Project Genesis


Not Accepting an Apology

Question: If I attempt to apologize and explain to another person my sincere belief that I was wrong, and they do not wish to listen, or by inaction do not allow me to voice my feelings, have they wronged me in any way and/or at fault in any way? In the context of the situation, what I am, in effect, attempting to do, is convince this person of their wrongdoing (if one is present) and bring to their attention their mistreatment of me. Thank you

Answer: Let me quote from Maimonides in his Laws of Repentance, ch. 2, para. 9-10:

“If someone wronged another he must make good the wrong and seek forgiveness .. and to appease and meet with (the wronged party) until he forgives him. If he refuses to forgive, bring a group of three of his friends and, together, request that he forgives. If he (still) won’t forgive, leave him and go (on with your life) and the one who won’t forgive is (now) the sinner.”

“It is forbidden for a man to be stubborn and refuse to be appeased, rather, he should be easily swayed (by another’s entreaties), and when someone requests from him his forgiveness, he should forgive eagerly with a full heart…”

In Jewish law, Maimonides (also known as Rambam) is absolutely authoritative especially in these matters. I think this should clarify the issue.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Thank you so much for your help, the explanation you provided helped me to clear up this matter easily.

Why Pray? Why Repent? Why not?

Question: What motivation is there to really repent and be worried on the high holy days, I mean I’ve survived for years without praying a word so why start now? I’m not looking for a drawn out idea of how beautiful Judaism and connecting to G-d is. I want something more practical, to the point. Why be nervous, and pray, and fast, and change if my life has been great up until now, and I don’t see any reason that that would stop? Thanks for your patience, looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Answer: I don’t mean to make a joke out of your question. It is a very serious one and deserves a very serious answer. I cannot help, however, share a story with you.A few years ago Harvard University’s required essay on the application for admittance was, “Define courage.” There was one student who took the application, picked up a blue crayon and wrote, “This is courage.”

He was accepted even though his scores were not the highest.

I tell you this by way of a short and to the point answer and not to write a, “Drawn out idea of how beautiful Judaism is,” so here is the answer – “Why not?”

A great scholar once said to me that if Jews are wrong then we will have lived our lives in a moral, happy, calm, meditative, sublime, humble, and kind way. We will have spent our time praying for others, praying for ourselves, trying to define the purpose of life, studying deep, powerful philosophy, and bettering the world.

If Judaism is right (for us) then we will have spent our time doing all those things and it will have defined more than we can understand in this world on our own. We will have brought our spiritual beings, our real selves, closer to perfection.

Either way – I still ask the simple question – why not?

The real problem is not why pray. The real question is, “How should I pray? How can I make prayer meaningful? Why use someone else’s words? How does it work? The fact that you wrote this question tells me that these are the real questions that you should be asking. There are many ways to get the answers to these questions. We can make many recommendations for you if you like. You, however, have to take the first step and realize that you want to.

Someone recently asked me, “Why can’t Judaism have deep meditation like Buddhism?” My answer was, “It does – come and learn.” You never know until you ask.

Let me know,
Rabbi Litt

First Fruits

Question: How is the First Fruit offering practiced in today’s society?

Answer: Great question! For the First Fruits, one would go out to the fields when the fruit buds would begin to grow and designate the first fruits. One could designate just the first fruit of each species, or he could choose to dedicate the whole field (the Sages later instituted that one per sixty fruit should be designated). The fruit would be brought to Jerusalem and given to the Cohanim (priests) to eat. It would be arranged in a beautiful basket which was brought to Jerusalem amidst great joy and rejoicing. If Jerusalem was far away, the fruits could be dried before the trip. These laws only apply to the special “seven species” associated with the land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Additionally, the fruit must have grown in the land of Israel and only during the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Today, there are no applicable laws of the First Fruits.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

If G-d Always Helps, Why Should I?

Question: I understand that while we want to be the ones doing good things for other people- G-d will take care of them regardless. If so, how can a person be motivated to do kindness for another person out of care/concern/wanting things to be better for them? They will get what they need anyways! So while of course we should be responsible and do what we should to help, how can our MOTIVATION be out of concern for their welfare?

Answer: Thank you for your question. The short answer is, they won’t necessarily get what they need anyway. It could be that Hashem gave them this challenge so that we would help them; therefore, our duty in any situation is to do our best to help fix the situation. This is why, for instance, we take medicine. We are not quietists (you can look that up). The Tehillim/Psalm says, “If Hashem doesn’t build the house, can it be built?” – this doesn’t mean the builder can relax and never pick up a hammer and nail! We are put here to be Hashem’s partners in every way. He will act in accordance with our actions (including prayer and other Mitzvot).

But there is a kernel of truth to your supposition: since everything is in Hashem’s hands, ultimately, one should not be overly concerned with the situation. Meaning, if we’ve done our utmost, including prayer, then the outcome must be Hashem’s will. Therefore our concern for their welfare never becomes despair.

I hope that’s helpful. Feel free to follow-up.

Rabbi Seinfeld
http://rabbiseinfeld.blogspot.com
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What is the Service of the Heart?

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Question: The Talmud in Ta’anit 2a teaches that the service of the heart is prayer. But how does one knows its prayer? When I think of service of the heart for example I think of all my whole being acting, according to what HaShem told according to His Torah; not only because He told so, but because my inner most being wants to serve Him out of the love, respect etc. I have for Him. For me it’s the outward actions that show the inner part that I would like to call service of the heart.

Could someone explain to me why this teaching chose prayer as the outward part true which man can express this inner part? I know words can do this.. but can they do this more than actions? Or is there another explanation. 

Answer:  Thank you for asking this great question. The service of the heart was once the acts that showed our love for G-d, which was at one time – sacrifices, as commanded by G-d. Today, our sages teach us that prayer replaced sacrifices, which is why prayer is called the “service of the heart.

With that said, your question is very good. The truth is that prayer, meditation, deep thought are all powerful tools to reach out to The Creator, but I understand your difficulty in understanding how this is the service of the heart. If one could actually understand the potential of meditation and prayer then they would have a better grasp of how that method of communication is so powerful. Prayer doesn’t just mean to go to synagogue and pray with other people. It also means having a deep, meaningful, personal connection that is only attained through hard work. Real prayer doesn’t come easy. It takes tremendous work and then, if you really work at it – it truly is the “service of the heart. If it is just a series of words then the potential of prayer ever really being a spiritual exercise is slim.

One of the best books on this subject is “Jewish meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. I hope this helps you.

Be Well
Rabbi Litt

Understanding Idol Worship

Question: What was so attractive about idol worship that our ancestors occasionally engaged in it? From the descriptions of it, child sacrifice, etc. it seems reprehensible. Without a Temple today we are faithful to G-D so why in those days when there was a Temple were our ancestors so attracted to idol worship?

Many Jews are going to India and China for Hinduism and Buddhism to get what they describe as a “spiritual high”. Is this same as idolatry?

Answer: The Rambam (Maimonides) at the beginning of his Laws of Idolatry describes how the concept of worshipping stars and other creations evolved from the reasonable assertion that G-d directs his influence on this world by way of stars. It was felt that some recognition should be offered to these intermediaries and, over time, the realization that these intermediaries were nothing but passive conduits (maybe like electrical power lines) was lost. Idolatry, then, in its “purist” form was an erroneous reaction to the wonders and power of G-d’s world.Some commentators felt that this form of worship actually produced positive results (albeit in open rebellion against G-d’s will). Rambam sharply disagreed.

Interestingly, Rabbi E.E. Dessler wrote (in a rather involved essay whose subject goes beyond the scope of this letter) that the human impulse to worship idols comes from the same “place” as the aspiration for prophecy. A generation whose sensitivity to holiness is great enough to merit prophets among them is also far more prone to slipping into idolatry. It is for this reason that the loss of prophecy (some 2300 years ago) coincided directly with the reduction in our burning desire for idolatry.

There is no question that many of the practices observed by Buddhists and Hindus (and other groups besides) are idolatrous and therefore forbidden by our Torah. The sadly misguided Israelis and others who journey to the east for such experiences are indeed following in the footsteps of Biblical-age idolaters.

With regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Grace After Meals - Birchat Hamazon

Question: What is the commandment for saying a blessing after a meal? What is the reason for reciting this blessing? Is it absolutely necessary to say the blessings in the form in which they are written after a meal? If I don’t feel the meaning within these blessings can I say my own words of praise to G-d?

Answer: The Torah obligates us to recognize that G-d is the source of all blessing after we feel satisfied from our food, as it’s written: “You shall eat and be satisfied and bless Hashem your G-d” (Deuteronomy 8:10, Tractate Berachos 48b). According to the Talmud, this would be when we eat a full meal – defined as a meal with bread. Over time, the Jewish people developed a formalized text for how to do this, called the “Birchat HaMazon.” G-d gives us good things so that we can come to appreciate Him, and therefore realize that we are obligated to follow His commandments. The blessings after (and before) all other foods or drinks are obligated by Rabbinical decree (see the sixth chapter of Tractate Berachos).

It is normal and healthy for a person growing in Jewish observance to take on new practices slowly, in stages. Thus, a person just beginning to learn about the importance of blessings may feel inspired to begin saying these blessings in his or her own words. Eventually, as one grows in learning, he or she will begin to appreciate the unique wisdom behind the wording of our sages in these blessings. Ideally, it helps to have a competent Torah mentor to aid in facilitating this growth process.

Question: Where did the Birchat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) originate? Is it a specific commandment of our Heavenly Father or instead is it a man-defined means/tradition meant to fulfill the instructions of God in Deuteronomy 8 not to forget Who has provided all of our provision?

Answer: You are correct that the source for the Grace after Meals is Deuteronomy 8:10. The actual text is ascribed to various leaders of the Jewish People. According to the Talmud, Moses wrote the first blessing in gratitude for the manna. Joshua wrote the second upon the conquest of the land of Israel. Solomon wrote the third upon the building of the Temple and the last blessing was written by the Sages of the time when the dead of Beitar (killed by the Romans) were brought to burial.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Brief Summary of Jewish History

Filed under: Jewish History

Question: How did Judaism start?

Answer: The following is a brief overview of the history of Judaism:

ABRAHAM: FATHER OF MONOTHEISM:

Abraham was born in 1812 BCE in the city of Ur in Ancient Mesopotamia. According to Jewish tradition, he spent the first 40 years of his life questioning the polytheistic ideas of the surrounding culture, eventually coming to the conclusion that all of existence comes from a single source – a primal infinite Being that we call God. Once he was confident in the truth of his theory, he began to publicize his ideas through writing, teaching and public debates, and eventually built a movement of tens of thousands of people committed to a belief in one Creator and the philosophical principles which are an outgrowth of that belief. G-d then appears to Abraham for the first time and tells him that his biological descendants will eventually grow into a nation which will live by the philosophical principles that he had developed and will be given the Land of Canaan as a national homeland (Genesis 12:1).

FROM FAMILY TO NATION: 500 years:

THE WOMB OF EGYPT AND THE COVENANT AT MOUNT SINAI

Abraham passes on his philosophical system to his son, Isaac, who in turn passes it on to his son Jacob (also called Israel – see Genesis 35:10), who then hands it over to his twelve sons (the families founded by these twelve individuals eventually grew into the twelve tribes of Israel). A famine occurs in the Land of Canaan in 1522 BCE, forcing Israel and his 70 member family down to Egypt (Genesis 46:8), where after 210 years (94 of them as slaves), they grow into a People of approximately 3 million, retaining their separate philosophical, cultural and linguistic identity as Hebrews. They are led out of Egypt by Moses the Prophet in 1312 BCE, and about 50 days later, find themselves awestruck at the foot of Mt Sinai, where God reveals Himself to the Nation as a whole, and proclaims the 10 Commandments. God seals a covenant with the Israelites, whereby they commit themselves (and their descendants) to follow the path of life which God will reveal for them (a path that would incorporate the philosophical system developed by Abraham). Moses then ascends Mt Sinai alone, and God teaches him all the details of that path. The enormous body of legal and moral principles revealed to Moses form the content of what is called “TORAH” – the term incorporating the Five Books of Moses as well as the Oral tradition found in the Mishna and Talmud (36 volumes).

A NATIONAL HOMELAND: 1200 YEARS

In 1272 BCE, after 40 years of traveling in the Sinai Desert, the Israelite Army, led by Joshua, conquers the Land of Canaan and inaugurates a period of over 1200 years of National experience in the Land of Israel, focused around the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem which existed for approximately 800 of those years (combining the 1st and 2nd Temple periods).

EXILE AND RETURN:

In 70 CE the Roman army destroys the Second Temple (the first was destroyed by the Babylonians about 500 years earlier) and from this point onwards, the majority of Jews live in various communities outside the Land of Israel. For the next 1900 years, the Jews in exile pray 3 times daily to be able to return to their homeland and in 1948 the dream is realized with a majority vote in the United Nations to allow the re-establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.

Fishing for Sport

Question: Since fishing for food is permitted is fishing for sport permitted? When a fisherman goes fishing he can not determine if his catch is going to be kosher or not. Is he permitted to fish for sport (ie the fish is used for trophy purposes) if the fish is kosher? What if the fish is non-kosher? What if the fish can not be eaten because of safety reasons?

Answer: Thank you for your interesting question. It is forbidden by our Torah to cause unnecessary suffering to any animals or fish (Kosher or non-Kosher) based on the verses in Shemos/Exodus 23:5, and in Devarim/Deuteronomy 24:4. However, it is permitted to use them for constructive purposes, such as for eating or medical research, as long as no unnecessary suffering is caused to them. Regarding fishing and hunting for sport, although theoretically it might be argued that this is causing suffering for a “constructive purpose”, i.e. recreation for the human, the Nodeh BiYehuda (a great Halachic authority of the 18th century) writes that a Jew should not engage in these activities for purely recreational purposes, as it is a very cruel thing to do, and inappropriate for a Jew to engage in. However, if the purpose of the fishing is to eat or sell the fish, the fact that some of the fish are not Kosher or not safe to be eaten is not a reason to refrain from this.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler


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