Project Genesis

Visiting the Western Wall

Filed under: The Temple

Question: I am Oleh Chadash (new immigrant to Israel) and am going to visit Jerusalem and the Kotel (the Western Wall). I have a standard Sephardic prayerbook and a Tehillim (Book of Psalms) – what are the prayers that should be said at the Kotel? Are there particular Tehillim which should be prayed?

Answer: Firstly, Mazel Tov on your Aliya (move to Israel). I wish you every success in everything you do. Visiting the kotel can be a tremendously uplifting spiritual experience, and may be exciting and wonderful, but at the same time we must remember that we are still in mourning for the destruction of the Temple, and the Talmud in Yoma says that every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is as if it was destroyed in that generation. Therefore, most of the prayers and customs for seeing the Kotel for the first time (or if one has not seen it for more than 30 days) come from the funeral service and demonstrate our mourning for the destruction.

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Law, Orech Chaim 561) says that someone who sees the place of the Temple when it is destroyed (i.e. the kotel nowadays) should tear their clothes and say “Beit Kodsheinu v’Tifarteinu ashere hillelucha bo avoteinu haya l’sreiphat eish, v’chol machmadeinu haya lchorva.” (Our Temple of holiness and glory in which our fathers paid homage was burnt in fire and all that we cherished was [sent] to destruction). There is some dispute amongst contemporary Rabbis as to whether one should actually tear their clothes, or wear clothes borrowed from someone else (which may not be torn, since they do not belong to the wearer). Most Ashkenazic Rabbis seem to hold that one should actually tear their garments (approx 3 inches) from the collar down towards the heart. The tear should be made while standing, and preferably with one’s hands (though sometimes scissors are necessary to start the tearing). I do not know what the Sefardic Rabbis say on the issue. (more…)

Borders of Israel

Question: Why does the Torah provide two different accounts of the borders that are to define Israel; each border fairly different than the other? (Shemos 23:31 and Bamidbar 34:2)

Answer: Thanks for asking this question. This question is a great one because there does seem to be a contradiction. When the verses are read more carefully though, the resolution is clear. The passage in Bamidbar is speaking of the land when Yehoshua conquers it and is consistent until the time of the first Temple period. In the book of Shemos (and Genesis 15:18 & Deuteronomy 1:7) it is speaking of the land of Israel in the days of the Messiah. This is according to a commentator called the Tevuos HaAretz.

So, The biblical land of Israel that we have rights to now is consistent with the delineation in Bamidbar 34:2. However, we will move further when the time is right. (G-d willing, it should be soon).

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

Innocent Midianite Children

Question: In Numbers 31, Why did Moses order the death of the young male children if they could not have participated in any way in causing the Children of Israel to sin? What are the ethical and moral ramifications of Moses’s ordering the killing of innocents, and wasn’t that the sin that really kept him out of the Promised Land?

Answer: I agree that at first glance it seems unethical to our eyes. However, it is axiomatic that Moses is a spokesman for God, and that “good” and “evil” are defined by what God wants and doesn’t want, not by what I think. That is why Abraham did not hesitate to bind Isaac on the altar.

Therefore, if Moses ordered their death, we must conclude that they were not innocent and our question should be, “why did they need to be killed?” rather than assuming that they were innocent. God tells Moses explicitly that his striking the rock was what kept him out of the Land.

Rabbi Seinfeld

[Reposted from the archives]

Near Collision - What’s G-d’s message to me?

Question: I almost nearly got killed (unintentionally) today, G-d forbid. I was tired & I ran a red light  in a HUGE major intersection. I just nearly (by 2 seconds according to the cops) missed 2 cars going full speed, nearly colliding into me from both sides. I am so shaken up. Two more seconds and I could have G-d forbid been…who knows. Thank G-d I am alive. But I am so shaken and I dont know what this is supposed to mean. I feel terrible. Could I G-d forbid be “worthy” of death? What should I do?

Answer: I am glad you are alive. No. I don’t think you are worthy of death. If G-d wanted you to die, you would have died. What He wanted you to do, I think, is to wake up.

Speaking of waking up, allow me first a word of diversion. Besides from the perspective of your spiritual self, you need to figure out why this happened from a physical perspective . How tired were you? Are you possibly suffering from sleep deprivation and not even realizing it? It might be prudent to see your physician and discuss if any tests would be appropriate just to rule out anything more significant.

G-d sends us messages because He wants us to change. He does so on both a national and a personal level. For example, when G-d sent prophets during the First Temple Era warning about impending
destruction, why do you think he sent them? Is G-d into prophets of doom? Absolutely not!

He sent them because he wanted the nation to repent, to change their ways. His hope was that warnings of doom would lead to the nation making the necessary changes. Not because He wanted to punish or to
scare people.

In the same vein, when G-d sends us a wake up message, He wants us to wake up. Now your job is to figure out what it is that he wants from you.

Maybe you can recall something you were doing that day that could be improved. Maybe you were thinking or planning something that was not in G-d’s best interests. I don’t know. Do you know?

If you don’t know, I would make the following suggestion. Pray to G-d in your own words and tell Him what happened. Tell Him how it made you feel. Thank Him for saving you. Ask Him what message He was trying to give to you. Do this consistently for a few weeks if need be, and you will receive your answer.

Have you read the Garden of Emunah? It may help with dealing with these sorts of events.

Be glad you are alive. Continue to thrive!

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Understanding G-d and Evil

Question: My 14-year-old son has very negative feelings about G-d because He doesn’t intervene to prevent little kids from being abducted and murdered. My son says he no longer believes in G-d because he has no use for a G-d who stands by and watches while horrible things happen to innocent people daily. He says that the standard response of “we can’t understand God’s ways” isn’t good enough and is just a cop-out. What do you suggest?

I can certainly appreciate that your son isn’t satisfied by our admissions that we don’t completely understand the Divine plan. For one thing, this answer (while it certainly has a lot of truth to it) is really only appropriate after a person is comfortable with the concept of a personal and living God. But if your son is like the vast majority of kids his age (even many of those belonging to religious communities), then he probably hasn’t yet formulated his own mature and intelligent belief. In other words, deep down inside, he might not yet even believe in God.

You should assess this yourself, but I suspect that it might be worthwhile discussing this issue with your son, perhaps encouraging him to think or read about the fundamental questions of faith for himself. Now, it’s obvious that he’s probably not ready to investigate Kant, Kierkegaard, Russel and various Aristotelian and Eastern philosophies of faith (nor will any of us likely live long enough to try it ourselves). But that doesn’t mean that he can’t talk about the God of the Torah and about how we can prove his existence.

There is some kosher material available that could help you and your son with this discussion and there might well be outreach professionals in your community trained to deal with these questions (although, usually from far older searchers). More and more, the observant community is learning that many of the outreach tools developed by organizations like Aish HaTorah and Ohr Someach are remarkably useful and needed within the observant community itself. (more…)

Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua

Filed under: The Great Rabbis

Question: Can you tell me about Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua. When he was alive? What is he known for? Basically about his life. Thank you.

Answer: Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua lived around 3920, or 160 C.E., about 90 years after the destruction of the Second Temple (A. Carmell, Aids to Talmud Study and Rashi Tractate Avoda Zara 8b). He was also a student of the famed Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva, after losing all of his students in a deadly plague, for which we observe laws of mourning during the days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuos, entrusted five scholars with the Torah he received from his own teachers: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua, who subsequently became his new students (Tractate Yevamoth 62b). The transmission of Torah to these five was a crucial link in the chain of the Mesorah; without them we would have lost the tradition of the Oral Torah. Rabbi Elazar was among these same five when they received Semicha ordination from Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava. Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava was then brutally executed by the government for doing so (Tractate Sanhedrin 14a).

Whenever the name Rabbi Elazar is mentioned in the Mishna and Beraisos (earlier sources cited in Talmud) it is referring to Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua (Rashi, Tractate Shabbos 19b). He was the teacher of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the codifier of the Mishna. His students in general were known to be particularly knowledgeable (Yevamos 84a) and it is said that these students crowded six of themselves into one square amma (at most 2 feet) to hear his precious teachings.

He was a Cohain and lived a long life. He attributed his longevity to respect for the synagogue, respect for his students, and for always saying the prescribed blessing when he did the Cohain’s service (Tractate Megilla 27b). He is actually known for saying, “The respect for your students should be as precious to you as your own respect…(Pirkei Avos, 4:12 and in some editions 4:15).” The Talmud in Eruvin 53a says he had a heart as big as the entrance hall to the Holy Temple. Also see Medrash Koheles 11:2 for a fascinating story of how he saved the Jewish People with his care for a non-Jewish refugee.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler

How Evil were Dasan and Aviram?

Question: How did Dasan and Aviram leave Egypt

Answer: Hi! You’re asking a very interesting question. You didn’t explain, but I think you’re assuming that Reshaim (sinful people) didn’t get to leave Egypt. It isn’t so. The sages of the Talmud say that four-fifths of the Jewish People died in the plague of darkness, but they didn’t say that the other fifth were perfectly righteous. I’m assuming that the four-fifths that died had descended so far into the immorality of Egypt that they were incapable of rising to levels of spirtuality. They were, let’s say, spiritually dead.

Those who did leave were not quite dead. Some of them must have been pretty close. And of course some of them were our most saintly, people like Moses and Aharon and Miriam and Calev and Nachshon son of Aminadav.

Everyone who left Egypt was still capable of being inspired, was capable of growing. Every one of them brought a Paschal lamb in the face of the Egyptians, crossed into the Sea of Reeds, and said accepted the Torah with one heart with the rest of the nation. But some of them still had a long way to go, and could still make very serious mistakes. Some of them weren’t as sure as Hashem was that they were capable of rising to great heights. That was the party of Dasan and Aviram.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

The Value of Friends

Question: Where does the Torah tell us that good friends are hard to find and are very valuable?

Answer: The statement “A friend can be acquired only with great difficulty” is found in the Midrash (Sifrei on Nitzavim; Yalkut Shimoni on Pinchas). Apparently the advice “Acquire a friend for yourself” in Mishnah Avos 1:6 (“acquire”, not “find”) implies that friends are hard to find. Many sources in the Bible and Talmud emphasize the contrast between good friends and bad friends (e.g., Mishlei 18:24; Ben Sira 6:14; Avos 2:9). In Burton Stevenson’s Home Book of Quotations, Laertius’ “Anarcharsis” (Sec.105) is cited for the statement “It is better to have one friend of great value than many friends who are good for nothing”; there doesn’t seem to be a similar statement in the Jewish sources.

Best Regards,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Kohanim from Aaron and Pinchas

Question: Why do we usually say that the Kohanim (Jewish priestly class who are honored with the service in the Temple) are from Aharon and not from Pinchas?

Answer: Pinchas was the grandson of Aharon (Bava Basra 109b). When Hashem created the Kohanim, this applied to Aharon and his sons, and all their male offspring thereafter, but not to Pinchas, who was already born and a grandchild. Pinchas was added separately by G-d, but the line of Pinchas, as well as all Kohanim, begins with Aharon.

In 1Divrei Hayammim 6:35, Pinchas is called Aharon’s son. G-d often makes statements of appearances, Pinchas was like a son, but was actually a grandson.

Tzadok was the first Kohein Gadol to attend to the needs of the 1st Beis HaMikdash. (Yechezkel 40:46). Tzadok was descended from Pinchas through Aharon’s son Eleazer. (Ezra 7:2-5 & 1Divre Hayammim 30-34)

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

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