Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Enjoying the pleasures of the world

Posted on 06 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I presume that everyone agrees that putting forth effort to do a mitzvah is encouraged (i.e., shaking a lulav), and engaging in comfort in the context of an averah (sin) is discouraged (i.e., premarital contact between the opposite sex). My question is: What does Jewish philosophy say about effort not in the context of a mitzvah (such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator up to my apartment) and comfort not in the context of an averah (like putting my favorite dressing on my salad)? On the one hand, I have heard about the concept of avoiding comfort even when it is not in the context of an averah, since the avoidance of comfort will help develop one’s discipline muscles, thus increasing the chances he or she will overcome the challenge of engaging in a future averah… On the other hand, I also heard about the concept that one should engage in the material world in order to be able to thank and appreciate God for the pleasure he/she has been given, which would imply that comfort not in the context of an averah should be engaged in.
I am having a hard time reconciling this apparent contradiction and would love to know your thoughts.
Sammy
Dear Sammy,
After eating or drinking most foods and drinks, we recite an after-blessing called “borei nafashos.” Within this blessing we thank God for “creating many beings and providing what they lack, upon all that You created to provide life to all which have the soul of life…[we thank You]…”
What is the difference between “what they lack” and “all that He created to provide life”?
The commentaries explain the following. “What they lack” is referring to the basic necessities which each creation needs to exist. For the carnivores, God provided a food chain of animal life which enables each species along the chain to maintain themselves by feeding on the animals down the chain. For herbivores, God custom-made various plants which are appropriate for each species. There are leaves high in the trees for the giraffes, away from the ground-feeding species, and vice versa and so on.
For humans, as well, there are basic necessities we require for our sustenance, with which we can remain alive and healthy.
There are, however, entire categories of foods which are not at all required for sustenance, but they bring us pleasure. Nobody “needs” a piece of cake at the end of an otherwise healthy meal, but, often, it brings one pleasure and lightens the mood, creating a good feeling. Many such pleasures, if consumed wisely and in measure, not only do not hurt one physically, but help enhance a feeling of pleasure, contentment and happiness. Those feelings can actually foster well-being and health.
That is the meaning of the second half of the blessing, “upon all that you created,” thanking God not only for the basic necessities, but also for the pleasures He created for us.
The blessing continues, “to bring life to all which have the soul of life.” This teaches that the pleasures of life are not merely tolerated, but actually enhance life (see Tur Orach Chayim Ch. 207).
The deeper side of this is a teaching of the Kabbalistic masters who declare, “Man was only created to derive pleasure from God” (see Mesilas Yesharim, Ch. 1). God, who is the ultimate Good, created mankind to receive His goodness through a multitude of pleasures, some spiritual and some physical. Even the physical pleasures are an avenue through which we can tap into the spiritual goodness of God, transforming the physical into the spiritual. “Taste and see the goodness of God” (Psalms 34:9).
If one feels they need to tame themselves of certain lusts or desires, there may be room to temporarily curb certain physical enjoyments, like we find with the Nazirite who needs to refrain from wine for 30 days to overcome certain issues in his or her life. But the overarching Torah approach to life is that pleasures are there to be enjoyed! The pleasures of life were gifted to us by a loving God who wants us to enjoy life.

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Trust that God will give us what we need

Posted on 30 January 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In last week’s Torah reading of the Ten Commandments, I had trouble understanding the 10th commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.’’ It seems to be an injunction forbidding jealousy. How can jealousy, a normal human emotion, be forbidden?
Clyde R.
Dear Clyde,
One of the classical commentaries, R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra, provides insight on this subject. He explains that we are only jealous of, or covet, something that we believe could actually become ours. For example, when we see a friend, colleague or co-worker achieve a heightened level of financial success, we may be overcome by jealousy. However, when we observe a king basking in the splendor of his riches, we don’t feel envious. Why this discrepancy?
The difference is clear. We recognize that we are not kings. We were not born into royal families and do not yearn for things we know could not possibly become ours. We might, however, be envious of our neighbor, who we believe is no more capable than ourselves.
“Lo sachmod,’’ or “do not covet,’’ teaches us a profound lesson in God’s involvement in our lives and livelihoods. The Almighty has provided each person with his or her needs. What is appropriate for one is not necessarily fitting for another. What belongs to another is as much out of reach as if your friend were royalty.
I think this explanation is inherent within the verse itself. The commandment to not covet our friend’s ox and donkey is uttered in the same breath that we may not covet his wife. This is hinting to us that just as my friend’s wife is completely off limits to me (that’s his royalty), so too, the rest of his possessions are to be viewed as completely out of reach. Consequently, you will not covet those belongings.
This mitzvah doesn’t command us to quash our emotions. It rather gives us a direction in life which enables us to control our emotions. Natural emotions have a place, otherwise they would not have been created within us. Our job as Jews is to control our emotions, utilizing them when appropriate, remaining above them when inappropriate. All of us will inevitably be faced with the natural emotional challenge of jealousy. At that time, we need to focus on the above lesson, and we can regain our control.
Taking this a step further, the mitzvah to not covet is the ultimate purpose of all of the Ten Commandments. We learn this from the fact that it is the last of the commandments, and the sages have taught us that “sof maaseh b’machshava techila,” the last of actions manifests the original thought. Similarly,the creation of man came after all other creations, plague of the first born after all other plagues, the creation of the Jewish people after all other core nations. Why would this be so?
The answer is, if one truly believes in “I am the Lord your God,” then one will trust in God to provide for their every need and be sure that what they have is exactly what their Father in heaven deems appropriate for them.
This is why the parallel of not coveting in the Ten Commandments is honoring one’s father and mother. Like one trusts their loving and caring parents to anticipate and arrange their needs, so too, one learns to extrapolate that trust to God.
This commandment is, more than any other, relevant to our lives, day by day, hour by hour, situation by situation.
I was always amazed by my father, ob’m, and the way he expressed joy at the financial successes of others, although he only made a modest income. My understanding was that my father, as a Holocaust survivor, maintained his joy by simply being alive and enjoying the simple pleasures he was blessed with. This enabled him to not only not covet what others had, but even to fully join in the joy of others in their successes, a joy untainted by the desire of it coming to himself.

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No prayer is too trivial for God to ‘bother’ with

Posted on 24 January 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In the course of my recent trek toward Jewish observance, I find prayer among the most challenging of obligations. I have a really hard time bothering God for my needs — as they seem so petty compared to the much bigger matters in the world that God has on his plate. My financial needs don’t add up to the challenges of the missile crisis with Iran or the national debt. What gives me the right to inconvenience God with my trivial problems? I would much appreciate your insight on this.
Laurie K.

Dear Laurie,
I can assure you that your question is shared by many. Even Jews who have been observant their entire lives have issues with what you have raised, finding it difficult to approach God with their needs. Often, I have been asked by school-aged boys and girls if it is appropriate to “bother” God for help in passing a test.
The Jewish answer to your question is a resounding YES!
The Torah outlook is that not only are you not “bothering” God with your requests, but you are affording Him the greatest honor and respect possible by doing so. How is this so?
The reason is, the greatest respect we can give to God is to look at him as our “Father in Heaven.” A child never thinks twice about approaching her father with even the most seemingly trivial requests, because she knows that her father’s love overcomes that triviality and it is important to him because it’s important to his daughter. From the perspective of the love between a parent and a child, there is no triviality. The father is happy with his daughter by her showing him that he is the address for all her needs and concerns, whether big or small.
The more we approach God for our every need, the greater the expression of reliance upon His kindness and the cognizance that, ultimately, He is the source of life itself and all that is contained in that life. The more we approach him as our Father in Heaven, the happier He is with us, as each and every approach creates more bonding, more connection and more love.
We begin the Amidah prayer by asking for wisdom. Wisdom includes succeeding on one’s test at school as much as it means wisdom to properly raise one’s child or understand the depths of Torah. Each person can tailor-make their own kavanah, or intention, to their own specific needs, and it’s all good; it’s all contained within the meaning of the words. This is, again, because we are addressing our Father, who lovingly cares about each person’s individual needs.
As God is Al-mighty, turning toward one’s individual financial needs doesn’t detract from His ability to address the crisis in Iran or the national debt. If anything, the opposite is true. The more people turn to Him, the greater God reveals His presence in the world by bestowing greater levels of blessing, bounty, health, sustenance and peace throughout the world.
Your question is as timely as it is appropriate. My organization, DATA, is currently spearheading a communitywide effort toward the study and understanding of prayer. It is based upon a contemporary book, “Praying With Fire,” which offers numerous short but meaningful insights upon which one can reach profound levels of connection through prayer. The author, Rabbi Heshy Kleinman, spent this past weekend speaking in numerous local schools and synagogues, spreading the message of prayer and, specifically, the perspective of approaching God as our Father in Heaven.
To receive the book or to find out about any classes taking place as part of this effort, contact the chairman of the campaign, Rabbi Shaya Fox of DATA, at sfox@
dallastorah.org. My wife and I will deliver the kickoff class on this subject.

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Esau’s angel wanted to cripple Jacob’s Torah love

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your response about the encounter between the angel of Esau and Jacob. I still was wondering what is the significance of touching his hip, of all places. It seems like there’s more important places to try to harm than the leg. I understand what you said about the Jewish people limping, but is there anything more to this?
Mark T.

Dear Mark,
There is, in fact, another understanding of the encounter that you mention, which explains why Esau’s spiritual patron was out to affect Jacob’s legs.
The deeper Jewish mystical sources explain the following (Zohar, Parashas Vayishlach 171a). Jacob, of all the patriarchs, represented the study of Torah. “The lads grew up and Esau became one who knows trapping, a man of the field; but Jacob was a man of completion, abiding in the tents” (Genesis 25:27). “Abiding in the tents” means that Jacob spent his days and nights studying Torah, according to Rashi’s analysis of Genesis 25:27.
The Zohar teaches that the struggle between Jacob and the patron angel of Esau was a spiritual one; Esau did not want Jacob to take the birthright and the Torah that accompanied it. The angel was attempting to remove the Torah from Jacob’s ownership, taking it out of his hands and heart.
When the angel saw he could not overcome Jacob, because his love of Torah was so intense that he would rather die than to cease his study and observance of it, the angel touched his leg. The legs of a person hold him or her up. They represent standing up and walking forward.
Like the legs of Jacob held him up, so too the supporters of Torah throughout the generations are like the legs of the Torah. Those who monetarily support Torah become the legs of the Torah who prop it up, making it accessible to those who want to study it. As the sages say, “if there’s no flour, there’s no Torah” (Mishna, Avos 3:17).
When Esau touched Jacob’s leg to move his hip out of place, he was “touching” the supporters of Torah throughout the generations. He knew that the Jewish people loved the study and observance of Torah too much to minimize it directly, so he had an alternative plan. He would minimize the desire of the Jews of means to appreciate the importance of Torah study, so they won’t support it wholeheartedly and to the extent they should (R’ Tzadok Hacohen, Pri Tzadik, Kobeitz Ha’mincha 37 in explanation of this Zohar). The lack of support will minimize the amount and intensity of Torah study, thereby weakening the “voice of Jacob” in the yeshivos, kollels and synagogues.
This, says the Zohar, will give Esau and his offspring (namely the Roman and, subsequently, Western culture and nations) the ability to control Jacob. Isaac said to Jacob, at the time of the blessings, “… the voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Genesis 27:22). The Talmud explains this to mean that when the voice of Jacob is strong and powerful, reverberating the sound of Torah in the study halls, then the “hands of Esau” are powerless to harm us. But when the voice of Jacob becomes weak (see commentary of Vilna Gaon), Esau’s hands then are empowered and able to harm us and take us over.
The angel of Esau, by minimizing the support of Torah by touching the support of Jacob, crippling his legs, was preparing the stage for later troubles he would cause to the Jewish people.
Those individuals who, indeed, stand up and wholeheartedly and generously support the Torah become the “legs of Jacob,” the support of the Torah itself. Upon them the Torah bestows the blessing, “Baruch asher yakim es divrei haTorah hazos” (Deuteronomy 27:26), blessed is he who upholds this Torah.

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Angels touched Jacob to divide Jewish people

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been contemplating the message of the struggle between Jacob and the patron angel of Esau in Genesis 32. Are we supposed to learn something from the angel touching Jacob’s hip? Jacob won the struggle against the angel but walked away limping; is there a message in this, or is it just what happened then and there?
Mark T.

Dear Mark,
As I think you understand in your question, there are no stories or messages in the Torah that were mentioned solely for their historical value. All stories told in the Torah carry a timeless message that applies to today as it did then. The Torah is not meant to be a history book (although it is certainly rich in historical facts), rather a book of laws and moral teachings.
The Torah itself, at the end of that chapter, mentions a ramification in Jewish law for all time due to the touching of the angel to Jacob’s hip: that the Jews are not allowed to eat the sciatic nerve of an animal. This is codified into Jewish law, known as gid hanasheh, and requires the hindquarters of a cow to be dissected in a special way that avoids the sciatic nerve and its surrounding fats.
This doesn’t really answer your question; rather, it strengthens it. What is so important about this encounter that it has been encoded into Jewish law for all time?
Let us consider a message offered by our sages.
One is a message of assimilation. The Talmud teaches us, based upon a verse, that a Jew, no matter how far he or she may stray from Jewish beliefs and practices, remains a Jew (Tractate Sanhedrin 40a). Once a Jew always a Jew. “Yisrael, af al pi she’chata, Yisrael hu.”
This teaching carries both a positive and a potentially negative connotation. The obvious positive message is that a Jew can always return and need not convert back to Judaism, even after joining another religion.
That very same point carries a damaging perspective; we could have Jews within the fold whose lives are antithetical and even hostile to Judaism and its teachings, and still be part of the fold. The Jews of every generation are collectively considered as one body. If one’s leg is sick, then the entire body is unhealthy. If one is limping due to a broken leg, the entire body is limping.
When Esau’s angel saw he couldn’t destroy Jacob, he touched him in the hip to make him limp; he touched the many Jews that his (later Western) society would one day influence many Jews to assimilate into the culture of his offspring. Although this would not destroy the Jews completely, that assimilation causes the entire body of the Jewish people to be severely impeded in their attempt to be a light unto the nations.
The Torah says that Jacob limped until he came to the city of Sukkos (Genesis 33:17), when at that point he was cured of his limp (Rashi on Genesis 33:18). The Rabbis teach that Sukkos is hinting to the final time of our history, the Messianic redemption, when the Jews will become complete, like Jacob was considered complete at that moment.
When we usher in the long-awaited Messianic period, the entire Jewish body — all those who are part of Klal Yisrael — will recognize their part in the mission of the Jewish people and its requirements. We so look forward to when the Jewish people will be fully healthy again.

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It’s time to help Israelis now living in poverty

Posted on 02 January 2019 by admin

Dear Readers,
I would like to share with you a little-known situation in our beloved Holy Land.
The unfortunate situation I am referring to is the abject poverty that so many thousands of Israeli families live in. In Jerusalem alone, tens of thousands of families live below the poverty line. Add to that the population in Sderot and many other towns in the Negev and elsewhere throughout the country, and so many have lost their livelihoods and are subjected to lives of poverty.
On a visit to one organization which combats this poverty, Chechnov Institutions, I heard a bone-chilling story. A teacher in one of its schools noticed that a student wasn’t performing so well that morning and seemed hungry. Upon questioning the boy, he answered, innocently, that yesterday it was his turn to have breakfast and today it was his sister’s turn.
Unlike widespread rumors that this situation exists only with large Haredi families, the truth is that poverty spans the spectrum of Israeli society, from religious to secular. It exists, to a large degree, in the larger population centers, such as Jerusalem and is prevalent in many of the smaller development towns.
This caused me to do a lot of thinking about how we American Jews are doing our spending — the many luxuries we enjoy, the lavish weddings — when so many of our brethren are literally going to bed hungry. Even with regards to many of our philanthropic expenditures, donations that are directed to myriad good and important causes perhaps need to be re-evaluated. Would I, in good conscience, give my dollars to an arts or music center if I knew that my own brother in Cleveland just lost his job and doesn’t have food on the table for himself, his wife and children? We need to view every Jew as our own brother or sister.
The Talmud says that if one is faced by two situations of poverty, one is a Jew in his own city and the other resides in a different city, “Aniyei Ircha Kodmim,” meaning that the poor of one’s own city take precedence over those of another city (Talmud, Tractate Bava Metziah 7a and Sifri Parshas Re’eh 116). The authorities of Jewish law have ruled that the poor of the Land of Israel are considered “Aniyei Ircha,” as the poor in one’s own city (Shulchan Aruch, Yareh Deah 251:3).
In times like those that we live in, surrounded by dangers and threats to the survival of Israel, including proclamations to wipe it off the map, Heaven forfend, this is a special time to perform acts of chesed, loving kindness and tzedakah.
One could contact the Jewish Federation and see how to have a donation earmarked for the poor in Israel. If you would like to contact me, I will be happy to provide you with the names of worthy organizations in Israel who are valiantly attempting to turn the tide and provide basic needs for poverty-stricken families of all backgrounds and affiliations.
Although we can’t change the situation overnight, every person we help makes a huge difference to that person.

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It’s fine to wear tefillin outside of Israel

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I heard that the mitzvah of tefillin is only for the land of Israel, and that doing it outside of Israel is only for practice. (That is a short version of what was said.) If it was just me that was confused about this, I would have written it off to my ignorance, but I would say almost all were not comfortable with this. Could you please comment?
Etta K.

Dear Etta,
I would assume that the lecture you heard was based upon a famous section from the classical commentary to the Chumash, known as Ramban.
Ramban writes the following: “…and (if you don’t listen to the word of God) you will quickly be ejected from the land” (Deuteronomy 11:17); even though I will exile you from the land to the diaspora, remain distinguished in the performance of mitzvos in order that, when you shall return, they should not be new (unfamiliar) unto you. Similarly, Jeremiah (who prophesized the exile) said to the Jews, ‘establish for yourself markers,’ these are the mitzvos which the Jews will be distinguished through (in exile). In the Diaspora the Jews will only be obligated in mitzvos, which obligate the personage such as tefillin and mezuzos (not in the mitzvos upon the land). The Sages explained that the fulfillment of mitzvos there (in the diaspora) is in order that they will not be unfamiliar when they return, because the main fulfillment of mitzvos is for those whom are dwelling in the Land of God. For this reason, our Sages said that living in Israel is compared to the fulfillment of all the mitzvos (as all the mitzvos are complete there)” (Nachmanides Leviticus 18:25).
It is important to understand the full meaning of the words of Ramban, to better understand the importance of Israel as well as to gain a deeper appreciation of mitzvos.
Through the performance of a mitzvah, we become partners to the Almighty in the ongoing creation and perfection of the world, the true meaning of “tikkun olam.”
The word mitzvah reveals two aspects to its fulfillment. The simple meaning of the word is “commandment.” We fulfill a mitzvah because we are commanded to do so. The second meaning is “partnership,” based upon the root tzavta, or “together.” With the performance of a mitzvah, we partner with God in the ongoing creation and fulfillment of the world and its purpose.
The foundation of this partnership is man’s creation in the “Image of God” (Genesis 1: 26-27). Implicit in that creation is God’s empowering us with the ability to powerfully affect the universe. The world is God’s “hardware,” the Torah is the “software,” and when He gave us the Torah, He handed us the “mouse.” We “click” with our observance of mitzvos and affect the entire universe.
There is no difference between Israel and the diaspora as far as the first aspect of mitzvos. To the extent we are commanded to perform the mitzvos, Jews in Israel and the diaspora share the same obligation.
The second aspect, however, the extent that our mitzvos affect the universe, is different when we are in the diaspora and distant from Israel, known as the “Throne of Heaven,” or if we are at the very “Gates of Heaven,” in Israel. Our observance has a greater impact when we are in the vital energy center of God, when we are at our highest spiritual level and greatest level of connection to the Almighty.
It’s important to note that the Ramban is not referring to the Israel of today, which, although geographically is the Land of Israel, is not the complete Israel we are waiting for. What we have been praying for is not simply to dwell in the physical borders of Israel, rather for the full return to Israel with its complete holiness. That includes the Temple, the Shechinah or Divine Presence of God, where we will return to our past spiritual glory.
May it be speedily in our days.

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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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