Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Kaddish need not be said for dead of Hamas

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m sure you read about the controversy in England recently, when a group of Jews got together to recite the Kaddish for the 61 people killed in Gaza by the IDF during its “March of Return” protests, despite the fact that 50 of them are known to be Hamas operatives. The response of the “reciters” of the Kaddish was that, although they might belong to Hamas, they’re still human beings and their deaths are still a tragedy and deserve a Kaddish recited for them, and if it were Israelis who were slain then they would have said Kaddish for them as well. Personally, I’m torn because I agree that any loss of human life is a tragedy, but the Kaddish part somehow doesn’t sound right to me but I’m not sure why. Any thoughts?
Alex K.

Dear Alex,
First, we need to understand why Kaddish is recited by mourners. If you look carefully, you will see that not a word about mourning is mentioned in the Kaddish. Furthermore, Kaddish is the most commonly recited prayer throughout the traditional prayer service, being said by the leader or chazan between and at the end of every section of the service — with no connection whatsoever to mourning.
The answer is, Kaddish per se has nothing to do with mourning. It’s just that certain Kaddishes that need to be recited during the prayer service are given to mourners to have “first dibs,” or the first right of recital. But if the Kaddish is not about mourning, why give it to the mourners?
The essence of the life of a Jew is to perform a “Kiddush Hashem,” to live a life of the sanctification of God’s Name. According to the Torah, every act a Jew performs in his or her life should be one that effects a Kiddush Hashem. This is implicit in the verse, “God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your God” (Leviticus 19:1-3).
This concept is repeated numerous times throughout the Torah, as it is the foundation of the life of both the individual Jew and the Jewish people as a whole. It means to live every moment as a Jew and, at times — at the ultimate moment of truth — the willingness to even give up one’s own life for Kiddush Hashem, as countless scores of Jews have done throughout the ages.
With that background (which we have only slightly just touched upon; volumes could be written to expound upon it), whenever a Jewish life is lost, his or her loss creates a vacuum in the sum total of Kiddush Hashem being effected in the world. That person’s family are the ones first charged with the obligation to do something beyond what they have done thus far in their lives to create more of a Kiddush Hashem, to make up a little of the loss of the honor to the Name of God which is now missing.
Any Torah they study or mitzvos they, or others outside the family, perform in the memory of the deceased helps make up for the lost Kiddush Hashem and, thereby, brings benefit and joy to the soul of the deceased.
One of the most direct ways to do so is to recite the Kaddish. The word “Kaddish” comes from the same word “Kiddush” in Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name. The entire Kaddish prayer is based on the beginning which proclaims, “Yisgadal veyiskadash Sh’me Rabboh,” “May Your Great Name be glorified and elevated.” The entire Kaddish is an act of Kiddush Hashem. We give the mourners certain Kaddishes to recite in order to enable them to create a tremendous Kiddush Hashem to fill the vacuum of Kiddush Hashem caused by the loss of their family member. That brings tremendous nachas to the soul of the deceased, that they, through those left behind, continue to generate a Kiddush Hashem in God’s world. Kaddish is a response to the mitzvah of kedoshim tihiyu, be a holy nation.
Of course God and the Jews are sad about any human being who is killed. But once we understand the meaning of Kaddish, it goes without saying that it is inappropriate to recite Kaddish over the loss of Hamas operatives. Kaddish is not a response to the loss of “life,” rather to the void in the world in the arena of Kiddush Hashem, something which is as far as could be from a Hamas operative.
Allow me to add a strong personal feeling as a postscript, which will undoubtedly not win me any popularity contests, but needs to be said:
Those British Jews responded to their critics that if it were Jews who were killed, they would have said Kaddish for them as well. And I ask, did those same Jews publicly recite Kaddish when terrorists murdered the Fogel family in the West Bank? Or when the four rabbis were murdered in cold blood during a morning service in Har Nof wearing their tallises and tefillin? Or when numerous terrorist attacks took the lives of dozens or hundreds of Jews?
Have they assembled to recite Kaddish over the deaths of a half-million Syrians killed by the war in that country? When villages in Africa were burned to the ground, killing all their residents by the Boko Haram?
I think we all know the answer to these questions. It’s not the death of Gazans they care about, but that Israelis killed them. They would not have recited Kaddish if Israelis would have been killed because, and I hate to say it, I think that would have made them feel good, as deep down these are self-hating Jews who can’t bear the fact that the Jews are actually showing strength and defending themselves against terrorism.
Over the generations, some of the most virulent anti-Semites were self-hating Jews. They are infiltrating our campuses and institutions and turning public opinion against their own people. It’s not for Gazans they are reciting Kaddish, but for their own Judaism. This may be difficult to hear, but I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.

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Removing feeding tube should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis

Posted on 13 June 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I am very torn about a situation which has arisen with my mother. She is currently in advanced stages of terminal cancer, and presently in the hospital on intravenous feeding, as she’s not able to eat much by mouth. They’re talking about releasing her to hospice in three weeks. The doctors recommend discontinuing the feeding tube. They claim she no longer assimilates the liquids and electrolytes in her body, and it could cause her more trouble than gain to continue that mode of feeding. I feel like it’s starving her to death to discontinue the feeding; Mom’s not sure. I’ve always heard that Jewishly it’s wrong to withhold feeding. I’m not sure; what’s the right thing to advise her?
Sabrena

Dear Sabrena,
I’m very sorry about your mother’s situation, and what it’s putting you through.
The question of intravenous feeding, or Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), is truly a very complicated one. Back in the ‘70s, when it was first developed, it was felt that artificial feeding, when one could no longer eat on their own, was always a good thing. Dr. Robert Fine, of the medical ethics department of Baylor, told me that in those days they were shocked when many times the feeding had the opposite effect and no one dared challenge the notion that TPN is always a good thing. Since then, numerous studies have shown that TPN is quite a mixed bag and many times does more harm than good.
This is for multiple reasons. At times, the cells can no longer utilize the nutrients and liquid provided by the TPN. In those cases, rather than provide the body with nutrition, all the TPN does is fill the body with liquids it can’t expel, causing much pain and many side effects. In addition, it can cause infection, and sepsis, which is often a fatal infection of the blood. In these cases, the feeding actually hastens death.
Furthermore, in the above cases, the death process itself can be much more painful, as the person is not able to go into their final, peaceful sleep through which they can pass naturally and painlessly.
Jewishly, it’s a case-by-case question. It needs to be investigated thoroughly if, indeed, the body no longer is receiving nutrition by the TPN. If that were truly the case, to withhold TPN would not be considered starving her to death, since it’s not providing nutrition anyway. In such a case, it is no longer a mitzvah to attempt to provide her with something she doesn’t need and can’t use. Since there are physicians who are hasty to conclude this is so, you must be sure the situation was determined clearly and scientifically, without regard to the costs of continued feeding. If the body still needs and can use the nutrition, Jewish law forbids the cessation of TPN at all costs.
We need to recognize the God-given cognizance of the body to know when its end is near, and begins to shut down. At that time, the body rejects further sustenance. As difficult as it is, we need to allow the body to do what it needs to.
In Jewish law, every moment of life is precious and is above valuation. We do anything and everything in our power to preserve life. The preservation of life even goes above the observance of the most important laws of the Torah. This, however, only goes for preserving life, not prolonging death. There’s a fine line between the two, and every case needs the determination of a rabbi, well versed in these issues, in consultation with the doctors.
May God give you the strength to endure this difficult time, and to make the most of the final precious days and weeks, which are a gift, with your mother.

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Gefilte fish was a matter of convenience

Posted on 06 June 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Gefilte fish is one of those things that has become synonymous with Jewish life, and I was just wondering if there’s anything more to it than meets the eye?
Rhonda B.

Dear Rhonda,
Many Jewish foods, like other Jewish customs, at times carry deeper meanings within them.
Gefilte fish, besides its great taste, (for those who think so), is not different. It originated, and remains, a traditional Shabbos food, although many enjoy it during the week, as well.
The reason for this has been given, that the Torah prohibits 39 categories of productive activity on the Shabbos. One of those activities is called borer or “choosing.” This means, in a nutshell, that one should not render a mixture of edible and inedible objects to be edible by extracting the inedible from the edible. For example (since we’re explaining this in a nutshell), if one has a bowl of cracked nuts and their shells and she wants to eat the nuts, she should not take the “bad from the good,” the shells from the nuts, rather extract the nuts from the shells.
Another common example, far more difficult, is eating fish with bones. One should not extract the tiny bones from the fish, as that would constitute “bad from the good.” Rather, one should extract the fish from the bones. This can often be quite a chore, and not always so successful. What’s more, because of its complexity, even a well-meaning Jew can inadvertently or accidentally do it the wrong way.
In order to avoid the whole issue, it became customary in some places to grind up the entire fish very finely, and, voila, you have gefilte fish. It was so successful and avoided so many issues that it caught on and, before you knew it, everyone was eating gefilte fish.
(The above explanation is attributed to the renowned Lithuanian sage R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, known by the name Beis Halevi, 1820-1892.)
Take this as an example, whenever you see a widespread Jewish custom, to look deeper. There’s bound to be a hidden pot of gold or hidden treasure when you dig deeply enough.

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Dishes, cooking utensils must be dunked in mikvah

Posted on 31 May 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried:
We received gifts recently of a glass Shabbat candleholder, as well as a cake dish also made of glass. My neighbor told me that I need to take them to the mikvah for dishes. I didn’t know there was such a thing nor why I need to take them for a special dunking in the water. If it’s for dishes, then why take the candle holder? — it won’t be used for food or drinks. I don’t get it.
Thank you,
Rivka M.
Dear Rivka,
After the Jews won the war against the Midianite nation and received the spoils of war, including their cooking utensils, the Torah says the following. “Elazar the Kohen said to the men of the legion who came to the battle, ‘This is the decree of the Torah…the gold and the silver, the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead, everything that comes (by way of cooking) into the (open) fire you shall pass through the fire and it will be purified; however, it must be purified in the waters “of a niddah,” and everything that would not come into the fire you shall pass through the water.’” (Numbers 31:21-23)
The Torah in this section is teaching us two important requirements when receiving vessels from Gentiles. Firstly, the mitzvah of hagalas keilim, or the koshering of the vessels. This involves burning out any non-kosher absorption in the walls of the vessel by returning to fire any vessel used with fire, such as a spit holding the meat over an open fire or the racks of a barbecue. Any vessel used to cook with liquid, such as a pot or the stirring utensils used in the pot, must be submerged in boiling water to purge out any absorption, thereby rendering the vessel pure of non-kosher tastes. It becomes kosher, as the verse says at the end of that section.
The Torah adds one more step. “…However, it must be purified in the ‘water of a niddah.’” What water is this referring to?
The classical commentary Rashi, based upon the Talmud, explains that the vessels, after being purged of non-kosher absorption, must subsequently be purified in a similar body of water as that in which a woman elevates herself monthly; namely, the waters of a mikvah. (Talmud Avodah Zarah 75b) This mitzvah is referred to as tevilas keilim, the submersion of vessels.
This obligation applies even to vessels that have never been used with non-kosher food, and even if they are bought sparklingly new from the store. As long as they are transferred from the possession of a Gentile to a Jew, whether by purchase, as a gift or the spoils of war, before a Jew uses that utensil for food preparation or serving it must first be immersed in a mikvah. (Talmud ibid. and Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah sec. 120)
The commentaries explain that the foundation of this mitzvah goes to the core of Jewish living. We consider the act of eating to be a very holy endeavor, not the mundane outlook on food that exists in the world at large. This is part of the reason we don’t ingest a morsel of food without first reciting a blessing, making sure it is kosher, and having the proper state of mind, in order to ensure that we are not simply engaging in the animalistic act of consuming calories, but connecting to God through the food which He has endowed us.
In order to elevate the utensils utilized in the preparation and consumption of food to a level that makes them fit for this connection to something higher, they are immersed in a mikvah, a unique body of water specially crafted with the innate ability to elevate the mundane to the sublime.
On the level of Torah obligation, one need only immerse metal utensils in a mikvah; the Torah only requires those for reasons beyond the scope of this column. Rabbinical law, however, requires we treat glass like metal and it, too, requires submersion in a mikvah before its use. (See Code of Jewish Law ibid.)
This, however, applies to utensils used for food preparation only; there is no need to submerge the candlesticks.

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Shavuot isn’t about a ritual

Posted on 16 May 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
This year, we were invited to an observant family for a meal on the eve of Shavuot. We’re sort of nervous since we don’t know much about it and don’t want to sound ignorant at their table. Is Shavuot a minor holiday? Could you “fill us in”?
Noah & Sarena W.
Dear Noah and Sarena,
Shavuos is the day the Jewish people celebrate the anniversary of God giving us the Torah. This year it falls on Saturday night, May 19, corresponding to the Jewish date of 6 Sivan, and we are commemorating the 3,330th anniversary of our nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Shavuos is not a “minor holiday,” but is mentioned in the Torah numerous times.
Just for the record, although it seems to be a commonly held concept, there actually is no notion of a “minor holiday” in Judaism. There are Torah-mandated holidays and rabbinically-mandated holidays, such as Purim and Hanukkah, but even those are not considered “minor.” All the holidays, regardless of their level of obligation, are considered of the highest importance, and all made it to the “major” leagues.
Shavuos is a critical holiday, the source of our nationhood — God’s presenting us with our mission as a nation. But don’t be embarrassed by not knowing much about it — you’re in good company. I have found that many Jews who are proud to be Jewish and very cognizant about Passover and Hanukkah have no idea about Shavuot.
I think one reason for this is that the other holidays have some tangible observance around which the holiday revolves. Pesach has its matzoh, refraining from bread and the entire Seder experience. Sukkot has its sukkah, etrog and lulav. Hanukkah has its menorah, and Purim has the Megillah and all the joyous festivities that accompany it.
Shavuos, on the other hand, has no such concrete, tangible ritual article or observance upon which to focus the celebration. It’s all about a concept: the receiving of the Torah. All the other holidays are available in their celebration even to Jews who may not study Torah. The main celebration of Shavuos, besides the holiday meals and cheesecake, is the study of Torah. It is customary in congregations worldwide to spend a portion of Shavuos night, even the entire night, in the study of Torah. The greatest celebration of Torah is Torah.
This custom, together with the cognizance of the holiday itself, fell by the wayside when a large segment of our people were no longer students of the Torah. Sadly, the “People of the Book” closed the book.
On this holiday we celebrate that Jewish continuity truly depends upon the study of Torah.
It is a well-known fact that, throughout Jewish history, any community that did not maintain institutions of Jewish learning assimilated within two to three generations. That is true even if it began as an observant community. Less observant communities that, nonetheless, remained staunch in their study of Torah always endured. This is as the rabbis of the Talmud explain, “the light within it (the Torah) will return them to the path.”
One of my mentors once related an incident that transpired when a friend of his visited pre-perestroika Russia. Customs authorities asked him the reason for his visit. He answered that he was there as a tourist. They proceeded to open his suitcases and emptied out the contents, finding many mezuzos, shofars, tallitot, many pairs of tefillin, and books of the Torah. They said, wryly, “tourist, huh?” They returned back to the suitcases all the religious items but held back the books. They told him, you can have all this stuff, but the books, “these are the enemies of the people.”
Those communist customs officials realized that the strength of the Jewish people comes from their study of Torah. Let us realize this as well.
May this Shavuot holiday be for you and all of us a renewed acceptance of the study of Torah. Chag Sameach, a wonderful Shavuos holiday to you and all the readers.

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Tzitzis are a constant reminder of 613 mitzvos

Posted on 10 May 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your explanation of the “necktie tallis.” As I mentioned in my first email, once we’re discussing the particulars of the tallis, could you please offer some insight about what a tallis is all about? If it’s meant to be a prayer shawl, wouldn’t it be sufficient to just be a particular, set-aside garment for prayer? Why the strings? (I got the strings-attached joke, but really?)
Mark K.
Dear Mark,
Although a tallis is used primarily as a prayer garment, the mitzvah of tzitzis, or wearing special strings on the corners of a four-cornered garment, goes far beyond just the time of prayer. This is implicit in the mitzvah to wear tzitzis throughout the entire day — as observant Jewish males perform by wearing the tallis katan or “small tallis” all day (usually under one’s shirt).
We can understand this on multiple levels. Let us begin by studying the portion of the Torah that presents this mitzvah — the third paragraph of the daily recitation of the Shema.
“God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzis of each corner a thread of turquoise wool. It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see and remember all the commandments of God and perform them; and not sway after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy unto your God. I am Ha-Shem your God, Who has redeemed you from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you, I am Ha-shem your God.’” (Numbers, 15:37-41)
From this portion, we see that the tzitzis are intended to serve as a constant reminder of the mitzvos, in order not to sway away from them.
The classical commentator Rashi explains the above verse — that by seeing the tzitzis, one remembers all of the mitzvos — by way of a calculation of the numerical value of the word tzitzis, plus the number of strings and knots, which add up to the number 613, the number of the mitzvos in the Torah. This doesn’t mean that one is expected to constantly have that calculation in mind. Rather, since one knows there is such a calculation, which qualifies the intent of tzitzis to remember all the mitzvos, one indeed can use the tzitzis as a vehicle to keep the mitzvos in mind all day while wearing them.
The Talmud cites an extreme example of a Jew who was on his way to committing a very low moral crime with a harlot, and his tzitzis hit him in the face, “waking him up” and reminding him of who he is and what he’s about to do. The harlot was so impressed that she converted to Judaism. (Talmud Menachos 44a)
The Talmud further comments on the requirement to add a string of turquoise that the turquoise looks like the sea, which looks like the sky, which reminds us of God’s throne in heaven. This constant thought elevates the Jewish people to a higher plane, propelling us above sin as we remain deeply connected to heavenly thoughts. (Talmud ibid. 43b)
(Today, as I am sure you noticed, most do not wear the blue strings. That is because the dye needs to come from a rare species of fish called a chilazon, and most authorities hold that during the exile we lost the knowledge of what that species is. There are some who do wear it, following the opinion of some authorities who hold that we have, indeed, found that fish and produce dye from it.)
This is the simple explanation of the mitzvah of tzitzis. Perhaps next time we’ll take a deeper look…

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It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got the strings

Posted on 03 May 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was visiting religious cousins in Israel and brought my tallis with me. When I wore it, one of their kids said I shouldn’t wear it, he called it a “necktie tallis” and said I don’t get the mitzvah by wearing it. That was painful for me to hear, because this was the tallis given to me by my late grandfather for my bar mitzvah and, as much as I’ve worn a tallis, I’ve used it ever since. Could you please let me know if what I was told is correct, and what would be the reason? Maybe, once we’re at it, it would be good to understand a little more what the mitzvah of a tallis is all about.
Mark K.
Dear Mark,
And you thought Judaism had no strings attached!
Sadly, your cousin is correct. Very unfortunately, untold numbers of well-intentioned, unsuspecting Jews go through their entire lives without ever fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis, which is the source of wearing a tallis. This is because the size doesn’t conform to the specifications necessary and it’s not being worn properly to fulfill the mitzvah. Furthermore, in most cases, the strings of the “necktie” tallis were not properly made in a way, or tied into the garment, which would fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis.
As we have mentioned numerous times in these pages, the details of mitzvos do, in fact, matter. The world says that “the devil is in the details,” and we say that “God is in the details.” Many have asked if God really cares if a mitzvah is done with precisely this or that size object, with these or those specifications. The answer is a resounding yes. Each mitzvah was given with very precise particulars, and, without fulfilling those requirements, one has not yet achieved the desired result. Every mitzvah has a profound impact on the individual performing it, upon the world, and upon the upper spiritual worlds.
I think an appropriate analogy would be sending an email that never reached its destination because one period was left out of the address. The sender is so upset; it was so critical that the message reached the recipient on time to finish a deal…is it fair that it shouldn’t arrive and the whole deal was lost over a single dot? We all know that it’s not a question of fair. Without every dot, dash and letter, the email simply will not reach the intended destination and will not achieve the desired effect.
So, too, with mitzvos. The Al-mighty, with His infinite wisdom and understanding of the inner workings of an individual and the physical and spiritual universes, perceived precisely what it would take, with each mitzvah, to achieve the desired positive impact. If one doesn’t dot his or her i’s and cross the t’s, the spiritual email will not be delivered to its requisite inbox in heaven.
There are a range of opinions with regard to the minimum size of the tallis katan or tzitzis worn under the shirt all day. This range emanates from a statement in the Talmud (Menachos 40b), which states the garment needs to be the size for it to be able to cover the head and the majority of the body of a minor. There are disputes among authorities what age of a minor the Talmud is referring to, as well as the meaning of the majority. The most prevalent custom is 16 inches wide by 32 inches long, not including the hole for the head. (See Mishna Berurah 16:4.) This would cover most of the front and back sides of the torso. These minimum sizes apply to the large tallis as well.
With regards to the wearing of the large tallis, Jewish law requires it to be donned in the way of ituf, or “enwrapping” oneself. This means putting the tallis over one’s head and the majority of the body, pulling the entire bottom section with the strings toward the left, at least for the blessing, and holding it that way for about four seconds.
This is obviously only possible if the tallis is large enough to do so. To simply put it on one’s neck like a scarf would not fulfill the mitzvah, even if the tallis is very large. (See Mishna Berurah 8:3.)
After the blessing, some take it down from the head and leave it covering the upper section of the body, while others leave it covering the head throughout the prayer service. This brings one to the awe and fear of heaven while performing the prayer service.
The strings of the tallis need to be woven with the intent of using them for the mitzvah. They need to be inserted and tied into the four-cornered garment with that intent as well. The optimal strings to be used were handmade for that purpose.
I recently returned from Israel, where I try to always buy my tzitzis from a very holy Jew in Jerusalem from whom I’m confident the strings were woven and tied with the proper thought and intention.
I know it will be difficult to change from that which you received from your grandfather, as that tallis carries much sentimental value. You can certainly hold on to it for the memories contained within it. But for the sake of the mitzvah it’s certainly time to graduate from your bar mitzvah days and go to the next level, to be ensured to fulfill the mitzvah as required. And, I add with a wink, when you do so it will do much good for the soul of your grandfather as well.

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Israel’s 70th anniversary significant in many ways

Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
Everyone is talking about the significant milestone of Israel reaching its 70th anniversary of its birth, and we were wondering if there’s any Jewish significance to the number 70 in relation to this event.
— Marsha and Nathan W.

Dear Marsha and Nathan,
As a citizen of Israel with three children and five grandchildren (k’na hora) living there, this time means a lot to me and my family. (Especially since I’m landing there at 8 a.m. Yom HaAtzmaut morning to see a new grandson.)
This is truly a celebration of the Jewish spirit — that against all the odds, this tiny nation has grown, in such a relatively short time, to become a world power of significance far, far beyond its size in myriad areas. Medicine, sciences, psychology, computer technology, communication, irrigation and defense are some of the most significant, but only a few of the areas in which Israel has risen to the world stage, attracting the world’s most powerful and savvy investors into its market, purchasing its many startups, providing R&D dollars and more.
Of course, it goes without saying that Israel is at the forefront of the spiritual world, boasting many tens of thousands of rabbinical students and children involved in full-time Jewish education.
Sadly, Israel is also at the forefront of battles both physical and spiritual in nature. Despite its many accomplishments, Israel is probably the only country in the world in a constant state of high alert — for those who threaten its very existence. Just as fierce as battles have been, and continue to be, fought over the essence of its spiritual existence; in this case the battle is ,sadly, among fellow Jews.
The deeper side of these facts is that due to Israel’s elevated spiritual nature, its close proximity to the Al-mighty, there’s little room for the “middle of the road” in nearly any arena, no place for mediocrity. It almost fosters the fertile ground for extremism, both religious and secular, in a way that we don’t often observe in the diaspora.
The number 70 in Jewish history has always been a very significant one, such as the prophetic vision — which was fulfilled precisely — for the Jews to sojourn in Babylon for 70 years subsequent to the destruction of the Temple. At the end of those 70 years, the Jews were granted permission by the ruling monarch to return to Israel to rebuild the second Temple. After a long period of starting and stopping, and not without enemies and detractors standing in their way, it finally was rebuilt, ushering in a new period of Jewish history.
The number 7 connotes the fullest sense of the physical world: 7 days of the week, 7 musical tones, etc. The number 70 is the expanded sense of 7, the world with a sense of completion. The source of the Jewish nation was the 70 Jews who went down to Egypt. They were the seeds of Jewish eternity, as the Torah relates at the beginning of the Book of Exodus.
We only hope that this current 70, which is, in a way, a celebration of a rebuilding after the most recent destruction of Europe, will also usher in a new period in our history. Current events in Syria and the surrounding area certainly spell out the many prophesies of the final war, “Gog Umagog,” when the superpowers of the world are meant to battle around Israel, and suddenly realize it’s all about Israel, and the final battle will be turned to her, eliciting God’s own response, ushering in the final chapter of history and the messianic revelation. The headlines surely sound a lot like the prophetic teachings these days, in a scary but exciting way as we watch events unfold. I wish we could know the significance of these events with certainty, but, alas, we no longer have prophecy to know for sure (as I have said before, since the cessation of prophecy we have become a non-prophet organization.)
On one hand we look forward to that time we have long been waiting for; on the other hand, it is meant to be a very unpleasant pre-time of great war. The Sages ask, “How does one save himself from the ‘heat’ (preceding) the Messiah? Through the involvement of Torah study and performance of acts of kindness to fellow Jews.” (Talmud Sanhedrin 98b)
May we use this special time to fulfill the Talmud’s words. And may we soon merit to see the final redemption and ingathering of our people — once and for all — to our beloved homeland, with peace and love amongst all Jews.

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Knots on Tefillin spell out the name of G-d

Posted on 12 April 2018 by admin

Dear Ben,
My apologies for the Pesach interlude while in the midst of answering your questions regarding your son’s Tefillin for his bar mitzvah. Now we’re back on track, and we’ll proceed to attempt to address the rest of your questions.
You asked what is the meaning of the various knots which are tied in the Tefillin straps. The knots are tied in a fascinating way, together spelling the name of G-d, Sha-dai; the Hebrew letters shin, dalet and yud (which is the same name of G-d on the outside of the mezuzah, hence the letter shin often symbolically carved on the mezuzah case).
The head Tefillin actually has the letter shin engraved upon it, and the letter shin is formed upon the hand when the strap is wrapped around the hand (in Ashkenazic and many other customs). The letter dalet is formed by the knot tying the head Tefillin. The yud is formed by the knot tying the hand tefillin. In this way, the Jew donning his Tefillin is enwrapped and cloaked by the name of G-d.
The Talmud says that this is in fulfillment of the verse,” And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the Name of G-d is called upon you and they shall be awed by you” (Deuteronomy. 28:10; see Talmud Menachos 35b). There are numerous stories throughout Jewish history in which Jews were saved or rescued by virtue of the awe-struck state of their persecutors when they were confronted by Jews wearing their Tefillin, cloaked by the Name of G-d and glowing with the holiness of His name. Sadly, that wasn’t always the case, such as many less happy endings in the Holocaust.
This concept is further alluding to a very deep connection between G-d and the Jewish people. The Talmud, (Berachos 6a) teaches that “G-d wears Tefillin.” Our Tefillin mirror His “Tefillin”; the awe the nations have for us when wearing Tefillin is indicative of the awe of G-d Himself. In our Tefillin, it says “Shema Yisrael … our Lord is One,” in the Al-mighty’s Tefillin it says, “Who is like Your people, Israel, One nation on earth…” (I Chron. 17:21). The Tefillin are an expression of the deep, intimate connection, the bonding of love and respect between G-d and the Jewish people.
This statement is actually one of the most mysterious teachings in the entire Talmud. G-d wears Tefillin? We believe G-d has no physical body. We are furthermore taught that when Moses asked G-d to show him the secret of Divine Providence, G-d showed him the “knot of His head Tefillin.” What does this mean?
One way of understanding this is the vital importance of Jewish history. Although we can’t fathom G-d directly, we can have insight into His ways by looking back into history, seeing how He interacts with us in myriad situations. This is the hint into G-d’s “Tefillin,” which are allegorically referring to His connection with us; the knot on the back of the head Tefillin — hinting to looking back into history. (This I heard in my youth from R’ Ahron Soloveichik ob’m).
We can follow this thought to another level. The deep sources teach us that chesed (love and kindness) are reflected in the right hand and din;(strict judgement) and power are in the left. This, teach the Kabbalistic sages, goes back to the source of creation and the emanations of G-d’s attributes in the highest spiritual worlds. The crown above it all, which is the source of all emanations, is the place where the Tefillin rest (see Tikunei Zohar 17a).
An insight into the meaning of this is that G-d exercises His midos, or traits, in controlling the world, which at times seem contradictory, such as kindness and judgement. In truth, however, they all go back to the Oneness of G-d; they all fit into His master plan. The purpose, above all, is the Jewish people which manifest His purpose in creation through their teaching and fulfillment of Torah; a light unto the nations.
That is the crown of the Tefillin; the purpose which towers above and beyond all purposes in G-d’s creation and Providence. The two Tefillin straps, one resting on the right and one on the left, represent the two opposing main character traits of kindness and judgement. These two straps are bonded together in the knot which holds the head Tefillin, the crown, in place; bonding together these two opposing traits into one unity of purpose emanating from the crown of the Oneness of G-d and the Jewish people.
This is the profound message of the knot of the head Tefillin – on the back of the head; back into history – where these seemingly cross-purposes of Providence meld into one as they emanate from the crown, the source of all purpose, from the Al-mighty. (See more in The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology II, NCSY Press, pages 253-9).
When we view the mitzvos from their deeper perspective, even the most seemingly trivial details reveal a treasure-trove of depth and meaning.

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Final days of Passover are not a separate holiday

Posted on 05 April 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I know that the last days of Sukkot are technically not really Sukkot, but a separate holiday called Shemini Atzeret and Shimchat Torah. Are the last days of Pesach also a separate holiday or just the end of Pesach? I’ve never heard of it being referred to as a separate holiday, but on the other hand, I know one doesn’t drive, etc. like the first days, so maybe it is a separate holiday?
Seth Z.

Dear Seth,
That’s quite an educated question.
The final day of Sukkos, in Israel, or two days in the diaspora, are indeed a separate holiday. This is as the Torah tells us “The eighth day should be an Atzeres for you…” and goes on to relate that the system of offerings to be brought in the Temple are entirely different from those of Sukkos. (Numbers 29:35-30:1)
The word “atzeres” has multiple meanings: a gathering, also a restriction or withholding. It’s a special day to gather together and “withhold” from returning back to mundane life, rather to remain one more precious day with the Divine Presence before finally leaving the high holiday period. The Torah considers this a separate holiday, one where we put down the four species, leave the Sukkah, return to our homes and rejoice in our connection to G-d.
The final days of Pesach, however, are different. The Temple offerings brought the last day of Pesach are identical to that of the first and intermediate days. The Talmud says this is indicative of the final days not being considered a separate holiday, rather a continuation of the same holiday of Pesach. Although the Torah also invokes the word “atzeres” in relation to the final day of Pesach, (Deuteronomy 16:8), nevertheless, since the offering is identical and the mitzvos of eating matzoh and refraining from leavened bread are the same as the first days, we consider it the same holiday. The meaning of atzeres in the context of Pesach would only be referring to its prohibition of forbidden activity, similar in many ways to Shabbos, where we refrain from certain categories of activity, but not to infer it is a separate holiday.
For this reason, on the final day or days of Pesach, we do not recite the full Hallel prayer, as we don’t on the intermediary days of Pesach. This is because we only recite the full Hallel prayer when there is either a new miracle to celebrate or a new holiday. On Sukkos, since there is a different offering brought each day, every day requires a full Hallel prayer. Shemini Atzeres is no different. The final day(s) of Pesach, however, are just a continuation of Pesach with identical offerings, therefore only a partial Hallel is recited.
One thing which is unique about the final days of Pesach is that not only are we celebrating the leaving of Egypt, but the seventh day of Pesach is the day of the monumental miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Many miracles were performed and noted at the sea that far transcended the miracles of Egypt. In fact, the Talmud says that even the simplest Jewish maidservant witnessed greater revelation at the Sea than the greatest prophets observed later in Jewish history. Some have the custom to stay up the eve of the seventh day of Pesach to share words of Torah about that miracle and the subsequent song sung by the Jewish people at that time. (Exodus 14:30-15:19)
There is so much to be said about this event, not within the purview of this column.
A joyous continuation of Pesach to all the readers.

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