. Security Council vote condemning Israel falling out right before Hanukkah?
Joe and Marcie W.
Dear Joe and Marcie,
The significance of this disgraceful event falling out when it did was not lost even on the most secular of Israeli MKs, many of whom made mention of its obvious connection to Hanukkah, a time when we overcame our enemies against all odds.
I think, however sadly, that the true message of Hanukkah was, nevertheless, lost among many, even as they saw a connection between these events. This is not a new mistake, but goes back to the beginning of the State of Israel.
The predominant outlook upon Hanukkah and the Maccabees is as upon mighty Jewish warriors who stood up with great physical strength and fortitude, exercising their tremendous military prowess which enabled them, although greatly outnumbered, to triumph valiantly against the wicked Syrian-Greek oppressors. It is this great pride in the physical might of the Maccabees which has, for example, led to the naming of Tel Aviv’s soccer team “Maccabee Tel Aviv,” also an example of skill, strength and stamina!
Nothing could be further from the truth! The Maccabees were not mighty warriors, nor had they even the least bit of military training; they were yeshiva students who spent their days and nights studying Torah! The Siddur, the traditional prayerbook, written by the sages of the generation in which this miracle took place, says the following: “In the days of Mattisyahu … the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will, You in Your great mercy stood up for them in their time of distress. You took up their grievance, judged their claim and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah…” (ArtScroll Siddur, p. 187).
The Maccabees were not at all the “strong” ones; their hands were “the hands of the weak”! They did not, in the least way, rely upon their own military prowess, rather considered themselves emissaries of the Al-mighty; it was His victory, not their own! True, God delivered that miraculous victory because of the Maccabees’ willingness to fight and even give up their own lives for the sake of God’s Torah, but only because they relied upon God’s providence and His infinite ability to defeat even the strongest of armies despite the weakness and puniness of their physical capabilities did they fight that war.
Many commentaries explain that the purpose of the miracle of the menorah was to make sure the people didn’t mistakenly attribute the defeat of the Greeks to the strength of the Jews, and to remember it was a God-given gift, like the menorah which stayed lit far beyond its physical capabilities.
The message of the Security Council vote and the Obama administration, joined by the rest of the world, throwing Israel under the bus is not that “we” will overcome, or that Trump will save us. It is that if we connect ourselves to that which the Maccabees did, to the Al-mighty and His Torah, then God will continue to rescue us as He did so many years ago!
According to Kabbalistic sources, the final rays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur shine until the days of Hanukkah. The Hanukkah lights are our connection of light in a time of darkness to ward off the final attempt by our detractors to pass a negative judgment against us.
We have received a wake-up call at the last moment of judgment to utilize the lights of Hanukkah for what they symbolize, the light of Torah, and that light will ward off much darkness. They will, in turn, illuminate our Jewish homes and spread throughout the entire world, sending a message of light, peace and joy which will continue to ensure the continuity of the Eternal Nation.
A joyous Hanukkah to all!

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