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Posted on 24 September 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi,

We are not observant, but have observant relatives who have a conference in Dallas and are staying with us over the next week. They have asked us to erect a sukkah to sit in on the holiday. We have a general idea of what a sukkah is, but not the specifics, and would appreciate if you could fill us in and tell us why it is that we do this. Thanks!

Martin and Jeanette W.

Dear Martin and Jeanette,

The Torah states, “And you shall dwell in sukkahs for seven days; every resident of Israel shall dwell in sukkahs, in order that your generations should know that I brought them out of Egypt…” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:42). One opinion in the Talmud is that this is to remember the actual booths the Jews lived in when leaving Egypt. The other view is that we sit in this temporary dwelling to remember the miraculous Clouds of Glory which protected us from the sun and the elements over our 40-year sojourn in the desert.

The details of building a kosher sukkah are many, and an entire tractate of Talmud is dedicated to it, but we’ll mention a few key points. Please feel free to contact me for more details at the e-mail address below.

1. You should have at least three walls attached to each other, with no openings at the corners. The walls should ideally be of wood or some other strong material that doesn’t move. If using a cloth prefab sukkah, the walls need to be secured in a way that they don’t move with a breeze.

2. A wall of your house could be considered one of the walls if you attach the sukkah to your home. This is as long as there’s no overhang of six feet extending from that part of your house.

3. The roof should be of natural, cut branches and leaves; bamboo is a favorite and easily found. You could also use cut wood, such as 1-by-2s which you can purchase from any lumber yard. The main rule of thumb is to have more covered than open area in the roofing. Also, the roofing needs to reach all the way to the walls, with no open areas between the walls and branches. Some use wooden or bamboo mats specially constructed for sukkah use, which you could inquire about from a local Jewish bookstore or online if you so desire.

4. The roofing (called schach, or “covering”) should not be tied down, or resting on metal supports. We put wood supports across the walls, upon which rests the covering.

5. The sukkah needs to be under the open sky, i.e. not under any trees, roofs, etc.

6. It is customary to decorate the sukkah with colorful pictures with Jewish themes. Many also hang decorations from the roof. This is a great opportunity to get the kids involved in coloring the pictures and decorations and hanging them — they get to see their masterpieces displayed prominently!

Again, many specific questions could arise; you can consult a rabbi when they do.

This is a wonderful opportunity for your family to build your first sukkah, which is such a beautiful and joyous mitzvah. Sukkot, of all holidays, is referred to as “our time of joy” (Siddur, see also Vayikra/Leviticus 23:40). Especially when you will shake the “Four Species” in your sukkah (which I’m sure your relatives will bring with them), it’s a specially joyous time for the whole family.

Best of luck building, and a joyous, meaningful holiday to you and all the readers.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 16 September 2010 by admin

Rabbi Fried,

If Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment and Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement, why isn’t the order switched? Why not first repent and absolve yourself of your sins, and only then go to the Day of Judgment? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Bart L.

Dear Bart,

Rosh Hashanah begins the period called the “Ten Days of Tshuvah” or repentance, in which there is a mitzvah of introspection and tshuvah. It ends with Yom Kippur, when we finalize our tshuvah for our wrongdoings.

We must attain a deeper understanding of tshuvah to answer your question. The Talmud makes a profound statement: “The wicked, even while alive, are really dead; the righteous, even after they die, are considered alive.” This reflects an insightful definition of “life.” Living is not defined by eating, breathing and being involved in commerce. True life is one’s connection to G-d, “Elokim Chayim,” the Source of Life. To the extent that one is strongly connected to the Source of Life, he is spiritually alive. One’s mitzvot are a connection; when performing a mitzvah and forging a connection to the Al-mighty, he or she is alive. One’s sins cause a disconnect from that Source. The Hebrew word “cheit,” usually translated as “sin,” really means “miss the mark,” disconnect. Every level of disconnect is, in a way, a lacking of life, or a type of spiritual death.

This gives us a new understanding of tshuvah. When one performs tshuvah and repents their wrongdoings, G-d cleans our slates of sin, thereby reconnecting to Him. If one had many sins and would do tshuvah, it would be, in a sense, a “revival of the dead,” back to being spiritually alive. In the daily Amidah prayer we recite a blessing for the eventual period of “revival of the dead.” The commentators say that during the period before Yom Kippur we should have tshuvah in mind when reciting this blessing!

What gives us the strength to bring ourselves back to life?

The answer is: Rosh Hashanah. This day coincides with the day of the creation of the first man and woman. The Kabbalists explain that just as Adam and Eve were created on that day, so too our souls are renewed, in a sense reborn, on Rosh Hashanah.

The Kabbalists explain that there are two key forces in our growth: isarusa deletata ve’isarusa d’le’eyla, which translates as an awakening from above and an awakening from below. This means that often we want to take our own steps and grow in our spirituality but don’t have the inner strength to do so on our own. G-d will, at times, pour down a great spiritual light upon us from above which gives us the strength, if we choose, to proceed to take those steps and climb on to a path of growth. An analogy is that one can’t walk in quicksand; someone must pull them out first.

On Rosh Hashanah, just as the first man and woman received their souls from above, our souls receive an “awakening from above.” The power of the shofar blast is a real awakening of the soul. That renewal gives us the spiritual fortitude to begin the work of renewal from below, in our own lives, through the process of tshuvah. This effort culminates in the tshuvah of Yom Kippur when we complete the process of return and renewal for the coming year.

If Yom Kippur would come first, we would not have the spiritual strength to embark upon the process of tshuvah which is the core mitzvah of that day. That is the beauty and the precision of the order of: (1) Rosh Hashanah, (2) Ten Days of Tshuvah, (3) Yom Kippur.

Wishing you and all the readers a sweet, meaningful and successful New Year with peace in Israel and throughout the world!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 19 August 2010 by admin

Rabbi,

There is just something uncomfortable about your position regarding “Women at the Wall,” and with your response to Richard R., the matter may require even more fleshing-out.

The fact of the matter is that in Judaism, among Jews, there has always been a hierarchical structure of adherence to ritual. Whether ritual and liturgy are prescribed in the Torah, Talmud or Midrash, the fact of the matter is that we — and you — have no personal knowledge of the “detail” of Temple worship. The texts simply do not operate in the doctrinaire way you seem to believe; any knowledge we claim to possess is grounded only in belief. I do not mean to discount belief — yours or others’ — but to recognize its presence in this calculus of “Women at the Wall,” and the need to respect and allow for belief. As you know, even “Orthodox” liturgy in the various siddurim has differences in content, wording and order. In fact, the true detail of Temple worship will not be known until the advent of the Messianic age. For you or others to contend to already have knowledge is an affront to all the streams of Judaism.

—Norton R.

Dear Norton,

Your remarks seem to evade numerous tractates of Talmud which describe in great detail the worship in the Temple. In fact, an entire order of Mishnah is dedicated to the Temple worship and many other sections of Mishnah and Talmud as well. Please keep in mind that many of the sages quoted in these teachings were rabbis who lived during the Second Temple and related firsthand information of what they actually witnessed. Although there are disagreements on minutiae, these concern only the minutest of details. With regards to all major issues, the sages are in agreement of what transpired in the Temple worship.

These details apply not only to the rituals observed in the Temple, but to the actual physical structure of the Temple as well. An entire tractate, called Midot, is dedicated to the construction and constitution of the structure of the Temple. Some details, such as the balcony for women to separate men and women during the Temple worship and ceremonies, are outlined in the Talmud based upon verses in the Torah (see Tractate Sukkah 51b-52a). This is all a matter of knowledge, not of belief.

I’m not sure why you maintain that our knowledge of what transpired in the Temple should be an affront to any “stream” of Judaism. All Jews should be proud of our history and the knowledge that we have. It would seem that those streams are choosing to do what they do despite that knowledge, not out of ignorance of it. And even if some stream would take offense to that knowledge, I hardly think this would be a reason to erase hundreds of pages of Mishnah and Talmud to alleviate those feelings.

The differences you mention in the traditional siddur (prayer book) are similar to the above. The basic foundation of the siddur is outlined in the Talmud, mainly in Tractate Brachot, and was codified by the Men of the Great Assembly in the beginning of the return from the Babylonian exile, during the time of the building of the Second Temple. Among that assembly were the final prophets of Israel. There may be some very minute differences between siddurim (some based on Kabbalistic thoughts), but the basic structure remains the same with all. Any traditional Jew would be comfortable praying in any type of synagogue — Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Chassidic — and would find his or her place in the siddur despite different tunes, etc. May we all remain united in this way!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 08 July 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I would like to inquire about the three weeks of mourning being observed by Orthodox Jews. Why need we mourn something that happened so long ago? I always thought Jews don’t mourn the loss of a loved one forever; we accept God’s will and eventually move on. Why is this different?

—Jonathan P.

Dear Jonathan,

The period you are referring to, known as the “Three Weeks,” is based upon a verse in Lamentations which mentions the mourning period “between the borders.” This is the three-week period between the 17th of the Jewish month of Tamuz and the ninth of the month of Av, known as the fast day of Tisha B’Av. The latter fast will begin on Monday, July 19 and end Tuesday, July 20 at nightfall. During this time we mourn, among other things, the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, both on the same Jewish date of Tisha B’Av.

The destruction of the Temples is the focal point of our subsequent exile and dispersion among the nations of the world. It punctuates the downfall of the Jewish people from its greatness to becoming the punching bag of the nations. This event also epitomizes the spiritual distance we created between us and the Al-mighty, from the Shechinah or Divine Presence. The Temples stood as “G-d’s dwelling place” among our people. Our understanding is that all subsequent calamities which have befallen our people are outgrowths of the distance between us and G-d, which was finalized by the destruction during this period.

During this period we are not simply mourning what happened “once upon a time,” although that’s a part of it. We are not merely bereaved over the loss of that edifice called the Temple, as terrible as that loss was in its own right. We mourn the physical distance between most of us and Israel, the spiritual remoteness between the Jews and the Shechinah. We continue to mourn all the pogroms, inquisitions and expulsions we have suffered over the years. We mourn the Chemelnitzki massacres; the unspeakable Holocaust; the suicide bombings of Israeli cafés and buses which plague us until today. We also mourn the “silent holocaust” transpiring right in our midst: the complete assimilation of hundreds of thousands of Jews right in our front yards.

To understand this a bit deeper: The Talmud says that “any generation in which the Temple was not rebuilt, it is as if they destroyed it.” This means that there were certain misdeeds and sins which brought about the destruction of the Temple. The Second Temple’s destruction relates most directly to us as we currently are living in the exile wrought by its annihilation. The Talmud cites the reason this Temple was ruined: hatred between fellow Jews. Combining this with the previous statement, we learn that if the Temple has not yet been rebuilt in our generation, we still harbor a level of loathing between one Jew and the next which would be sufficient to have the Temple destroyed if it were standing today!

Hence we have a more profound understanding of the mourning of this period. We lament the present state of our people: lacking the love and understanding and brotherhood which would make us the Jewish community that we should be. Your question is correct. We truly don’t practice open-ended grief for the loss of a loved one. We accept G-d’s judgment as true and just; we mourn for a period of time and then move on with our lives. The bereavement of these three weeks is different: The reason for the loss is alive and well and needs to be dealt with. Its purpose is to wake us up and make us take notice of our situation and, it is hoped, cause us to rectify our circumstances in a way which is redeeming. In this case, going out of our way to build love, trust and respect for our fellow Jews would be a great start. Who knows, it just might tip the scale!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 01 July 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

A short time ago in your column you addressed the issue of talking in synagogue and attributed the problem, in part, to the lack of connection most Jews today have to the prayer service due to our deficiency in Hebrew. You suggested that shuls should have training programs to educate the congregants in the understanding and nuances of the prayer service. If my place of worship does not offer such classes, what do you recommend I do to become educated and connected to the service?

—Curious but Clueless

Dear Curious,

You could check the community calendar and see what courses are available for you to study Hebrew. The problem, however, with most such classes is that they will focus on modern Hebrew and not the classical Hebrew of the siddur (prayerbook). I will add your e-mail to the DATA list to keep you apprised of the courses we offer, from time to time, on Hebrew reading and comprehension based on the siddur and classical texts which would be helpful in your quest.

Next is what I have recommended to many for private self-study; most have reported back that this was helpful for them and they achieved success. That is to pick one blessing of the Amidah, or the first line of the Sh’ma, and work on understanding each word of that particular prayer. That line or prayer should be recited in Hebrew until you totally master it; the rest, pray in English. Once you are completely fluent in that prayer, then move on to the next one and do the same. You will find each prayer successively easier, as many words are repeated throughout the service which you already know from the previous blessing or line.  You’ll pick up a few new words with the next. Never move on to the next prayer until you’re confident of the one at hand.

While studying the translation of each prayer, it’s a great time to focus on its meaning as well. Whether using your own thoughts or by studying a commentary, try to understand what that prayer asks for and how to make it relevant to your own life. In the Amidah, it’s relatively easy to connect to requests like those for healing and material success. It’s more difficult, for many, to personally connect to those asking for the return of the Judges, or rebuilding Jerusalem or the Davidic dynasty. For that I recommend the ArtScroll Siddur, which has a concise but meaningful commentary. To go more in depth, I suggest “Rav Schwab on Prayer,” a powerful, profound commentary which explains the far-reaching significance of each prayer and how it affects our lives and the Jewish people.

Even the prayers for health and the like have a deeper layer of significance. If you look carefully at the wording of all the prayers in the Amidah (the focal point of the daily service), you will find that they are in the plural; we are not simply requesting for ourselves, but for all of klal Yisrael. This raises our focus to a higher level and creates a much bigger picture. It opens our hearts much wider whenever we pray, for we not only focus on our own individual needs, we force ourselves to be constantly aware of the needs of the entire Jewish people.

This is the deeper meaning of the Sh’ma, which is not actually a prayer per se, rather an affirmation of our belief in G-d. This proclamation begins with the words “Sh’ma Yisrael,” “listen Israel,” which means that we accept G-d’s Oneness not as individuals but as part of klal Yisrael. The custom is to cover one’s eyes when reciting the Sh’ma, for concentration. One rabbi, however (R’ Moshe Scherer ob”m), used to explain that when one’s eyes are open they can see only the Jews in the shul. When one’s eyes are covered, however, they can see all the Jews in the world!

Lastly, if there’s an interest among the readers to create a new, in-depth class to understand the prayers, I will make sure it happens. Just e-mail me and let me know!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 25 June 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

Our literature is filled with the notion that we are the “Chosen People.” Although I’m not sure what exactly that connotes, one thing I do know is that it smacks of racism, that we’re better than everyone else. How can we continue, in this day and age, to promulgate a concept that flies in the face of the Western ideal that all people are equal?

Mort W.

Dear Mort,

In order for the concept of the Chosen People to be racist, claiming we are racially superior, we would need to be a race. But every race is counted among our ranks. There are Asians, Europeans, Scandinavians, Ethiopians, Caucasians, African Americans, etc. who are all part of the Jewish nation. Jews cannot be defined as a monolithic race; our people are as diverse as all of mankind!

While the term Chosen People does not connote racial superiority, it does imply a uniqueness belonging to the Jewish people. This is defined by the Torah as our unique relationship with the Almighty. “…for you are a holy nation unto the Lord your G-d, the Lord your G-d has chosen you to be a treasured nation from all the other nations upon the face of the earth. Not because you are greater than all the nations G-d desired you and chose you, for you are the smallest of the nations. Rather because of G-d’s love for you…, and you should keep the mitzvah, the statutes and the laws that I have commanded to you today to fulfill them.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 7:6-11)

The unique love relationship G-d has with the Jewish people was earned by their voluntary acceptance of fulfilling G-d’s will in the world, and spreading the knowledge of G-d to the nations. This mission dubs us a “light among the nations.”

Was this privilege unfairly bestowed upon us? Not if the opportunity to accept the special mission and merit the ensuing privileges was offered to the other nations as well. The Torah tells us that the Almighty offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before he offered it to us, and they turned it down as they felt it entailed too much. (See Rashi to Devarim 33:2 and Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 14:10.)

Privileges do not necessarily imply favoritism or discrimination. If a privilege is offered to anyone who is willing to pay the necessary price, no one can claim it was granted unfairly. A child who refuses to brush his teeth and keep to bedtime can hardly claim that his siblings who did so are racist or arrogant to accept the prize offered by their parents for the children who follow the rules. Nor are the parents considered unjust or preferential in their treatment, since each child was given equal opportunity.

When all the nations rejected the offer to receive the Torah, and the Jews accepted, they assumed the role of ambassadors of G-d to the world. Also, to receive the Torah and all that massive spiritual energy compressed within it, the Jews were endowed with an expansion of their souls to become receptacles for all that holiness and G-dly energy. Anyone born Jewish, or who properly converts and becomes Jewish, receives a “Jewish soul” which is that expanded soul — custom-made to receive and understand Torah, and to radiate the light within it to the nations as a member of the “light among the nations.” This privilege comes with 613 categories of obligations, and only when those obligations are fulfilled does the Jewish soul radiate that light to the nations of the world. When they are not fulfilled, we suffer the consequences and that light is greatly dimmed.

This is far from a racist concept, rather a system of acceptance, obligations and their attendant privileges. May we all merit to be worthy ambassadors and to radiate our mission brightly throughout the world!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 17 June 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

My brother, sadly, recently lost his 7-year-old son, the victim of a rare disease he contracted this past year. Needless to say, my brother and sister-in-law are inconsolably beside themselves with grief. Can you offer any words of wisdom that can be said to them at a time like this?

Jonathan K.

Dear Jonathan,

I’m so sorry for the loss of your nephew, a loss to yourself as well. As you are well aware, our tongues become feeble and our minds become weak to find words that can console the hearts of the victims of such an overwhelming, devastating loss.

The best I can do is to share with you a story. While studying in kollel in Israel, one of my colleagues, an immigrant from France who studied at the same kollel, lost his 5-year-old daughter. She, unbeknownst to her parents, went out of the house and got herself locked into their car on a hot summer day, and was gone before they could find her. A group of us from the kollel made the trek to the outlying area where they lived to pay a shiva call. We sat down before my friend and his wife, an uncomfortable, long silence ensuing. The heavy mood in the room was intense, the profound sorrow palatable in the air, and nobody really knew what to say. What could one say?

I began to tell the story of Avraham ben Avraham, the renowned ger tzedek (righteous convert) of Vilna, converted by the revered Talmudic sage R’ Eliyahu of Vilna in the 1700s. Avraham began as Count Valentine, a Polish nobleman from the powerful Potacki family of Lithuania. Valentine and an educated friend, Zoremba, heard of the brilliance of R’ Eliyahu, known as the Gaon (genius) of Vilna. They received entry to the Gaon, and posed numerous philosophical and mathematical questions to him. Upon leaving, they were impressed beyond words, exclaiming they learned more in that hour than all their years of university. The two decided to change their identities, leaving Poland and entering a yeshiva in France to study Judaism. After a couple years of intense study, they reappeared before the Gaon, with beards and sidelocks, ready to convert to Judaism. The Gaon, recognizing their greatness and sincerity, agreed to convert them. Zoremba soon married and moved to Israel. Potacki, now Avraham, successfully evaded his family’s intense search for him. He began to shuttle around Europe, utilizing his political prowess to bring much peace between Jewish communities and rabbis in Europe. He became engaged to the daughter of a prominent Jew, evoking the jealousy of a man who wanted her hand, who slandered him to the authorities, telling them who he really was. Avraham, after giving the ring, was seized by Polish authorities from under the chuppah and put into prison for an extended period of time. His family and the Roman Catholic Church tried, with no success, to have him renounce his Judaism. Finally, he was burned at the stake on the second day of Shavuot, amid his cry of “Sh’ma Yisrael….”

That night his widow and her father snuck into the Polish side of Vilna. They gathered Avraham’s ashes and buried them in the Jewish cemetery of Vilna. At the site of his grave a fruit tree suddenly began to grow in the otherwise barren cemetery. The Gaon commented that this was a sign from Heaven that Avraham’s short Jewish life was completely fulfilled; he had fulfilled his mission and his life was bearing fruit.

I told my friend that his young daughter, as well, obviously fulfilled her purpose and mission with her short life, and will bear eternal fruit. His wife began to weep, and my friend loudly exclaimed, “You have comforted me, you have comforted me!”

Perhaps you can share this thought with your brother and sister-in-law, and may it bring them some comfort as well.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 10 June 2010 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

For the past couple of months, my colleague at work has been listening to Christian pop music. She has her own iPod so everyone can hear; it doesn’t interfere with work productivity at all. Over time, I have grown to enjoy it and even sing along! My conscious is telling me this is not okay. Any advice would be appreciated.

-Feelin’ that Jewish Guilt

Dear Feelin’ Guilt,

In Judaism, music and song are considered one of the most powerful forces that exist to affect the hearts of human beings. The entirety of Torah is referred to as a song. When Moses was commanded to write the first Torah scroll, he was told “So now, write this song…” (Deut. 31:19).  This literally is referring to the following portion (Ch. 32) which is an actual song, but is further referring to the entirety of Torah. This is part of the reason why the Torah scroll is not read in the synagogue like a book, rather the reader chants the Torah like a song. Every word of the Torah is accompanied by a note to be sung.

This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, the entirety of the Torah comprises a giant symphony. Every detail represents a type of musical instrument, each one necessary for the wholeness of the great concerto.

Another reason is that music goes straight to the heart. In Judaism, the heart is the place where the physical and spiritual aspects of a human being fused into one existence. The expression of that dual existence is in the power of speech, which was launched at the moment of the combination of soul to body. The zenith of speech is song, which draws upon the deepest connection of body and soul within the heart. This we learn from the classical commentary of Rashi, explaining the profound, prophetic song sung by Moses and the Jews upon witnessing the splitting of the sea. “Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song…” (Ex. 15:1). “Then,” says Rashi, means they harnessed a wellspring of emotions and thoughts from their hearts to sing this song. The theme of that song is the fusion of G-d’s presence and providence to the mundane world, which is the cosmic mirror of the same fusion within the heart of man, the microcosm of the universe. The source for such a song is within the depths of the heart, and hence goes directly into the hearts of the listeners; heart to heart.

The Kabbalistic teachings are the most profound explanation of the deepest connection between the Shechina, Divine Presence, and the physical world, the “heart” of the universe. This is why R’ Eliyahu of Vilna (18th century), one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time, proclaimed that only one who has the deepest understanding of music can truly understand the Kabbalah.

Maimonides explains that the prophets, to reach the level of connection necessary to reach prophecy, would play or listen to music. David played for King Saul to bring him to those levels, and later King David wrote an entire book of Psalms, prayers through music. The sages teach that Messiah will teach us the “eighth tone,” which will radically change music to become a Divine connection.

This explains why nations have national anthems, and armies march into battle amid musical accompaniments. Music has a profoundly influential, as well as defining affect. Rock music, with its heavy emphasis on base notes, actually brings out the more physical side of a person.

You should not underestimate the affect Christian music can have upon your Jewish soul. I would not attribute this to “guilt,” rather to a recognition your soul has that it is being watered by a source that doesn’t jive with its essence, and will probably, if continued, have an effect you don’t desire.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 03 June 2010 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I recently heard a talk from my rabbi where she explained “an eye for an eye” in the Torah. As society has become less barbaric, the rabbis reinterpreted the verse to mean one pays the damages for the eye, instead of actually taking out the eye of the perpetrator as it used to be done in the olden days. I have a big problem with the fact that the Torah originally had the punishment of taking out someone’s eye. What does it say for the Torah if it began as a barbaric set of laws, and only later rabbis try to smooth it out?

Jodie T.

Dear Jodie,

The verse you are referring to, discussing a fight between two Jews, says the following: “…an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot; a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.” (Exodus 21:24-25).

This verse, taken literally, truly sounds like one must be punished in the way you said, to put out the eye or the tooth, to chop off the hand, etc. I, however, respectfully take strong issue with the assumption of your rabbi that this verse was ever taken literally. There is no evidence anywhere, literary or archaeological, that a literal “eye for an eye” was Jewish practice at any time. Nor is there the slightest hint in the Talmud, the principle body of Jewish law, that this verse was ever taken literally. It is simply an erroneous assumption based on the literal reading of the verse.

Logically it doesn’t follow to say that as Jewish society was becoming more humane and civilized they changed this particular law. There are many laws that would seem to be more barbaric than this one, such as the law requiring the extermination of the Canaanite people, which were allowed to remain unmodified and un-reinterpreted. Why would this law only be subject to the new enlightenment of the Jews?

The Talmud records a lengthy discussion of this verse, (Bava Kama 83b – 84a). The Talmudic sages bring a number of compelling proofs, both logically and from the inference of other verses, showing one should not even entertain the thought that “an eye for an eye” is to be taken literally. Maimonides, the renowned 12th century sage, further cites the verses in Exodus 21:18-19 which openly speak of damages in terms of monetary payment. Hence, a few verses later when the Torah speaks of “an eye for and eye…” it is obviously referring to the same sort of payment. Other early sages bring additional proof: if literal, if the perpetrator injures another and minimizes his sight by one third or half, how is it possible to do the same in punishment, no more and no less?

The key principal is that the Torah cannot, and was not meant to be understood literally. Only with the oral tradition given together with the written can the Torah be understood correctly and accurately.

One big question still remains: If the Torah meant to pay monetary damages, why did it write this the way it did, which seems to be misleading?

The answer offered by Maimonides and Maharal (16th century sage) is based upon a profound sense of responsibility for ones actions. The Torah, by expressing the payment in this way, is teaching an important and crucial lesson. Had the Torah simply ordered the aggressor to pay damages, he might have thought that it is sufficient to write a check to the victim and he is done. The Torah is teaching that if one perpetrates a loss of limb to his fellow, he truly deserves to have the same done to his self. He should contemplate the profound damage to the quality of life of his fellow, his pain and suffering he is forced to endure for the rest of his life. He has done a terrible thing and the slate will not be cleared by monetary payment alone. He must beg forgiveness from the injured party for what he has done, and perform Teshuva, repentance to G-d, coupled with making serious life changes that will ensure a similar act will not be repeated.

With proper interpretation and understanding, lessons can be gleaned from our holy Torah.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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Posted on 27 May 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I’ve heard all the jokes about the bar mitzvah being more bar than mitzvah, but what is the actual meaning of the term “bar mitzvah?”

Joey C.

Dear Joey,

I hope with this we’ll set a new “bar” in your understanding of bar mitzvah.

The word “bar” is an Aramaic word meaning “son,” hence bar mitzvah means the “Son of Mitzvos.” This describes the state a young man has become in Jewish thought and law. A bar mitzvah is not simply the celebration of coming of age, of becoming an adult. It is the celebration of the responsibility and eligibility to partake in the mitzvos as one who is obligated to do so, not as one doing so as merely a trainee. From this point on, the young man’s mitzvos become complete, with the minimum level of true understanding and concentration deemed necessary as an adult, thinking Jew. One more soldier has been inducted into the Army of G-d, performing his (or her, on the occasion of a bas mitzvah) unique role in Klal Yisrael.

When we discuss a young man with his father and praise the boy as being “his father’s son,” we mean he’s following in his father’s footsteps. We recognize the father’s good qualities, maturity, compassion, good nature and often his mannerisms and sense of humor in his son, “a chip off the ol’ block.” This type of praise brings the father much nachas. Similarly, when we call a boy a “bar mitzvah,” the son of the mitzvos, this means that, besides his father, this young man is following in the footsteps of the mitzvos, learning from their compassion, depth, direction and understanding of the world and his part in it.

On one level, this coming of age happens whether the boy did something to prepare for it or not, like any other birthday. The obligation to fulfill mitzvos falls in place whether the boy was called to the Torah, said a speech, or not. Hence, the term “to be bar mitzvah-ed” is not entirely accurate; one is “bar mitzvah-ed” automatically on becoming thirteen and one day.

On another level, however, the affect of the bar mitzvah is profoundly connected to the extent the boy prepares himself. The Kabbalistic sages explain that a bar mitzvah is the boy’s spiritual bris milah, circumcision. When a male baby is eight days old, he enters the covenant of Abraham by undergoing his bris. It is performed on the eighth day, as the number eight in Judaism represents a transcendent state of being (going one beyond seven, which symbolizes nature, i.e. seven days of the week).

A bris is something that others perform upon the baby boy; he did nothing to participate in this mitzvah from the perspective of his own choice, consciousness and understanding. The foreskin, or orlah, represents the “foreskin upon the heart” spoken about by the prophets, which seals off the heart with its impurity. The first stage of removing that layer from the heart is the bris.

It is incumbent upon the boy himself to complete this process. During the next 13 years, he is taught Torah and performs mitzvos. With each word of Torah and mitzvah he is striking at the “spiritual foreskin” upon the heart, the Orlas Haleiv, weakening it with every blow. If the boy worked hard at that process, on the actual day of the bar mitzvah, the day he becomes 13 and a day, the Orlas Haleiv is dealt its final blow and is removed, the spiritual side of the original bris now complete. At that point the “evil inclination” which seeks to block the heart is cut away, leaving the boy free and complete to begin his growth unbridled, to develop into a pious, scholarly and righteous Jew. This is especially appropriate as we celebrate our beloved son Shlomo’s bar mitzvah this weekend. May all Jewish boys experience that profound spiritual ecstasy, enriching themselves and the entire Jewish people!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. 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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