Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Comfort in seeing God’s hand behind world events

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
It just doesn’t seem to end! First the UNESCO vote that the Temple Mount doesn’t belong to us, then the U.N. vote that Jerusalem and many parts of Israel that we inhabit are stolen from the Palestinians, then Kerry’s exit speech rebuking Israel.
And finally, 70 nations join together — not to deal with the world’s real problems — but to proclaim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of the world’s problems! Any thoughts?  
— Diane K.
Dear Diane,
One night this week, at a community dinner, I was discussing this final point with a friend and was pointing out that anyone with their eyes open after this recent meeting in France would have to become a complete believer in the Torah! The concept of 70 nations opposed to Israel is a thread which runs throughout the entire Torah. (I believe 72 ended up attending, but it was billed as a 70-nation conference.) As always, if we look deeply we find the answer in the Torah.
The scheming of this conference and the thinking of its participants was best summarized by the statement of Hollande that of all the bloody conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq and Iran, Syria and ISIS and more, none of them could be resolved until the source of all troubles in the Middle East — of course the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is solved. And, of course, one of the main impediments to that resolution is Israeli settlements. So what’s really causing the death of half a million Syrians and ISIS slitting the throats of thousands is some Jews extending their balconies in Jerusalem?
As to your point that, not at all for the first time, the nations of the world seem to have no other business to attend to than to take shots at Israel — this is not a new phenomenon, as we find in the timeless words of the Midrash: “… the Jews proclaim before God: ‘Master of the universe, look how the nations make trouble for us! They have no other preoccupation than to sit and scheme against us, as the verse says, in their sitting and their standing I see their plots.’ God answers them, ‘What do their plots really accomplish? They enact decrees and I nullify and break them…’” (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Toldos 5)
In this beginning of this coming Shabbat’s Torah portions, as Jews in synagogues around the world begin to read the Book of Exodus, the parsha begins by recounting the number of Jews going down with Jacob to Egypt: the number 70 (Exodus 1:5). This number of 70 Jews going with Jacob to Egypt was already related near the end of Genesis (46:27). Since no word in the Torah is for naught, why this seeming redundancy, why does the Torah emphasize this number of 70?
The answer lies in a verse near the end of the Torah, “When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:8). Rashi, the classical commentary, explains that the time God “separated the children of man” is referring to the incident of the Tower of Babel, when all of the world spoke one language (Hebrew), and they used their unity to build a tower to stage a war against God. God responded by separating them by the barrier of language, mixing up their language into many tongues and thereby annulling their plot and separating them, by language, into different nations whom he dispersed throughout the land.
The verse in Deuteronomy reveals, says Rashi, that the number of languages, and nations that were separated at that time, was 70. That number corresponds to the foundational number of the Jewish nation when they interface with the nations: the number 70 who went down to Egypt and began the first exile. The deeper sources explain that each nation was assigned its own “patron angel,” its spiritual emissary in the upper worlds, the total number equaling the number of Jews interfacing with those nations who control those very spiritual powers with their actions.
Hence, we bring 70 offerings on the holiday of Sukkot, equivalent to the nations of the world; those offerings that we bring are what actually provides the nations with their spiritual power and essence. Hence, says the Talmud, if the nations had realized how much benefit they receive from the Jews’ worship in the Temple, not only would they have not destroyed it, they would have put guards around it!
This explains, in part, why our tradition is that the final world war, which will be an uprising of the 70 nations against Israel, will be fought on the holiday of Sukkot.
As the footsteps of the Messianic time march nearer, we stand back in awe to observe that 70 nations of the world stand up to Israel, and we take comfort in seeing the signature of the Al-mighty behind world events, inspiring us to wake up, take notice, and do our part to bring the final redemption.

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Rashi’s words ring true after UN resolutions

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Between the UNESCO vote not long ago, then the U.N. sanctioning Israel, and then John Kerry making his final public address to scold Israel for …living in Israel (!!) I am just beside myself, and wonder if it’s foretold in the Torah that the world would one day accuse the Jews of stealing Israel from someone else! How is this possible when we’ve had Jews living there for some 4,000 years?
— Patricia
Dear Patricia,
You are raising a fascinating point; these current events have been very much foretold in Torah sources!
The classical commentator to the Torah, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known by the acronym Rashi, actually begins the very first line of his renowned commentary with reference to your question, albeit from a different vantage point.
Rashi begins his remarks by raising the question: Why does the Torah begin with the Book of Genesis? If the Torah is not a “story book,” rather a book of law, why does the Torah not begin with the first mitzvah, or law, commanded to the Jews? How does the story of Creation figure into a lawbook?
Citing the Midrash, Rashi answers this question with the verse, “The power of His actions He (God) has related to His people in order to bequeath them the inheritance of the nations” (Psalms 111:6). He explains that “if the nations of the world will tell the Jewish nation, ‘You are thieves, you have stolen the lands of the seven nations (Israel),’ you can answer them, ‘The Land belongs to God, He created it and just as He has desired to grant it (temporarily) to the seven nations, He has also desired that it be taken from them and given to us.’ ”
As shocking as it sounds, Rashi is telling us that we need the entire book of Genesis in order to relate the Creation story, so that everyone will know who created the world, and that that Creator has the right to take the Land from other nations and give it to us. It sounds almost ludicrous that we would need so much Torah for something that would probably never happen! If, however, Rashi reveals to us that an entire book of the Torah was given to us for this reason, the Creation story itself, then the claim that we stole the land of Israel goes to very core of the existence of the world. Why is this so? Why is this particular lie so much more foundational that the many falsehoods conjured up against us throughout the millennia of anti-Semitism?
It is because the Jewish people living in the Land of Israel, with all its holiness and fulfilling its laws, with the holy Temple in Jerusalem as the focal point of the nation, is truly the foundation of the world and the fulfillment of its purpose. From their high place in Israel the Jews are meant to be a light unto the nations, teaching by example the entire world its purpose and giving the Gentile nations their direction and calling. That is why we refer to the traveling or moving to Israel as “aliyah,” or “going up” to Israel, unlike any other country in the world. Israel is an elevated place, the dwelling place on earth closest to heaven. From the spiritual heights of Israel that light is meant to shine from above, through the Jews, to the Gentile nations and to provide their illumination. For this reason the world was created!
Hence, the claim that we stole the land is the way evil can justify itself by bucking the teachings and examples of the Jewish people and closing its eyes to the beautiful light emanating from Israel. This claim goes to the core of Creation, to the foundation of the purpose of life. If, at the time of Creation, there was destined to be a struggle between good and evil, truth and falsehood, then it would be manifest by claiming “You are thieves!,” that we stole the land and are not to be the nations’ mentors.
For much of our history, although Israel was conquered time and again, we never imagined it could possibly come about that someone would have the audacity to claim that we have stolen the land of Israel! And now, here we have it! The motion that was submitted and passed (sans the veto of the Obama administration), which officially makes us thieves of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall and much more of Israel. From here on in, the “negotiations” with the P.A. will begin with us having absolutely zero leverage, because all the land we occupy since 1967 is stolen property!
All this is foretold in a few words of Rashi, and is a lesson to us as to our lofty purpose in this world.

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Use lights of Hanukkah to illuminate world

Posted on 28 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
What is your take on the U.N. Security Council vote condemning Israel falling out right before Hanukkah?
Joe and Marcie W.
Dear Joe and Marcie,
The significance of this disgraceful event falling out when it did was not lost even on the most secular of Israeli MKs, many of whom made mention of its obvious connection to Hanukkah, a time when we overcame our enemies against all odds.
I think, however sadly, that the true message of Hanukkah was, nevertheless, lost among many, even as they saw a connection between these events. This is not a new mistake, but goes back to the beginning of the State of Israel.
The predominant outlook upon Hanukkah and the Maccabees is as upon mighty Jewish warriors who stood up with great physical strength and fortitude, exercising their tremendous military prowess which enabled them, although greatly outnumbered, to triumph valiantly against the wicked Syrian-Greek oppressors. It is this great pride in the physical might of the Maccabees which has, for example, led to the naming of Tel Aviv’s soccer team “Maccabee Tel Aviv,” also an example of skill, strength and stamina!
Nothing could be further from the truth! The Maccabees were not mighty warriors, nor had they even the least bit of military training; they were yeshiva students who spent their days and nights studying Torah! The Siddur, the traditional prayerbook, written by the sages of the generation in which this miracle took place, says the following: “In the days of Mattisyahu … the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will, You in Your great mercy stood up for them in their time of distress. You took up their grievance, judged their claim and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah…” (ArtScroll Siddur, p. 187).
The Maccabees were not at all the “strong” ones; their hands were “the hands of the weak”! They did not, in the least way, rely upon their own military prowess, rather considered themselves emissaries of the Al-mighty; it was His victory, not their own! True, God delivered that miraculous victory because of the Maccabees’ willingness to fight and even give up their own lives for the sake of God’s Torah, but only because they relied upon God’s providence and His infinite ability to defeat even the strongest of armies despite the weakness and puniness of their physical capabilities did they fight that war.
Many commentaries explain that the purpose of the miracle of the menorah was to make sure the people didn’t mistakenly attribute the defeat of the Greeks to the strength of the Jews, and to remember it was a God-given gift, like the menorah which stayed lit far beyond its physical capabilities.
The message of the Security Council vote and the Obama administration, joined by the rest of the world, throwing Israel under the bus is not that “we” will overcome, or that Trump will save us. It is that if we connect ourselves to that which the Maccabees did, to the Al-mighty and His Torah, then God will continue to rescue us as He did so many years ago!
According to Kabbalistic sources, the final rays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur shine until the days of Hanukkah. The Hanukkah lights are our connection of light in a time of darkness to ward off the final attempt by our detractors to pass a negative judgment against us.
We have received a wake-up call at the last moment of judgment to utilize the lights of Hanukkah for what they symbolize, the light of Torah, and that light will ward off much darkness. They will, in turn, illuminate our Jewish homes and spread throughout the entire world, sending a message of light, peace and joy which will continue to ensure the continuity of the Eternal Nation.
A joyous Hanukkah to all!

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No, Hanukkah is not a ‘Jewish Christmas’

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Every year I am challenged as a mother by the proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas, especially in a year like this where the two actually coincide. How can we possibly compete, with our candles, with their stunning display of colorful lights, filling the malls, decorating their houses, on their trees?
What do I say when the kids ask me if Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas?
Shawn P.
Dear Shawn,
What you and many like you are facing is truly a real challenge. We and our children are surrounded by the culture of the country in which we live, and 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: Scholars have shown that many of the customs and celebrations of Christmas are actually based upon our celebration of Hanukkah, which predated Christianity by hundreds of years. In their desire to attract Jews to Christianity, its founders established this holiday at the same time as Hanukkah, with many similarities, but better, hoping it would break down the barriers for Jews to enter their fold. Hence their lights, which are an embellishment of our lights. The gifts, which started later, a takeoff on our Hanukkah “gelt.” The original 12 days of Christmas are a replica of the Torah reading of Hanukkah, which outlines the gift of the 12 heads of the tribes during the consecration (Hanukkah) of the original tabernacle, over 12 days.
Studies show that more Jews observe Hanukkah than any other Jewish holiday. Some sociologists explain this phenomenon — as you mentioned — that many Jews consider Hanukkah their “Jewish Christmas.” How ironic is it that the very holiday which is a replica of Hanukkah should be reversed and serve as the source of Jews observing Hanukkah!
(The irony continues to grow: Many, if not most, of the familiar Christmas carols which literally define the contemporary holiday were actually composed by Jews! I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas; Winter Wonderland; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Let it Snow, 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, the very essence of Hanukkah was enacted as a celebration of the Jews to withstand the Syrian-Greeks’ attempts to assimilate the Jews into Greek culture and society. The miracle of the menorah was performed upon a flask of olive oil. One of the symbolisms of the oil is that even when mixed well with water, eventually the oil will not remain in suspension but will separate and rise to the top. So too the Jews were not able to become assimilated; they eventually separated and rose back to the top, to their connection to G-d and to each other. The last thing we would expect is for Hanukkah to be a way to identify with the culture around us, the antithesis of its own essential message!
I would recommend you visit some of the many wonderful Jewish websites which 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. Aish.com and Chabad.org, to mention a couple, provide reading material, videos, cartoons and many multimedia opportunities to bring Hanukkah alive to your family and friends.
On Hanukkah we begin with one light and ascend to more and more lights, day by day. May Hanukkah be a time that all Jews will ascend and grow in their observance and pride to be who they are!
A joyous and meaningful Hanukkah to you and all the readers.

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We have responsibility to fulfill word of God, not rewrite His meaning

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I read with much curiosity the recent TJP article titled “Temple Shalom makes it clear: LGBT welcome,” Dec. 8, 2016.
The article quotes Rabbi Paley taking issue with Orthodoxy which takes literally the verse in Leviticus 18:22, saying “the Rabbis restricted it making it impossibly narrow.”
I’m interested in hearing your take on Rabbi Paley’s comments.
Lisa B.
Dear Lisa,
I would prefer to stay away, in this column, from the actual subject discussed in that article, and rather focus on the thought process by which Rabbi Paley arrives at his conclusions, in the interest of scholarly discussion. I find that if we connect this discussion to the subject at hand, it often becomes an emotional discussion rather than a scholarly one, with one side accusing the other of a lack of compassion and the like. The important thing is to be intellectually honest and to quote proofs in context.
Firstly, to say the “rabbis restricted” the verse; it was never the rabbis who restricted a verse in the Torah, the verse stands on its own right.
Paley’s “proof” that the verse is not to be taken literally is “that Judaism allows for capital punishment, which is almost impossible to do.” This has nothing to do with the interpretation or understanding of the aforementioned verse, as the death penalty is not even invoked in that entire section of the Torah.
Furthermore, I’m not sure how Paley intends to prove from the fact that it’s nearly impossible to carry out capital punishment to reinterpret an explicit verse in the Torah. First of all, is the difficulty to carry out capital punishment a blanket license to reinterpret anything in the Torah?
Secondly, capital punishment, with all of its difficulty, has indeed been carried out in Jewish history, albeit very seldom.
(One may ask, if the Torah invokes capital punishment, why does it make it so difficult to carry out? The Talmud, in fact, discusses a court which carried out capital punishment once in 70 years and it was referred to, derogatorily, as the “bloody court!” The reason is that any misdeed which has capital punishment attached to it shows how severe that act is in the eyes of God, and how careful one must be to refrain from it. But insofar as it’s worthy of capital punishment, rather than us carrying it out, we leave it to God to do so.)
Paley pointed out that numerous passages in the Torah of prohibitions are not carried out today, like prohibitions against cloth blends or mixing two types of seeds in fields, as a further proof that the above verse doesn’t apply today; sadly, it seems he doesn’t know that these prohibitions are very much alive and well. There are laboratories in New York and New Jersey and numerous experts throughout the world who are dedicated to checking clothing for shaatnez, ensuring that in conformance with the biblical injunction against wearing clothing made of linen and wool, these mixtures are not worn by observant Jews. The mixture of seeds is only prohibited by the Torah in the Land of Israel, where that law is also scrupulously observed by observant farmers.
As to Paley’s claim as to “the hypocrisy of one text as our basis,” and that “we do not live biblical Judaism, we live rabbinic Judaism,” I would roundly agree that we do not interpret the Torah based upon its literal meaning, but how it was explained by the Al-mighty in the Oral Tradition, handed down as the Mishna and Talmud.
That does not mean that every rabbi has the license to make up his own oral tradition and interpret anything as he likes.
Paley gives an example from the story of Rabbi Eliezer and the sages who disagreed with him, even in the face of a heavenly voice proclaiming that the law is like the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, saying the Reform Rabbis love to quote that story, deriving from it that whatever we determine will be right.
This story is being taken grossly out of context; the rabbis were arguing over a very subtle point in the Oral Tradition, with ramifications in the esoteric laws of ritual purity. There was no verse anyone was disagreeing with. The lesson of that story is dual: that the laws of the Torah are decided by the majority, and this applies even if the minority opinion will get an “OK from Heaven.” This is because, as the Talmud stresses, once the Torah was given at Sinai it is no longer “in Heaven”; it is to be understood through the principles of Torah passed down at Sinai.
From that point on, the Torah is not understood prophetically, rather with the understanding of the sages. This is applying to the “gray areas” open to discussion, not to explicit verses in the Torah that were already clearly given at Sinai.
Lastly, Paley contends that since in Genesis 1:26 it says that all humans were made in God’s image, “we will create Torah correctly,” meaning that we, in God’s image, can create our own Torah.
It is beyond the space allotted to me to show how grossly this verse has been taken out of context, perhaps another time. Suffice it to say that God clearly had no intention in that verse to say that every human has the wisdom of God to rewrite his or her new Torah. To be in the image of God punctuates our responsibility to fulfill the word of God, not to attempt to play God or be God!

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Improving our sphere of influence far better than pointing fingers

Posted on 08 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I read with interest your commentary entitled “When the World Strikes…” in the TJP of Nov. 3, 2016. I always find your message stimulating, even when I disagree with it.
I know, of course, of the venerable history of the theory of mipnei chatoteinu as an explanation for bad things that befall us. And there can be no doubt that some of the evils that beset people are generated by their own behavior. A drug addict or compulsive gambler certainly bears a good deal of responsibility for an unfortunate outcome. On the other hand, if one presses this formulation further, one comes up with some absurd conclusions … I shall not accept the notion that a million and a half children were murdered because Germans were following the prompting of some “renegade” Jews and were induced to commit genocide because Jews criticized each other. That conclusion is, to me, obscene….
You might consider addressing these concerns in future columns … I look forward to learning what you have to say.
With best regards,
Kenneth D. Roseman
Dear Rabbi Roseman,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Under the circumstances, however, I feel it is fit to invoke the well-known witticism of a great sage, who was inclined to quip, “You may quote my Torah in your own name, but don’t quote your Torah in my name!”
The conclusion you draw from my column is your conclusion, not mine!
I was quoting from the thesis of Rav Elchonon Wasserman ob’m, who had written his piece titled A Word To the Generation, addressed to the Jewish people of his generation who were living through increasing anti-Semitism and decrees. Rav Wasserman, one of the pre-eminent sages of pre-Holocaust Europe, was highly respected by Jews, Gentiles and even the anti-religious Jews who opposed him, for his piety, integrity and vast scholarship and sagacious wisdom. As we mentioned, sadly, Rav Wasserman himself joined the holy convocation of the 6 million martyrs when his predictions came true.
Rav Wasserman, culling from the wisdom of the ages, from the Prophets until his time, points to numerous examples in our history when Jews stood up against each other and made decrees against the fulfillment of mitzvos, which served as a catalyst for our Gentile hosts or neighbors to amplify those decrees sevenfold and more. Rav Wasserman was not, nor am I, offering the explanation as to why these decrees were incurred. Only God knows the answer or answers to the ultimate question of why. The main thrust of his thesis is that for whatever reason these ominous events play out, the catalyst is when Jews open the door for others by standing up against fellow Jews.
Far earlier than Rav Wasserman, the Talmud explains the destruction of the second Temple and subsequent exile due to hatred of one Jew toward another, which was rampant in that generation. The Talmud relates the well-known story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. A wealthy man threw an elaborate party and asked his messenger to go and invite Kamtza his friend, and mistakenly brought Bar Kamtza, a man whom he hated. The wealthy man asked Bar Kamtza to leave, and he asked him not to embarrass him once he was already there and he would pay him for his portion.
The wealthy man said no, but Bar Kamtza did not leave. He offered to pay for half of the entire banquet, and then for the entire banquet. The wealthy man responded by physically having him pushed out. Bar Kamtza went to the Roman authorities and said the Jews were rebelling against them, leading to the Romans’ destroying the Temple and exiling the Jews. Clearly that story itself wasn’t the reason for the destruction and exile, but the Talmud relates this story to show how it was indeed the catalyst for the impending destruction to play out.
Rav Wasserman’s and my intention are one, that rather than following our natural tendency to look outward when analyzing events that befall us, to point fingers and blame, instead to look inward and use these events as an opportunity to do some soul-searching. Perhaps if we improve that which is in our sphere of influence, namely ourselves, we can effect positive change in ways beyond our wildest dreams or expectations.

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Wisdom of Torah not found on social media

Posted on 01 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
As you requested, I have written down some of my thoughts that I shared with you last week at the JCC concerning our contemporary culture. As you know, I did not grow up observant nor have I studied in a yeshiva; these thoughts are my own from what I have culled from our culture and from my own personal life:
I believe that social media is highly addictive and is an environment that affects people in not only conscious but unconscious ways that can be detrimental. I’ve seen many successful people that have become addicted to social media, engaging in “people talk” and “people watching,” and observed how it adversely affected their lives.
 I personally have found that starting with keeping Shabbos I could have a wonderful 24-hour hiatus from social media. After realizing this benefit about two years ago, I got off social media altogether, which has transformed my life. Rather than turning to browse what everybody else is up to (aka gossip), I now spend my time reading and learning and starting to develop an understanding of who I am, the essence of my being.
My guide and environment is no longer seeing and watching what others are doing on social media (the cars they have, the friends they have, the places they travel, the beautiful women that hang on their shoulders, or the number of kids they have). I now use my immediate environment of Torah-knowledgeable Jews as my barometer for what is right and wrong. And I’ve come to realize that everything that is good in life is the byproduct of doing the right thing. Things that provide immediate pleasure are usually fleeting.
Recently I heard Rabbi Taub from Pennsylvania speak at Learningfest and say that the only way to cure an addiction is a spiritual relationship with God. My ultimate conclusion is the following: There will be many people becoming religious in the next few years. The psychological benefit is so tremendous and it will be a response to addiction of instant gratification and social media and narcissism of our society. Being disciplined about speech is the keystone habit change that provides individuals with the sensitivity to transform their entire lives.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readership.
Micheal J.
Dear Micheal,
It has truly been refreshing to watch you in your odyssey of the discovery of Torah thought and depth, and how profoundly you have inculcated that depth into your own thoughts and in your life. You have embarked upon a journey which affords yourself the opportunity to enrich your life greatly, while freeing yourself from the shackles of much of the narcissism and gossip so prevalent in our generation, as you have commented.
I would only hope that this depth will not remain, as you note, a response to the instant gratification, social media and narcissism of our society. Torah should not be an escape from negativity, although that negativity may be the catalyst for one’s search into Torah. Ultimately one needs to recognize the wisdom of Torah in its own right, and how its depth and profundity is what has kept us alive as a nation despite myriad negative influences and philosophies over the generations which have challenged its wisdom and our eternity. Keep up the great work!

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Why we don’t add to prayer service

Posted on 24 November 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve often wondered if we could add a section to our prayer service for Thanksgiving, like we do for Hanukkah and Purim. After all, so many Jews have benefited by living in America, and Jews around the world have benefited because there is a USA, even if they don’t live there, especially Jews in Israel!
I asked this question in our Sunday school, and there was a discussion, but no clear answer.
Thank you if you answer this,
Brandon L.
Dear Brandon,
You’re asking a great question, which is a very Jewish question, one of real appreciation for the many blessings you enjoy being Jewish in America! I totally concur that the Jews around the world benefit greatly by the fact that there is a United States, for many reasons, among them America’s generous support for Israel. The level of religious freedom and equality we enjoy here is unprecedented, and has not been enjoyed by Jews in any county for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It is most certainly incumbent upon us, as Jews and as Americans, to have tremendous feelings of appreciation for all of this, as reflected by the prayer for the United States recited weekly on Shabbos in synagogues throughout the country.
The question of adding to the actual Amida prayer, like we do for Hanukkah and Purim, however, is a more complicated one. We can’t add a “holiday” to the Jewish calendar, which would take on the meaning to the Jewish year as Hanukkah or Purim. Even those holidays, which celebrated the rescue, emancipation and existence of the Jewish people, were not added by agreement or a vote. Even the early sages of that time relied upon prophesy, and without actual prophesy would not have had the license to add a rabbinical holiday to the Jewish calendar.
Prophesy ceased soon after the Purim miracle, at the beginning of the period of the “Men of the Great Assembly,” upon the Jews return to Israel with Ezra and Nehemia to rebuild the Second Temple after the 70 year Persian-Median exile. (I always say, that’s when we became a non-prophet organization!)  From that time forward we no longer have the license to add a new holiday to the Jewish calendar and an addition to the amidah.
The prayer service, especially the Amidah prayer (which you’re referring to the addition of Hanukkah and Purim into), was composed by the same group of sages, the Men of the Great Assembly. It was written by a venerable group of 120 sages, among them the remaining prophets. They utilized this prophecy to know what precisely needs to be in the prayer service to carry the Jews through their future years of exile and Diaspora. Among the additions to the daily service, they injected paragraphs for Hanukkah and Purim.
Although we can’t add to the actual service, you could certainly add in your own private expressions of appreciation. On a communal level, as we mentioned above, most synagogues recite a weekly prayer for the guidance and safety of the United States, its citizens and leaders. We all need to pray to God to give guidance to the recently elected new leadership of our country as well.
On the same note, all of Judaism is about appreciation. The very name “Jew,” from the word “Yehudi,” comes from the root “hoda’ah,” which means appreciation. Every mitzvah that we do, and every prayer, is to show our appreciation to the Al-mighty for the many blessings in our lives. To the extent that being American is a blessing for us, we can thank God for that blessing, having it in mind in the mitzvos we perform on Thanksgiving, and every day of the year. Wishing all the readers a happy Thanksgiving.

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With ballots cast, remember Truth connects us with God

Posted on 17 November 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I know you don’t use your column to discuss politics, and I’m not trying to pull you into what is still a very emotional situation throughout the country; but I am wondering if there are any Jewish lessons we can learn from this past very heated and sometimes not so nice election period?
— Cindy K.
Dear Cindy,
Unfortunately, there were a number of things which transpired, some which continue to emerge, which we have Jewish lessons to learn from. To be more precise, there are Jewish lessons to be learned of how not to be from many of the things that were said and done.
I think we can focus on one central idea which was glaring during this period and spreads to many other areas in world politics — in ways we haven’t seen the likes of before.
That is the importance of Truth.
So much of the candidates’ debate time and air time in general was spent, not in the discussion of real issues, but in bashing one another and trying to show how what was said about each other was a lie.
This was not at all isolated to the candidates themselves. A. O. Salzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, penned a letter to readers Friday promising that the paper would “reflect” on its coverage of this year’s election, after the paper was taken to task for demonizing Trump and his camp from the very outset, making Clinton look functional and organized and the Trump campaign discombobulated. (See at length “New York Times publisher vows to ‘rededicate’ paper to reporting honestly,” foxnews.com). My intent is not to defend one candidate or another, only that we need to recognize that a significant amount of information the electorate was fed was not necessarily the truth.
This, on the backdrop of a world body as significant as UNESCO voting, twice, that Jerusalem does not historically belong to the Jews, rather to the Muslim world, a world that came about thousands of years after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were there and well over a thousand years after King Solomon built the Temple there. We are living in a world in which Truth is a rare commodity.
This is not a totally new problem. The Medrash relates that when God posed the question to the angelic court whether or not to create Man, the Angel of Truth voted he should not be created because he will be full of lies. We see that the potential to lie is greater than to tell the truth.
The Talmud explains this to be implicit in the very fiber of creation. The building blocks by which the world was created are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When one peers into the aleph-beis, the Hebrew alphabet, we unlock many secrets of creation. The word for “lie,” “sheker,” is spelled “shin kuf reish”; those three letters appear together in the Hebrew alphabet. Since they are close together, we learn that sheker, a lie, is very “close,” or easy to tell. Truth, however, which is “emet” is Hebrew, is spelled “aleph mem tav”; the first letter, the last letter and the middle letter. Those letters are as far apart as can be in the Hebrew alphabet. This is to teach us that truth is distant; one needs to work hard to stick to the truth and live by it, unlike a lie which is prevalent and very easy to live by!
That is why the Angel of Truth voted not to create a being who would be so liable to fall into a life of lies. (There’s an old Yiddish saying that, “if you tell the truth you don’t need to remember what you said!”)
If God chose to create us despite the vote of the Angel of Truth, knowing full well that He is creating a world where it’s easier to live by a lie than by truth, than God was creating Man with exactly this test in mind, the test of living by truth. God is referred to as “Elokim Emes,” the God of Truth, and one connects to God through Truth.
May we learn this important lesson from that which we saw, heard and loathed, during the election period and in the world around us, and strive to be the children of Jacob who manifested and was the pillar of Truth in the world; “titein emes l’Yaakov,” the Jewish people live by Truth.

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Parsing truth from lies tough, necessary task

Posted on 10 November 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Last week you explained the UNESCO declaration about Jerusalem not belonging to Israel from a Jewish perspective (which I must say was a bit provocative). Do you have anything to add about the U.N.’s treatment of Israel in general, the double standard and the constant focus on Israel?
— Marge L.
Dear Marge,
Your question can be separated into three questions. There are several perspectives to be discussed with relation to the U.N.’s conduct with relation to Israel; we shall try to look at one or two of these.
I once saw a full-page New York Times ad which punctuated the absurdity with which the U.N. deals with Israel. There was a red line down the middle of the page. On the left side were enumerated all the countries allowed to join the U.N. Security Council, listing hundreds of names of countries which needed to be written quite small to fit in the page. On the other side of the line were written all the countries NOT allowed to join the UNSC, which could be written quite large. Guess which countries are not allowed to join? You guessed it! Only Israel! (Actually 2018 will mark the first time Israel will actually be allowed a bid for candidacy in that council.) What is the message?
Of course, from a sociopolitical perspective, a large part of the message is clearly anti-Semitism (which to be politically correct would be called “objections to Israel’s policies”). But, as we mentioned in last week’s column, we need to look more deeply into world events and see what they teach us spiritually — especially utilizing the essay of Rav Wasserman ob’m which we mentioned, who taught us that the nations do unto us that which we do upon ourselves.
For that we need to take a fresh look at these events through the lens of Torah. “Behold! It (the Jewish people) is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). Here it is, that red line! We will not be reckoned among the nations! Not for anti-Semitic reasons (God was not an anti-Semite!), but to teach us a lesson about ourselves and our mission.
To be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6), we need to recognize clearly that we are not one of those nations we are meant to be a light unto. In order to serve as an example to the others we must live by, and hold ourselves to, a higher standard. We truly are different! Our sources tell us that there are 70 principal nations of the world. We are not one of those 70, but rather represent them all. (See Deuteronomy 32:8 and commentary of Rashi.) The 70 Jews who went down to Egypt represent all 70 nations, as we are meant to illuminate them all with our light, the light of our Torah. Hence, there are 70 core languages, but Hebrew is not one of them, rather the source of them all. (See Genesis 11:1 and Rashi that the entire world spoke Hebrew until the tower of Babel, where the Hebrew was split into the 70 languages. See also Genesis 49:6 and Rashi that Pharaoh spoke all 70 languages but not Hebrew, which gave Joseph an advantage over him.)
When the Jews try to pretend that they are simply one of the nations of the world, forgetting their unique mission above and apart from the others, we are not so subtly reminded by the nations of the world that we are not one of them, hence the U.N.’s red line in that Times ad.
By the same token, our being held to a double standard in the U.N., leading to nonstop lies, condemnations and resolutions, is clearly, from a sociopolitical perspective, the fruits of their blatant anti-Semitism. From a spiritual perspective, however, we need to again look deeper. The Talmud teaches that no lie “has legs,” or can stand, without a bit of truth mixed in. What bit of truth could there be in this double standard? (For example, the Jerusalem Post reported this week that it is difficult to get an accurate count of civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq because they are lacking the constant monitoring by human rights groups that were present during Israel’s recent war with Gaza, counting every single casualty and immediately posting them.)
The bit of truth mixed into their falsehood is that, indeed, as a light unto the nations we are truly held to a higher standard, in our dedication to the service of God and to sanctify His Name in all that we do. It is when we forget that positive double standard, which is indicative of our elevated mission that we are held to a negative double standard; what we do to ourselves is what they do to us. When, however, we remember that mission and fulfill it, we are truly esteemed and respected by the nations of the world. “You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the people, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!’” (Deuteronomy 4:6)

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