Project Genesis

Queen Esther’s Children

Filed under: Purim

Question: Were Queen Esther’s children raised as Jews? 

Answer: You are asking an excellent question. I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I can give you food for thought. In order to serve G-d as a Jewess, without being turned in and stopped, Esther acted in ways that were hidden. The very name Esther means, “concealer,” and she was able to conceal from King Achashverus her Jewish origins. Esther had seven chambermaids and assigned each one to attend her on a different day. This way the maids of the first six days would not notice her very different behavior as she observed her Jewish requirements concerning Shabbos on the seventh day, and the maid of the seventh day would simply think this was how Esther lived every day.

As Judaism passes through the mother, her only child Darius was Jewish, as you know. I do not know what measures Esther took with regard to protecting Darius as a Jew, but we can see one of the results that does make one wonder. The Second Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple in Yerushalayim) was being constructed, when the virulently Jew hating Vashti, was instrumental in having her husband, Achashverus, halt the construction. Know that Vashti was the granddaughter of Nevuchadnezzar, the king responsible for the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash. The only child conceived by Esther through Achashverus, Darius, after ascending to the Persian throne, allowed the construction on the Second Beis HaMikdash to be continued through completion

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

Jews in Black Hats

Question: What age do Orthodox Jewish men start wearing black hats? Is there a hard rule or is it down to custom?

Answer: The hat is completely a custom and different groups wear different types of hats to reflect where they are from or just to associate with a specific group. The age is usually Bar Mitzvah to start wearing it. The Jewish legal reasoning comes from the Code of Jewish Law which teaches that we should have head coverings at all times and even mentions a double head covering while praying.

I hope this helps.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

Judging Favorably

Question: I’m having trouble understanding “judge everyone favorably”. If I turn a blind eye and I don’t use my mind and say “he’s a honorable, he’s correct he only does what’s right, he doesn’t have bad character”, then that means I have to listen to what he tells me and do as he says because if I don’t then did you really judge favorably? By not hanging out with that person and not doing as they say, your actions are showing otherwise, that you really don’t believe what you judged. So how can I possibly be commanded to judge favorably but at the same time use my brain to get out of bad situation and not be around people that bring me down?

Answer: Judging favorably and exercising good judgement are two entirely different concepts.

Judging favorably means looking for alternative possibilities that allow for the presumption of innocence.

Excercising good judgement is acting upon what you know to be true and right. If not hanging out with certain people you know to be the right decision, that has nothing to do with judging favorably. You haven’t condemned them to be bad people, just not right for your personal development, social comfort level,etc.

In addition judging favorably is when you dont know all the facts. If the people you are referring to are doing drugs in front of you, you dont have to lie to yourself that they are taking insulin shots…

Sounds like your gut insticts are telling you what to do, listen to it.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

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

Tefillin of the High Priest

Question: How did the High Priest in the Temple wear Tefilin while also wearing a head dress?

Answer: The High Priest was able to wear Tefillin – the Sages explain that the golden “Tzitz” band was on his forehead, the hat was fairly high up on the head (and was held on by a framework of blue strings), and there was room in between for the Tefillin, just above the hairline.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Precious Stones of the Twelve Tribes

Filed under: The Temple

Question: What were the precious stones in the high priest’s garments and how are they related to the twelve tribes?

Answer: The ephod had two stones on its shoulder straps, both of onyx (shoham), with the names of six tribes inscribed on each stone (Ex. 29:9-12;39:6-7). As for the twelve stones in the choshen (Ex. 28:17-21;39:10-14), the Torah doesn’t indicate how they correspond to the twelve tribes; but the correspondence can be found in the commentary of Rabbenu Bachya:
Reuven – odem (ruby) Shimon – pitdah (smaragd) Levi – barekes (carbuncle) Yehudah – nofech (emerald) Yissachar – sapir (sapphire) Zevulun – yahalom (pearl) Dan – leshem (topaz) Naftali – shevo (turquoise) Gad – achlamah (crystal) Asher – tarshish (chrysolite) Yosef – shoham (onyx) Binyamin – yashfeh (jasper). The above translations of the gem names are from Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol.III pp.169-172. See also the article “Avnei Choshen ve-Ephod” in the Talmudic Encyclopedia.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Washing the Hands

Question: Where does the Torah speak about washing the hands?

Answer: Washing the hands and feet is referred to many times in the Bible. There was a washing basin in the Tabernacle where the priests washed their hands and feet before entering (Ex.30:18-21). Washing the hands is specifically mentioned in Deut.21:6 (see also Lev. 15:11) and in Psalms 26:6 and 73:13.
An entire tractate of the Mishnah (Yadayim) is devoted to impurity of the hands. Washing the hands before eating is discussed in the Mishnah in (for example) Berachos Ch.8. The laws about washing the hands on arising are codified in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim Sec.4; the laws about washing the hands before eating, in Sec.158ff.

Yours, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Moses in the Tabernacle

Question: Genesis Chapter 40 beginning at verse 17 -  Did Moses set up the tabernacle by himself? Of course G-d would have been advising along the way but no one else including Aaron would have been allowed in at this point.

Answer: In Exodus, Chapter 40, the verse describes Moses as being the sole individual involved in the construction of the Tabernacle. Nachmanides, a classic early commentator on the Torah, points out that although the Tabernacle was set up permanently on the first day of the month of Nissan, there was a week-long ceremony that took place prior to this. For seven days, Moses sanctified the Tabernacle by putting it together and taking it apart each day for the duration of the week. After the first of Nissan, though, the Tabernacle was only taken apart when the Jewish People were to travel.

All the best!

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Dimensions in the Tabernacle and Temple

Filed under: The Temple

Question: How big were the Tabernacle and the Temple?

Answer: The size of the Tabernacle was 9 by 30 cubits (by 10 cubits high); see Ex.26:15-25. The size of Solomon’s Temple was 20 by 60 cubits (by 30 cubits high); see 1 Kings 6:1-6.

Question: How big was the altar?

Answer: The altar in Moses’ Tabernacle was about 8 by 8 feet (5 by 5 cubits). The altar in Solomon’s Temple was over 30 by 30 feet (20 by 20 cubits).

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber  

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