Project Genesis

How did Jewish Slaves have animals?

Question: The iconic image of the Exodus is of enslaved Jews, taskmasters, building pyramids, etc. When Pharoh finally tells Moses to leave with his people, he also tells Moses to take their flocks and herds with them. How is it that the enslaved Israelites had their own animals?

Answer: Great question! It seems from the first chapter of Exodus and the Talmudic explanation of it (see Rashi’s commentary, go to that it was more of a national enslavement than a personal one. The Jews seemed
to have lived separate from the Egyptians (Jews lived in Goshen) so they had a few animals.

All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg

First Passover

Filed under: Passover

Question: When was the first Passover?

Answer: 1312 BCE. This was the year of the Exodus. The first Seder took place the night before the Exodus.

Take care,

Bread of Affliction …or Freedom?

Filed under: Passover

Question: Why is it that on Matza represents freedom if we also consider Matza a poor mans bread that we had in Egypt as slaves?

Answer: I attended Rabbi Soloveithchick’s (The Rav’s) lectures where he asked the same question: “Matzoh on the one hand symbolizes freedom and on the other hand symbolizes poverty and helplessness (Since the Jews were helpless when they were expelled from Egypt and didn’t even have time to bake bread). How can one object symbolize two opposites?”

The Rav provided the following answer:

  • Matzoh does not exclusively symbolize freedom
  • Matzoh does not exclusively symbolize poverty
  • Rather Matzoh symbolizes God’s capacity to transform freedom to poverty.

In other words when we eat Matzoh on Passover we are eating something symbolizing the poverty of slavery. But this symbol of slavery simultaneously symbolizes God’s capacity to redeem us while we were slaves.

Have an enjoyable Passover,
Dr. Russell Jay Hendel;

Moses, Pharaoh and Egypt in the Hagada

Filed under: Passover

Question: Moses is mentioned only once, in passing, in the Hagadah. I have learned that the reason is that we want to emphasize that it was G-d who took us out of Egypt and not an emissary or an angel. However, the Haggadah mentions Pharoah 7 times and Egypt over 50 times. Why? (I would rather it mention Moshe 7 times and Pharoah once).

Answer: There are many answers as to why Moses is almost absent from the Hagadah, particularly that the main focus is on God, and not a person saving us. The mention of Egypt and Pharaoh accentuate the tremendous obstacles we faced in Egypt, yet God took us out of all of those. Thus we can appreciate the light amidst the great darkness. Perhaps we could say, as our Sages tell us, that a small amount of light chases away much darkness. Thus one mention of Moses is a small amount of light that God gave us when He conquered the great darkness of Egypt.

Have a Happy Passover,
Rabbi Kolakowski

Maror - Bitter Herbs

Filed under: Passover

Question: Why do we eat the Maror (Bitter Herbs) on Passover?

Answer: God commanded us to eat 3 foods on the first night of Passover to remember 3 aspects of the miraculous way we were freed from Egyptian slavery. The Matzah reminds us of the instantaneous way hundreds of thousands of slaves were freed. The roasted lamb (which we do not eat nowadays since the lamb must be slaughtered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) reminds us that our freedom was in order to serve God, and the Marror reminds us of the bitter days of slavery.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

A Modern Perspective on Animal Sacrifices in the Temple

Filed under: The Temple

Question: Why are there so many details about animal sacrifice in the Torah? How should a modern Jew view animal sacrifices?

Answer: Animal sacrifices are indeed difficult to comprehend in the context of today’s society. In fact, it has come to the point that many espouse that the killing of animals is wrong even if it is for food or clothing. Clearly, that is not the view of the Torah, and we should not be quick to bend the eternal wisdom of Torah per the fleeting trends in society.

Animal sacrifice was meant as a way of intense confrontation with sin. The repentant would bring an animal for a sacrifice, lean himself upon the animal’s head, perhaps look into those large, shining eyes, and be forced to come to terms with the destruction that sin causes. When the animal was finally slaughtered and offered on the altar, one was supposed to feel that it really should have been him or her up on that altar. Today, with the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem, animal sacrifices are no longer practiced. A close reading of the Prophets reveals that this is due to the fact that insincere offerings became the norm during the end of the first Temple period. G-d does not want the destruction of His creations, and when the sacrifices ceased to elicit the internal response for which they were meant, the offerings themselves ceased. In their place, we offer tears and the sincere longing of heartfelt prayer.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Current Obligation of Animal Sacrifice

Question: Nowadays, are Jews supposed to bring animal sacrifices?

Answer: It depends on how you look at it. God commanded the Jewish Nation to perform certain daily sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem). However, God does not allow us to perform those sacrifices if the Beis Hamikdash is not standing. The Temple was destroyed around 2000 years ago, and for the last 2000 years or so we have followed Jewish law by not performing those sacrifices.

With Jews, what matters most is doing what God tells us to do. By not sacrificing, we are currently following God’s orders concerning those very sacrifices; in other words, just as we followed His orders concerning sacrifices 2000 years ago, we continue to follow His orders concerning sacrifices today… by not doing them.

Eliahu Levenson

Eating Sacrifices in the Time of Abel

Question: If eating animals was not allowed at the time of  Abel, how could he make an animal sacrifice?

Answer: Animal sacrifice isn’t similar to eating animals. Animal sacrifice is a way of coming close to G-d (sacrifice in Hebrew is called korban, from the word korev which means to come close). The offerer should take a live animal and see himself in the animal. He should think that it should be himself being offered, but G-d wants him to live. He should see the animals blood instead of his, the animals limbs instead of his, etc. This isn’t only an elevation for himself, but also for the animal since the animal is now elevated instead of mundane.

All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Advice for a Prosecutor

Question: What advice does the Talmud have for a prosecutor?

Answer: The Talmud’s statements about prosecution were made in the context of a legal system rather different from ours; they dealt with a judge who is arguing for conviction before his fellow-judges, not with a prosecuting attorney who is arguing before a court. A judge must try to determine the truth, and must take all the available information into account, even information that is not admissible as evidence; he must not suppress or ignore such information.

A classical quote on this subject can be found in the Talmud, Shevuos 30b: “How do we know that a judge must not defend his own view? Because it says ‘You shall distance yourself from falsehood.’ (Rashi: If he is judging a case, and in his heart he feels that he may be mistaken, he should not give arguments in support of his view because he is ashamed to retract it; rather, he should investigate all aspects in order to arrive at a true judgment.) And how do we know if a judge knows that a case is fraudulent (Rashi: He deduces from the words of the witnesses that their testimony is not true), he should not say ‘I will rule on this case, and the guilt will be on the witnesses’? Because it says ‘You shall distance yourself from falsehood.’” These statements are codified by the Rambam (Sanhedrin, Chs. 21-24) and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Chs. 15-17).

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