Project Genesis


What makes music enjoyable?

Filed under: Miscellaneous, The Temple

Question: What makes music enjoyable?

Answer: Music is the language of the soul. Therefore, when we listen to music, we hear it at a very deep level. This means that music is a very powerful soul-tool, for good or for ill, and one should choose one’s music judiciously.Music was used by the prophets before and during the 1st Temple period to put themselves into the state of joy required for prophecy.When the Temple was standing, music was an important part of the experience. There was a Levitical choir who sang and played various instruments (such as harps, flutes, trumpets, and others that we are not sure how to identify). Imagine visiting the Temple: You have just been to the Mikvah (the purifying bath that everyone was required to use) and are barefoot, every breath greets an incredible incense, the priests are immaculate in their clothing and synchronized ritual, and the air is filled with heavenly music….

Thanks for asking,
Rabbi Seinfeld

Men’s and Women’s Clothing

Question: What does the Torah have to say about clothing for men and women? How similar can they be? Why should/shouldn’t there be any difference between them?

Answer: Thank you very much for your interesting question. We do not find in the Torah any commandments to wear specific clothing, other than the clothing that the Kohanim (priests) were commanded to wear when performing the service in the Temple. However, we are commanded to be holy, and exhorted to be modest. Other than that, the exact dress styles are pretty much left up to the tastes of the society in that generation, other than it is prohibited to dress in a way that is uniquely Gentile.

However, in societies such as ours where there are different clothing unique to men and women, it is prohibited by the Torah to “cross dress”, even if most of the garments you are wearing are that of your sex, and only one garment is that of the opposite sex. However, this does not apply to garments that are often unisex. In our society, there would be nothing wrong with a wife wearing a husbands sweater or sweat shirt.

This prohibition is stated in Devarim/ Deuteronomy 22:5, and the details are discussed in the Kitzur Shulchan Oruch/ Concise Code Of Jewish Law, ch. 171.

The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 542) explains that the reason why G-d forbade this is because “cross dressing” is often a prelude to immoral acts, and we must distance any such possibility from our Holy Nation as much as possible. However, it does apply in all cases, even in situations where it may not seem to you and I that it would lead to immorality.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Urim and Tumim of the High Priest

Question: What is the Urim & Tumim on the Ephod? How were they used by the priest? And the big question -  what happened to them?
Answer: Inside the Breastplate was placed God’s sacred names. Ramban (Exod. 28:30) states that Moses received these names through divine inspiration, as they are not recorded in the construction parameters written in the Torah, as are the Temple’s vessels and the priests clothing. Ramban explains the purpose of these names. One would inquire of the priest regarding which tribe might go forth to battle first, or what might be the outcome of the battle. The priest would ponder God’s names the Urim and Tumim contained in the Breastplate’s folded pouch and then he would be enabled to receive divine knowledge of the answer. Ramban states the letters engraved in the twelve stone would serve to spell out the answer as they miraculously lit up. But then the priest would have to ponder another name of God to figure out the order of those illuminated letters so as to reorganize them and make a coherent message. He would then communicate that message to the inquirer.

We wonder why these “names” of God were placed in the Breastplate. And why this unique mechanism of knowledge was used only in matters of war, as Rashi says on verse 27:21 in the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar)?

But what connection exists between this Breastplate, and divine knowledge regarding war? Why is it that the divine names were not used, for instance, to learn answers to questions concerning Kosher, Tefillin, and many other mitzvahs? Maybe the answers can be found in the very nature of the questions.

God’s Torah contains all that is necessary to arrive at the accurate understanding of all commands. Referring to the Written and Oral Laws, and the methods of derivation, all is addressed nothing is left out. This knowledge can be contained in the Torah because the commands concern intelligible phenomena. For example, the “object” of a mitzvah or its “performance” have precise and consistent structures. Torah and its laws will never change. Therefore, all can be contained and without no divinely inspired, additional facts.

But morality is quite different. Morality, first and foremost, requires an Authority to define what is and isn’t moral. If we were to leave this question up to man, and for every individual, we will find a great divergent of opinions. And because of such conflict, no single law could emerge from which a society would or could observe. We constantly see man’s moral ignorance today displayed in ongoing debates over stem cell research, abortion, the death sentence, and various other moral issues. There is no means by which man, by himself, can determine rights of life, since man did not create life. Only the Creator of life can determine when life is or isn’t appropriate. Therefore, in battle as Rashi taught, the Urim and Tumim was necessary to arrive at God’s determinations regarding life. Wartime issues are not subject to the court system, where a murderer must be put to death. Such cut and dry cases like that require no prophetic insight. However, engaging in war is not a response to a single person, or to an act of murder…as war might preempt any casualties.

Perhaps God must illuminate men as to the right to take life as wartime actions fall outside typical Torah considerations. In fact, many laws are suspended in the time of war, like eating non-kosher and marrying a non-Jew. Thus, war in and of itself presents one with many new considerations, and the taking of life is among one of them. Therefore, it seems reasonable that this is the reason for the Urim and Tumim…God’s divine names that miraculously enable the priest to acquire insight regarding morality and success in war. We should not, neither should we wish to place our lives in unnecessary danger, so the Urim and Tumim has been given to inquire as to who should engage in battle first. Ibn Ezra states that the use of the Urim and Tumim was to learn the future. (Exod. 28:30)

This also explains why the Breastplate was named the Breastplate of “Judgment”: the matters inquired addressed issues of justice. This may also explain why the Urim and Tumim are inserted in the Breastplate, where man’s names appear since the questions are about mankind, represented by the tribes.

Why is there no description of the Urim and Tumim in the Torah sections outlining the Temple’s vessels and the priestly garb? Ramban seems to have hinted to the answer when he states that Moses had previously received these names through divine inspiration. Next to creation itself, divine inspiration is the primary display of God’s authority – the very concept that decisions concerning morality are based on God’s authority. Therefore, the very method with which Moses received these names was an authoritative method. The theme of morality is further embellished by the placement of the Breastplate next to the “heart” of the priest.

Finally, what insights do we gain through the understanding of God’s answering through the priest’s pondering of God’s “names”? Just maybe this is precisely the correct method He uses to teach of us man’s ignorance concerning morality. For we only know His name, and nothing else about Him. Therefore, God associates the lesson of man’s ignorance concerning His name, with our ever continual searching for moral answers. Just as we are ignorant of God’s true nature and only know His name, so too are we ignorant of determining morality without His direction.

As to your last question, “What happened to them?” Maybe, since they were given by Divine Inspiration, they will once again be revealed in the same way?

Shalom, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Domestic Violence

Filed under: Marriage and Dating

Question: Can you please tell me what does the Jewish Law says about domestic violence against women?

Answer: Spouse abuse is absolutely prohibited by Torah law and is grounds for divorce. Jewish women (and men) who experience this have many resources to turn to for help. Here is some contact info copied from the internet:

  • Shalom Task Force Hotline, administrative office 212-742-1478 or contact at [email protected] Shalom Force Hotline 888-883-2323

  • Project CHANA (Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women) is a Womens Department Program of THE ASSOCIATED in cooperation with Jewish Family Services and the House of Ruth. JFS also provides counseling for families experiencing violence, whether directed at a child, spouse or partner, older adult, or an individual with a disability. Intake – 410-542-6300 ext. 7420 or 410-843-7420, or Mimi B. Kraus, LCSW-C – 410-356-8383 ext. 308. CHANA Confidential Helpline – 410-234-0023

Rabbi Zvi Holland

So Many Details of the Tabernacle!

Question: Why are there so many details on the building of the Tabernacle, yet hardly any details regarding the creation of the world and us?

Answer: It is important to keep in mind that the Torah was given primarily for the purpose of relating a concrete message, and an eternal covenant from G-d, to the Jewish people. It is not a history of the natural world and its inhabitants. In truth, although the secrets of creation are cloaked within the Torah, that is only a function of the Torah’s infinite depths and not its main purpose.

It makes sense that the details of the Tabernacle are drawn out, seeing that it is a direct commandment to the Jewish people on how to bring G-d’s Divine presence into their lives!

From a literal standpoint, the Tabernacle was the place in which G-d “rested” His presence amongst the Jewish people, later to be manifest in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.

Allegorically, every detail of the Tabernacle has applicability to our lives. For example, the Ark, which housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments and the Torah, had a wooden frame. However, it was to be covered by pure gold, inside and out. This teaches, that someone who wishes to be a worthy vessel of G-d’s word must have purity and sincerity of thought that matches his or her actions (i.e. you must be pure – both inside and out).

Furthermore, note how the vessels of the Tabernacle were carried by staffs which were placed through loops attached to the vessels. In the case of the Ark alone, there is a commandment that the staffs may never be removed. This alludes to how a person should view the Torah—constantly a fundamental part of his or her life, in every realm of existence.

It seems that volumes could be written regarding the meaning and function of the Tabernacle. To be quite honest, I learn something new about it every year. Perhaps the central idea we can take away is this: “Make for Me a Tabernacle and I will dwell amongst you?” (Exodus 25:8) can be homiletically understood that each one of us has the ability to make room for G-d in our hearts and in our lives; and if we do, G-d will surely fill that space.

Best wishes,
R’ Daniel Fleksher

The Ark that Didn’t Take Up Space

Question: Why did the Aron Hakodesh (The holy ark) in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) have no measurment or no space what so ever? What was the reason for that?

Answer: Hi! The Aron haKodesh had no measurement because it was not a physical object.

I want to illustrate by talking about miracles a little. You know, there are two kinds of miracles. Modern technology would look like a miracle to someone from the past! We know things about the laws of nature which people in the past didn’t understand. Since they couldn’t understand the principles behind airplanes or electric lights, these would seem like magic or miracles to them. Such miracles are based on ignorance.

However, there’s another type of miracle. That’s the kind where the laws of nature are actually broken. This is possible only for someone who is working from the outside of the system. For someone playing a computer game, there are rules, and different types of characters in the game, and limitation on what each one can do. But to the computer programmer, those limitations don’t exist. If someone playing the game saw what the programmer can do to change the situation of the game, he might be tempted to ask, What kind of character has the power to do that? However, the question would be a mistake. The programmer can do what he does precisely because he’s not part of the game. He’s working from the outside, and is outside of its rules. Since Hashem is outside of the world, he can do real miracles. The rules by which the world runs are his and he made them. He likes them and almost always works within them, but he’s not bound by them.

The Aron haKodesh was the place where Hashem spoke to Moshe and taught him the Torah. As the point of connection between Hashem and his world, it is the closest thing in this world to something outside of the world and its limitations.

Thanks for the interesting question.

Michoel Reach

The Divine Presence Among the Jewish People

Filed under: The Temple, G-d and Torah

Question: I heard that the Divine Presence completely lifted from the Jewish people after they crossed the Jordon. Did it leave gradually? Did Moshe Rabbeinu (Our teacher Moses) impact this? 

Answer: Hi! Thanks for your really interesting question. If you’re asking about the “Ananei HaKovod”, the Clouds of Glory, I haven’t been able to find out the answer, though I’m still looking. Our sages say that they vanished when Aaron, the High Priest and Moshe’s brother, died, but that Moshe was able to bring them back in his merit. But after that? Did they vanish when he died? The Talmud says that Israel continued to eat the Manna after Moshe’s death for another month or so, until they had crossed into the land of Israel and were beginning to eat from the produce of the land. But about the Clouds of Glory I haven’t found an explicit source.

But if you’re asking about the Divine Presence, so to speak – well, for sure that never left at all. They were moving into another phase of their existence, one more built around the laws of nature and less around the miraculous, but Hashem’s presence was still with them. And there was still one special place, the Mishkan (the tabernacle), where the miraculous still had its place as well, and which operated entirely beyond the laws of nature.

Even when the Holy Temple was destroyed hundreds of years later, our sages say that the Divine Presence went into exile with his people, and is with them still.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Question: Thank you Rabbi Reach for a most thorough response!  Did the Jewish people have any resistance moving into this new phase of their existence, from miraculous to more natural? Wasn’t this an issue with the Spies? 

Answer: Hi! Thanks for the follow-up. I definitely see this difficulty in making the transition as being one of the most important themes of this part of the Book of Numbers. They sat at Mt. Sinai peacefully for a year. The minute they started to move towards the Land of Israel, Boom! One disaster after another, back to back. And as you say, some explain the spies this way, some explain the demand for meat this way, and Moshe’s hitting the rock instead of a more subtle approach… As the Maggid of Dubno said to the Gaon of Vilna, it can be quite a trick to deal with the world outside the Beis Midrash (The Torah Study Hall). Hashem knows the best path for each of us, but people can be afraid nevertheless.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Fetus vs. Newborn

Filed under: Abortion

Question: In Mishpatim, 21:22, we are shown that if a man injures a pregnant woman and she miscarries the crime is treated as bodily harm to the woman and not murder of the fetus. The guilty party is to be fined and not sentenced to death. Only if the injury leads to the death of the woman is this crime murder. Would it be correct to infer from this that the pro-choice argument that the fetus is not to be considered as a humanbeing is essentially correct according to Torah?

Answer: Your inference is used as a proof by the ‘Meirat Einayim’ (one of the commentators on the Shulchan Aruch) that there is a legal difference between a fetus in the womb and a new-born baby. The law he is referring to in the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Siman 425:8) states that one is permitted to kill a fetus in order to save the life of the mother. However, once just the baby’s head has exited the body, it would be prohibited to kill it, even to save the mothers life. Thus, it is clear that once the head has exited the body, it acquires a new legal status.

However, the fact that there is a difference between a fetus and a new-born is in no way a proof that it is morally acceptable to perform an abortion. There is a verse in the Torah specifically prohibiting the killing of a fetus:

” Shofech Dam HaAdam, BaAdam Damo Yishofech” (Genesis 9:6)

The simple translation of this verse is “He who spills human blood shall have his own blood spilled by man”; however, the Talmud states that this verse can be read another way – the letter ‘Bet’ in Hebrew can either mean ‘by means of’ or ‘in’ and thus, says the Talmud, we can read the verse as “He who spills human blood IN a human” – the Talmud asks: ‘what human is IN a human’ – and answers that it must be referring to a fetus; thus we see that the Torah does refer to a fetus as a ‘human being’.

Yours sincerely,
Ari Lobel

Eye for an Eye vs. Turning the Other Cheek

Question: My non-Jewish friends tell me that they think Judaism is wrong because it teaches one that an eye for an eye is the right way instead of turning the other cheek. Are they correct in their assessment of the Jewish religion? Is eye for an eye a part of Judaism and beliefs?

Answer: The quote, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” comes from our Torah, our bible. It may be found in Leviticus 24:20. This, however, does not mean that if someone cut off your hand then we should cut off his hand, G-d forbid. This verse has been misinterpreted by Christians and Muslims for centuries. All of our commentaries tell us that what it means is if someone causes you to lose the use of your hand in an accident or a similar case, then that person owes you financial damages up to the value of your lost limb. So if you were a professional arm wrestler and someone caused you to lose your arm wrestling hand then they might owe you the value of that hand including your lost wages, etc. None of the Jewish commentaries teach us to cut off the hand of the one who caused the loss. It simply is a lie if someone tells you that this is the Jewish opinion.

Now, with that said here is where your friends are wrong. We do not believe in “turning the other cheek.”

If a homicide bomber blows himself up in a crowded section of Tel Aviv, G-d forbid, then Christianity teaches to “turn the other cheek.” Judaism teaches to wipe evil off the map. The Israeli government will seek terrorists out and pull them from where they sleep. The Torah allows for us to protect ourselves from murderers at all costs. The Pope has publicly said many times that the Israeli government should not actively go after terrorists in Ramallah or Jenin or Gaza because we have to learn forgiveness. Who is turning the other cheek? According to Jewish law if someone is about to kill someone we are allowed to kill him first. The Torah allows for the death penalty in many cases. The Torah allows for harsh penalties for theft, lying, and harming a fellow person.

Does this sound like turning the other cheek to you? You can tell your friends that they should learn about Judaism in a real way before saying anything about it. If you ever have general questions about Jewish philosophy you can go to www.aish.com and www.torah.org. They have a great selection of articles there on various topics.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt


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