Archive | Ask the Rabbi

DATA celebrates 25 years

Posted on 07 December 2017 by admin

Dear Readers,
I wanted to take this opportunity to share my tremendous joy with you, as myself and all those involved in DATA, the Dallas Area Torah Association, celebrate our 25th year!
This coming Monday night, Dec. 11, will be a Gala Celebration of 25 Years of Impact at the beautiful Plano Event Center. The event will feature a moving talk by the much sought-after speaker Charlie Harary of New York. It will be crowned by a performance by the renowned composer and concert pianist Baruch Levine, who has composed an inspiring new piece in honor of this event.
I have no words to accurately express to you how rewarding the past quarter of a century of learning, teaching and engaging with the Dallas Jewish community has been. The rabbis and rebbetzins of DATA have had the honor and good fortune to have met, studied with, and become lifelong friends and confidants of thousands of amazing people. We have been together in classes, Shabbatons, programs, lunch and learns, Israel trips, and at our Shabbat tables in our homes. The Jews of Dallas are sincere, intelligent, engaging and thirsty for knowledge and connection, and it has been such a blessing to have been involved in that process. It has been such a distinction to have had the merit to impart to them the timeless wisdom of the Torah and its teachings, enhancing their and our lives, relationships and connection to our heritage. Twenty-five years of guiding young, budding scholars through a top-level rabbinical ordination program, which has seen more than 40 rabbis achieve an esteemed ordination in Dallas!
It was on a Saturday night, motzai Shabbat, in my beloved Jerusalem. We were outside the synagogue reciting the beautiful “blessing of the new moon,” when I contemplated where I had arrived — from my childhood in Indianapolis, Indiana, to the top of the world! Jerusalem! Surrounded by sages and holiness! My children in the best cheder, school for children…am I crazy?! Tomorrow morning I’m going to leave all this to get on a plane for a pilot trip to some distant place called Dallas, Texas?! Am I really going to do this?!
Then my thoughts shifted to what I knew firsthand, growing up in a non-observant household, seeing so many of my friends and family become assimilated, with complete apathy, completely lost to the Jewish people. I knew well and had experienced the terrible numbers of Jews being lost, some 100,000 a year, causing one sage and Holocaust survivor, Rav Shimon Schwab ob’’m, to proclaim the Silent Holocaust occurring in America.
I thought to myself, it’s so easy to stand here, surrounded by sages, and feel safe when — in fact — back in America the house is burning down! If there’s anything that can be done to at least put out part of that fire, how can we stand back and watch the house burn when we may, perhaps, have the ability to pull someone out of the fire?!
That’s the thought that got me onto the plane.
And that’s what the amazing rabbis and rebbetzins (whom it has been my distinct honor and privilege to work with and be surrounded by) have done over all these years. They have connected so many back to their heritage and roots, providing Jewish wisdom and pride, keeping them in the fold.
At our first DATA retreat there was a South African young man who came kicking and screaming (invited by Dr. Sol Lurie ob’’m and his wonderful wife Ruth, who chaired that retreat). This young man was known as “the skeptic,” and only agreed to come because he would “show those rabbis a thing or two.”
At the end of the retreat he got up and spoke, admitting why he had come. But, he exclaimed, after the beauty of what he saw and heard, in a way he’d never experienced before, for the first time in his life he was truly proud to be part of his people and its heritage and wanted to remain part of it. He concluded, with much emotion and tears in his eyes, “I’m not ready to give up shrimp and may never be, but from now on I’m only dating Jewish girls.”
That story, and so many more like it, is what we came for; that’s why these 25 years have been so rewarding!
I express my appreciation from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have learned with us, supported us and been there for us. We look forward to the next 25 years with all y’all, and really hope you will join us in celebrating this milestone celebration of impact; it’s not too late! Just go onto dallastorah.org and press “reserve my seat.” I look forward to greeting you there! Mazal tov!

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No difference between sport fishing, hunting

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
You recently responded to Kyle that Judaism is opposed to hunting for sport. How do you reconcile that with kosher slaughter, which is also for the benefit of man? You mentioned you would speak about fishing for sport; is that any different?
— Marla T.
Dear Marla,
The Torah’s allowance of utilizing animals for consumption and other needs, such as the leather for shoes, etc., is not a contradiction to what we have explained about hunting for sport. By God allowing these uses, He is revealing how domesticated animals are part of the bigger scheme of creation. Part of their purpose is to serve the needs of man.
With regard to consumption, when an animal is prepared in a kosher way, properly slaughtered, salted and cooked, and is consumed with the proper blessing recited (and especially in honor of the Shabbos or holidays), that animal is elevated from the mundane to the sublime. If its leather is used to produce parchment for a mezuzah, tefillin or a Torah scroll, the animal becomes part of the eternal destiny of the Jewish people.
Man, endowed with a supernal soul which is a spark of the Al-mighty, is not merely a member of the animal kingdom. Part of our task and destiny as Jews is to utilize our soul to elevate the physical world and connect it to eternity. This applies to animals as well, which, although they are living and have a type of soul, do not possess an eternal soul and have no connection to eternity in their own right.
All of the above applies to utilizing animals for man’s needs; it is not an allowance to kill them out of play or sport. Besides being a misuse of the animal, which has a life of its own, it also can breed a level of callousness into the soul of the hunter, a trait which is antithetical to the Jewish trait of kindness. That trait was reinforced, as we mentioned, by our matriarchs and patriarchs all serving as shepherds, the ultimate classroom for compassion. Those great leaders injected that trait into our Jewish genes. Although the world of hunters may have an element of compassion in their killing by culling herds that, not kept in check, would self-destruct by the lack of habitat and the like, we can leave that task to the Gentile world, and a Jew concerned with the fate of the animals can help by creating awareness and raising funds for their benefit.
With regards to fishing, I recommend you look up an article titled Hooked on a Cruel Sport by Orthodox Jewish writer Jeff Jacoby (of the Boston Globe). Therein he cites research that fish experience pain on numerous levels, and there should be no difference between the pain of hooking a fish and inflicting pain upon other animals, despite their silence.
Imagine how we would react if we would find out that some people put a kennel of dogs in a room and, standing above on a balcony, cast a line with a bone hiding a hook, and they catch the dogs on the hook and reel them in to the balcony, only to throw them back down into the pit and to repeat the act for “sport.” We would cry bloody murder! Imagine someone hooking birds in a similar way, only to let them loose for enjoyment. Not a news outlet would omit the travesty, and the offenders would surely be put behind bars!
I, like Jeff Jacoby, see no difference with fish, although they slip silently and invisibly back into the water when cut loose, never uttering an audible protest. Catching them for food is another story, as we explained, but sport? I know this may not make me very popular with many, but what can I do … I have to speak my heart and speak the truth!

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Iconic death marks end of generation

Iconic death marks end of generation

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

Max Wider

Max Wider

Dear Readers,
I feel that it is appropriate, in the short space allotted me, to share my profound feelings of loss at the passing of my dear friend of 25 years, Cantor Max Wider (R’ Shemaryahu Yaakov Mayer) ob’m, who passed away in Dallas on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the age of 99.

All in Dallas should know that there was a giant among us — who is no longer with us. You might wonder, why would I feel so sad at the loss of someone who lived to such a ripe old age?
The answer to this struck me as I stood next to him the previous night in the hospital and he opened his eyes widely, looking at me, and I told him we would recite the vidui (confession, as one does on Yom Kippur and before passing). He winced upon hearing the suggestion, but I said it with him. And then he perked up when I said we would recite the Shema; his eyes opened widely for nearly the last time.
The profound sense of loss struck me as I stroked his arm and gazed into those eyes. Those were precious eyes which beheld the grandeur of European Jewry before the war. Eyes which saw the giant Chassidic rebbes of a generation long gone. He received his rabbinical ordination from his beloved rebbe, the world-renowned holy man and sage Rav Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar, at the young age of 16. Endowed with a beautiful voice, Max (who went by the name Yankov Mayer) led the rebbe’s prestigious choir on the High Holy Days in Satmar.
He would share with me untold numbers of stories and Torah thoughts of the great Chassidic masters, always with the details of their yichus, where exactly this or that rebbe fit into the Chassidic family tree. He would tell of great rebbes he traveled to see and speak to throughout Europe, often in summer resorts where they would congregate. His thoughts were never far from his own dear rebbe, whose picture adorned the wall of his office.
Those eyes were the same eyes that painfully witnessed the murder of his first wife and children by the accursed Nazis, as well as the demise of hundreds of thousands of his beloved brethren during his years in Auschwitz. The stories he shared abounded and wrench the heart. He once said he learned to be a mohel to fulfill the mitzvah of bris on his own sons, then broke down crying saying they were all taken from him. Max’s unforgettable, heartfelt rendition of Yizkor on Yom Kippur for all those murdered in the war ripped the hearts of all of us and will remain with all who heard it forever.
He told me that he rescued 100 Jews in Auschwitz, and I always wondered what that meant. One morning an older Chassidic Jew with his son were visiting our shul. After shul he and Max saw each other, and began to hug and kiss each other and cry. I asked him who is this Jew? He replied tearfully and full of emotion, “He’s one of my hundred!” I approached this Jew and asked him what Max did for him in Auschwitz, and he replied, “You wouldn’t believe it — he got us everything! We didn’t know how he did it; he smuggled us food, matzo on Pesach, a shofar and so on, you wouldn’t believe it!”
When I looked at those eyes in the hospital, I realized that these are the eyes that had become my eyes, to see a world that is no longer. Those eyes were a window into previous grandeur… to its destruction … and to heroic survival and rebuilding from those ashes. Eyes that had the herculean inner strength to rebuild a beautiful Jewish family with his beloved wife Lily, a family true to his legacy and to a Jewish future.
After the war Max served as a cantor, mohel, teacher and shochet (kosher slaughterer) in Texas. He once told me about a very special day in his life. The renowned sage, Rav Yosef Kahaneman of Ponovizh, who often traveled to America to raise funds for his system of yeshivos, made it his practice to refrain from eating meat in America, not knowing whose shechita (ritual kosher slaughter) he could rely upon. Once, while in Texas, someone told him there is a young shochet he could indeed rely upon — R’ Yankov Mayer Wider. The revered rav tested him on the laws of shechita (“oif the ganzta Simla Chadasha”), checked his chalaf (knife), and, satisfied, partook of his meat. “That was the happiest day of my life!”
Max contributed generously to the institutions of Satmar and many other Torah institutions throughout the world.
When, at the age of 96, Max needed to be in the hospital for Rosh Hashanah due to a heart event and extreme weakness, his son Simon asked me to go to comfort him and talk to him despite his determination to be in shul. After Rosh Hashanah I asked him if he blew shofar in the hospital, to which he replied, “Of course!” I then asked him if, due to his weakened state, he blew the minimum requirement of 30 blasts or the entire 100 blasts. To that he looked at me with complete bewilderment, as if I fell off the moon, “Of course 100 koilos (shofar blasts)!”
The determination to do the right thing — despite enormous difficulty — for someone who had survived what he survived … wasn’t even a question!
May he be a meilitz yosher, pray on high, for his beloved wife and family and for us all. May we all strengthen ourselves in our Torah studies and observance in his merit, and may his memory be a blessing for us all. We will sorely miss him. His loss, in my mind, marks the end of a generation.

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Is it acceptable to hunt, fish for sport?

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve been back and forth how to respond to my Gentile friends who are often inviting me on their hunting trips. Although I’m not an observant Jew, I’ve yet to join them because something feels Jewishly wrong about hunting for sport (although I might be contradicting myself because I do fish for sport).
One of my friends argues that if God allowed us to eat animals, there’s no difference between enjoying them by eating and enjoying them through sport. What is the Jewish view? Is fishing the same?
— Kyle W.
Dear Kyle,
I support your feelings as the conclusion of much rabbinical literature is that hunting for sport runs contrary to the very fiber of Judaism. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32a) derives this from the verse, “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him?! You shall surely help him” (Exodus 23:5). From here we learn the prohibition of tzar baalei chaim, or inflicting unnecessary pain upon an animal, and the commandment of relieving an animal from a painful situation.
The caveat to all of this is that when the animal is causing pain or danger to a human being, or if it is needed for medicinal purposes or to be eaten, it is permitted by the Torah to kill the animal. This is all derived from the fact that the Torah allowed the slaughter of animals for consumption (Kitzur Shalchan Aruch 191:1). This is all for human needs, not for entertainment.
One could make the argument that entertainment is also a human “need,” and therefore hunting for the sake of pleasure would come under the broad category of permission which we derive from the mitzvah of kosher slaughtering. This argument was actually accepted by one of the most eminent authorities of Jewish law (Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, 18th century, in Noda B’Yehuda Tinyana Yoreh Deah 10). Rabbi Landau concludes, however, that he’s very shocked that a Jew would even pose this question because even if it is technically not forbidden, it’s not aligned with the way of the Jewish people; we only find hunting in the Torah in connection with Nimrod and Esau (two wicked men), and never with the patriarchs, as it is not the way of the Jews.
The question of using animals for medical research is one which the Jewish authorities grappled with, but allowed it on the basis of medical need as mentioned above. This is in sharp contradistinction to killing animals strictly for sport, something the very idea of which should be painful to a sensitive Jewish soul.
An example of the Torah’s view is the prohibition of muzzling a plowing animal to prevent it from eating while plowing, something that would cause it anguish (Deuteronomy 25:4). We are further instructed to refrain from harnessing an ox and a donkey to the same plow, as an ox is stronger and will cause undue stress to the donkey (Deuteronomy 22:10). We are forbidden from slaughtering a cow and its calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), due to the callousness it would cause to the one doing so.
On the other side of the coin, kindness to animals was a source of virtue to our patriarchs and matriarchs. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Moses and David were all shepherds. The rabbis comment that those great Jewish leaders learned the trait of compassion by caring from flocks of animals before they became “shepherds” for the flock of the Jewish people.
If compassion to animals is so central to Judaism, why is it that we are allowed — it is even a mitzvah — to slaughter animals for the purpose of serving man? We shall explore that in next week’s column, as well as the question of fishing for sport.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel.
Questions can be sent to him at
yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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Purpose of angels

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thanks for the information showing that we believe in angels. You said you would explain more about them, like why does God need them and what’s their purpose?
Thanks again,
Marc and Jody
Dear Marc & Jody,
Once we’ve established with the sources we showed in our previous correspondence that we believe in angels, it’s important to understand what their purpose is. Those who follow the weekly Torah portion saw this past week (Vayera), numerous important revelations and events carried out by angels. Three angels showed up at Abraham and Sarah’s home, to cure his bris, to deliver the good tidings that they are to have a son in a year, and to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorah. Numerous story lines throughout that portion of Vayera all include angels as the key players. Why does God carry out all these things through angels and not just do these things Himself?
There are a number of reasons for this; we shall try to explore a couple of them today.
The simplest explanation can be understood through the example of a powerful king. Imagine this mighty king sitting on his throne and he decides to enact a decree which will benefit his kingdom in many ways. Would it be appropriate for the king to get off his throne, make all the necessary arrangements to have the announcements printed, then get on his horse with the papers and travel throughout the kingdom to paste up his decree? Besides this being highly impractical, it’s all wrong! Everyone understands this behavior would destroy the honor of the king. For the king’s reign to retain its honor it is necessary for there to be a hierarchy of command. He needs to discuss it with his key advisors, they pass down the decree through the chain of command to get it signed into law, announced and executed.
Similarly, God’s reign is one that enables us to recognize His greatness and glory. It would be inappropriate for Him to carry out His decrees and all that He does by Himself; rather, He does so through His “heavenly court” and the decrees are carried out by His emissaries, the angels.
Another layer of understanding is that there are actually numerous categories of angels. Each category corresponds to a different sefirah, or spiritual world. The deeper sources in Judaism, the Kabbalistic masters, teach that there are 10 levels of spiritual worlds, each one manifesting a different trait of God, such as wisdom, understanding, kindness, judgement, etc. When God decides to carry out an act which emanates from one of His traits, or one of the sefiros, the emissary to fulfill that mission is an angel belonging to that particular world.
This is implicit in the word in Hebrew for angel, malach. The word “malach” also means messenger. That is because an angel essentially is a messenger; that is its very essence. That is why an angel doesn’t carry out more than one message; the angel is the message itself!
An even deeper insight into the essence of an angel, or messenger, is that the angel is actually the manifestation of God’s speech. God speaks; and the sound of His speech is the angel. The word “malach” consists of the word melech (mem lamed chaf), or king, plus the letter aleph. Aleph is the very beginning of speech, the utterance of “ah.” The utterance of the Al-mighty King, the Melech, is the aleph in the middle of the word, spelling “malach,” angel. The essence of the angel is God’s way of speaking and carrying out His will.
To fully explain and comprehend what we have discussed would need an entire book, not just a column, and to mention this in a short column is doing a disservice to the profundity of these concepts. I wanted to mention this, however, for you to at least have a cursory glimpse at how penetrating, deep and esoteric is the concept of an angel, that we shouldn’t accept it as a shallow, childish idea. This should be an example of the depth of all Torah ideas, once we plumb those depths and find the gold at the end of the tunnel!

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Angels throughout Torah

Posted on 02 November 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
We had a discussion in school comparing the beliefs of different religions, when the question of believing in angels came up. The Christian kids mostly said they believe in angels, but the Jewish kids weren’t sure if that’s a Jewish belief, so we were asked to find out what Judaism believes about angels.
Thanks for your help,
Marc and Jody
Dear Marc and Jody,
When we explore the Jewish view on any subject, the first place we turn to is the Torah. Angels are alluded to and mentioned explicitly in dozens, if not hundreds, of verses throughout the Torah and Scriptures.
The first mention of angels goes back to the creation of man, when God says, “Let us make man…” (Genesis 1:26). Who is “us”? The classical commentator Rashi explains that God presented the question of the creation of man to His heavenly court of angels. (This, Rashi explains, is to teach us humility, that one should always consult with one’s underlings before making a decision that will affect them.)
One of the next mentions of angels is more direct. When Hagar the maidservant of Abraham runs away from Sarah, “An angel of God found her by the spring of water in the desert…and he said, ‘Hagar, …where have you come from …’ And an angel of God said to her, ‘return to your mistress…’ And an angel of God said to her, ‘I will greatly increase your offspring and they will not be counted for abundance.’ And an angel of God said to her, ‘behold you will conceive and give birth to a son…,’ and she called the place the Well of the Living One, because there she spoke to God (through His angels).” (Genesis 16:7-12)
Rashi explains that the reason the verse repeats the phrase “an angel of God” introduced with each statement is because an angel is sent to this world for one mission only, speaking would be a mission. So each statement was made by a different angel, necessitating a separate introduction for each one. (The point made by Rashi that an angel only has one purpose demands explanation; perhaps we will do so in a future column.)
To cite another example, when Jacob returned to Israel after his extended sojourn in the home of Laban, the Torah relates, “Jacob went on his way and angels of God encountered him. Jacob said when he saw them, ‘This is a Godly camp!’” (Genesis 32:2-3)
At the end of Jacob’s life, when he blessed the two sons of Joseph, he said, “May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the lads…” (Genesis 48:16)
To cite one last example written explicitly in the Torah, the story of the Gentile prophet Balaam who was invited by the Moabite King Balak to come to his country to curse the Jews: Despite God’s warnings Balaam accepted the invitation. “God’s wrath flared because he was going, and an angel of God stood on the road to impede him. …The donkey saw the angel of God standing on the road with his sword drawn in his hand, so the donkey turned away from the road and went into the field…” After another such incident, Balaam strikes the donkey, the donkey miraculously rebukes him, and finally God opens Balaam’s eyes to see the angel there, who further rebukes him. (Numbers 22:22-35)
There are, as we mentioned, numerous other examples throughout the Tanach, or the Torah, Prophets and Holy Scriptures of the Torah, where angels are mentioned. We clearly see it is a Jewish belief that angels exist.
The question remains, thought, what exactly are angels? What is their purpose? Why do they have only one mission? Why does God need angels; why can’t He just carry out His decrees or missions Himself?
Perhaps we will discuss some of these questions in next week’s column.

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Defining everything Simchas Torah is about

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve often been bothered by something I have noticed on Simchas Torah in synagogue, that people who are not dancing are sitting. I know that when a Torah scroll is removed from the ark, say at a regular Shabbos service, everyone stands in honor of the Torah. It was once explained to me that whenever the Torah is moving from place to place, we stand in honor of the Torah.
Why is it that on Simchas Torah that the Torah is being moved from place to place as part of the celebration, that people are sitting in its presence?
— Marvin J.
Dear Marvin,
Many years ago, I posed this exact question to my mentor, the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach of Jerusalem, the leading halachic decisor of the past generation in Israel. He smiled, indicating he, too, had been bothered by this question in his youth. He said that he had observed rabbis far greater than anyone in our generation who also sat during the seven hakafos, when the Torah is being taken around the circle of dancing and celebration on Simchas Torah.
Rav Aurbach then answered cryptically that in his opinion the answer is the following: The requirement to rise in honor of the Torah scroll is when the Torah is taken from its stationary place and moved from place to place. On Simchas Torah, the entire synagogue is its place!
To me, this was a very profound analysis of what Simchas Torah is all about, as well as an important message for our lives as Jews. We often look at the Torah as something foreign to the world we live in; in many ways it is indeed foreign to our society. We try to add a little bit of Torah and Judaism here and there, deep down knowing it’s not the central theme of our lives. In a sense, we are taking the Torah out of the ark, out of its place, and moving it into our lives a bit until we return it back to its resting place.
On Simchas Torah, the real celebration is that everywhere is the Torah’s place. Torah is, for those who choose to make it so, central to our lives and permeates every area of our existence. “because they (the words of Torah) are our lives and the length of our day” (Siddur, morning prayers).
When the Tablets were given to us at Sinai, the Torah says that they could be read from either side, (Exodus 32:15). This was a miracle because letters cut through stone should only be readable from the front, in the back they will be backward. What was the point of this miracle? R’ Samson R. Hirsch explains: Often Jews feel that Judaism is something “to do” in synagogue or on holidays, rendering it merely a “religion.” Judaism is not only a religion; it is a way of life. There are mitzvos which apply to every area of business, domestic, family and community life. Whichever way you turn, there are mitzvos which show us how to live our lives Jewishly and infuse them with holiness. That is the message of the Tablets; whichever way you turn them they can still be read.
This is the joy and celebration of Simchas Torah, that we live the Torah in every facet of our lives.
I often say that if you’re going to take the family to synagogue twice a year; instead of it being Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, make it Simchas Torah and Purim! Show the family the joy of being Jewish!
Wishing you and all the readers a joyous, meaningful Simchas Torah.

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Sukkah activities give larger view of world

Posted on 05 October 2017 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 & Kimberly W.
Dear Bart and Kimberly,
The holiday of Sukkos (some refer to it as Sukkot), which began Wednesday night, is referred to as “our time of joy.” Although there is a mitzvah of joy on every holiday, as the Torah says, “vesamachta bechagecha,” “be joyous on Sukkos.” Sukkos 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 the Hurricane Harvey flood, as did so many? 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 connection to a higher Essence. Our connection to the Almighty has no relation to time and place. We had a special connection in Israel with the holy Temple, but even when we lost those we retained our connection through Torah and mitzvos. 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 God.
We bring that relationship alive on Sukkos. On Rosh Hashanah we “coronated” the King and entered His palace. On Yom Kippur we purified ourselves, transcending food and drink, and forged a new, even deeper connection. This bond is not of a transient nature; it becomes part of our very existence. Sukkos is the time we celebrate that eternal bond. By the very nature of the celebration it’s not sufficient to simply “do something”; we need to “live” that bond.
Hence the mitzvah of Sukkos 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 a unique state of 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 and lives. Although we return to our familiar places after Sukkos, 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 larger and higher. We can then use our homes and everything in them as vehicles to take us even higher. This cycle spirals us upward higher and higher every year!
A very joyous Sukkos holiday to you and all the readers!

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Meaning behind fast

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have fasted on Yom Kippur as long as I can remember and am nostalgic about the bagels and smoked fish break fasts with my late parents and aunts and uncles. Truth be told, I’ve never been uplifted by the fast. I’ve never felt inspired by causing self-inflicted pain and starving myself. I fail to see what it accomplishes or how it makes me a better person. I still have my health, thank God, and plan to fast this year, but would appreciate some inspiration to make it more meaningful.
— Beatrice W.
Dear Beatrice,
I’m glad you still have your health! May you continue to enjoy good health this year and many more to come!
If the fast was indeed to cause pain and starve ourselves, I wouldn’t be very inspired to do so either. Furthermore, if the point is to feel pain, why do Jews traditionally wish others to “have an easy fast?” It should rather be “have a miserable fast”! I think we need to reframe the entire concept of the fast on Yom Kippur, which will enable us to view it in a different light.
The source for fasting is in the Torah, which states “But on the 10th day of this (the seventh) month is the Day of Atonement… and you should afflict your souls…” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:27). “Afflicting” is interpreted by our sages in the Talmud to mean we should fast, hence the mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur. This, however, needs explanation. The Torah does not say to afflict our bodies, rather our nefashos or souls, through the fasting. This seems strange, as a fast would seem to afflict the body, not the soul. How can we understand this?
The answer is that the affliction is not the fasting itself. The fasting, which enables us to rest for a while from our physical pursuits, merely provides the backdrop to enable us to focus on our souls, which is the real point of the day. When we focus on our souls and how far we may have strayed from the right path, then the soul is afflicted with that realization. Maimonides points out that the mitzvah on Yom Kippur is not “to fast” as with other fast days, rather to “refrain from eating.” When we are on a higher, more spiritual plane, we have the opportunity, indeed the mitzvah, of getting in sync with our souls and seeing how we can better ourselves.
The mitzvah to “rest” from food and drink also includes desisting from bathing, from wearing leather shoes and from marital relations. All this elevates us to a higher, spiritual world where we can view the world and ourselves from a different vantage point.
My mentor, the late Rabbi S. Wolbe ob”m, once gave us a powerful illustration by which to understand the day of Yom Kippur and its laws. Maimonides, in discussing the final world of reward, says the following: “The World to Come has no eating nor drinking, rather the righteous sitting with their crowns upon their heads, and basking in the glow of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” This is the feeling one has on Yom Kippur. This holy day is a bit of the next world transposed to this world. On Yom Kippur, by refraining from the mundane pursuits of this world, we are transformed into an angelic state whereby we don’t need to eat, much like the angels above are above eating and derive their sustenance from the glow of the Shechinah. With the closeness we enjoy we can intensely feel any distance from the Shechinah we have caused, and fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah, or return to God and our true selves.
May you and all the readers have an easy, meaningful fast and be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet, happy New Year.

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Thoughts on sounding, hearing shofar

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
What should I be thinking about when I hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? It seems like there should be more focus than just how well of a job the blower did this year!
Wishing you a happy Rosh Hashanah,
— Jill K.
Dear Jill,
I don’t want to toot my horn, but I blow the shofar in our shul and also hope that people are thinking about more than just how I did (or if I deserve to have my shofar’s license renewed, all puns intended).
The sages have pointed out many hidden reasons for blowing the shofar; we will try to enumerate a few of them in the space we have available.
Maimonides in his Code offers the most popular understanding; his words are quoted in many machzorim/High Holiday prayer books: “Even though the real reason we blow shofar is a Heavenly decree and its reason is not revealed, we find a hint for it in the verse ‘wake up the slumbering from your sleep’ — wake up and repent! This is referring to the people who are ‘asleep’ in the vanities of the time.” According to Maimonides the shofar is a spiritual, annual alarm clock which awakens us from our reveries and makes us become focused upon our purpose in the world and begin the process of teshuvah: self-improvement and growth.
Another important focus is that shofars and trumpets were blown upon the coronation of a king. Rosh Hashanah is the day we “coronate the Heavenly King” and declare him as our King and us as his subjects. At the moment of hearing the shofar we resolve to live our lives as loyal subjects of our beloved King and to heed His decrees, the mitzvos, and live lives which bring only the most honor to His Kingdom as dedicated members of Klal Yisrael.
A further hint mentioned is that the Talmud declares the ram’s horn to be reminiscent of the ram offered by Abraham in place of his son Isaac. This further teaches us the lesson of complete dedication and subjection to the Divine Will, regardless of the difficulty involved or the level of sacrifice required. This thought deepens the level of our fealty to the Kingdom of Heaven.
One thought which I always feel connected to is the notion that our shofar reflects the shofar blast sounded by the Al-mighty at Mount Sinai. With this, one accepts upon themselves, at the moment of hearing the shofar, to become more dedicated in the coming year to the study of Torah, thereby becoming more deeply connected to Sinai and all it represents.
One final thought I’ll mention is that our shofar is a precursor of the “shofar hagadol,” the great shofar that will be sounded throughout the world with the arrival of Moshiach, the Messiah, ushering in the next period of history, the “time we’re all waiting for”! This is not just allegorical; rather, through our teshuvah at the time of our shofar blowing, we actually bring the world a step closer to that final shofar.
Personally, I usually shift my thoughts during the blowing to all of the above at different moments, as well as other thoughts, some of them personal. Each person should think about what connects them most to the moment.
All this is in addition to the most important thought of all: to have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar! (Make sure not to blow that one!)
This year we’ve all had a “shofar blast” of sorts leading up to Rosh Hashanah with the devastation wreaked in our backyards in Houston and Florida. It’s certainly created much food for thought for introspection; our belief is that whatever happens in the world has something to do with Klal Yisrael. It gives us that much more to contemplate during the Shofar Service this coming Rosh Hashanah!
Best wishes for a very meaningful Rosh Hashanah. May all y’all and our people everywhere be blessed with a sweet, joyous New Year filled with peace, good health and much blessing!

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