Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Joy starts on the inside

Posted on 04 December 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have recently been bombarded by a number of downturns in my personal life: trouble with my teenage kids, health issues with my husband, and, of course, issues with the bank. I am groping to find a way to find joy in life despite all this. I know you’ll say just trust in God, but right now that’s not enough; do you have something I can grab onto to perhaps have some simcha in my life?
Marcella L.

Dear Marcella,
Allow me to relate to you a story I heard from my dear rebbe, R’ Yosel Tzeinvirt ob’m of Jerusalem.
Reb Yosel often would tell the story of a group of downtrodden Jews who traveled to visit the famed 18th-century Polish Chasidic master, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. Each member of the group presented his “pekela tzarus,” his package of problems — sickness, poverty, etc. — and asked his advice how to deal with their situations. The Rebbe advised that if they want an answer they should go to the nearby study hall and present their issues to his brother, Reb Zushya of Anipoli. The group entered the study hall, asking for Reb Zushya. A man at the door pointed out Reb Zushya: He’s the one over there with the torn suit which, due to his abject poverty, he cannot afford to fix or replace. His wife and children are home sick, with a leaking roof over their dilapidated house. The group approached Reb Zushya, saying they had come to Reb Elimelech to receive his advice how to deal with their many problems and issues. Reb Zushya, taken totally by surprise, apologized that there must be some mistake in being sent to him. “I’m sorry I’m not able to advise you; I have no problems in my life, baruch Hashem (thank God) I have all I need and have exactly what is intended for me, so I can’t really relate to your problems and issues; perhaps you should go back to my brother and revisit your problems with him!”
Needless to say, the men got their answer!
Reb Yosel, without intending to do so, was actually describing himself! He lived most of his life with a very serious, life threatening heart disease which prevented him from giving the lectures he so desired to deliver, and lived in poverty in the most simple of homes in the Meah She’arim section of Jerusalem. Despite this, none of us ever witnessed anyone whose joy and ecstasy even approached the simcha R’ Yosel expressed every day. He and his Rebbetzin would open their meager home to us all, sharing the little they had while their love and joy in life far transcended the minimal physical trappings they had to offer. Those who had much more would visit Reb Yosel, invariably walking away far richer than he or she had originally entered, envying the “riches” of that home which, in his own words, “lacked everything and at the same time lacked nothing”!
Joy, we learned from Reb Yosel, is not something which comes from outside-in, depending upon circumstances. It is, rather, a human condition which flows from inside-out, with no bearing or relation to the actual situation one is found in. Consider a poverty-stricken woman who just won a million dollars in the lottery standing next to a woman who had two million dollars and just lost a million on a deal that went south. They presently both are in the exact same financial condition; but will they have the same mood? Is their mood reflective merely of the situation, or of their interpretation of their circumstances?
Attempt to focus on the blessings of your life, and look at them as challenges to overcome in the game of life, unique challenges endowed to you by Divine wisdom. The inner joy of that connection can overcome any external situation from putting a damper on the innate joy of your soul.

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Judaism’s formula for happiness? Choose joy!

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been challenged finding joy in life given my present situation. My former financial standing has been considerably lessened by the recent downturn, putting my retirement in question. On top of that some physical issues, and some more with my kids. Does Judaism have a formula for happiness?
Bob J.

Dear Bob,
A great Chasidic master, R’ Nachman of Breslav, was famous for his statement which formed one of the key the foundations of his Chasidic court: “Mitzvah gedolah li’hiyos b’simcha tamid,” or “It is a great mitzvah to be joyous at all times.”
How can Simcha, joy, be a mitzvah? Either we feel happy or we don’t! We aren’t in control of our feelings! If a mitzvah is a commandment, how can one be commanded to do so, especially “at all times”? Let us focus on the Mishna, which states “Who is a rich man? One who has joy in his portion” (Mishna Avos 4:1). This is a very new definition of wealth. The rabbis are saying it’s not defined by what’s in your bank account, rather it’s a state of mind. If one has joy in her stock portfolio, even if it’s way down, she is, according to the Mishna, rich.
Let’s go a step further: The Mishna does not say “one who is satisfied with his portion,” rather “has joy in his portion.” If the “portion” is not so significant, what is the source of that joy?
The answer to this is twofold:
•First, it is predicated upon the core Jewish belief of Bitachon, or Trust. Bitachon teaches us that whatever our situation is, monetarily and otherwise, at any given time, is exactly what we’re supposed to have at that moment. It is the belief and trust that the Al-mighty is constantly watching out for us and giving us, or withholding from us, exactly what we’re due. This foundational Jewish belief brings one to a state of inner peace and calm. Those feelings are the underpinnings of simcha, joy. Worries and fears are the antithesis of joy; tranquility and serenity are its basis.
•Second, is the focus upon the myriad blessings which are contained within life itself. The Jewish sages of old wrote entire treatises, focusing upon the myriad blessings which occur every moment of our existence — things we take for granted due to their everyday commonness and familiarity. This is one of the reasons Jews make 100 blessings every day (Talmud Menachos 43b, Shulchan Aruch O’Ch 46:3), to literally “count our blessings” and take joy in the many amazing gifts we do have, rather than focus upon what we don’t. To be truly cognizant of all of one’s blessings in life will bring joy into whatever portion we have, because there is, indeed, so much to be joyful about!
These concepts allow us to build up within ourselves reservoirs of simcha which can take us through the more difficult times, like a canteen of water in the desert.
This brings to mind my grandmother, of blessed memory, who was never a well-to-do woman. In her final years, she would look upon a picture of her grandchildren and exclaim, “See that, there’s my million dollars!”
I’m presently reading a beautiful book, “Holy Woman” (Shaar Press), on the life of Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer. Despite experiencing the hellish hardships of Auschwitz, she was always full of joy. She learned from her mother that joy is not the result of a particular life situation, rather the cause of a well-lived life. Joy is a choice, not an outcome. Rebbetzin Kramer was the only one left alive of all her siblings to be used by the sadistic Dr. Mengele for his inhuman experiments, leaving her barren. When asked by the author how she could always be happy despite not having the children she so craved to mother, she replied “What! I should be both barren and sad?!”
The German Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl used his experiences in Auschwitz to pioneer a new field of psychology, logotherapy. (In fact, Dr. Frankl writes that he discovered logotherapy before the war, and the camps became his laboratory to test and further develop this now-renowned theory of psychology.) In his “Man’s Search for Meaning” he outlines the subhuman conditions and barbarism of the camps, and saw in some of the inmates, including himself, that how one reacts to those conditions is a choice. All life, even that of the lowest “quality,” has meaning given that one looks for that meaning. These two Jews, Kramer and Frankl, embodied in many ways the Jewish concepts of joy. If Rebbetzin Kramer and Victor Frankl could find meaning and joy in the abyss of hell on earth, certainly we can do so even if our finances or other life situations are less than perfect!
Itzhak Perlman, the violin virtuoso, once made his slow ascent to the stage, dragging his polio-stricken legs to the chair for his concert. When he began, one string snapped. Everyone knows one can only play a violin with four strings, so the audience braced themselves for the slow reattaching of his leg braces and off the stage to have his instrument fixed and return. After a moment’s contemplation, Perlman suddenly exhibited his genius by playing his piece, somehow compensating for the lost string. When he finished, there was a shocked, prolonged silence in the room, followed by a thunderous standing ovation. Perlman raised his hand to silence the audience, saying, “Sometimes you need to play with what you have left.”

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Take heart: the body and soul connection

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In reciting “the Shema,” in the first paragraph it says you should not be swayed “after your heart.” I have always wondered why there and other places in the Torah that I have read it refers to “thoughts of the heart,” when we know that thoughts are in the brain?
Zachary B.
Dear Zachary, For years I was perplexed by this question and fascinated that in Western civilization and earlier secular literature, emotions and thoughts are also attributed to the heart, perhaps following the Torah’s lead.
An insight on this is that the heart, besides its physical role of pumping blood throughout the body, in Judaism is given a unique role as we shall attempt to explain.
A human is not a soul — or just a body — but the union of the two. At what point in the human body do these two opposites — body and soul — meet?
The deeper sources in Torah explain that the principal seat of the soul is said to be in the brain, while the main bodily organ representing physicality is the liver. The heart is the chamber where the body and soul meet and join, fusing together to make a human being. Just as the heart pumps the oxygen-enriched blood throughout the body, providing nourishment for its cells, the heart “pumps” the connection of the soul throughout the physical body.
This idea helps explain a profound message in the tefillin. One box, comprised of four smaller boxes, is worn on the head corresponding to the four lobes of the brain. This sanctifies our thoughts. The other box, worn on the upper arm, infuses holiness into our physical actions. The latter is supposed to be tipped toward the heart, as the heart is the place where the physical and the spiritual are combined.
Not to “sway after your heart” means not to allow the physicality of the body to overcome the soul, as it potentially could, because the two are connected at the heart.
Later the Shema says to “put these words (of Torah) upon your heart”; with thoughts of Torah one’s entire being becomes a miniature tabernacle of holiness — body and soul working in unison.
This enables us to take a new look at the common statement that it’s enough to be “Jewish in the heart.” (I call that a “Jewish heart condition”!) To truly be “Jewish in the heart” one needs to combine one’s thoughts and actions to serve God; the heart combines the two. Otherwise, to just think Jewish thoughts without actions would be only “Jewish in the brain” — missing the heart!
We should strive to be wholesome, complete Jews, meshing every area of our existence into our Jewish mission, with complete hearts.

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The Shabbat Project and Jewish unity

Posted on 06 November 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried, 

I have been hearing about some communitywide Shabbat Project coming up soon and none of my friends seem to know what this is about. Could you please fill me in? Thanks.

Carol P.

Dear Carol, 

The Shabbat Project, being held in Dallas Nov. 13-16, 2019, is part of a global initiative where Jews all across the world are observing one Shabbat together as part of Jewish unity. Approximately 1,500 partnering organizations representing about a million Jews in 340 cities in 101 countries will be participating this year!

In 2013, Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein brought the South African Jewish community together to celebrate one Shabbat together. The results were astounding. On the Shabbat on which it ran, nearly 70% of the country’s 75,000 Jews together kept a Shabbat in full, most of them for the first time in their lives. Perhaps as significantly in another way, the initiative drew people together in ways never seen before, forging new friendships and collaborations of Jews of all stripes throughout the community. 

Since then, this amazing experience has gone viral and was adopted by communities throughout the world. 

This initiative has been described as “an experiment that has no precedent in modern Jewish history,” and “the most ambitious Jewish unity initiative ever taken.” 

In the words of Rabbi Goldstein: “It’s about creating a new Jewish future together. The idea is simple; Jews from all walks of life, from across the spectrum of religious affiliation, young and old, from all corners of the world — come together to experience the magic of one full Shabbat kept together. It’s our opportunity to renew family and community life, restore Jewish identity, and unite Jews across the globe.”

In Dallas the events begin with a communitywide challah bake for women, with music, dancing, hands-on challah making instruction and words of inspiration. This exciting evening will be held at Levine Academy, 18011 Hillcrest Road, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13. All materials and special aprons will be provided. Everyone will walk away with their own challah to bake! Space is limited; please sign up ASAP at

On Shabbat, Nov. 15-16, various local synagogues will provide home hospitality and meals for those who want to join for a full, magical Shabbat experience. Special speakers will grace some of these programs and will provide fresh and inspirational insights into the beauty of the experience. Contact the Hospitality Committee for local details:

DATA (my organization) will provide a full state-of-the-art Shabbat program featuring the world-renowned Australian lecturer Rabbi Mordechai Becher, and deluxe cuisine by Kosher Palate, at Ohr HaTorah Congregation, 6324 Churchill Way. For more information and to sign up for the meals and events, go to

In the North Eruv, Congregation Ohev Shalom, 6821 McCallum Blvd., will celebrate the the beauty of Shabbos with Scholar-in-Residence Rabbi Aharon Katz, rosh hayeshiva of Derech Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Meals and hosting are also available. Contact for more details.

Saturday night, Nov. 16, Motzai Shabbat, will feature a communitywide Havdallah service on the Akiba-Yavneh campus, 12324 Merit Drive, Dallas. The free event will feature live music, a
“kumzits,” food from Kosher Palate, and bounce houses for the kids. PJ Library will make Havdallah kits with the kids and TangoTab–Feed the City will lead a community activity making sandwiches for Dallas’ needy residents. The Havdallah service will be highlighted by multi-generational families demonstrating the strength and longevity of the Dallas Jewish community. 

Please join us and the million Jews worldwide who will join hands across oceans, continents and affiliations to make this year’s Dallas Shabbat Project the greatest ever! May it bring our community together in friendship and mutual respect in ways never thought possible! 

For more information, contact 

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Halacha: walking in step with the Torah

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I have heard the term “halacha” as the Hebrew word for Jewish law. Does the word literally mean Jewish law, because I thought it means “to walk”?
Moe L., Plano
Dear Moe,
You are right, “halacha” literally means “to walk.” It also is the word the Sages use to refer to Jewish law. The Torah often refers to the fulfillment of God’s commandments as “walking” with His statutes. The fact that our Sages chose precisely that word to describe Jewish law carries a profound message about the nature of Jewish law and our relationship to it.
As we’ve said many times in these columns, the Torah is not a “religion” per se, rather a way of life. Judaism isn’t something you do in a synagogue, rather it’s a system which permeates every aspect of our lives. There are vast volumes of Torah laws, halacha, governing business and legal affairs and every area of public and private life — in addition to the rituals between man and God.
In this way Judaism teaches that wherever one “walks,” that arena can be fused with spirituality and holiness. In the “Shema,” we are exhorted to speak these words, “while sitting in your home, while walking along the way, when you lie down and rise up.”
There is a fascinating teaching which punctuates this idea. The words and letters of the Tablets given to Moses at Sinai were carved all the way through the stone. Naturally, the words should be backward if one would see them from the back of the Tablets. God, however, performed a miracle by which the carved words could be read from either side. Why did God need to perform this miracle? What is the message?
Rabbi S. R. Hirsch explains the message of this miracle was to teach us that a Jew needs to act as a Jew no matter which way he turns. One can’t be a Jew only in the synagogue. Whether in business or with the family, in the kitchen or the bedroom, we have halacha, which tells us how to “walk” and fuse our “walking” with the spirituality unique to our holy Torah.
I once read of an anti-Semite in czarist Russia who approached the local governor, seeking decrees against the Jews because they refuse to conform with society, teaching their people to be different. The governor instructed the man to go to the Jews’ cheder, children’s school, and see what they are teaching their children and to report back to him before deciding upon a decree. When this man spied on the cheder, he found the rebbe teaching his students the proper conduct of modesty in the bathroom and which blessing to recite upon leaving it. He smiled evilly, assured of success in his plot. Upon returning to the governor he exclaimed, “I really have those Jews now!” “What did you see?” asked the governor. “I saw their teacher talking about bathrooms!” “What? They have laws about bathrooms?” asked the governor, “Are you serious?” “Yes,” answered the man, “that’s exactly what he was teaching them!” he answered with a wicked smile. The governor retorted, “if they have laws even governing their conduct in a bathroom, this is truly a holy nation, and we must do what we can to protect them!”
Halacha is that which makes us holy and elevates us from among the other nations of the world!

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Understanding Sukkot: the season of our joy

Posted on 10 October 2019 by admin

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

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

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Coming clean: teshuvah at the core of Yom Kippur

Posted on 02 October 2019 by admin

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

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

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Synagogue attendance during the High Holidays

Posted on 25 September 2019 by admin

A better understanding about being present at holiday services

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

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

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Learning from Joseph’s rebuke in Genesis

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

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

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Why Jews point to matrilineal descent

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

Writings indicate that mothers determine Jewish status

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

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