Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Turn to the Torah to douse seeds of anger

Posted on 15 February 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have an anger problem that is affecting my home, office and relationships with friends. Until recently, I blamed it on others, but now I realize it’s me. Before getting involved with expensive counseling, I would like to know if anger is discussed in Jewish sources, and if I could or should attempt to help myself by studying them. Your input would be most appreciated.

Dear Anonymous,
You have already taken a major step by recognizing your anger problem and shifting the blame from others onto yourself. Although I don’t know you and therefore can’t really advise you, it would certainly be beneficial to work on this with the material available in Torah sources that will help you see things from a very different, elevated vantage point and help you recognize and internalize the destructive power in anger and the benefits of a joyous, accepting life.
I would recommend you consider doing this work alongside counseling or therapy, as, in many situations, the Torah study will augment the therapy you need, not take the place of it — at least in the beginning stages or as recommended by the therapist.
Numerous Torah sources teach us the negative affects of anger. Let us examine two of them that were at crossroads of ancient Jewish history.
Jacob, in his final, parting words to his beloved sons on his deathbed, strongly criticized Reuven, his firstborn, for the anger he expressed by moving his father’s bed after the death of his mother. He then cursed the anger of his sons Shimon and Levi — which had led them to destroy a city — adding that he wants no part in their anger; their anger will cause them to be split apart and not live with stability. (Genesis 49:3-7)
At the moment of truth, Jacob’s final farewell, he chose to focus on misplaced anger among his sons, the tribes of Israel, to ensure they focus on correcting that anger for the sake of future generations.
A leader as great as Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel because he expressed anger, leading him to strike the rock rather than speaking to it as commanded (Numbers 20:7-13). That anger caused Moses an insurmountable loss, the inability to enter the land he so loved and longed for and to continue to lead the Jewish people into their final state.
Maimonides codifies the Torah outlook on anger (“Yad Hachazakah,” Hilchos Deos 2:3). After his well-known treatise on character traits, where Maimonides shows how one should act within the “middle of the road” and not go to extremes, he writes the following (loosely translated by this author from the Hebrew original):
“There are some character traits which one should not conduct himself along the ’middle of the road,’ but should, rather, go to the extreme.” Now, he turns from haughtiness to anger. ”Similarly, anger is an excedingly negative character trait and it is befitting that one should conduct himelf in the extreme with regard to negating the trait of anger. One should train himself not to become angry even with regard to those matters befitting of anger. Similarly, if one wants to cast fear among his children and the members of his household or upon the congregation if he is their leader, and wants to express anger to bring them back to the good, he should express himself to them as if he is angry in order to affect them, but he should internally be calm and not truly be internally angry, he should only appear that way.”
Maimonides concludes, “Our early sages declared that anyone who is angry is tantamount to having worshipped idols. They said further, anyone who is angry, if he is a wise man his wisdom will escape him. If he is a prophet, his prophecy will be removed from him. Those who live in anger, their lives are not lives. Therefore our early sages commanded us to distance ourselves from anger until we don’t even feel those things which would normally cause one to be angry. This is the choice path. The way of the righteous is to accept shame and not be ashamed, hear their insults and not answer back, they perform all they do with love and accept difficulties with joy. Upon them the Torah writes that (in the future time of reward), those beloved by God will shine like the sun in all its power.”
Maimonides adds that there are, however, unique times when it is warranted to truly be angry, such as when dealing with those who are openly desecrating the name of God (See Hilchos Deos 1:4 and Lechem Mishneh loc cit). Such situations are rare in everyday life, taking us back to the main ruling to stay as far as possible from anger.
Anger, as a God-given emotion, cannot be and is not inherently evil, but must be studied and worked upon to be used in proper measure. One great rabbi said that “anger is like salt — in small amounts it enhances; too much can spoil.”
Part of the work we must invest in is to know when that “small amount” is in place, such as inspiring one to correct a lack of justice or a falsehood in the world, and when to refrain from anger altogether.
Even very great people need to work on conquering anger. The towering Torah figure in America of the past generation, Rav Moshe Feinstein ob”m, was extremely mild-mannered. In the most tense and provocative situations, he would not show a trace of anger. When questioned about this trait, he once remarked, “Do you think I was always like this? By nature, I have a fierce temper, but I have worked to overcome it.”
The same applied to my mentor, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ob”m, who was renowned for his jovial spirit, joy and perpetual smile. He once remarked that he was born with a terrible temper, and spent most of his life taming it.
It will be a real challenge for you to attempt to study the subject of anger from direct Torah sources, especially as most of these sources are in Hebrew, and furthermore need to be pieced together to form a worldview and a plan of action.
I will, therefore, make a suggestion. There is a tremendous book called Anger: The Inner Teacher by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. This wonderful book develops a nine-step methodical approach to conquering anger. It is based upon the author’s vast Torah knowledge and understanding of human nature which has allowed him to present a down-to-earth approach to scaling the heights of character and spirit. Filled with insights, anecdotes and examples, this is a precious source of self-improvement utilizing the timeless wisdom of Torah.
Try reading through this book and working on its methods to improve your situation for a few months. Hopefully, you will save yourself the expense of extended, long-term counseling, become happier and enriched by the treasures of our Torah for many years to come. Perhaps do this in conjunction with discussions with a rabbi to monitor your progress. You will always have time to return to professional counseling if, at some point, you feel you still need more.

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The Torah bans tattoos, but keep it if you have it

Posted on 08 February 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I have a tattoo on my back, which I got as a teenager. Now that I am getting more involved in Judaism, I heard that one shouldn’t have tattoos. Is this true and, if so, could I or should I have it removed? If I don’t, when I die can I be buried in a Jewish cemetery?

Dear Zachary,
The Torah states “…and you shall not put a tattoo upon your body” (Leviticus 19:28). Rashi explains this means to perforate the skin and add ink in a way that it will remain permanently. This law is codified in the Code of Jewish Law (“Yoreh Deah” 180:1).
This law stems from the Jewish understanding of the human body. The Torah says that we were created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27). This is obviously a spiritual concept, as Jewish belief is that God has no physical characteristics. There is, however, a physical connotation from the perspective of our bodies. The Kabbalists explain that every part of our bodies was crafted to coincide with one of the pathways or traits through which God connects with and controls the world. We have arms, for example, to mirror the concept that God performs certain actions “with an outstretched arm.”
The body is the vehicle through which the soul is able to have expression in the physical world and to accomplish the mission for which it was sent there. The body was perfectly fashioned to “fit” the soul, as an expression of God’s will and His connection to the world. Together, the body and soul form a partnership called “the image of God.”
To alter the body would be to mar its unique image and minimize its ability to be an expression of God’s will.
Furthermore, we are not considered the owners of our bodies. We are, rather, stewards, entrusted to utilize the body properly, protect it, and return it back to its Maker at the end of its partnership with the soul, at the end of life on this world. We do not have the right to alter the body, or even to inflict a wound upon it (Deuteronomy 25:3). This is unless, of course, it is necessary to do so for medical reasons. (Perhaps in the future, we will discuss the question of cosmetic plastic surgery, as well as the permissiveness, in light of the above, of piercing ears and the like, which has been Jewish custom for millennia.)
As far as your tattoo: According to Jewish law, once it is already done, you would not have an obligation to remove it, especially since it involves an often painful and extensive surgery. If you would want to have it removed because it makes you uncomfortable, you would be permitted to do so. This would not fall under the prohibition of mutilating the body.
A very common misconception is that if one has a tattoo, one cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. This has no basis and is not true; a tattoo does not render its bearer less Jewish.
There are those still among us, may they live and be well, whom are bearers of tattoos, which demonstrate that they are survivors of the Nazi hell on earth. The fact that they remained Jewish after what they experienced is living testament to the eternal Jewish soul.
There was once a Hasidic Jew who had returned to his Jewish roots, with a large tattoo on his chest from his previous life. Although, as a Hasid, he immersed daily in the mikvah, he managed to keep his colorful tattoo hidden by his towel. One time, erev Yom Kippur, the mikvah was full of people and the floor was very slippery. Sure enough, he slipped and fell and his towel went flying. When everyone looked to see who fell, they were all dumbstruck to see their fellow Hasid with a large tattoo. Silence filled the room, with the Hasid wanting to sink into the floor. Just then a survivor reached down, with the numbers on his arm, saying “This was my hell and that was your hell, now let’s go to the mikvah!”
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA.

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Blessing the children

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
Last week I was invited to have a Shabbat meal with an observant family, and before the meal commenced I saw something beautiful: The father and mother each put their hands on their children’s heads, recited a blessing and kissed each one. It was almost sublime to see children, some in their teens, line up for the blessing and kiss. I was embarrassed to ask what they were saying, but could you please fill me in?
Chuck W.

Dear Chuck,
The blessing is known as the birchas hayeladim or the blessing of the children. It is based upon the blessing Jacob recited upon his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, before he passed away. At the end of the blessing, the Torah says: “So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you shall Israel bless (their children) saying, May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’” (Genesis 48:20)
We therefore bless our boys that they should be like Ephraim and Menashe, which is the first part of that blessing. We bless the girls with the wish that they should be as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
We end the blessing for both by reciting the priestly blessing, which says, “So shall you bless the Children of Israel, saying to them: ‘May God bless you and safeguard you. May God illuminate His countenance unto you and be gracious to you. May God lift His countenance to you and establish peace upon you.’” (Numbers 6:23-27)
While it only takes a few short moments, these blessings are important moments in the life of a child, something they look forward to all week, and remember throughout their lifetimes. (I’m not sure who looks more forward to this moment, the parents or the child!) It brings an aura of holiness into the family and the parent-child relationship, showing the child the love and respect his parents have for them. By the way, parents continue to bless their children even after the children themselves become parents and even grandparents. No child is ever too old to receive a blessing from their parents!
It has been asked, in what merit did Ephraim and Menashe become the source of blessing for the Jewish people for all time?
I think the reason is, because Ephraim and Menashe grew up quite differently than all their cousins. Their cousins, the children of the 12 tribes, grew up in an atmosphere of holiness, in the surroundings of Jacob and their holy parents, aunts and uncles. For them it was relatively easy to remain steadfast in their service of God.
Ephraim and Menashe, however, had it different. Joseph, their father, was forced to live apart from his family, in Egypt. They were surrounded by Egyptian children and their idol-worshipping parents. Despite their tremendous challenges, they remained observant. Not only were they observant, but they clung to their father and became great tzaddikim, righteous individuals.
For this reason, Ephraim and Menashe were later promoted by Jacob, their grandfather, to the full status of tribes in their own right (the tribe of Joseph was split into two tribes). Not only did they not sink below the level of their cousins, they surpassed them and were elevated to the status of the previous generation.
This is our heartfelt blessing and wish for our children. No matter in what surroundings they may find themselves one day, they should always have the strength and fortitude to rise above them. They should retain their holiness and greatness, even if the winds of their times are pulling them in the wrong direction.
The same greatness was exhibited by our holy matriarchs. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah all grew up in homes antithetical to the service of God and truth. All had the internal fortitude to rise above their upbringing, their families and the profanity of their generations to achieve the holiness befitting a mother of the Jewish people.
The renowned Grand Rebbe of Klausenberg, in the Displaced Persons camps after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, was approached by a teenage girl on the eve of Yom Kippur. She requested him to bless her with the special parental blessing conferred by parents upon their children before Yom Kippur, as her own parents were no longer alive. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he took upon himself the role of her beloved parents and bestowed the blessings. Soon word got out, and dozens of girls in the DP camp flocked to the holy Rebbe to receive blessings from this compassionate father of Israel.
Even in the worst of times, blessing our children is a source of hope and comfort. Certainly, in today’s world of disconnect, this act of love forges a connection between parents and children that nothing can replace.

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Should all prayers be said in Hebrew?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently purchased an ArtScroll Siddur, and am enjoying the English translation. I really don’t understand Hebrew, although I can read it. Is the translation just for understanding what the Hebrew means, or can one actually pray in the English? I personally can’t see why not, as I assume God can understand all languages?
Brian L.
Dear Brian,
As you assumed, God understands all languages, and Jewish law permits one to pray in the language they understand (Talmud, Sotah 33a and Shulchan Aruch O”Ch 101:4). However, there are a number of reasons why Hebrew is the preferred language for prayer:
First, Hebrew is unique in that it is called the “holy tongue.” This is because it is pure, and has no swear words, not even any words directly describing intimate relations or any such matters. It is, therefore, the ideal language through which to approach God.
Furthermore, explain the Kabbalists, Hebrew is the language God used to create the universe. It is the language of creation, the language the Torah was given in, the language of the prophets, King David and his psalms. Hebrew carries the soul of the Jewish people, our heritage and destiny. It is ideal to communicate with God in the same language He communicated with us.
Second, the “Men of the Great Assembly,” the sages who penned the words of the established prayers of the Siddur, cloaked untold layers of meaning in the words of the prayers — from the simplest meanings to the most profoundly Kabbalistic. One could spend an entire lifetime studying the Siddur/prayerbook, and still not plumb the most profound depths of its meaning. Vast Kabbalistic works are dedicated to uncovering the concealed meanings within the prayers. Those veiled meanings, which accompany our prayers uttered even with a simple understanding, “hitch a ride” to the highest heavens through the vehicle of the Hebrew verbiage, which contains those meanings. (See Biur Halacha to Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.)
Third, by praying in the original Hebrew we join the millions of Jews throughout the world and the generations who have uttered the same exact words for thousands of years. These holy words have been uttered throughout both the best and the most trying of circumstances, and are above time and circumstance.
However, the most important part of prayer, as the Torah itself says, is to pray from the heart. If praying in Hebrew will deprive one of feeling and meaning from the heart, it is better to pray in English to get the main point of prayer, the cake itself, than all the above points, which are the icing on the cake. The prayer needs to be an integral part of our love relationship with God — and it’s difficult to maintain a relationship when the partners don’t understand one another!
I have recommended to many beginners to pray mostly in English, but to choose one blessing at a time to study and know its entire meaning in Hebrew. Just say that one blessing, or verse, in Hebrew until you’re totally comfortable with each word. Then go on and do the same with another blessing or verse, such as the Shema. Bit by bit, each small portion will become like building blocks to build your understanding of the Siddur. One day, you’ll wake up and find that you are saying and understanding a large part of the Siddur in the original! Good luck!

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Did dinosaurs exist?

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I would like clarification about something you said in a previous column some time ago. Regarding the age of the universe, when describing the mainstream interpretation of the six days of creation, you mention that “God created the world with its oil fields, and the decayed life needed to bring them about.”
With regard to this statement, I bring up an incident that happened to my son five years ago. In his day school here in Dallas, a question arose about how to reconcile the date on the Jewish calendar with the age of dinosaurs. His secular studies teacher was unable to answer the question, and called in the head rabbi (no longer affiliated with his school) to help. The rabbi’s answer was that dinosaurs never existed. He went on to explain that Hashem simply planted dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith.
So my question to you is, according to the Jewish point of view you are presenting, did dinosaurs exist or not?
— Liz
Dear Liz,
The interpretation you mentioned in the name of the head rabbi of your son’s school is, in fact, an approach suggested by the late leader of Chabad, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m.
The Torah tells us that when the first man and woman were created, they were fully grown and developed, physically and mentally. They were not created as babies who needed to develop and become mature adults. Similarly, the animals of the world, the plants and trees were created in an advanced stage of development.
Since all the creatures in the world were created in a state that seemed to attest to many years of previous growth, perhaps the earth — and the entire cosmos — was also “born” bearing signs of many, many years of development. Stars needing billions of light-years to travel to earth to be seen by us may have been created with their light already reaching us at the same moment. Perhaps when God created the earth, He also created artifacts to attest to their ancestry. Thus, on the day that the animals were created, their prehistoric remains were created along with them.
This approach, in my humble opinion, leaves some disturbing questions unanswered and perhaps creates new questions. Since, according to the mainstream literal interpretation, God created the world in six days, why would He have altered it in a way that gives a false impression of being much older than it is?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab ob”m suggests that perhaps God did so in order to allow humans the possibility of denying the Creation. If divine creation of the world would be obvious to all, there would be no challenge in accepting this doctrine, and there would thus be no reward for those who accepted God’s mastery upon them.
This approach also has its difficulties. Adam and Eve, their son Cain, and many others after them managed to sin despite the clarity of the Creation by God. Jews and Gentiles sinned for thousands of years before Darwinism and paleontology made their impressions and most of mankind believed in a world created by God.
Apparently enough challenge to belief and observance exists even without this added alleged purposeful confusion. I personally have trouble digesting an approach that God purposely would exhibit a non-truth for any reason (although there may be a more profound explanation to this approach which needs careful thought). My friend and renowned colleague, Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb, concurs with me on this point.
The following alternative approach is offered by the classical commentary to the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisrael. The Kabbalists teach that God created and destroyed the world seven times. Each time He destroyed the world, it was in order to build a more complete, perfect world. It’s not that God made a mistake and tried to get it better the next time! It’s, rather, based upon a profound Kabbalistic teaching that the world needs to grow in seven stages toward perfection. This process needed to take place until the final creation of the world we live in. This is the world fit to receive the revelation of God’s will, in which God chose to give the Torah, and through it reach the ultimate world of tikkun or perfection.
He explains that the different layers of earth and rock which were found by scientists in his day (in the mid-1800s), with different types of fossils at each layer, are the result of the world being destroyed and rebuilt as we are taught by the Kabbalists. The lowest layer is that containing the dinosaurs. Each preceding world was covered over to provide the foundation for the next world, approaching closer and closer to the world of tikkun.
This approach seems to fit well with the “Impact Theory” proposed in 1980 by Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez. Scientists have long been bothered by the sudden mass extinction of the undisputed masters of the world — the dinosaurs. Alvarez with his son Walter proposed that a massive meteor collided with Earth causing this mass extinction. Alvarez had brought some 15 proofs to this theory by 1987, giving it wide acceptance.
This theory, however, gave birth to another concept, termed the “Anthropic Principle.” This means, briefly, that the meteor struck with just the precise impact to kill out dinosaurs and at the same time create the perfect environment for the survival of mankind and the surrounding animals which can be subjugated by mankind. A little stronger impact — nothing at all would have lived. A little weaker or lighter, the dinosaurs would have still thrived and not left room for mankind to exist.

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‘Cardinal Sins’ should never be committed

Posted on 04 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
A number of times in your columns you have referred to the “Three Cardinal Sins” as the sins that, if given the choice (by force), you would be required to give up your life rather than transgress those sins.
Could you please explain what those three sins are and why they are different from any other mitzvah that life supersedes their transgression? What is the source of their difference?
— Linda K.
Dear Linda,
In general, as you mentioned, if a person were to say to a Jew, “Violate one of the commandments or I will kill you,” the Jew should violate the commandment and not be killed, since the Torah says “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, so that you shall live by them.” (Leviticus 18:5) The inference from the words “live by them” is that you shall not “die by them!” (Talmud Yoma 82a)
This, however, does not apply to three transgressions:

  • murder
  • forbidden sexual relations
  • worship of other gods, i.e., idol worship

(Talmud ibid. and Maimonides,
Yesodei Hatorah 5:2)


Imagine the case: A person (Jewish or Gentile, there is no difference in this context) says to a Jew: “Either you kill that person, or I will kill you.” The law is that the Jew must allow himself to be killed rather than kill the other person. The reason is, in the language of the Talmud, a point of logic: “What makes you think your blood is redder than his? Perhaps his blood is redder!” Or in other words, “How can you judge between your life and his assuming your life is more valuable than the one you are being told to kill? Perhaps his life is worthier in the eyes of God than yours!” Since it is impossible to know whose life has more “value” one has to just let the circumstances play out — allowing yourself to be killed — without killing the other person. (Talmud, Yoma 82b)
This logic, surprisingly, applies even if an anti-Semite were to say to the inhabitants of a Jewish town, “Give me one Jew to kill, or if you don’t, I will kill all of you.” Since it is impossible to decide whose blood is the “least red,” the inhabitants of the town must not give anyone over to be killed; they must all allow themselves to be killed. (Maimonides, Yesodei HaTorah 5:5) Although in this case, if any one Jew would volunteer to be the one to be killed and thereby save the town, he would not only be considered praiseworthy, but would receive a reward in the next world that not even the greatest righteous person could imagine. (Talmud Taanis 18b)

Forbidden sexual relations

The reason why someone must allow himself to be killed rather than be involved in forbidden sexual relations, such as with the wife of another man, is because the Torah compares these relations to murder. (Deuteronomy 22:26; Talmud, Yoma 82a)

Idol worship

The reason why one must allow himself to be killed rather than worship other gods is derived from a verse in the Shema: “You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions” (Deuteronomy 6:5). In other words, you should love God so much that you’re willing to give up your life to serve Him (Talmud, Yoma 82a).
The reason why loving God with all your soul specifically applies to the worship of other gods is because the belief that “God is One,” the Creator and Controller of everything, is the basis for all of Judaism. The worship of other gods is a denial of this basic tenet. There are times when one’s love for God must be so strong that he or she is ready to be martyred for His sake. We are commanded, “Love the Lord your God … with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 6:5), and this is interpreted to mean that one must continue to love God even at the expense of one’s life and soul.
We are commanded, “Love the Lord your God … with all your soul” (Deut. 6:5), and this is interpreted to mean that one must continue to love God even at the expense of one’s life and soul.
These three sins which the Talmud derives the obligation to give up one’s life for are what we refer to as the “Three Cardinal Sins.” The sources, at first glance, seem to be somewhat unclear and one gets the obvious feeling that there is more here being conveyed than what meets the eye on the surface. Perhaps in the next column we will attempt to analyze the deeper moral implications of these cardinal sins and what sets them apart from the entirety of Torah where human life is always supreme.

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How to satisfy your nonkosher cravings

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi:
I have recently begun keeping kosher, and had a philosophical debate with a friend who doesn’t. I use soybean sausages and bacon, like Morning Star Farms products that have kosher symbols, because as long as they’re kosher, why not?
But my friend argues that if I’m going to keep kosher, to eat “kosher treif” is just a loophole and not in the spirit of what I’m trying to do. Do you feel this contradicts the spirit of the law?
L.P Arlington.
Dear L.P.
Mazal tov on keeping kosher, and great question!
The 12th century sage R’ Moses Maimonides discusses the prohibition of consuming nonkosher foods. He quotes the Talmud, which states, “One should not say, ‘I don’t want to eat nonkosher food’; rather one should say, ‘I would like to, but what can I do, my Father in Heaven has decreed upon me not to.”
Maimonides explains that this is a global statement which sums up much of the Jewish worldview, and specifically adds an important insight into the laws of kosher. We should not refrain from consuming nonkosher food because it is disgusting or nauseating to us. To abstain from nonkosher items for that reason would not constitute a mitzvah. It would rather be a personal preference. (I, personally, am challenged to fulfill this dictum concerning the abstention from consuming certain items, such as lobster, by saying I want to eat it but just can’t. When I see them crawling around in their tank, to say the least, I have trouble having any yearning whatsoever to …eat one of those!)
The Talmud cites many stories of a pious and scholarly woman by the name of Yalsa. She would often seek out kosher foods that tasted like forbidden foods. Yalsa once asked her husband, the renowned Talmudic sage Rav Nachman, to find her something which tastes like blood which the Torah forbids us to partake. He cooked for her a piece of liver, which is permitted, but has a blood-like taste. The commentaries are bewildered: Why would Yalsa often be looking for foods which tasted like forbidden ones?
One classical commentary, Maharsh’a, offers an explanation based on the above discussion of Maimonides. One should desire to eat the nonkosher but refrain from doing so because of the decree of the Torah. Yalsa, in her great piety, aspired to fulfill the mitzvah of kosher only to perform the will of God. She therefore purposely created a yearning to consume forbidden foods by partaking of permitted items which tasted like them, so she could refrain from the real thing for the right reason!
My family and I once took a tour of a nonkosher chocolate factory and at the end they offered a free taste of all the chocolates you could eat. I felt that we truly fulfilled the mitzvah by refraining when that chocolate looked and smelled so good! (Needless to say, we were sure to make it up to the kids for their willpower by rewarding them afterward with other treats.)
In summary, you are correct that there is nothing negative about eating imitation nonkosher food. By doing so, besides enjoying the taste, you have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Yalsa and enhance your fulfillment of the mitzvah of kashruth. Not only is this not contradictory to the spirit of the law, it’s a chance to augment your performance of the mitzvah.
(Halacha suggests, when there’s room for an observer’s error, to leave the package on the table so it is clear you are eating soy and not sow!)
I fondly remember your exact question as one of the first questions I asked my mentor when beginning yeshiva studies in Israel, precisely about Morning Star bacon and sausage, and what I have written to you was the answer I received (albeit in greatly shortened form!).
It’s important to mention one caveat to this concept. Maimonides points out that the desire to eat the “forbidden fruit” is considered a positive thing for certain mitzvos, like kosher, but not for all. There is a category of mitzvos for which God has inculcated their self-evident nature into the creation, such as murder. It is definitely not praiseworthy to say: “I would truly love to murder that guy, but, alas, I must fulfill the command of God!” (Even though we all might feel that way sometimes.) Murder, theft, and other such mitzvos are called “mitzvos sichlios,” planted in our sechel or psyche, that they should be abhorred and not desired.

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Extra meaning in Torah’s ‘extra’ words

Posted on 14 December 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was studying this week’s Torah portion, and was bothered by a question. The Torah says, when relating the story of Joseph and his brothers, that they threw him into a pit; “…the pit was empty, no water was in it” (Genesis 37:24).
I have always been taught that the Torah doesn’t use extra words; if the pit was empty, obviously there was no water in it. Isn’t this statement redundant?
Joseph P.
Dear Joseph,
Congratulations! You have asked the precise question raised by the sages of the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 22a). The Talmud reconciles this redundancy — the Torah is hinting that water was not in it, but snakes and scorpions were in it!
This elusive comment of the Talmud begs explanation. There’s a further question: This comment of the sages falls in the midst of the laws of kindling the Hanukkah lights. The rabbis of the Talmud digress from their Hanukkah discussion for a moment, explain this verse, then resume their discussion of Hanukkah. Very strange!
Furthermore, this verse appears in that Torah portion which is always read the Shabbat preceding Hanukkah. What is this hidden link to Hanukkah?
I believe that the explanation goes to the very core of the Hanukkah holiday. Many years ago, in my youth, I heard the following explanation of the above verse from my late mentor, Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik ob’m. There’s a law in physics which states “nature abhors a vacuum.” No space in the physical universe truly remains empty. This concept holds true in the spiritual realm as well. One cannot be bereft of spirituality and remain wholesome. If one does not fill him- or herself with positive spiritual energy, the vacuum will be filled with negative energy. There’s no middle ground.
This is the meaning of the cryptic statement of the rabbis: “Water was not there, but snakes and scorpions were there.” “Water” refers to the study of Torah, which is the water we drink, quenching our thirst and slaking our tired souls. If we do not fill “the pit,” our empty selves, with the “water,” then other, negative influences will creep in, the “snakes and scorpions” of foreign cultures.
The battle fought by the Maccabees was principally a spiritual one, a battle over the mind, soul and heart of the Jewish people. The Greeks were attempting, quite successfully, to inculcate Greek culture, values and ideology into the Jewish minds. One of their most vehemently enforced decrees was the complete cessation of Torah study. They realized that as long as the Jews were filled with the wellsprings of Torah, there was no room to force in their “snakes and scorpions.” The Maccabees fought valiantly to preserve the holiness of the Torah and the Jewish heart, mind and soul.
The Maccabees were rewarded by finding one remaining flask of pure oil amongst the many flasks contaminated by the Greeks. That pure oil lit the Menorah, the light of which signifies the light of the Torah — which illuminates the Jewish people. That was the greatest miracle of all — despite the decrees of the world’s mightiest power the Jews were able to preserve the holiness of the Torah, its teachings, its messages intact.
This is the deeper message in the verse you mentioned. This lesson was taught in the Talmud in the midst of the laws of Hanukkah to impart the core message of those laws. It is the portion read immediately before Hanukkah to prepare the Jewish people for what Hanukkah represents throughout the generations: the preservation of the teachings of Torah in the face of foreign, often hostile, cultures.
This is the underlying message of our mission at DATA, as we proudly celebrate this week our silver anniversary, a quarter-century of exposing Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations to the beauty, depth and joy of the timeless messages of Torah and its wisdom.
Best wishes to you and all the readers for a joyous, meaningful Hanukkah!

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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 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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