Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Differences in big-T, little-T truths in Torah

Posted on 13 July 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m curious if you can help clarify the concepts of personal (little “t”) truth and Torah (big “T”) Truth.
Within Judaism, we allow enough wiggle room to claim, for example, that both Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions can be True. Similar examples touch all aspects of life and law, where multiple contradictory truths are considered True. Thus, the concept of Torah Truth seems to be more of a spectrum than a definitive (view-)point. It seems that as long as one’s approach to Torah study is genuine, then groups or even individuals can bring down different Truths.
How does this concept hold up outside of Judaism? If someone of another religion is also living a moral life, and is toiling genuinely in their religious texts, they will surely also report a genuine relationship with God, and access to Truth. From the Jewish perspective, can a non-Jew access (a piece of) the Truth?
All the best,
— Michael
Dear Michael,
It is true that there is a spectrum of observance within the scope of Judaism and Torah, such as Sephardic, Chasidic, German, Hungarian and Lithuanian customs. These are not different versions of Truth, as you suggest, rather different approaches of how to approach the same Truth.
Let us look at an example of this. Imagine three people standing next to a large lake, discussing its beauty. One says that the water is blue, reflecting the sky; another feels it looks green, like its lily pads, and the third sees it as gray, like the clouds. Which one is correct? The answer is, all of them! There’s probably a smattering of all three colors in that lake and each feels more connected, from his or her perspective, to one of those hues. As long as all three agree upon the key axiomatic makeup of the lake that it is H2O, then there is a “gray area” which is up for interpretation and individual connection and all those viewpoints are equally valid.
So too with Torah; we have certain axioms both in belief and in practice. All of the above-mentioned sects, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, etc., believe in the same Torah from Sinai, the same 13 Principles as outlined by Maimonides which form the framework for our belief system, our definition of Truth. Even with regard to observance, take for example the observance of Shabbos, they are all basically the same. They all accept the same 39 categories of creative activity from which to refrain on the Shabbos; they all recite the same Kiddush over a cup of wine, enjoy the same three Shabbos meals, etc.
Then there are certain gray areas, such as, does one spend more time on Torah study or song and dance? When studying, does one spend more time on the Talmud and Jewish law, or on the Kabbalah and more esoteric subjects? Even within the actual laws of Shabbos, there are subtle nuances, gray areas that may differ, at times, between these sects based upon custom. All are equally valid because they are based upon a true understanding of the sources with the integrity of keeping within the axiomatic truths accepted and agreed upon by all.
They all take into account the H2O of Torah and differ in the gray areas, the subtle hues and nuances. If you look carefully, this is true of all arguments and disagreements throughout the Talmud; it’s not about the general axiomatic principles but about the details, the nuances, the gray undefined areas that are subject to interpretation.
This is the true definition of one’s approach to Torah being “genuine,” not only in intention, but with inherent integrity: playing by the rules defined by the Torah itself.
With regard to other religions, you are correct that according to the Torah a sincere Gentile can also connect to God and develop a genuine, meaningful relationship to Him. We are not a religion that believes that either you’re Jewish or doomed!
There is, however, one caveat. This is as long as that Gentile has not only good intentions, but also fulfills his or her minimum requirement of the service of God according to the Torah with regard to Gentile observance. This means a scrupulous observance of the Seven Noahide Laws. If their religion jibes with these Noahide laws then it is considered, by the Torah, to be consistent with the Truth, and its adherents will merit a portion in the World to Come.
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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Collective learning can make us all better

Posted on 06 July 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been compelled recently by the concept of the collective mind (aka, collective soul, Adam’s mind, the universe, etc). The analogy says that each person is like a neuron within the collective brain. Just as the brain is segmented into regions, so the collective brain is segmented into the Jewish region, as well as other regions for people of other religions, for animals, for the laws of physics, and so forth… for all the parts of our world/universe.
The critical part of this analogy is that each region must have a different perspective in order to create a rich conscious experience. A brain made of identical neurons can process no information. I need my visual neurons to see the world through vision. I need my auditory neurons to see the world through sound. And so on. Therefore, each brain region holds a part of a higher truth.
This seems a perfect analogy for religions. Every brain region (religion) believes that it knows the “Truth” about the world, and so they also think that other brain regions (religions) are wrong. But really, if we zoom out, each brain region holds a critical part of the Truth. My consciousness depends entirely on each of my brain regions doing its job. So also, the collective mind should depend not only on Jews, but on everyone’s piece of the Truth.
Is there a concept that the ultimate Truth is beyond human understanding? If Torah is written by God for Jews, does this also allow to say that Torah is not the whole Truth, but the Jewish perspective on Truth? If so, this should also allow non-Jews to have some legitimate connection to Hashem (God).
Finally, if these are Torah ideas, then our disagreement with other religions is totally predictable, and critical! And if disagreement is critical, then we shouldn’t get hung up on it. In order to work together, we should lean away from the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mindset, and instead try to focus on the “we’re each a critical part” mindset. This would help us all find a deeper compassion and understanding for people of other religions.
Still, it seems that this is not a Torah idea, so how can we get it straight, and what can we learn from the analogy?
All the best,
Michael
Dear Michael,
I am fascinated by your inculcating your training as a neuroscientist into your quest for a deeper understanding of the Torah’s message and its application vis-à-vis us and the world. You have indeed touched upon a true and profound concept which, with a bit of tweaking, will provide much insight.
Rather than applying the concept of collective mind to different religions, and considering multiple, contradictory truths, our sources apply a similar concept to diverse peoples or nations. There are myriad essential, basic principles which apply to humanity, and each nation is unique in its development of one or more of those core principles. Some examples of such principles are what Stephen R. Covey discusses in the beginning of his classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (pp. 34-35). These are principles which he considers not to be esoteric or religious in character, but basic to the human condition. These include fairness, integrity, honesty, human dignity, service, quality, excellence, growth, patience, nurturance and encouragement.
The Talmud explains that every nation has developed uniquely one or more basic principles: principles which have, unlike Covey’s understanding, sources in holiness and were spread among the peoples of the world to perfect.
The Talmud teaches, in fact, that one of the purposes of our exile among the nations is to learn those unique lessons from each land we traverse and to inculcate those lessons into our service of God as Jews. It is well-known that Jews of different lands have indoctrinated the positive lessons of their hosts into their own service, such as the German Jews who are well-known for their punctuality. My mentor in Jerusalem ob’m once remarked, when discussing this concept, that one of the important lessons we learn from our sojourn in America is that “time is money.”
We can see the value and preciousness of every moment of time and make our best use of it, not squandering or wasting it. He explained the above Talmudic teaching that at the time that all the Jews will return to Israel at the end of our exile, we will bring the sum total of all these Diaspora lessons and return them to the fire of Sinai, bringing our “time away” full circle.

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Spiritual side of our entanglement theory

Posted on 29 June 2017 by admin

Dear Steven,
Last week we addressed your question concerning simulation theory, and this week we shall touch upon your fascinating thoughts about quantum entanglement.
In part, you asked:
“… However, my views have evolved a lot lately … quantum physics and ideas like entanglement — that two particles in two different places can be entangled and cooperate at a quantum level — that go so completely against what we can observe about our universe. For example, I’ve long wanted to understand more about the mechanics of how mitzvot and prayer affect the world, and science now has the language — courtesy of quantum entanglement — to describe how doing one thing in one place might instantly affect something else in another place, without any passage of or through time and space.
“In other words, perhaps the mechanics of quantum entanglement are identical to the mechanics of how a mitzvah or tefilla here might affect an outcome somewhere else.”
I must say that you have, with your connection between entanglement and the effects of mitzvot and prayer upon the universe, touched upon one of the deepest Kabbalistic principles regarding the effect of our actions upon the universe.
Let us first mention that, as it is well-known, entanglement embodies one of the most baffling conundrums of quantum physics. Two sub-atomic particles which are essentially “entangled,” for example which emanate from an atom in a way which necessitates them to hold opposite spin patterns, will retain those opposite characteristics, hence remain entangled, no matter how far apart they may be. Even if they travel light-years apart they remain entangled, and if the spin of one particle is changed, that will have an immediate effect of the spin of its entangled particle. This effect will transpire instantaneously, as if they’re still attached, light-years away! This seems to defy Einstein’s principle in special relativity that nothing can ever travel faster than the speed of light!
Physicists have struggled to explain that this, indeed, does not contradict relativity, because nothing “travels” between the two particles; rather they are in some way “attached at the hip” no matter how distant they are from each other in space.
This is profoundly similar to our understanding of how the actions of a human being affect even the far-flung reaches of the universe instantaneously. This is predicated on the understanding of the soul. We usually think of the soul as a spark of Godliness which the Creator has imbued us with. This is true, but it goes far beyond that. In fact, the deeper sources of Jewish thought, the Kabbalistic works, teach us that the part of the soul within our bodies is merely the sparks of the lowest level of the soul. It compares our bodies to a “shoe”; although our bodies stand in our shoes, it’s only the lowliest part of one’s body held within the shoe. The main part of one’s body towers far above the reaches of the shoe. Also the main parts of our souls tower light-years above our physical structures. The root of the soul reaches above all the 10 levels of Sefiros, or celestial worlds  from which emanate different aspects of Godliness; hence every thought, matter of speech and action a person does instantaneously affects all of those heavenly worlds. Hence the actions, speech and thoughts immediately affect the entire universe, as the celestial worlds are the core and spiritual foundation for the entire physical universe. This is the spiritual side of our “entanglement” with the higher spheres of the spiritual, and hence physical, universe.
When one contemplates this concept, there’s truly no room for a condition which plagues our generation, the lack of self-esteem. Rather than feeling puny and inconsequential in face of the billions of galaxies we know to exist, one should feel proud to embody a soul so high and powerful that it can affect all of those galaxies! This is the true meaning of our creation in the image of God!

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Quantum physics, Torah interlinked

Posted on 22 June 2017 by admin

Hi Rabbi Fried,
I have a question for you when you have a little time: Have you done any study of quantum physics and whether there is anything we can learn from that field about Torah, or vice versa? If so, what have you learned, or what resources would you point me toward?
I ask because I’ve perhaps turned a bit of a spiritual corner lately and, interestingly, quantum physics has been a major catalyst for that, so I’m trying to see what else I can soak up.
I’ve always been a bit undecided about what’s really out there and have never been able to fully disavow the notion that this world came into being accidentally or by random chance; maybe what we see and observe here is all there is. I’ve tended to lean more toward answers I can physically observe or mentally internalize, and the simplest explanation of my worldly observation is that humans are born, live, and die like any other animal, and that there is nothing special about us beyond our prefrontal cortex.
However, my views have evolved a lot lately as I’ve been studying Simulation Theory (from which I take the idea that this world is not the truest manifestation of reality) and quantum physics and ideas like entanglement — that two particles in two different places can be entangled and cooperate at a quantum level — that go so completely against what we can observe about our universe. Lately, I’ve truly come to internalize how limited our powers of observation are in accurately understanding the nature of ourselves and our world, which I think makes me far more spiritually open than I have been before. So, I’m hoping to capitalize on that by layering in my learning on these topics with some relevant Torah learning.
For example, I’ve long wanted to understand more about the mechanics of how mitzvot and prayer affect the world, and science now has the language — courtesy of quantum entanglement — to describe how doing one thing in one place might instantly affect something else in another place, without any passage of or through time and space. In other words, perhaps the mechanics of quantum entanglement are identical to the mechanics of how a mitzvah or tefilla here might affect an outcome somewhere else.
If you have any insights or guidance on materials I should be looking at, I would appreciate it!
Thanks,
Steven
Dear Steven,
I am fascinated by your journey and the new look you’re taking at the world through the lens of the scientific theories you mentioned. Many others like yourself, including many scientists, have begun to question their previous secular outlook on the world as the result of quantum physics and many of its shocking revelations which are often diametrically opposed to the way they considered the world previously. (For example, in past columns we discussed at length the profound Jewish insights which we glean from “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle” in lieu of Einstein’s criticism of that theorem that “God doesn’t play dice”).
The comparison you draw between quantum entanglement and the effect of mitzvot and prayer upon the world is very compelling, and we shall discuss this in more detail in next week’s column.
For now, let us focus on the inspiration you have drawn from “Simulation Theory” and its argument that perhaps we don’t truly exist in the normal sense of the word, and the probability that we are living in a virtual reality simulated in a computer built by some advanced civilization. This idea, developed most notably by Nick Bostrom, assumes the concept of “substrate independence,” which postulates that our consciousness could be implemented not only through carbon-based neurons, such as those in our brains, but also on some other computational substrate such as silicon-based processors. The fact that we don’t presently have the ability to do so is merely a technical difficulty which may have been surmounted by another civilization, or we ourselves may get there soon.
One small thing not taken into account by this theory, which to us is huge, is the existence of the Soul. Substrate independence would relegate all human feelings, emotions and thoughts to chemical processes, completely secularizing the entire human experience.
There is, however, a level of Jewish understanding in the deeper sources that we are living a type of simulated reality. This is based upon the Kabbalistic concept of tzimtzum, which teaches that the only true reality is that of God, and hence our existence is only virtual. On the other hand, the same sources teach that we need to live completely with our focus on our earthly reality. That dichotomy forms a Jewish dual existence which is similar to the quantum concept of parallel universes which we discussed in previous columns. Our existence is both simulated and real simultaneously! (This is equivalent to the standard Jewish answer of “yes and no,” or “it depends”!) To understand this properly would take not a column but a book; suffice it to say that this is one of myriad examples of how quantum and Torah realities mesh into one beautiful tapestry.
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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Millennials should seek connection to Six-Day War

Posted on 15 June 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
There’s been a lot of talk about the Six-Day War on its 50th anniversary.
It was obviously a special victory given the odds and the advantages of the combined armies of four Arab countries banded together against a relatively newborn state. But, for us Millennials, it’s pretty distant history and hard for us to see what impact it has on our lives at this late date, since we didn’t live through it and it’s something so distant from us. On the other hand, I feel a little guilty not sharing in the excitement lots of people seem to be having over it.
Any insights that could help me?
— Brittany K.
Dear Brittany,
As an American Jew, the Six-Day War undoubtedly has had a most profound affect upon your life and those of your generation, although you were not alive when it happened and it’s something that seems so far away.
For Israelis and especially Jerusalemites the War was nothing less than a miraculous rescue, “parting of the sea,” from what was predicted to be the “second Holocaust.” Israel was completely surrounded, outnumbered, and at a huge tactical disadvantage militarily, with Arab military machinery and airpower at least 4 to 1 against Israel. Parks and graveyards were being prepared for what was expected to be the biggest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust. Survivors of that calamity solemnly declared that the world, again, didn’t care about the Jews as Nasser and the other Arab leaders spoke openly of the decimation of Israel once and for all. And the world truly didn’t care, once again.
I strongly recommend you read Six Days of War: June 1967 & The Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael Oren, a masterful and detailed account of both the mayhem and confusion in the Israeli government through the events leading up to the War, and just how grave the danger was to the survival of the country. It is a breathtaking account of the blow-by-blow stages of the War, and the profound effects of its aftermath in the reshaping of Israel and the Middle East.
The historical and political account understandably does not take another profound effect of the War into account, on both sides of the ocean. In Israel, it gave birth to the “Baal Teshuva” movement. This was a tsunami of young Israelis, many of whom served in the IDF during the war and many of whom were involved from the sidelines, who truly felt they had experienced a great miracle of Biblical proportions and were, for the first time, seeking their Jewish roots. That movement, which has ebbed but in many ways, continues until today, has had an enormous effect on the spiritual and religious demographic of the State of Israel. Untold thousands of “returnees” and their children and grandchildren today populate Israeli cities and towns throughout the country. Immediately following the war, several moving accounts of miraculous events, especially by pilots in the Israeli Air Force but also by regular foot soldiers, went viral and brought about a surge of consciousness of God’s role in this historic event that has had a huge impact on the Israel of today.
As for the Jews of the Diaspora, a profound observation was pronounced by one of the leading sages of America, Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzki ob’m, at a national convention. He observed that if not for the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish pride was so low that the entire generation would have assimilated after the Holocaust. Only that proclamation caused a resurging of Jewish pride that would buy us another generation. And what the birth of Israel did for its generation of American Jews, the Six-Day War did for its generation. Jewish pride was again at an all-time low and with the lack of Jewish observance, most American Jews had little to hold on to.
It was Jewish pride engendered by the Six-Day War that breathed a spark of life into your parents’ generation, having an incalculable impact on your own Jewish identity. That certainly behooves yourself and us all to review and study its details. At the same time, as you observed, the effect of that War and the pride it brought about are quickly waning; time is quickly running out for the Jewish identity of so many in your generation.
Visiting Israel is very important and a wonderful thing, but that alone won’t do it. The only thing which is alive, well and available to all who seek it to breathe life into Jewish identity in a lasting way is the study of our rich heritage and connection to our amazing past, our Torah and Jewish wisdom. This, coupled with an appreciation of Israel, will make you and your generation a strong foundation for a vibrant Jewish future.
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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Misconception of rules regarding teaching Torah

Posted on 08 June 2017 by admin

Hi Rabbi Fried,
I’ve heard the concept that we are not supposed to teach Torah (specifically halacha?) to non-Jews.
In academia, the goal is to develop enough expertise that you are trusted to begin creating or discovering or bringing down new knowledge. Somehow, with social media and openly sharing information, that expertise gets replaced with credentials and popularity and whatever combination of things determines how much other people want to absorb and spread your ideas.
I’d like to extend this concept to Judaism. If every bit of knowledge is given by God, nothing is a coincidence, and ideas are revealed to the world at the moment they are intended and needed, then moving toward Mashiakh is a matter of the global consciousness absorbing higher ideas of love and oneness (compassion, connection, consciousness, creativity, judging favorably, etc. etc.), and considering them common knowledge.
Let me attempt to ask the same question many times in different words: How can I navigate this, when it comes to revealing Truth to the world? What credentials are required to be sure that I am following Torah, and not just spewing my own misunderstanding into the world? How can we understand that there’s a Truth, and that we each resonate with only some part(s) of Torah, and our mission is to spread our unique understanding, but not to muddy that message with individuality…?
If every possible thing I could ever write is both uniquely created by me, and also wholly embodies the will of God bringing information into the world, precisely where and when and how it is needed for His audience, then how can we understand the restriction to not teach Torah (to non-Jews)?
I am (at this point in my life/career) finding my passion for unifying science and religion (and all information that God has made available to man thus far), and making this terribly-misunderstood topic more approachable and accepted in the global mind. So, the fact that I’m drawn to this means that God has given me the tools I need to pursue this. How am I to understand the restrictions around how and what I can teach?
Thanks for your time, and sorry that this email became so long.
All the best,
Michael K.
Dear Michael,
It’s exciting to see someone of your scientific background and inquisitive mind searching the truths of Torah and acquiring its deep knowledge and teachings with so much depth and searching. May you succeed in your journey to much joy in its understanding!
With regards to the teaching of Torah to Gentiles, it is as you have surmised that this applies to the deeper and more esoteric parts of Torah, and halacha. Many authorities maintain it does not apply to the written Torah. This question certainly has no bearing on what you seek to accomplish, namely to bring out the Truth of God in science and in the universe. Not only is this not included in the said prohibition; on the contrary, it is a tremendous mitzvah to show that truth to all of mankind!
The seven “Noahide laws,” those laws which apply to all mankind as commanded to Noah upon exiting the ark, include the belief in God. The Jewish people, the children of Abraham, are first and foremost in the obligation to fulfill God’s mission of promulgating that belief to all peoples.
May you have much success in doing so!

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Why Shavuot holiday isn’t explicitly addressed in Torah

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have done a search and am shocked to have found that the holiday of Shavuot is not mentioned in the Torah! How could something as important as Shavuot being the day the Jews received the Torah at Sinai not be mentioned in connection to that holiday?
Brian S.
Dear Brian,
The Torah states, “and you should count … from the day after the Shabbos (i.e., the 1st day of Pesach) …  seven complete weeks… you should count 50 days and offer a new mincha offering to Hashem.” (Levitcus 23: 15-16) All the Torah mentions at the end of the counting of 49 days, which culminates in the holiday of Shavuot, is to bring a “new mincha” (bread offering). What about the fact that it’s Shavuot, the day we received the Torah?! That’s not even mentioned, as you pointed out. Furthermore, why is the bread offering called a “new mincha”? What is more “new” about that offering than any other?
The classical commentator Keli Yakar (Rabbi S. E. Luntschitz, early 17th-century Prague), comments that the “new mincha” is a hint to the holiday of Shavuot, the day of receiving the Torah. This is because the Torah needs to always be “new” for each person. Every day he or she should feel like it was given to them that very day from Sinai!
This is why the Torah did not explicitly single out a specific day as the day of receiving the Torah from Sinai. Although historically it was given on the day of Shavuot, to write explicitly that Shavuot is the day of receiving the Torah would minimize the Sinai experience to only that day, whereas the Torah wants us to feel that every day it is being given anew to those who toil in its study. Every moment that we delve deeply into Torah we bring out new subtle nuances and understandings that are hidden within its infinite wisdom and waiting to be discovered.
With this recognition, the study of Torah never “gets old,” one never gets bored from its toil. On the contrary, it’s always exciting and new! That’s why it’s hinted to by the bringing of a mincha chadasha, a “new” mincha. Every offering brought is technically new, but here the Torah actually calls it such, to stress that everything about this day is fresh and new.
The Keli Yakar proceeds to reveal a profound point. Nearly all the wheat offerings were brought from matzah, as the Torah doesn’t allow offerings of chametz (leavening). The two breads which are the special mincha offering for Shavuot must be brought from breads which are chametz. Generally, chametz is forbidden in the Temple because it represents the “evil inclination” (yetzer hara). On Shavuot, however, the day of the giving of Torah, where there is Torah the yetzer hara has no power to control us. This is what we learn from the Talmud, which states, “I created the yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as its antidote.” (Kiddushin 30b)
Furthermore, if not for the yetzer hara needing its antidote, the Torah never would have been brought down from its lofty place in Heaven to rest among mortal men in the physical world. This is the answer utilized by Moses to the angels when he ascended Sinai to receive the Torah. When the angels protested to the Al-mighty for His taking his most precious possession and defiling it by presenting it to mortal men, Moses retorted by asking them, “Do you have a yetzer hara for which you need this Torah?!” (Talmud, Shabbos 88b-89a) The essence of Torah is as an antidote to the yetzer hara; consequently the Torah requires, specifically on Shavuot, to bring an offering of chametz to show the yetzer hara is powerless against the Torah.
Although Keli Yakar does not explain how the Torah is the antidote to the yetzer hara, I think the answer is implicit in his words. Chametz comes about in merely 18 minutes by the wet dough sitting idle. If, however, you are constantly kneading and working it, it doesn’t become chametz in even 18 hours! Newness ceases the chametz process!
The toil of Torah in a way which makes one renew himself constantly doesn’t allow the “chametz process” to take hold of himself. That is truly the antidote to the yetzer hara, and is precisely why Shavuot is not explicitly written in the Torah as the day of receiving the Torah. Every day we make the Torah as new, as we find in the opening lines of Shema where we recite that “these words should be ‘today’ upon your heart,” to which Rashi comments, “Every day they should be fresh and new as if they were given that day.”
On this Shavuot let us all re-accept the Torah with all its vigor, in a way that we will continue to keep it fresh and new throughout the year. Best wishes for a joyous Shavuot to all the readers!

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Burying non-kosher dishes simply a myth

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently visited my grandmother, who’s nearly 90 and not in the greatest health, and she told me many things about the family which I was hearing for the first time.
One thing she told me had me very confused and I was hoping you could shed some light on it for me. My grandmother shocked me by telling me that she and my grandpa actually kept kosher the first years of their marriage, until the kids were young. Then, one day when they were away on vacation, when they came back they realized that the maid had mixed up the meat and milk dishes. My grandmother wasn’t about to dig a hole in the backyard to bury the dishes to make them kosher again, so she decided on the spot that they were done with kosher.
Our family, although proudly Jewish, has had nothing to do with kosher, or any other observance for that matter, ever since. That decision obviously had a major impact on the future of her family for generations to come, and it was all based on the need to bury the dishes. Why is it that one needs to bury the dishes to make them kosher again? Dishes don’t die to need to come back to life or something…the whole thing has been upsetting to me and I need some explanation.
— Margie K.
Dear Margie,
Sadly, I’ve heard many similar stories from Jewish families of that generation. It seems to have been common knowledge in that time that the way to re-kosher dishes was by burying them.
The whole “burial of dishes” story is a complete myth; there is no source for it whatsoever in Jewish law. The Torah clearly outlines how one renders vessels kosher if they have been used for non-kosher food: Whatever was used directly on an open fire must be passed through fire to remove the absorption, whatever was used with boiling water should be immersed in boiling water, etc. (see Numbers 31:21-23). Entire chapters in the Code of Jewish Law are dedicated to the intricacies of various types of vessels and how to “kasher” them, render them kosher. Nowhere does it mention burial!
My best guess at the source of this myth is a paragraph in the above Code which states that if one cut fatty non-kosher meat with a knife which has crevices, in order to scrape away the fat of that meat to perform the koshering process one should push the blade of the knife into hard ground a number of times to clean it and make it possible to kasher. Perhaps that law got somehow misconstrued into the myth of the burial of dishes in the ground.
What is so tragic is that due to a complete myth, so many families who did not want to conform to that myth ended up dropping the observance of kosher. This carried tremendous consequences for the future generations of those families and, often, dire consequences for the Jewish people at large who have moved so far away from observance, as happened to your own family.
So, Margie, here’s my challenge for you to consider: Since your grandmother stopped the family’s observance of kosher due to a mistake in the facts, without that mistake your family would very likely still be kosher-observant today!  So, my challenge is for you to consider, perhaps, to rectify this mistake and bring things back to what they could — and should — have been. It’s not too late for you to rectify that mistake and try out the observance of kosher. You can contact Dallas Kosher and they’ll be more than happy to walk you through what needs to be done. (I promise they won’t make you bury anything!)
Historically, families that have kept kosher stayed more connected to the Jewish community. Kosher has, throughout the generations, been one of the most powerful guarantees for Jewish continuity and pride. It rightfully belongs to you, and you can make it your own!

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Individuality’s role in God’s directions

Posted on 11 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I enjoyed your response to the two religious-school students in last week’s column comparing God’s involvement in the lives of mankind to a GPS.
That leads to another question in my mind. Since a GPS gives very clear directions of how to go, how does that leave room for freedom of choice? Furthermore, if we’re being “told” exactly where to go, what’s really our part in all of this … where’s the room for individuality and making a unique contribution?
— Jennifer B.
Dear Jennifer,
Great thinking! I love the depth!
We can analyze this on a few levels. Firstly, how many people do you know will have on their GPS but … they know better! With an advanced system, the GPS is factoring in traffic jams, closed streets due to construction and the like, but many will still choose to ignore the directives and try to figure it out on their own.
In the classical work The Path of the Just (by Rabbi M. C. Luzzatto, Amsterdam 1738), this world is compared to a maze. Kings would have a huge maze cut from shrubbery, and people would try to reach the middle. Those who reached the middle would climb a pedestal and watch the others, pointing out that they’re sometimes headed toward a dead end, although it looked like the straightest path to the middle. People could decide to trust those who made it, or try to make their own way, ignoring the advice from above. His comparison is to the true righteous people who have “made it,” and have risen above the confusion of this world, seeing clearly which paths lead toward, or away from, perfection. We can also use it in the context of our GPS from Above — whether or not we will notice, listen to the subtle hints sent our way to gently guide us along the proper path. Every person has the free choice whether or not they will heed those hints.
This leads to the next point. The subtlety of the message given to us through these Heavenly hints, and even through the Torah itself, is quite different from the GPS. We give the GPS the destination; it tells us precisely how to get there. The Torah, however, tells us the destination and often leaves to us the path to get there. Referring to the methodology of Talmud study, which has been compared to crossing the ocean, a great rabbi once made a famous analogy. R’ Yisrael of Salant used to say, “Many have crossed the ocean, but nobody has yet paved the way.” Each individual adds their unique understanding and feelings to the study of Torah.
Similarly, my mentor, the renowned sage R’ Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ob’m, made a statement to me concerning certain differences in customs in Jewish law. I asked him which one was preferable. His analogy was, if someone wants to get to the back of the house, he can walk around the right or the left side; either way he’ll get to the same spot!
As long as one is walking along in the right direction, Judaism leaves much room for individuality, all within the same system. There is, undoubtedly, a part of the system which is black-and-white and there’s no room to veer off from that. There is also, however, a lot of gray space which leaves room for individuality and spontaneity. Those are the places where a person can make their unique contribution. The GPS of Torah will get us to the right place if we listen to it. Unlike the GPS which shows only one route, Torah and God Himself leaves the individual multiple ways to fulfill His will. It could be through the deep piety and Kabbalistic service of the Sephardic Jews, the joy of the Chassidic movement or the scholarship of  Lithuanian Jewry, and myriad strains within all of the above and many more who all serve God, within the framework of Torah, in their unique and beautiful ways.

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Like GPS, God guides us with map, direction

Posted on 04 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
We were given an assignment from religious school for a week from Sunday to express our beliefs and feelings about the idea that God is watching us all the time. Do Jews really believe that? If we do, is there a way to look at the fact we’re always being watched that doesn’t feel creepy?
Thank you,
Allison & Brittany
Dear Allison and Brittany,
You didn’t tell me what you believe! I guess what you’re saying is that you sort of believe it … but it feels sort of creepy to think that.
It is, in fact, a core Jewish belief that God is constantly watching over us and knows all that we are doing and thinking. This is the 10th of the 13 foundational Jewish beliefs outlined by the great Jewish scholar and philosopher Rabbi Moses Maimonides. He bases it on a verse in Psalms which says, “He fashions all their hearts together, He comprehends all their deeds” (Psalms 33:15).
One way to look at this is like a GPS device. The very first time I used a GPS in my car, I got very emotional. I told my kids, who were in the car at the time, “Hey kids, just look at this! There’s something up in the sky that knows exactly where we are and what direction we’re going and at what speed! Not only that, if you make a wrong turn it even lets you know and then gives you another way to get to where you’re going!”
Then I told them, “We can learn from this that we also have a Father in Heaven Who knows exactly where we are, what we’re doing and where we’re going. He loves us so much that even if we go off the path we’re supposed to be going on, He gives us a way to get back to the right path and enables us to arrive at the right destination!”
Instead of it feeling creepy, this is a different way to look at the same idea. It shows how important we are that God takes the time and caring to be involved in our lives all the time. It illustrates how much He loves us to show us, if we look carefully and notice, little hints to let us know if we’re going the right way or if we’re veering off the path. So many people today suffer from a lack of self-esteem. They don’t think they’re very important or that what they do matters very much, if at all. Judaism teaches the opposite; every person is very important!
Every person has a soul created in the image of God, it is the spark of Godliness that gives us life. What we do, especially as Jews, doesn’t just affect our immediate surroundings; our actions, words and thoughts impact the entire universe! Every mitzvah we perform builds beautiful buildings in the upper spiritual worlds. This is implicit in our being created in the “image of God.” Just as God is a creator, we, too, are creators with all we choose to do, not only if we create a physical building with bricks and mortar, but through our choices and actions in the spiritual realm.
That is how God created us and is why He stays involved in the lives of His beloved creations, whom He considers like His beloved children.
The Torah provides the path and direction; God, with His immense love for us, provides the GPS!

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