Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Pain medications for terminal patients

Posted on 28 March 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently came across an interesting moral dilemma. A terminal cancer patient in severe pain was on a very high dosage of opioids. He requested more of the medication for pain control. The physician knew that increasing the dose of the medication would mean the patient would stop breathing, and die. Yet, not increasing the medication would result in the continuation of severe pain, with the patient’s death in a few weeks, anyway. Essentially, administering the higher dose of pain medication would kill the patient; is this allowed?
Yuri, M.D.
Dear Dr. Yuri,
Your question is a very difficult one to decide on a purely moral, or philosophical basis, but one for which we have clear guidelines from our rabbinical leadership, based upon principles taught in the Talmud.
We’ll start with a different situation: A patient has a condition that will only allow him to live temporarily. Jewish law defines this as dying within a year. A treatment is available that, if successful, will enable him to live for many more years; if not successful, it could kill him immediately. Jewish law teaches that the doctor may ethically and morally administer that treatment, and even should do so, although it runs the risk of killing the patient. One can and should run a lethal risk to potentially save a patient’s life.
The authorities apply this reasoning, albeit with a caveat, to a question similar to yours: A patient is terminally ill, has no hope for recovery and is suffering great pain. To administer more pain killer will certainly relieve his pain, but could stop his breathing, causing him to die. In this case, the risk we are taking is not to potentially cure the patient, but to relieve his pain and suffering. Would the above reasoning apply even in this situation?
Rabbi M. Feinstein ob’m ruled that not only can the doctor administer the medicine but is obliged to administer the pain medication despite the risk (Igros Moshe Ch. M. 2:73). Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling is predicated upon the understanding that pain is not innocuous; it is not only a symptom of another condition. Pain is a condition in its own right. The suffering and despair it can cause could render the pain, itself, as a lethal condition. Every doctor knows how profoundly the mental state and emotional well-being of a patient can affect the overall medical condition and the mortality of his sickness, especially as it pertains to intense pain.
We also find a precedent for this in the laws of Shabbos, which require us to desecrate the holiness of Shabbos to save Jewish life. When a patient is deathly ill, one is allowed to desecrate Shabbos to perform actions that will calm the patient or make him/her more comfortable. This is true if they improve the patient’s mental state, even when those actions do not directly affect his/her condition. The Talmud considers the mental state to be directly related to the mortality of the condition.
Rabbi Feinstein concludes that a patient should never be allowed to suffer uncontrollably, even when treating that suffering means a risk of mortality. This ruling, however, carries two important stipulations:
• The medication is given to control the pain, not to kill the patient. We are only allowed to take a risk to take the patient out of his or her suffering, not to administer a medication that would clearly kill the patient or with the intention of hastening his or her death.
• The medication must be administered by an expert, who will know how to manage the therapy in a way that will minimize the risk of the suppression of breathing; this is not an area to be trusted to a student or amateur.
Your situation would, then, not be permitted, as we never have the license to take the life of a patient, and you said that the physician knows the dose requested by the patient will take his life.
Although watching the suffering of another is a profoundly difficult thing to endure, it is an area where we need to entrust the suffering of the patient to the just judgment of God, whose ways we do not always understand. We well know we cannot switch roles with Him.

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3 questions for Purim

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

Hi Rabbi,
I have three questions regarding Purim:
1. I know that we have a mitzvah to make a feast on Purim because we survived the attempt of physical bodily destruction. What I don’t understand is why our celebration needs to be a drinking party? Is it perhaps a resemblance to King Ahasuerus’ party, for which, for their participation, the Jews were decreed complete annihilation?
2. Why did Mordechai encourage Esther to commit adultery with Ahasuerus, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps this was because Mordechai felt her role was to save the entirety of the Jewish people? Does that make this OK?
3. Why was a special decree needed for the Jews to fight back against their enemies? They were still under attack. Couldn’t they defend themselves without a decree allowing them to do so? I would have considered it a much greater accomplishment for Mordechai and Esther if they could have gotten the decree of annihilation rescinded rather than keeping it in place and just having a counter-decree to fight back!
Dear Judah,
Three great questions!
You may have heard of the famous summary of all Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!
1. You are correct that on Purim we have a mitzvah to eat a joyous meal which is our way of celebrating the miraculous rescue from the first attempt at the “final solution,” first suggested by Haman, a member of Amalek (the progenitors of the Germans/Nazis).
We celebrate our physical rescue in a physical way, as opposed to Hanukkah when we celebrate in a spiritual way (lighting candles), as that was a spiritual, ideological battle.
The drinking a bit more than one is accustomed to (to say the least!) is to fulfill the Talmudic injunction to “eat and drink until one doesn’t know the difference between the curses of Haman and the blessings of Mordechai.”
On one level, this is to come to the realization that even when things seem to be going badly, ultimately it is for the good. Even when God seems to have forsaken us completely, He is always still there behind the scenes to protect us from complete annihilation. God’s love for us, although at times it is hidden, is always present. There are even deeper meanings of this, which we can’t get into here.
2. You are correct about the permissibility of Mordechai sending Esther to be married to the king despite her being married to Mordechai (according to one opinion in the Talmud). The commentaries explain, as you surmise, that although relations with a married woman is something that one needs to forfeit his or her life for rather than transgress (as this is one of the three cardinal sins), nevertheless when it involves the rescue of a multitude of Jews, and certainly the entire Jewish people, it is allowed.
3. The Megillah relates that, when asked to rescind his decree, King Ahasuerus replied that “a royal decree cannot be retracted.”
Mordechai and Esther felt that if the decree was still in full force without a counter-decree to defend themselves, the Jews would cower, rather than attempt to fight an enemy who were attacking them with the full license of the king. So, they sought to, at the very least, have royal permission granted to fight back to give the Jews the confidence that they could destroy their enemies, the Amalekites, without worrying about retribution from the king.
This confidence, coupled with their renewed trust in God, gave the Jews the resolve and determination to overcome their enemies.
May we continue to renew that trust in God and overcome the hardships of exile and all our enemies that seek to destroy us today.
A joyous Purim to you and all the readers! L’chaim!

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Here’s a question; do you have an answer?

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Dear Friends,
I would like to put before you a question I recently received, and, before I offer an answer, I would be interested in challenging the readers to get your feedback and thoughts about the following query.
I’m looking forward to your responses!
– Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried,
Hi Rabbi,
I understand there is a Torah imperative to give to one’s fellow Jew and I had the following question:
Is the obligation to give to my friend what he wants or is the obligation to give to my friend what would be best for his service of Hashem? (God)
Scenario 1:
Let’s say my Jewish friend (religious or secular) appreciates being praised for his talents and abilities, such as being smart or handsome, because he defines his value based on these characteristics. If my obligation is to give him what he wants, then it would seem to be advisable that I praise him for being smart and handsome.
But if the obligation is to give him what would be best for his service of Hashem (in the case of my secular Jewish friend, the “potential” service of Hashem) then it would seem to be advisable that I not praise him as my praise would simply reinforce the false notion that his value and success is a function of results, when from a Jewish perspective, his true value and success is a function of his effort in performing Hashem’s will.
Indeed, according to this understanding, there would seem to be little room for any praise from a Torah perspective, as praising my friend’s results would be reinforcing this false notion of success and praising my friend’s effort in performing Hashem’s will is very difficult to do as I can’t see his effort and therefore don’t know how much effort he is putting forth!
Scenario 2:
My Jewish friend (religious or secular) comes over to my house and would like something to eat. Let’s assume he would much prefer that I give him cake/cookies over salad/fruit as he loves indulging in sugar and carbohydrates. If the obligation is to give him what he wants, then it would follow that I should give him the cake/cookies.
But if the obligation is to give him what would be best for his service of Hashem ((in the case of my secular Jewish friend, the “potential” service of Hashem) then it would seem to follow that I should give him the salad/fruit.
Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank you for your time and effort!

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Beyond treif symbolism, pork has added significance

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve often wondered, if there are many animals which are forbidden by Jewish dietary laws, such as horses, dogs, cats and many others, then why is pork considered the classic symbol of “treif”? Is there something more “treif” about pork than all the others?
– Shawn P.
Dear Shawn,
Sorry, I can’t resist! There were once a rabbi and a priest having breakfast together; the rabbi was having scrambled eggs and the priest, bacon and eggs. The priest suddenly exclaimed, “You know, Rabbi, this bacon is so delicious! The Lord gave us the pleasures of this world to enjoy them, not refrain from them. When are you finally going to taste some bacon?” The rabbi replied, “At your wedding, Father!”
The Torah gives two signs which signify that an animal is kosher: that they chew their cud and they have split hooves. All animals lacking these two signs are “treif,” or non-kosher. The Torah further cites four examples of animals which present only one of these two signs: The camel, hyrax and hare all chew their cud but do not have split hooves, and are therefore not kosher. The pig is the opposite, it has split hooves but does not chew its cud, and therefore also not kosher. (See Leviticus 11:1-8.)
The early Sages noticed this distinction between the pig and the first three animals; what does it teach us about these animals?
They explain that the “kosher sign” of the first three, chewing their cud, is internal. Internally they are kosher, but externally they are not, and therefore cannot be consumed as we need both. The pig, however, is internally not kosher; its very essence is “treif”; it’s only on the outside that it presents itself with the appearance of being kosher.
The rabbis cite a verse which compares Esau to the “pig of the forest.” Esau presents himself as being righteous, excelling in the honoring of his father, tithing foods that don’t require tithing such as salt, but inside harbors a hatred toward true holiness and to his brother Jacob, who represents holiness and sanctity in every aspect of life. The Sages remark that Esau, like the pig, holds out its paw and proclaims: “Look at me, I’m kosher!” In reality, however, he’s rotten to the core. The Amalekite nation, which the Talmud places as the forefathers of the Germans, traces back to the lineage of Esau. It was the most cultured of nations, the most polite and polished on the outside, that gave birth to the Nazi fascists who committed the most heinous of crimes ever known to mankind as a result of their hatred for us deep inside.
The rabbis further explain that the Jews were destined, from the time of creation, to suffer four exiles among the nations. The first three, the Babylonian, Persian-Median and Greek exiles, correspond to the first three animals mentioned above. These three were clearly and obviously idolatrous nations. They are linked to the state of the Jews of that time. The three cardinal sins were at the root of the First Temple’s destruction and subsequent exiles: idolatry, murder and illicit relations. These were clear and open sins, and they were subjugated to nations which were openly sinful.
The reason for the Second Temple’s destruction and subsequent exile was far less clear; the true reason was hidden, since on the surface the Jews seemed to be very observant. Only through prophecy did we learn that their deep-down hatred for one another was the reason for the destruction. That’s why the fourth destruction was by the hand of the Edomites, the great-grandchildren of Esau, the pig. They claimed to be righteous, and gave birth to Western civilization, of which many claim to be the “real Jews,” extending their “kosher hoofs,” but with something rotten to the core — the core which has wrought pogroms, crusades, inquisitions and the unspeakable Holocaust.
Your question comes at a great time. March in Dallas is “Kosher Month,” when you can join Dallas Kosher and the entire Dallas Jewish community to learn more about kosher! Just check out and join the fun!

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Understanding abortion in the Torah and Talmud

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
It has been my understanding that Orthodox Judaism is pro-life, and abortions are prohibited. Yet, I recently learned about an Orthodox woman who was granted permission by her rabbis to have an abortion. What is the Orthodox view on abortion?
Jessica M.
Dear Jessica,
The recent passing of the New York abortion law has churned up much discussion as to how to ethically view abortion. But neither the standard interpretation of pro-life or pro-choice accurately describes the Torah viewpoint.
The simple answer is that, in Judaism, the question of abortion is a very complicated one and, in part, depends upon the stage of the pregnancy.
Of course, the Torah is pro-life, as Deuteronomy 30:19 supports choosing life; we also value life over nearly all values. Yet, even the most important of Torah laws are trumped by even the slightest concern of danger to life. For example, Talmud Yoma 82a rules that danger to life supersedes Yom Kippur, Shabbat and other mitzvos, besides the three cardinal sins.
The popular concept of pro-choice, which puts the decision of whether to or not to discontinue a pregnancy in the hands of the mother, does not jibe with the Torah decision-making process.
However, the Catholic edict that one can never terminate a pregnancy, even to save the life of the mother, is equally at odds with traditional Torah thought and practice. To say that a mother can herself decide matters of life and death for her fetus — a life in its own right — based on her own rationale, convenience or other reasons would run contrary to the entire process by which matters of life and death are decided in Jewish law.
Judaism considers the unnecessary termination of the life of a fetus to be murder, albeit a category of murder not punishable in a court of law.
This applies from the 40th day of conception, since according to Jewish tradition the soul enters the body of the fetus on that day. From then and forward, the fetus is deemed a living human being. Before the 40th day, according to most opinions, killing a fetus is a lesser transgression than murder, but a transgression nonetheless, unless a number of criteria are fulfilled.
There are, however, situations where the health or the life of the mother is sufficiently compromised by the fetus. In such situations, Torah law allows us, or requires us, to intervene.
The Talmud discusses the case of a woman whose pregnancy put her life in danger, where the Mishna (Yoma 82a) ruled to terminate the pregnancy in order to save her life. The rationale given by the Talmud and Maimonides is based upon a distinction between the the mother’s “complete life” vis-à-vis the fetus’ life, which is considered only a “partial life.”
Consequently the mother’s life, when endangered by pregnancy, trumps that of the fetus, and the performance of an abortion is indicated. Once, however, the head or the majority of the body of the fetus is presented, the mother and baby are then considered as equals, and one life doesn’t supersede the other.
There are additional difficult and thorny questions that arise, such as if the fetus is a carrier of a genetic disease, or the pregnancy results from rape. Such cases must be referred to a competent rabbinic authority that is well-versed in this specific area of Jewish law, to discuss the option of abortion.
One message that is clear from Jewish law is, we do not have a “fundamental right” to control our bodies, and a woman does not have such a “right” which allows her to terminate her pregnancy at will.
This world view is totally at odds with the New York abortion law.
Although there is much to debate about the specifics of this law and in what cases might Jewish law conform, the overall outlook on both the ownership of our bodies and the definition of abortion as just another medical condition, is diametrically opposed to the timeless truths of Torah, the truths passed down to us by the very Creator of our bodies, which are endowed with the reproductive powers, enabling the creation of life we call a fetus.

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Should pleasure be minimized? Or not?

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your elaborate response clarifying the concept of comfort and pleasure, which was published in last week’s TJP.
As a follow-up, when I engage in pleasure, it is not for the purpose of enjoying God’s gifts, as indicated, but rather out of pure desire. I think this makes me more materialistic which, in turn, hurts my service toward Hashem.
As far as “giving one joy to better fulfill mitzvos,” this would seem to imply that engaging in pleasure is simply a necessary means so as to enable one to perform direct service of Hashem through Torah learning, mitzvos and others, at the highest level. If this is the case, this would line up with my suggestion that it would be best, through a baby-step approach, for one to minimize one’s engagement in pleasure, thereby minimizing the amount of pleasure one needs to be a happy and content person. This in turn, would eventually present maximum time, money and energy dedicated to the service of Hashem.
Based on the points above, wouldn’t it be ideal for someone like myself to minimize pleasure through a baby-step approach, thereby maximizing my efforts toward the service of Hashem?
Thank you again!
Dear Sammy,
As we elaborated in the past columns, refraining from physical pleasures is not necessarily the Jewish ideal, as God created pleasures to be enjoyed. There is, however, a level that you describe for individuals who seek a higher existence.
It would be very dangerous for one to embark on such a path without proper guidance, however. A template to what you are asking is outlined in the classical Jewish philosophical and practical guide to Jewish growth, the “Mesillas Yesharim.” This was written by the renowned 18th-century sage R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, first published in Amsterdam in 1738, and known in English as “Path of the Just,” Feldheim Publishing Company.
This unique and profound work is one of the foundational treatises of the “Mussar Movement,” which we discussed in previous columns. This Jewish scholarly movement focuses on character growth, self-improvement and utilizing the mitzvos to “climb the ladder” to a higher and closer connection to God. That “ladder,” its rungs and how one is able to climb it, is outlined and elucidated in great detail.
Among other suggestions which flow from a profound understanding of the world and man’s place and purpose in it, Mesillas Yesharim deals with the proper attitude toward pleasures: the extent that one should seek them or be involved in them when they present themselves. Luzzatto often explained that the attitude toward pleasure depended on what rung of the ladder on which the individual stood.
While this work is recommended if you are sincerely seeking a path of growth in the spiritual realm, I would caution you to do so under the guidance of a Torah scholar to whom you can address your questions.
Although Luzzatto’s teachings are timeless and, indeed, are a pillar of Jewish thought, many people today are not truly at the levels he discusses. If you study this work slowly and deeply you may, however, truly find the path you seek.
The only other practical advice I would offer is something first offered in the classical 13th-century guide to repentance, “Shaarei Teshuva” by Rabbi Yonah of Girondi, Italy, in the essay “Yesod Hateshuva.” Quoting the holy sage Ravad, Yonah suggests a new type of “fast,” though he suggests we should not refrain from foods that the Torah allowed and encourages us to enjoy.
However, as gluttonous eating is the source for many spiritual and emotional downfalls, one should not eat until one is overly full. But rather than completely finishing off a good meal and cleaning the plate, leave a small amount to the side as a “fast,” to demonstrate you are in control of your desires. Because you do this to gain strength to serve God, such a “fast” is more beloved by God than even the offerings brought in the Holy Temple. That is because, unlike the offerings one could only bring from time to time, you bring this “offering” day in and day out. With it comes the strength to serve the Almighty in every situation.
This is known in scholarly circles as “Ravad’s Taanis,” or the “fast of the Raavad.” Perhaps this is something you could try, in conjunction with the study of the Mesillas Yesharim, and you will find a healthy and satisfying path to growth.

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The positive sides of pleasure in Judaism

Posted on 14 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you so much for the response concerning pleasure in last week’s TJP. I have a couple of follow-up questions:
1) The more comfort one engages in, the more one’s desire for comfort increases. The more one’s desire for comfort increases, the more likely one will be to serve himself than Hashem. Doesn’t logic dictate that it would be best for both man and Hashem if the former minimizes his comfort as much as possible? If so, more time, energy and money will be available to serve Hashem which will, in turn, generate more of the ultimate good for man.
2) The Mishna in Pirkei Avos 6:4 seems to corroborate the above logic: “Such is the way [of a life] of Torah: You shall eat bread with salt, and rationed water shall you drink; you shall sleep on the ground, your life will be one of privation, and in Torah shall you labor. If you do this, ‘Happy shall you be and it shall be good for you… Happy shall you be in this world, and it shall be good for you in the world to come.’”
How does your analysis fit with this Mishna?
Thank you for the help!
Dear Sammy,
I will start by addressing your second question first.
There are commentaries who explain the Mishna you reference not to mean that one should strive to live that way. Rather, that if one finds himself in dire straits, he should still be willing to toil in study of Torah. That would be the application of the Mishna for most people.
So, the answer to your first point is that it is not a Jewish ideal, for the vast majority, to strive towards asceticism. It is, in fact, considered sinful to live an ascetic life. This is why, for example, a Nazirite is required to bring a sin offering at the end of his or her period of Nazirus, because they vowed not to drink wine during that period. Additionally, additional prohibitions should not be added upon oneself beyond those already mandated in the Torah. See Numbers Ch. 6 and Talmud Tractate Nazir 19a for additional information.
In this way, among others, Judaism is in direct opposition to the philosophy of Catholicism, which lauds asceticism and holds that to be holy, one needs to refrain from the pleasures of this world, such as the life of a monk, or most priests who refrain from marriage as it represents sin. From the Jewish standpoint, a life of refraining from marriage and its pleasures is considered a sin.
That being said, you are correct that one can easily become overly engaged in pleasures that could pull him or her away from spiritual pursuits and into a life of physicality. Our sages teach that the antidote to that concern depends on one’s mindfulness when engaging in any sort of pleasure.
When one engages in pleasure for pleasure’s sake, as an end in and of itself, it carries the concern you voiced in your question. Pleasures have the potential of becoming addictive and becoming one’s life pursuit, not a positive thing.
If, however, one has in mind to enjoy this world as a vehicle for enjoying God’s gifts, and to give oneself the joy to better fulfill mitzvos, to study Torah, to be a positive force in the world and better help others as a happy and content individual, the life’s pleasures take on a spiritual perspective. If one enjoys a deliciously prepared steak to bring honor to the Shabbos, the consumption of that steak itself becomes a mitzvah. When one takes the family to a beautiful national park to enjoy the creations of God and to bring the family closer together, that trip becomes a mitzvah.
Such pleasures don’t carry the potential of addiction to bigger and better pleasures, or a movement away from spiritual pursuits. The pleasures themselves enhance one’s spirituality, leading to higher goals and aspirations. This is the beauty of Torah.

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Enjoying the pleasures of the world

Posted on 06 February 2019 by admin

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

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Trust that God will give us what we need

Posted on 30 January 2019 by admin

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

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

Posted on 24 January 2019 by admin

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

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

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