Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Thoughts on sounding, hearing shofar

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
What should I be thinking about when I hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? It seems like there should be more focus than just how well of a job the blower did this year!
Wishing you a happy Rosh Hashanah,
— Jill K.
Dear Jill,
I don’t want to toot my horn, but I blow the shofar in our shul and also hope that people are thinking about more than just how I did (or if I deserve to have my shofar’s license renewed, all puns intended).
The sages have pointed out many hidden reasons for blowing the shofar; we will try to enumerate a few of them in the space we have available.
Maimonides in his Code offers the most popular understanding; his words are quoted in many machzorim/High Holiday prayer books: “Even though the real reason we blow shofar is a Heavenly decree and its reason is not revealed, we find a hint for it in the verse ‘wake up the slumbering from your sleep’ — wake up and repent! This is referring to the people who are ‘asleep’ in the vanities of the time.” According to Maimonides the shofar is a spiritual, annual alarm clock which awakens us from our reveries and makes us become focused upon our purpose in the world and begin the process of teshuvah: self-improvement and growth.
Another important focus is that shofars and trumpets were blown upon the coronation of a king. Rosh Hashanah is the day we “coronate the Heavenly King” and declare him as our King and us as his subjects. At the moment of hearing the shofar we resolve to live our lives as loyal subjects of our beloved King and to heed His decrees, the mitzvos, and live lives which bring only the most honor to His Kingdom as dedicated members of Klal Yisrael.
A further hint mentioned is that the Talmud declares the ram’s horn to be reminiscent of the ram offered by Abraham in place of his son Isaac. This further teaches us the lesson of complete dedication and subjection to the Divine Will, regardless of the difficulty involved or the level of sacrifice required. This thought deepens the level of our fealty to the Kingdom of Heaven.
One thought which I always feel connected to is the notion that our shofar reflects the shofar blast sounded by the Al-mighty at Mount Sinai. With this, one accepts upon themselves, at the moment of hearing the shofar, to become more dedicated in the coming year to the study of Torah, thereby becoming more deeply connected to Sinai and all it represents.
One final thought I’ll mention is that our shofar is a precursor of the “shofar hagadol,” the great shofar that will be sounded throughout the world with the arrival of Moshiach, the Messiah, ushering in the next period of history, the “time we’re all waiting for”! This is not just allegorical; rather, through our teshuvah at the time of our shofar blowing, we actually bring the world a step closer to that final shofar.
Personally, I usually shift my thoughts during the blowing to all of the above at different moments, as well as other thoughts, some of them personal. Each person should think about what connects them most to the moment.
All this is in addition to the most important thought of all: to have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar! (Make sure not to blow that one!)
This year we’ve all had a “shofar blast” of sorts leading up to Rosh Hashanah with the devastation wreaked in our backyards in Houston and Florida. It’s certainly created much food for thought for introspection; our belief is that whatever happens in the world has something to do with Klal Yisrael. It gives us that much more to contemplate during the Shofar Service this coming Rosh Hashanah!
Best wishes for a very meaningful Rosh Hashanah. May all y’all and our people everywhere be blessed with a sweet, joyous New Year filled with peace, good health and much blessing!

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Shofar not exclusive to Rosh Hashanah

Posted on 14 September 2017 by admin

Rabbi Fried,
I was invited to a bris at an Orthodox synagogue this past week and they blew the shofar at the end of services. When I asked someone why they’re blowing the shofar if it’s not Rosh Hashanah, they said they blow it every day in the month of Elul. I’ve never heard of any of this and was embarrassed to ask, so could you please explain?
Remaining anonymous
Dear Anonymous,
What you experienced is a custom going back at least 1,000 years, and perhaps all the way back to Sinai, as we will explain.
The Torah relates that Moses ascended Mount Sinai three times, each for a 40-day period: The first was to receive the Torah and tablets, which were broken due to the golden calf. The second time was to pray that the Jewish nation should be spared despite the sin of the golden calf. The third and final time was to atone for that sin, and to receive the second tablets.
The day Moshe ascended the mountain for the third time was the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul; he spent the entire month of Elul and 10 additional days there, totaling 40 days on Mount Sinai. On the 40th day God notified Moshe that the Jews are forgiven and instructed him to cut out two tablets so He should inscribe them with a second set of commandments. That day was Yom Kippur, which established Yom Kippur as a day of atonement for all time.
The Midrash says that every day that Moshe was upon the mountain (that third time), the shofar was blown throughout the camp. This was in order to remind the Jews of their sin the previous time Moses was on the mountain to receive tablets and not to make the same mistake again. The blast of the shofar also awakened them to repent for that sin, joining Moshe in his prayers and request for forgiveness.
Hence, every year in preparation for Yom Kippur we blow the shofar every day “throughout the camp,” in synagogues throughout the world, creating a time of introspection and focus on our lives and where we can improve. Some communities, such as the Sephardic Jews, hold a special service the entire month of Elul called “Selichot,” in which they reach out to God for forgiveness as Moshe prayed the entire month. (Ashkenazic Jews do the same, just not for the entire month, but from the week before. This year most begin Saturday night, Sept. 16 after midnight.) This, combined with the shofar, elevates the month of Elul to a unique status of prayers, introspection and self-improvement in anticipation of the High Holy Days or “Days of Awe,” Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Another explanation is that Elul is the month furthest from the previous Rosh Hashanah, and it is the last month of the year. The further we move away in time from all the inspiration of Rosh Hashanah and that period, the less it continues to affect us. The last Rosh Hashanah was the time we coronated the Al-mighty as the King; that coronation was accompanied by shofar blasts and regal songs. That powerful inspiration diminishes with time; by nature, the last month of the year which is the most distant would be the time that inspiration would be nearly gone. In order to counteract the natural lack of inspiration and lapsing totally back to our previous ways we blow the shofar — last year’s shofar — to remind ourselves all we grew last Rosh Hashanah and to connect the end with the beginning, ending the year with a bang! (or a blast!), on a high note with our renewed connection to our previous growth and new year’s resolutions. If we do so, then the coming Rosh Hashanah will be entirely different, taking us even higher in our lifelong climb upward as Jews.

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Taking pride in our response to Harvey

Posted on 07 September 2017 by admin

Dear Readers,
I wanted to take this opportunity to express my deep pride — truthfully my sincere awe — in our own Dallas Jewish community for the incredible galvanizing of time, effort, resources, caring and love in response to the tragic situation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
We have all seen the horrendous scenes of unimaginable devastation, of untold numbers of people who have lost everything and don’t even know where to begin rebuilding. Less well-known is the desolation in large swaths of the Jewish community. Prominent synagogues have been badly damaged or destroyed. DATA’s sister organization TORCH found its beautiful, newly completed learning center submerged.
The kosher-observant community in particular found themselves in precarious straits; the supplies provided by disaster relief did not address the kosher adherents. And, of course, they would not address the Shabbat needs of hundreds of families who suddenly found themselves without anywhere to turn to provide their families with that vital need.
Enter the Dallas Jewish community. So many organizations and people immediately stepped up to the plate to help in any way they could. Organizations and Jews throughout the country were calling Dallas offering products, a truckload of kosher chickens, wine and grape juice, etc. What was needed was a quarterback to call the shots and pull it all together.
Enter Rabbi Sholey Klein of Dallas Kosher. I personally witnessed Rabbi Klein, at all hours of the day and night, fielding calls locally and from around the country, organizing refrigerator trucks to transport food prepared in Dallas to Houston and trucks to receive the food for storage and distribution, to receive product from New York, Chicago and wherever else it was being sent. Among myriad areas of involvement, he was busy organizing the local kosher caterers and coordinating shipping and distribution with the Houston Kashruth Association (HKA). The matter-of-fact manner by which he carried this out (and continues to do so) was incredible and humbling to witness.
“Of course we’ll take care of them and make sure they all have warm meals for Shabbos and beyond — with a smile!”
Rabbi Klein was flanked by Rabbi Bentzi Epstein, who arranged trucks with Stevens Transport Chairman and CEO Steve Aaron and fundraising efforts. Rabbi Epstein called his daughter Wednesday afternoon of the first week of the flood and asked her if she could arrange challahs for Shabbos for Houston.
She asked how many — and he replied, “2,000!”
She answered, “No problem, I’ll take care of it.” She called together her friends from Mesorah High School and by 2 a.m. that night they finished baking 2,000 challahs for Shabbos.
Rabbi Klein contacted Lowell Michelson of Simcha Catering and, without batting an eye, he selflessly agreed to put together thousands of cooked Shabbos meals. With the help of many students from Torah Day School and members of Ohr HaTorah and others, he had them cooked, packed and shipped, providing a warm and joyous Shabbos to hundreds of families in Houston this past Shabbos. Rabbi Klein in conjunction with Chaim Goldfeder of Texas Kosher BBQ similarly arranged to have thousands of meals prepared, sent and served for the duration of the week. Taste of the World with Ceci Katz and Ruthy Henkin, in conjunction with the students of Akiba-Yavneh, are preparing thousands of meals to follow.
Bradley Laye and Mark Kreditor have galvanized the efforts of the JFGD and its constituent agencies to collect products, money and volunteers to collect, process and send truckloads of aid to Houston.
This week Rabbi Feigenbaum of Ohr HaTorah announced after Sunday services that a truck needed to be packed to leave for Houston. Immediately the entire congregation, young and old, formed a human chain (which I was proud to join), and hundreds of boxes and crates were packed on the sizable truck, in less than 15 minutes. Rabbi Feigenbaum has joined with Rabbi Rackovsky of Shaare Tefilla to coordinate this and other efforts, and list goes on and on! (I’m quite confident I’ve left out many, many people involved; please forgive me as I’m only mentioning what I’ve personally seen firsthand — and have not intentionally left out anyone.)
With Rosh Hashanah approaching and the Jewish people in need of merits before the Day of Judgment, I am quite confident that the Al-mighty is looking upon this incredible, selfless act of chesed — loving kindness — by an entire community for an entire community, and by extension many throughout the Jewish world who have participated from afar; this togetherness and kindness should serve us well to receive a kind and favorable judgment on the High Holy Days soon to be before us!

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The ABCs of Hebrew

Posted on 31 August 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In religious school we started the new year with an assignment to research over the course of the school year. We’re supposed to split up into groups and see which group can come up with the best explanation of the difference between the secular alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet.
Some kids thought there’s no real difference, Hebrew just happens to be the ABCs of the Jews. Others, including us, disagreed and we feel there’s something special about Hebrew. We’re allowed to use any source, so we’re asking different rabbis what they think. Do you agree with the other kids or with us?
— Marc, Leah and Brittany
Dear Marc, Leah and Brittany,
I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that I strongly agree with you guys! Let’s try to understand what is the fundamental difference between the Hebrew alphabet and the ABCs or any other alphabet of any language, for that matter. This goes to the underlying difference between Hebrew, which is known as lashon hakodesh — meaning “the holy tongue” — and all other languages.
English, as all secular languages, is made up of letters and words decided upon by man. There’s nothing inherent about a table, for example, that would cause it to be called a table; it’s just a word made up many years ago by people in England (from the old English tabule, which derives from the Latin tabula). They all agreed that a flat surface with four legs should be referred to as a table. In Germany they decided to call it a tisch and in Russia a stol. A group of kids in a class could decide one day to create a secret language and for them a gobbledygoop is a table, and voila, you have a language!
Not only are the words arbitrary and chosen by convention, the letters that make up the words are man-made as well. It has very early sources, going back to a form of writing developed in Egypt nearly 4000 years ago and further developed by Phoenicians about 700 years later. As early as its sources, it was created by man.
Lashon hakodesh, the Hebrew letters and language, is fundamentally different. The Hebrew letters and words were God’s building blocks of creation. The 22 sacred letters of the Hebrew alphabet are profound, primal spiritual forces. They are, in effect, the raw material of creation. When God combined them into words, phrases and commands, they brought about creation, translating His will into reality.
There is a divine science in the Hebrew alphabet. The book Sefer Yetzirah, or Book of Creation, the early kabbalistic work ascribed to the patriarch Abraham, describes how the sacred Hebrew letters were used as the agency of creation. The letters can be combined in countless combinations by changing their order and interchanging letters in line with the rules of various kabbalistic letter systems. Each rearrangement of the same letters results in a new blend of the cosmic spiritual forces represented by the letters.
An analogy of this can be found in the physical sciences. One combination of hydrogen and oxygen produces water, which another produces hydrogen peroxide. So it is with the infinite number of possible combinations of the atoms found in the periodic table of the elements.
So, too, in the spiritual arena there is a “spiritual periodic table of the elements,” made up of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Not only the letters themselves, but the shape of each letter, the direction it faces, the order in which they appear in the Aleph-Bet and whether or not it has crowns or thorns upon it all have deep meanings and affect its power and what it can be used to create. The analysis of each letter, its numerical value and its meaning is an entire study in its own right. (For more study, see The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael Munk, ArtScroll Mesorah Series.)
Not only do the Hebrew letters have creative powers, there are also lessons for life which the sages learn from the shape, order and direction each letter faces and appears in the Aleph-Bet. Just to take one example of many, the letter gimel faces the letter dalet. The word “gimel” has the same root as the word “gomel,” which means to give, bestow or donate.
The word “dalet” comes from the root “dal,” which means downtrodden or poor. The gimel faces the dalet to teach us we should always seek out those who are less fortunate than ourselves and bestow our tzedakah, our giving, upon them and help them. (Talmud Shabbos 104a)

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Importance of the Wall

Posted on 24 August 2017 by admin

Rabbi,
Thank you for another thoughtful column. (The “Wall” controversy and support of Israel)
I have a follow-up question.
I was in Israel recently and many Israelis asked, “Why do your American Jewish leaders care so much about the Wall; it’s only bricks and cement and not even part of the original Temple?
“We in Israel have so many more and greater problems such as poverty, income inequality, … taking in Jews from across the world and integrating them into our society, with all this why is the Diaspora leadership so focused on a wall?”
I did not have a good answer; I saw the problems he spoke about but had no response. Any insights on this?
— Gary in Plano
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your feedback and your painful but crucial question.
I will add an additional question; why does the heterodox Jewish leadership desire to hold prayers at the Wall? Keeping things in context, the Wall was the outer structure which surrounded the Temple courtyard, a protective wall for the service performed in the Temple. What was the Temple worship? Animal sacrifice! Whether a sin-offering, a peace-offering or any of a diverse protocol of offerings, the main focus of the Temple worship was animal sacrifice.
Furthermore, this worship was entirely carried out by males, the Cohanim or priests. Although a female was allowed to bring an offering and at times was obligated to, the actual service was conducted by males only. This is all explicit throughout the Book of Leviticus and the oral tradition. Jews have prayed fervently for the past 2,000 years for the rebuilding of the Temple, for which the Wall stands, for the return of precisely that worship which we mention. This is explicit in the words of the traditional daily prayer service, the Siddur, in numerous prayers.
These concepts are anathema to heterodox Jewish doctrine. The very idea of animal sacrifice is abhorred and relegated to primitive, barbaric cultures. (The deeper, true meaning of this service would take another column.) Furthermore, it’s a completely male-dominated service. Lastly, we derive the tradition of praying with a mechitzah, a separation between men and women, from the Temple service (Talmud Sukkah 51b).
Being that the Wall stands for all this, I find it hard to understand why the heterodox leadership would want to pray there. Furthermore, the ability to pray as one wishes at such a spot should certainly not be higher on the agenda than the physical and emotional welfare of the Israeli poor.
To claim that the Wall no longer represents the Temple service and is nothing more than a popular public square is simply not being intellectually honest.
I challenge the many American Jews who have been less than punctilious in their synagogue attendance to explain why they find it so crucial to pray “their way,” or any way, at the Wall? Is this truly stemming from a deep spiritual desire to connect to their Creator? Or, perhaps, does the fact that they are not allowed to pray their way at this holy site suggest that their way is inferior to the traditional service, something they are not willing to give a pass to? This, sadly, would be a political, not spiritual, motivation. When an argument becomes political and personal, it has the potential of taking precedence even over those things one considers most dear, such as welfare of the poor and the like.
I challenge the leadership threatening to make their support of Israel contingent upon their ability to pray as they like at the Wall to honestly consider these points.
Lastly, I would like to believe that, deep down, this battle is emanating from the purity of the Jewish soul — that which Jews have referred to for millennia as the pintela Yid, the spark of holiness in a Jew. We all, regardless of our background or affiliation, in the recesses of our soul identify with the Wall and all that it represents. We all are trying to find a way to make it our own and connect with it.
Perhaps we would be well to learn from the well-known adage, “When you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do.” When you’re at the Temple, do as the Jews did at the Temple!
We all have our synagogues and temples to pray in, as we wish, throughout the world. Perhaps we can find it within ourselves to have one place in the entire world where we can just forget everything else and all be the same; embrace each other at the same service, with the highest common denominator so that nobody will be excluded; join together in the spirit of brotherly love and peace. Perhaps, just maybe, if we do so we will be rewarded from Above with the final building of the Temple and the ingathering of our exiles for all time.

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Comfort found when we trust Master Plan

Posted on 03 August 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Can you please explain the meaning of Shabbat Nachamu? I heard in a class that there are three weeks of Haftarah portions leading up to the day of Tisha B’Av and then seven weeks of portions of comforting, starting with Nachamu.
Why would there be so many more weeks of comforting, and how could we be comforted immediately after the destruction of our people? Could you please provide some explanation or meaning to this period; it would be appreciated!
— Rhonda W.
Dear Rhonda,
You are referring to the Haftarah from the Book of Isaiah (40:1-26), which commences with the famous prophetic phrase, “Be comforted, be comforted My people, says God!”
Isaiah, one of the prophets who prophesied the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people, exhorts the Nation to not give up hope. They need to know that despite the dismal times ahead, there is destined to eventually be a better future.
Still, despite knowing there will be a bright future, it is quite difficult to be “comforted” when we are surrounded by utter darkness and everything is caving in around us. It takes a lot more thought, trust and contemplation to get to a level of comfort with that than it does to focus upon the impending destruction; hence many more weeks of introspection and meditation were instituted; the seven weeks of consolation, than the three weeks established to focus upon the destruction itself.
We can take this a step deeper. The word “nachem” is usually translated as comfort or consolation. In fact, these translations are not precise; the literal meaning is to be able to take a different look at the same set of circumstances. It is a paradigm shift in the perception of what has transpired.
The Talmud relates the story of Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues confronting the place where the Temple once stood, after its destruction. The Rabbis, upon seeing a fox walking on the spot of the former Holy of Holies, burst out crying, while Rabbi Akiva laughed. Shocked, they inquired as to the reason for his laughter; he asked them why they are crying. Why are we crying?! This is the holiest spot in the world, where even the holiest Jew would not have permission to enter it besides the High Priest on Yom Kippur, and now a fox is walking there, why shouldn’t we cry?! Rabbi Akiva went on to show them that it was precisely that fox which was the fulfillment of the prophecy of destruction that leads to the next prophecy of the eventual redemption and rebuilding of the Temple; hence it’s a reason for him to rejoice. The Rabbis told Rabbi Akiva that he has brought them to Nechama; to see what is a tragedy in a different light, though the lens of the first step of redemption. This was a paradigm shift of the highest order.
There are many examples throughout rabbinic writings which teach us how to look at this tragedy through both lenses; the lens of the tragedy that it is, and, concurrently, through the lens of the silver lining and the revelation of God behind the scenes even when He seems to be completely hidden. The second lens teaches us, and comforts us, with a new depth of perception as to the deep, unbroken connection between God and the Jewish People.
Many scary things happen around the world. It is easy to lose hope. Yet the Almighty sends signals from time to time. He is waving at us and letting us know that He is fully aware of what is transpiring; this is the next big step in the Master Plan of history being led from Above. This is our Nechama, our paradigm shift, to join Rabbi Akiva and know that we are in Good Hands.

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As Americans, we will always have Israel’s back

Posted on 27 July 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
What is your opinion of the decision by Netanyahu to scrap the plans to make the Wall a place that all Jews can pray as they like and the threats by many American Jewish leaders to cut their support to Israel if they don’t ratify the decision to make it a place for all branches of Judaism?
— Marcella K.
Dear Marcella,
As I am a rabbi and not a politician, I stay away from addressing political issues in this column. I will say, however, that the kinds of statements which I have seen over these past weeks from non-Orthodox rabbinical leadership as well as from the heads of many Jewish organizations and Federations has caused me profound sadness and disillusion with their leadership.
The Israeli cabinet’s decision not to upend the generations-old status quo of the Kotel was met with howls of outrage by many leaders of non-Orthodox institutions, including threats to break ties with Israel and its support. I could not be more horrified and outraged by such threats, which, to me, expose a very thin or superficial connection to Israel to begin with. During a time when Israel is surrounded by existential threats from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinians, when Israeli families are risking their lives to live in Israel and sadly losing them, such as last week’s brutal murder of a family in their home Friday night, Israel needs and demands unconditional support from it Diaspora brethren.
Furthermore, we sadly see so many young Jews on campuses supporting Palestinian causes far more than the cause of Israel and they are often at the forefront of the BDS movement, exposing a tremendous breach in the younger generation’s commitment to Israel and Klal Yisrael. This disconnect was already shown clearly by the most recent Pew report, exposing a broad apathy by younger American Jews toward Israel’s very existence.
It is clear to me that when statements of protest and outrage by Jewish leaders are peppered with threats of severing ties, these leaders are feeding the fires of disengagement by the younger generation, fires which are already burning brightly. It’s one thing to protest and express their opinion. It’s quite another thing to threaten that it’s their way or the highway. Without question their threats have crossed a dangerous red line, and the public way they have been expressing this lack of support is playing neatly into the hands of Israel’s enemies, we can be sure.
I say this without addressing the actual issue: what is or should be the status of the Kotel with regards to being considered an Orthodox synagogue or a public square. I will, perhaps, address this in next week’s column, God willing. For now, I am only addressing my personal sadness and outrage at the willingness of today’s Jewish leadership to throw Israel under the bus if they don’t get their way about the way this decision, or any decision, is made by the Israeli government.
We are presently observing the three-week mourning period over the destruction of the very Temple which was located beyond the Wall; its holiness is what imbues the remaining Western Wall of the Temple courtyard with its holiness. It is that holiness which has attracted, and continues to attract, millions of Jews throughout the generations to that spot, bringing them together as one.
The mission of Jewish leadership is to send a message to the generation that even when things are not exactly the way we want them to be in Israel, we will always have Israel’s back. Our support, moral and financial, is non-wavering. That is the true message of the Temple, the Wall and the Jewish people.

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Differences in big-T, little-T truths in Torah

Posted on 13 July 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m curious if you can help clarify the concepts of personal (little “t”) truth and Torah (big “T”) Truth.
Within Judaism, we allow enough wiggle room to claim, for example, that both Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions can be True. Similar examples touch all aspects of life and law, where multiple contradictory truths are considered True. Thus, the concept of Torah Truth seems to be more of a spectrum than a definitive (view-)point. It seems that as long as one’s approach to Torah study is genuine, then groups or even individuals can bring down different Truths.
How does this concept hold up outside of Judaism? If someone of another religion is also living a moral life, and is toiling genuinely in their religious texts, they will surely also report a genuine relationship with God, and access to Truth. From the Jewish perspective, can a non-Jew access (a piece of) the Truth?
All the best,
— Michael
Dear Michael,
It is true that there is a spectrum of observance within the scope of Judaism and Torah, such as Sephardic, Chasidic, German, Hungarian and Lithuanian customs. These are not different versions of Truth, as you suggest, rather different approaches of how to approach the same Truth.
Let us look at an example of this. Imagine three people standing next to a large lake, discussing its beauty. One says that the water is blue, reflecting the sky; another feels it looks green, like its lily pads, and the third sees it as gray, like the clouds. Which one is correct? The answer is, all of them! There’s probably a smattering of all three colors in that lake and each feels more connected, from his or her perspective, to one of those hues. As long as all three agree upon the key axiomatic makeup of the lake that it is H2O, then there is a “gray area” which is up for interpretation and individual connection and all those viewpoints are equally valid.
So too with Torah; we have certain axioms both in belief and in practice. All of the above-mentioned sects, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, etc., believe in the same Torah from Sinai, the same 13 Principles as outlined by Maimonides which form the framework for our belief system, our definition of Truth. Even with regard to observance, take for example the observance of Shabbos, they are all basically the same. They all accept the same 39 categories of creative activity from which to refrain on the Shabbos; they all recite the same Kiddush over a cup of wine, enjoy the same three Shabbos meals, etc.
Then there are certain gray areas, such as, does one spend more time on Torah study or song and dance? When studying, does one spend more time on the Talmud and Jewish law, or on the Kabbalah and more esoteric subjects? Even within the actual laws of Shabbos, there are subtle nuances, gray areas that may differ, at times, between these sects based upon custom. All are equally valid because they are based upon a true understanding of the sources with the integrity of keeping within the axiomatic truths accepted and agreed upon by all.
They all take into account the H2O of Torah and differ in the gray areas, the subtle hues and nuances. If you look carefully, this is true of all arguments and disagreements throughout the Talmud; it’s not about the general axiomatic principles but about the details, the nuances, the gray undefined areas that are subject to interpretation.
This is the true definition of one’s approach to Torah being “genuine,” not only in intention, but with inherent integrity: playing by the rules defined by the Torah itself.
With regard to other religions, you are correct that according to the Torah a sincere Gentile can also connect to God and develop a genuine, meaningful relationship to Him. We are not a religion that believes that either you’re Jewish or doomed!
There is, however, one caveat. This is as long as that Gentile has not only good intentions, but also fulfills his or her minimum requirement of the service of God according to the Torah with regard to Gentile observance. This means a scrupulous observance of the Seven Noahide Laws. If their religion jibes with these Noahide laws then it is considered, by the Torah, to be consistent with the Truth, and its adherents will merit a portion in the World to Come.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel.
Questions can be sent to him at yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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Collective learning can make us all better

Posted on 06 July 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been compelled recently by the concept of the collective mind (aka, collective soul, Adam’s mind, the universe, etc). The analogy says that each person is like a neuron within the collective brain. Just as the brain is segmented into regions, so the collective brain is segmented into the Jewish region, as well as other regions for people of other religions, for animals, for the laws of physics, and so forth… for all the parts of our world/universe.
The critical part of this analogy is that each region must have a different perspective in order to create a rich conscious experience. A brain made of identical neurons can process no information. I need my visual neurons to see the world through vision. I need my auditory neurons to see the world through sound. And so on. Therefore, each brain region holds a part of a higher truth.
This seems a perfect analogy for religions. Every brain region (religion) believes that it knows the “Truth” about the world, and so they also think that other brain regions (religions) are wrong. But really, if we zoom out, each brain region holds a critical part of the Truth. My consciousness depends entirely on each of my brain regions doing its job. So also, the collective mind should depend not only on Jews, but on everyone’s piece of the Truth.
Is there a concept that the ultimate Truth is beyond human understanding? If Torah is written by God for Jews, does this also allow to say that Torah is not the whole Truth, but the Jewish perspective on Truth? If so, this should also allow non-Jews to have some legitimate connection to Hashem (God).
Finally, if these are Torah ideas, then our disagreement with other religions is totally predictable, and critical! And if disagreement is critical, then we shouldn’t get hung up on it. In order to work together, we should lean away from the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mindset, and instead try to focus on the “we’re each a critical part” mindset. This would help us all find a deeper compassion and understanding for people of other religions.
Still, it seems that this is not a Torah idea, so how can we get it straight, and what can we learn from the analogy?
All the best,
Michael
Dear Michael,
I am fascinated by your inculcating your training as a neuroscientist into your quest for a deeper understanding of the Torah’s message and its application vis-à-vis us and the world. You have indeed touched upon a true and profound concept which, with a bit of tweaking, will provide much insight.
Rather than applying the concept of collective mind to different religions, and considering multiple, contradictory truths, our sources apply a similar concept to diverse peoples or nations. There are myriad essential, basic principles which apply to humanity, and each nation is unique in its development of one or more of those core principles. Some examples of such principles are what Stephen R. Covey discusses in the beginning of his classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (pp. 34-35). These are principles which he considers not to be esoteric or religious in character, but basic to the human condition. These include fairness, integrity, honesty, human dignity, service, quality, excellence, growth, patience, nurturance and encouragement.
The Talmud explains that every nation has developed uniquely one or more basic principles: principles which have, unlike Covey’s understanding, sources in holiness and were spread among the peoples of the world to perfect.
The Talmud teaches, in fact, that one of the purposes of our exile among the nations is to learn those unique lessons from each land we traverse and to inculcate those lessons into our service of God as Jews. It is well-known that Jews of different lands have indoctrinated the positive lessons of their hosts into their own service, such as the German Jews who are well-known for their punctuality. My mentor in Jerusalem ob’m once remarked, when discussing this concept, that one of the important lessons we learn from our sojourn in America is that “time is money.”
We can see the value and preciousness of every moment of time and make our best use of it, not squandering or wasting it. He explained the above Talmudic teaching that at the time that all the Jews will return to Israel at the end of our exile, we will bring the sum total of all these Diaspora lessons and return them to the fire of Sinai, bringing our “time away” full circle.

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Spiritual side of our entanglement theory

Posted on 29 June 2017 by admin

Dear Steven,
Last week we addressed your question concerning simulation theory, and this week we shall touch upon your fascinating thoughts about quantum entanglement.
In part, you asked:
“… However, my views have evolved a lot lately … quantum physics and ideas like entanglement — that two particles in two different places can be entangled and cooperate at a quantum level — that go so completely against what we can observe about our universe. For example, I’ve long wanted to understand more about the mechanics of how mitzvot and prayer affect the world, and science now has the language — courtesy of quantum entanglement — to describe how doing one thing in one place might instantly affect something else in another place, without any passage of or through time and space.
“In other words, perhaps the mechanics of quantum entanglement are identical to the mechanics of how a mitzvah or tefilla here might affect an outcome somewhere else.”
I must say that you have, with your connection between entanglement and the effects of mitzvot and prayer upon the universe, touched upon one of the deepest Kabbalistic principles regarding the effect of our actions upon the universe.
Let us first mention that, as it is well-known, entanglement embodies one of the most baffling conundrums of quantum physics. Two sub-atomic particles which are essentially “entangled,” for example which emanate from an atom in a way which necessitates them to hold opposite spin patterns, will retain those opposite characteristics, hence remain entangled, no matter how far apart they may be. Even if they travel light-years apart they remain entangled, and if the spin of one particle is changed, that will have an immediate effect of the spin of its entangled particle. This effect will transpire instantaneously, as if they’re still attached, light-years away! This seems to defy Einstein’s principle in special relativity that nothing can ever travel faster than the speed of light!
Physicists have struggled to explain that this, indeed, does not contradict relativity, because nothing “travels” between the two particles; rather they are in some way “attached at the hip” no matter how distant they are from each other in space.
This is profoundly similar to our understanding of how the actions of a human being affect even the far-flung reaches of the universe instantaneously. This is predicated on the understanding of the soul. We usually think of the soul as a spark of Godliness which the Creator has imbued us with. This is true, but it goes far beyond that. In fact, the deeper sources of Jewish thought, the Kabbalistic works, teach us that the part of the soul within our bodies is merely the sparks of the lowest level of the soul. It compares our bodies to a “shoe”; although our bodies stand in our shoes, it’s only the lowliest part of one’s body held within the shoe. The main part of one’s body towers far above the reaches of the shoe. Also the main parts of our souls tower light-years above our physical structures. The root of the soul reaches above all the 10 levels of Sefiros, or celestial worlds  from which emanate different aspects of Godliness; hence every thought, matter of speech and action a person does instantaneously affects all of those heavenly worlds. Hence the actions, speech and thoughts immediately affect the entire universe, as the celestial worlds are the core and spiritual foundation for the entire physical universe. This is the spiritual side of our “entanglement” with the higher spheres of the spiritual, and hence physical, universe.
When one contemplates this concept, there’s truly no room for a condition which plagues our generation, the lack of self-esteem. Rather than feeling puny and inconsequential in face of the billions of galaxies we know to exist, one should feel proud to embody a soul so high and powerful that it can affect all of those galaxies! This is the true meaning of our creation in the image of God!

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