Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Hanukkah not the last miracle of Judaism

Posted on 05 December 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve heard that Hanukkah is said to be the last miracle in Jewish history; is that true?
Marla K.

Dear Marla,
What you are perhaps referring to is a statement in the Talmud (Tractate Yoma) that the miracle of Purim was the last miracle that was given over to be recorded in Tanach, and Hanukkah was the final “formal” miracle that was “institutionalized” in the form of a holiday, although it was not meant to be recorded in Tanach.
This is not intended to mean that no later miracles transpired. On the contrary, we recite in the “al hanisim” paragraph (recited together with the Hanukkah lighting and prayer service) that God performed miracles “in those times and in our days.” We are meant to utilize the miracles that transpired in Jewish history to realize the miraculous existence of our lives and that of the Jewish people today. The Talmudic statement only refers to institutionalized miracles, which were put into holiday form.
I strongly believe that we clearly see the miraculous way by which God interacts with the Jewish people in our times.
As we have mentioned in past columns, not always do miracles need to be positive for us to notice miraculous occurrences, by which to recognize that the Al-mighty continues to be with us.
We would need to be blind not to notice how, at the onset of Hanukkah, almost the entire membership of the U.N. General Assembly passed six anti-Israel resolutions (surprise, surprise), two of which basically deny the Jewish people’s historic connection to the Temple Mount. It is referenced to only by its Arabic name of al-Haram al-Sharif, the mount of the al-Aksa mosque, not even as the Temple Mount. In this way, with one fell swoop, thousands of years of history were erased and rewritten by our swell pals at the U.N.
Among those thousands of years of history denied by the U.N. is none other than the Hanukkah miracle. Let’s not forget that the meaning of “Hanukkah” is consecration, referring to the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after the Greeks sought to defile it and relegate the holy Temple to an artifact of history or a museum. They didn’t try to physically destroy it, rather reduce it to be just another aesthetic edifice.
The Maccabees, despite their small number and being against the mighty Greek empire, succeeded in returning the crown of the Temple Mount to its prior glory.
The fact that the modern-day Greeks, the U.N. General Assembly, would again seek to deny the existence of the Holy Temple on erev Hanukkah, should only reinforce our belief in miracles and our noticing God’s Hand in our destiny.
This should awaken us, as a nation, to rededicate ourselves to the holiness of the Torah and the Jewish people represented by the Temple Mount and the message of Hanukkah.
A joyous Hanukkah to all the readers.

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Xmas traditions may come from Hanukkah

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
As a mother, every year I am challenged by the proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas. How can we possibly compete, lighting our candles, with their stunning display of colorful lights filling the malls, decorating their houses and their trees? What do I say when the kids ask me if Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas?
Marcia P.
Dear Marcia,
What you and many others are facing is truly a challenge. The reality is that we and our children are surrounded by the culture of the country in which we live. If we try to outdo those around us, we are doomed to failure. We must instead, while acknowledging the compelling nature of the local culture, focus on the beauty of what we have as Jews.
I have always been struck by what I consider one of the greatest ironies of Jewish history. Some scholars of religious history maintain that many of the customs and celebrations of Christmas are based upon the celebration of Hanukkah, which predated Christianity by hundreds of years. According to these scholars, in their desire to attract Jews to Christianity, Christian leaders established this holiday at the same time of year as Hanukkah, with many similarities, hoping it would break down the barriers of Jews to enter their fold. Hence, they established the kindling of lights, which are an embellishment of our Hanukkah lights. The original 12 days of Christmas are a twist on the Torah reading of Hanukkah, which outlines the gifts of the 12 heads of the tribes during the consecration (Hanukkah) of the original tabernacle, over 12 days.
Here’s the irony: There are studies which show that more Jews observe Hanukkah than any other Jewish holiday. Some sociologists explain the reason for this phenomenon is that many Jews consider Hanukkah their “Jewish Christmas.” How ironic it is that the very holiday which is largely an imitation of Hanukkah should serve as the reason for Jews observing its true source.
(The irony continues: Many, if not most, of the familiar Christmas carols which so define the contemporary holiday were actually composed by Jews. “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Let It Snow,” “Silver Bells,” “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch,” to mention a few, were all composed by Jews.)
To make it even more ironic, Hanukkah was enacted as a celebration of the Jews’ withstanding the Syrian-Greeks’ attempts to assimilate the Jews into Greek culture and society. This concept is borne out by the nature of the miracle of the menorah. The miracle of the menorah was performed with a flask of olive oil. The symbolism of the oil is that when it is mixed with water, eventually the oil will separate and rise to the top. So, too, the Jews were not assimilated into the Greek society and culture around them. They eventually separated and rose back to the top, remaining true to their connection to God and to each other.
The last thing we would expect is for Hanukkah to become a way to identify with the culture around us, the antithesis of its own essential message.
Hanukkah is a time to focus upon our uniqueness, with a subtle separation from our surroundings. Only when we fully recognize and appreciate this uniqueness and separateness can we serve as a light unto the nations.
I would recommend you visit some of the many wonderful Jewish websites that offer a wealth of material you can utilize to explain the beauty of Hanukkah to your children and will enrich your own appreciation of this special time. Sites like Aish.com and Chabad.org, to mention a couple, provide reading material, videos, cartoons and many multi-media opportunities to bring Hanukkah alive to your family and friends.
On Hanukkah, we begin lighting with only one candle and ascend to lighting more and more lights, night by night. May Hanukkah be a time that all Jews will ascend and grow in their observance and pride in their unique Jewish identity, their connection to the illumination in our Torah and rich tradition.
A joyous and meaningful Hanukkah to you and all the readers.

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Are we approaching the final redemption?

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have been both upset, confused and scared by many comments I’ve been hearing about Israel. Often, it seems that Israel is quickly being painted into a corner, or worse, a stranglehold, with no one of significance coming to her defense. That explains my upset and fear. My confusion comes from my belief in God and not understanding what he is trying to do to allow Israel to get into this predicament. Your thoughts would be most welcome.

Charles Z.

Dear Charles,

You can be sure that what you are feeling is being felt by many.

What is truly happening, one would need to be a prophet to know, and, sadly, I’ve never received my degree in prophecy (which would have jeopardized our status as a “non-prophet” organization). I can, however, share with you my personal thoughts and feelings on the issue.

In many Jewish sources, especially those based upon the Kabbalah, the final reign over the world before the coming of Messiah will be that of the offspring of Ishmael. Prophetically, there are four kingdoms who are said to rule over the Jews over the course of world history: Babylon, Persia-Media, Greece and Rome. We presently are still in the midst of the Roman exile, which began with the destruction of the second Temple in 70 of the common era and endures until today.

All the above four share the common denominator that they were defined kingdoms. They occupied a specific, definable area, and their wars and exiles were clearly defined. Ishmael, however, doesn’t have kings or kingdoms per se in the Torah, but chieftains and rulers. This is predicated on the prophecy that “his hand will be upon everything” (Genesis/Beresheet 16:12). This “non-kingdom” of Ishmael, the patriarch of the Arab and Muslim world, will be an undefined one, which will spread throughout the world, causing far greater fear and havoc than all the previous four combined (Kabbalistic writings).

We are beginning to see the fulfillment of this frightful prophecy. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent sobering email that circulated throughout the world about the numbers and percentages of Muslims in Europe today, including many who are radicalized.

To see Israel painted into a corner further prepares the stage for the final redemption. The prophets all foretold of the Jews’ eventual return to God, teshuva. The Talmud explains that this will happen when the Jews profoundly realize they have nobody to rely upon other than God. As long as they feel they can rely on a particular nation, their reliance upon God is not complete.

The Torah says of the Jews, “Behold, it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers/Bamidbar 23:9). I will never forget a full-page New York Times ad that listed on one side of the page all the hundreds of countries of the world allowed full status in the United Nations Security Council, many of which I had never heard of. On the other side of the page was listed all the countries not allowed that hallowed status; the entire list was: Israel. The above verse in Numbers could not have resounded louder.

May we recognize our separate status and existence, and live it to the fullest extent it was intended. That will speed up the time when we will be recognized by all as the Chosen Nation.

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Are we approaching the final redemption?

Posted on 26 November 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have been both upset, confused and scared by many comments I’ve been hearing about Israel. Often, it seems that Israel is quickly being painted into a corner, or worse, a stranglehold, with no one of significance coming to her defense. That explains my upset and fear. My confusion comes from my belief in God and not understanding what he is trying to do to allow Israel to get into this predicament. Your thoughts would be most welcome.

Charles Z.

Dear Charles,

You can be sure that what you are feeling is being felt by many.

What is truly happening, one would need to be a prophet to know, and, sadly, I’ve never received my degree in prophecy (which would have jeopardized our status as a “non-prophet” organization). I can, however, share with you my personal thoughts and feelings on the issue.

In many Jewish sources, especially those based upon the Kabbalah, the final reign over the world before the coming of Messiah will be that of the offspring of Ishmael. Prophetically, there are four kingdoms who are said to rule over the Jews over the course of world history: Babylon, Persia-Media, Greece and Rome. We presently are still in the midst of the Roman exile, which began with the destruction of the second Temple in 70 of the common era and endures until today.

All the above four share the common denominator that they were defined kingdoms. They occupied a specific, definable area, and their wars and exiles were clearly defined. Ishmael, however, doesn’t have kings or kingdoms per se in the Torah, but chieftains and rulers. This is predicated on the prophecy that “his hand will be upon everything” (Genesis/Beresheet 16:12). This “non-kingdom” of Ishmael, the patriarch of the Arab and Muslim world, will be an undefined one, which will spread throughout the world, causing far greater fear and havoc than all the previous four combined (Kabbalistic writings).

We are beginning to see the fulfillment of this frightful prophecy. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent sobering email that circulated throughout the world about the numbers and percentages of Muslims in Europe today, including many who are radicalized.

To see Israel painted into a corner further prepares the stage for the final redemption. The prophets all foretold of the Jews’ eventual return to God, teshuva. The Talmud explains that this will happen when the Jews profoundly realize they have nobody to rely upon other than God. As long as they feel they can rely on a particular nation, their reliance upon God is not complete.

The Torah says of the Jews, “Behold, it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers/Bamidbar 23:9). I will never forget a full-page New York Times ad that listed on one side of the page all the hundreds of countries of the world allowed full status in the United Nations Security Council, many of which I had never heard of. On the other side of the page was listed all the countries not allowed that hallowed status; the entire list was: Israel. The above verse in Numbers could not have resounded louder.

May we recognize our separate status and existence, and live it to the fullest extent it was intended. That will speed up the time when we will be recognized by all as the Chosen Nation.

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Will Islam bring the final exile to Jews?

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been contemplating what has been happening over the past decade or so, and it seems like there’s like some kind of Muslim takeover going on around the world. It wasn’t that long ago that the Muslims seemed relatively insignificant in worldwide politics. Of course, there was always the politics over their oil and with Israel, but it never seemed as if they were controlling things. Suddenly, we wake up and here they are, pretty quickly controlling a lot of what’s going on in Europe, having a huge influence around the world and having a disproportionately strong voice on American campuses (where Israel can barely be mentioned, if at all, anymore). Suddenly there are huge mosques just about everywhere. Do you have any insight into what is happening?

Marc T.

Dear Marc,
I know your question is on the minds of many; it occupies a tremendous amount of space in my own mind. To describe in-depth what is transpiring would be too lengthy to explain in this column. We will attempt to touch upon a few points, in a nutshell.
It is a well-known Jewish belief in the teachings of our tradition that the Jews will endure four exiles during our history. Based upon various verses we are taught that the four are the Babylonians, Greeks, Persian-Medians and. finally, the Edomite exile, which we are still languishing in today. These were foretold by prophecy, and we have seen their fulfillment:
The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple, destroying the land and dispersing us among the nations.
The Persians decreed the first “final solution,” which eventually led to the Purim miracle.
The Greek decrees destroyed the academies of Torah study and mitzvah observance, leading to the Chanukah miracle.
The Edomites destroyed the second Temple and ushered in the period of unimaginable darkness, which has brought in its wake anti-Semitism, inquisitions, expulsions, massacres, pogroms and the unspeakable Holocaust.
Most of the anti-Semitism and all its massacres carried out during the Edomite exile have been perpetrated by the Christian world.
One of the earliest books of our tradition, the Pirkei D’rabi Eliezar, teaches that there will be a fifth and final nation, which will exile or cause trouble with the Jews even beyond what the previous nations have done — the “Exile of Ishmael.” Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (and half-brother of Isaac), is the progenitor of the Arab nation.
In the prophecy of the birth of Ishmael, the Torah says “…he will be a wild man, his hand will be upon everyone and the hand of all will be in his…” (Genesis 16:12). This is alluding to Ishmael being different from the others preceding him; he will not have one place to dwell and call his country. Rather, like the Bedouin, he’ll be everywhere. Furthermore, some commentaries explain, he will not produce anything himself so “his hand will be upon all”; he will import all he has from others, but the others’ hand will be in his; they will all need him and his oil.
R’ Eliezer teaches that Ishmael is the only nation which shares the Name of God at the end of his name, like the Jews do (Isra-el). This indicates a tremendous power which Ishmael harnesses against the Jews and a frightful ability to overpower the rest of the world, the power of the Name of God, Whom they serve with almost unparalleled dedication.
Of course, it is not simply being named that way, which, in fact, does provide them with some power. To fully tap in to the name they possess, they need to, and in fact do, perform certain acts to attain their full potential power. We shall discuss one of these acts in this column, and perhaps, focus on other aspects in subsequent columns.
The Torah teaches us that the name Ishmael, or, more precisely, Yishmael, was divinely decreed. When Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah, was running from her mistress, the angel of God said to her to return to her mistress and submit herself to her domination. “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; you shall name him Yishmael, for God has heard your prayer. And he shall be a wild man; his hand upon everyone, and everyone’s hand upon him; and over his brothers he shall dwell’” (Genesis 16:9-12).
From here we learn that the name Ishmael, or Yishmael, is the conjugation of Yishma and E-l, meaning that “God will listen” to the prayers. In the direct meaning of the verse, the prayers referred to are those of Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, to be rescued and to be the mother of a son of Abraham. When she will give birth to that son, he will be the evidence that God listened to her prayers. The sages teach that the listening to the prayers of Hagar includes the future prayers of Ishmael himself, since his very existence is the embodiment of her prayers; he too has the power to pray and have his prayers heard and answered by God.
Indeed, we see that the Muslim world puts a tremendous emphasis on prayer, bowing down five times a day, wherever they may be. We’ve all seen the videos of tens of thousands of them reverently doing so at their holy places.
A leading sage of some 100 years ago, the Rav Maharil Diskin, lived in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem. Those close to him have related that when he saw his Muslim neighbors bowing down in prayer, he would not pass within four cubits before them. With this, he applied to them the Talmudic dictum that one should not pass within four cubits of a Jew while he or she is reciting the Amida prayer, as the Shechina, or Divine Presence, is present within those four cubits (about 6 feet) of the one praying.
Although this is a ruling that applies to the prayers of a Jew, Rav Diskin held that the exception to the rule among the nations of the world is Ishmael: The prayers of Ishmael have a power similar to that of the Jews; they, too, have some level of Shechina, Divine Presence, resting upon them when they pray, similar in some ways to our Amida prayer. This is one of the ways that the offspring of Ishmael, the Muslim world, have an avenue to tap into the name of God attached to their name.
There’s a lot of power in those prayers, coupled with their intense belief in God, which explains much of their success.
Our sages further teach that his name also includes our prayers; when we pray for our redemption from Ishmael, God will listen. One of the ways, in the spiritual realm, that we can combat the source of Ishmael’s success, is for the Jewish people to return to heartfelt, earnest prayer. Prayers built on a foundation of true belief in Hashem, God, and the closeness we can attain to Him through our prayers, are our ultimate protection during these trying times and are a big part of the key to our ultimate redemption.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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String theory and the music of the universe

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
You have alluded a few times in your column that the universe is like a song. I’m intrigued by this idea and wanted to ask if you could please elaborate.
Thx, Josh
Dear Josh,
This concept is something that touches a chord in my heart, an idea that I live by. It’s not the kind of thing one can just “get” intellectually. Rather, one needs to synthesize it until it enters the heart, over time, until one can “hear the music” when walking under a beautiful sky, seeing a stunning yard or meadow, the reach of a tree, the stars at night or the morning sunrise.
Let’s attempt to understand this on a few levels.
There was a great Chasidic master who was walking through the forest with a group of students when one of them nonchalantly plucked a leaf of a tree as he walked by. The rabbi, upon observing the conduct of the student, was shaken by what he saw and began to tremble, exclaiming, “The entire universe is God’s symphony and everything in it, every leaf and blade of grass, is another instrument in His orchestra. How could you, for no reason, just pluck out an instrument from that orchestra and minimize the symphony?”
I have heard the above story told about various leaders, both Chasidic and Lithuanian, and I believe that they all happened. This is because great Torah sages all view the world in this same way. It is the reflection of many verses in the Torah and Tanach, all alluding to this idea. “For the Conductor; a song of David. The heavens speak the glory of G-d and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1-2).
Another insight into this music is the way the universe and its creations work in tandem, creating a cosmic harmony. Galaxies and planetary systems are often observed by astronomers to be in a type of waltz as they spin around each other because of each other’s gravitational pull. Food chains, body systems such as the immune system and many more are examples of harmonies that boggle the mind.
Finally, over recent decades, string theory has blazed onto the scene with new harmony and new music. The first level of harmony to which this theory plays is to, potentially, harmonize the two epic theories of the universe, relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity, first developed by Einstein, was the revolutionary understanding of mass, energy and gravity as it applies to large bodies. Quantum mechanics revolutionized the understanding of the universe on a sub-microscopic level by way of its standard model of subatomic particles and their behavior. Both theories worked to an incredible degree of accuracy, just not together, to the great chagrin of Einstein and many others. String theory is the first tangible hope of the harmony and music between these two great theories.
On a deeper and more direct plane, string theory truly shows us the music of the universe. According to this theory, the smallest, most elementary particles of the universe are not specks of matter as previously thought. They are, rather, infinitesimally tiny strands of vibrating “string.” All matter, all strings, are “cut from the same cloth.” The only difference between them is the frequency at which they vibrate, like different frequencies on the strings of a violin or guitar. It is the different vibrational patterns of fundamental string that give rise to different masses and force charges.
The eminent physicist Brian Greene writes in “The Elegant Universe,” in a chapter entitled “Nothing but Music: The Essentials of Superstring Theory,” the following: “With the discovery of superstring theory, musical metaphors take on a startling reality, for the theory suggests that the microscopic landscape is suffused with tiny strings whose vibrational patters orchestrate the evolution of the cosmos… What appear to be different elementary particles are actually different “notes” on a fundamental string. The universe — being composed of an enormous number of these vibrating strings — is akin to a cosmic symphony.”
As science continues to develop, the music rises to higher and higher crescendos and the power of the great symphony of the Al-mighty serenades us more and more with its profound beauty.

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Let’s meet the horror with acts of kindness

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Dear Friends,
We join ranks with Jews and Gentiles alike throughout the country and the world who are all sharing their pain and horror at the senseless and horrific massacre of 11 of our beloved brethren during a service at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. As we know, this also includes six injured, including four dedicated police officers hurt in the line of duty protecting Jewish lives, and our prayers are with all of them and their families, as well as the families of those murdered.
As Jews with a shared history of thousands of years of anti-Semitism, we cannot be foolish enough to brush this under the carpet as just another hate crime. What has been happening for some time in Europe, and in Israel since its inception, has come to our shores. Many of our universities, which are our country’s future, have become well-known as hotbeds for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric that is now bearing bitter fruit in the statements of some young politicians and leaders.
We can’t help but wonder, as do the Jews of Europe: What does this mean for the future of a Jewish presence in America?
What are we, the non-political and simple Jews, to do in the moment?
We are, sadly, living in a time of division and hatred; a nation divided on multiple levels, politically, racially and more.
Our response, as Jews, is to perform acts of kindness. To say an extra, heartfelt, kind word to a spouse, child or parent. To greet another with a heartfelt, warm smile. To reach out to a friend in need of strength. To find ways to bring sunshine into another’s life who is feeling dark and going through a difficult time. Sadly, with so many sicknesses, divorces, unhappy marriages, losses of income and more, those in need of a warm hand and a soft word are not hard to find.
We, as a Light Unto the Nations, need to lead the way with love, caring and understanding. We cannot underestimate the ripple effect and the power, both tangibly and spiritually, that this could cause.
We, especially, need to be extra careful not to speak badly or negatively about, or to, a fellow Jew. This is a prohibition in the Torah known as lashon hara. Numerous books have been written on this subject, and perhaps this would be a good time to become well-versed in these amazing laws — laws that only the Holy Nation has on its lawbooks, unlike any other nation in the world.
This should extend to the way we speak about and treat our Gentile neighbors and friends, as well. Every interaction between us and our Gentile neighbors should create a Kiddush Hashem, or sanctification of the Name of God.
Even a little light can dispel a lot of darkness. It’s not enough to say we are upset and unite in our horror; we, as Jews, need to take the lead in something positive. In this case it is to extend ourselves on behalf of another. May God see that effort as a way to bridge the divides and bring mercy upon us and all in this great country.
Sincerely, and with much pain and prayer on behalf of the victims,
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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Shin on mezuzah cover is a reminder of God

Posted on 25 October 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been wondering about the Hebrew letter shin on the mezuzah cover. Could you please fill me in on its significance?
Thx,
Howard L.
Dear Howard,
The letter shin on the mezuzah case is reflective of the name of God, Sha-Dai, which is written on the back of the mezuzah parchment and begins with the letter shin.
On the inside of the mezuzah are the two paragraphs of the Shema; on the back, that name of God. This needs explanation.
One reason that name is written there, explain the Rabbis, is to hint that God promises to protect and watch over the home of a Jew who affixes a mezuzah on his doorway. The Talmud says that our King stands outside our homes and protects us, unlike a mortal king whose subjects stand outside his palace and protect him.
This is hinted to in the letters of that name, shin, dalet and yud, standing for “Shomer dalsos Yisrael,” or “Guardian of the doorways of the Jews.”
There is another, deeper meaning to this as well. The Talmud says that one of the meanings of the name Sha-Dai is “she’amar le’olamo dai,” or “He said to his world, ‘enough.’” At the time that God was creating the universe, the heavens were stretching out and going without an end, until He expressed anger at them and said “dai,” enough. (The expanding universe.)
The meaning of this is that the creations of God, Who is infinite, innately strive to infinity and perfection. God, however, did not want to create a perfect world. He desired an imperfect world in order to leave room for man to partner with Him in perfecting the universe, which is our part in “tikkun olam,” enhancing the world. If it was already perfect, we would have no purpose and no way of earning reward.
The first mitzvah Abraham was commanded was bris milah, circumcision. It was proceeded by God telling him “I am E-l Sha-Dai; go before me and be complete.” This is the first tikkun of an imperfection, to remove the foreskin, manifesting our partnership with God’s name of Sha-Dai.
Ultimately the prime place in the world where a Jew perfects the world is in the Jewish home. That is the place where we sanctify the mundane, elevating all of our everyday life activities to the holy and sublime by living according to the laws of the Al-mighty. The Jewish home, much more than the synagogue, is the pinnacle of a Jew’s tikkun olam.
We are reminded of that every time we walk into our doorways, by the mezuzah. By remembering God every time we pass through our doorway we are reminded of His presence both outside our homes, as our Protector, and inside our homes, resting His presence in all that we do.
For this reason, every door in the house needs a mezuzah. For there isn’t an area of life, whether the kitchen, bedroom or living room, that is bereft of kedushah, holiness.
This is another reason why we have the name Sha-Dai on our mezuzah, reflected by the shin on the cover, to serve as a constant reminder that we are to live our lives as partners of God, and in all that we do to create a tikkun olam and a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s Name.

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Even a short life fulfills its purpose

Posted on 18 October 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
My brother, sadly, recently lost his 7-year-old son, the victim of a rare disease he contracted this past year. Needless to say, my brother and sister-in-law are inconsolably beside themselves with grief. Can you offer any words of wisdom that can be said to them at a time like this?
Jonathan K.
Dear Jonathan,
I’m so sorry for the loss of your nephew, a loss to yourself as well. As you are well aware, our tongues become feeble and our minds become weak to find words that can console the hearts of the victims of such an overwhelming, devastating loss.
The best I can do is to share with you a story. While studying in Kollel in Israel, one of my colleagues, an immigrant from France who studied at the same Kollel, lost his 5-year-old daughter. She, unbeknownst to her parents, went out of the house and got herself locked into their car on a hot summer day. She was gone before they could find her. A group of us from the Kollel made the trek to the outlying area where they lived to pay a shiva call. We sat down before my friend and his wife, and an uncomfortable, long silence ensued. The heavy mood in the room was very intense; the profound sorrow palatable in the air, and nobody really knew what to say. What could one say?
I began to tell the story of Avraham ben Avraham, the renowned Ger Tzedek (righteous convert) of Vilna, converted by the revered Talmudic sage R’ Eliyahu of Vilna in the 1700s.
Avraham began as Count Valentine, a Polish nobleman from the powerful Potocki family of Lithuania. Valentine and an educated friend, Zoremba, heard of the brilliance of R’ Eliyahu, known as the Gaon (genius) of Vilna. They received entry to the Gaon, and posed numerous philosophical and mathematical questions to him. Upon leaving, they were impressed beyond words, exclaiming they learned more in that hour than all their years of university.
The two decided to change their identities, leaving Poland and entering a Yeshiva in France to study Judaism. After a couple of years of intense study, they reappeared before the Gaon, with beards and sidelocks, ready to convert to Judaism. The Gaon, recognizing their greatness and sincerity, agreed to convert them. Zoremba soon married and moved to Israel.
Potocki, now Avraham, successfully evaded his family’s intense search for him. He began to shuttle around Europe, utilizing his political prowess to bring much peace between Jewish communities and rabbis in Europe. He became engaged to the daughter of a prominent Jew, evoking the jealousy of a man who wanted her hand, who slandered him to the authorities, telling them who he really is.
Avraham, after giving the ring, was seized by Polish authorities from under the chuppah, and put into prison for an extended period of time. His family and the Roman Catholic Church tried, with no success, to have him renounce his Judaism. Finally, he was burned at the stake on the second day of Shavuos, amid his cry of Shema Yisrael…
That night, his widow and her father snuck into the Polish side of Vilna. They gathered Avraham’s ashes and buried them in the Jewish cemetery of Vilna. At the site of his grave, a fruit tree suddenly began to grow in the otherwise barren cemetery. The Gaon commented that this was a sign from Heaven that Avraham’s very short Jewish life was completely fulfilled; he had fulfilled his mission and his short life is bearing fruit.
We learn from this story that even a short life can be meaningful and fulfill the purpose for which that individual was sent to this world.
I told my friend that his young daughter, as well, obviously had fulfilled her purpose and mission with her short life, and will bear eternal fruit. His wife began to weep, and my friend loudly exclaimed, “You have comforted me, you have comforted me.”
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains a similar idea with regard to a miscarriage. At times there is a soul who, during its life in this world, nearly completed its purpose and it is nearly perfect and just needs to come back to this world for the shortest time to perfect itself, without the need to endure the trials and tribulations of this world. Even a short time in the mother’s womb was sufficient for that soul.
Rabbi Feinstein adds, however, that the final carriers of that baby or soul will be considered its spiritual parents, so, although they never got the opportunity to know that baby, in the next world they will be the parents of a perfect soul with all the joy that accompanies that.
The same would apply to your situation and your nephew. His short life fulfilled a purpose and he achieved his completion in this world, without the need to live out a full life. His life bore fruit, perhaps in ways we cannot fathom, and will be reunited with them in the next world with joy and nachas.
Perhaps you can share this thought with your brother and sister-in-law, and, like my friend, may it bring them some comfort as well.

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Listen to the shofar fully and attentively

Posted on 13 September 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
My favorite question after camp is, “What do you do the rest of the year?”
First of all, getting ready for 900 kids and 250-plus staff is a yearlong job. However, I do have many other wonderful jobs during the year. Being a Jewish educator is a year-round job or, rather, a wonderful calling.
The fall holidays are a busy time for rabbis and Jewish teachers, and with the holidays coming so early, this year has been particularly busy. Everything is new for our little ones in preschool, yet how to give something new to those who have been celebrating the holidays for their entire lives is always a challenge. So I read and study and think, and sometimes find that thought that is new to me. So I share.
I was a musician many, many years ago, before I became a Jewish educator, so it was easy to pick up a shofar and get a good sound. Jonathan Wittenberg in “The Eternal Journey: Meditations on the Jewish Year” wrote something that, as a musician, struck me:
“If one strikes the keyboard of a piano, it produces a note. But if one blows into the shofar – even though one has some skill and has blown successfully on a dozen previous occasions – there is always a doubt. Responding to the atmosphere in the synagogue, or the spirit of the service, or some hidden facet of the blower’s state of being, the shofar may simply refuse to produce any sound at all. There is always a mystery, always a question.”
What is the question beyond whether I will get a good sound? Do I question myself, my beliefs, my hopes, dreams and more? But making a good sound is not enough – there is so much to learn about the shofar. And, the mitzvah is not in the blowing but in the hearing.
Wittenberg continues, taking the command to hear the shofar another step:
“Just to overhear it is not enough. If one passes a building and happens to catch the sound of the notes, that is not considered proper listening. There has to be a partnership between blower and hearer, a shared attentiveness. For the shofar addresses each person individually. Its question cannot be heard by proxy or by the outer ear only; we have to listen to it in the fullness of our own being.”
Attentive…intention – what happens to me inside when I listen to the shofar? Why do we come to hear and wait for that moment in services? Those who may have slipped out for the sermon come back for the sound. Why?
So the challenge this year is to listen attentively and with intention. When the holiday is past, take that skill of “attentive and intentional listening” into your life for the important sounds in your world.

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