Project Genesis

Studying the Laws of Taharah and Tumah

Filed under: The Temple

Question: What is the purpose of studying the laws of ritual purity (TAHARAH), such as the laws about the “red cow” (PARAH ADUMAH; Num. Ch. 19)? Do these laws have any relevance nowadays?

Answer: These laws have no practical relevance for ordinary Jews (other than Kohanim) when there is no Temple. Except for Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, the standard Jewish law codes omit these topics because they are inapplicable nowadays.
When the Messiah comes, these laws will become relevant again because we will have a Temple again. Even nowadays, studying these laws qualifies as “theoretical” Torah study. Also, even though they don’t apply to us today in a practical sense, studying them teaches us about the practices of our ancestors (and our descendants, some day). We can also learn many moral lessons from these laws. For example, the Midrash tells us that the priest’s preparation of the ashes of a red cow for purification was an atonement for Aaron’s making the golden calf at Mount Sinai. The ashes were mixed with “living water”, cedar, and hyssop; this is symbolic of the fact that a person who wants to be cleansed of his sins must become as humble as dust and ashes, must absorb the living water of the Torah, and must be firm as a cedar tree (in rejecting sin) and pliant as a hyssop twig (in reforming).

Moses, Free Choice, and Hitting the Rock

Question: G-d tells Moses in Egypt that he will not be going in to Israel.  Only later on did he commit the sin of hitting the rock, and the nation is told he will not be going into Israel. Was Moses destined to sin or did he have free choice and failed?

Answer: Certainly he wasn’t destined to sin. This is stated clearly in the Talmud “All is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven.” G-d knows the future and saw that Moses’ sin would prevent him from entering Israel, but Moses wasn’t compelled to sin. This is possible because G-d isn’t bound by time and therefore there is no concept of past, present or future in His realm. Only humans are bound by time and therefore things appear to happen in different sequences. As far as G-d was concerned, Moses being told by G-d in Egypt that he wouldn’t enter Israel and his hitting the rock happened all at once, so to speak.

Best Wishes, Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Pure and Impure things

Filed under: Kosher Food

Question: I would like to know why do impure animals and plants exist. If The Lord created them, surely there can be an animal or plant which is not pure but at least it has beauty, or strength, or has any other utility. But about things like spiders or pong pong trees, ugly, dangerous and useless, I am not so sure.

Answer: That is an excellent question, a thinkers question. I’ll start you in the right direction. What is it about cows, sheep, and goats that place them all in the pure category? Well…one thing is that they are vegetarians, that is, they do not hunt other animals for their food.

You are what you eat, and this is a quality that G-d does not want Jews to bring within themselves.

What is wrong with a pig? For one thing he is a non-discriminatory glutton. Why not a catfish? For one thing, a catfish is a scavenger.

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

Free Will and Prayer

Filed under: Prayer and Blessings

Question:If you have someone close to you who has a dependency/addiction – one caused over years of prescription medication – and the person does not realize they have a dependency/addiction to the medication, yet they have realized they have a medical issue and are taking action to stop prescribing the medication, how do you pray for that person? If it is not the person’s will or desire to realize the dependency/addiction and they don’t want anyone’s help, how could they be prayerd for against their “Free Will”...

Answer: Thank you for asking this question. First, I am sure that this situation is very difficult for you. It is never easy dealing with people who are involved in an addiction of any kind.

In terms of what you can do, you are on the right track, but you can also take more definitive action. Prayer is important, but sometimes you need to create an intervention and make the person realize his or her addiction and how it is affecting everyone around them. By assembling all of the people they care about together and intervening in this way it can have a powerful result that you may never be able to have on your own.

While all of this is true I do not want to minimize the power of prayer. Keep praying that this person realizes his or her addiction and how it affects everyone around them. Also, it is appropriate to pray that they should find their rock bottom so that they can experience what it is like to have to deal with the problem head on. Sometimes it takes having to hit that personal low in order to see that help is needed.

I wish you a lot of Mazel (good fortune and success) in this situation.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

G-d’s Name in Plural

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: What is the correct translation for Job 35:10 ‘My Maker’, ’ Our Maker’, or Makers? After searching the internet I crossed some other verses like Kohelet 12:1 where the word Creator is plural. Is this true or false? Isn’t there only Creator and Maker of all? Could someone explain me if their are plural facets and what is meant by these plural references?

Answer: Thanks for asking this question. I will answer it in a general way, not siting any one specific verse because there are so many where The Creator is referred to in the plural that they are too many to list. Also, each one needs its own depth of understanding and that is beyond the scope of this forum.

Whenever we see Hashem referred to in a plurality it is not, G-d forbid, that we believe even for a moment that there is more than one G-d or more than one spiritual Creator or “partner” with G-d in the constant creating or sustaining of the world.

The meaning in general is that G-d created many spiritual and mystical energies that He utilizes to continuously run the universe. Those forces and energies are what G-d uses to keep everything working in the “natural” order. When verses speak about “us” as in “Let us make man” or in the verses that you quoted the verses are referring to G-d and the spiritual energies (angelic being and other creations) that are tools of G-d will. He, sort of speak, “uses” created energy to run the world because those energies and those spiritual beings exist for specific purposes and cannot do anything else. It is similar to a machine that has moving parts. Most of the parts are job specific. “Angels” which is a whole separate discussion to begin to understand, exist to do G-d’s will and follow G-d’s command with no choice as to whether or not to complete their task. The Torah and the rest of the bible use a plurality to show us that G-d works “within nature” – which includes the spiritual universe – to do His work and partners with these beings to manifest the reality that He wants.

I hope this makes sense. It is important to note that nobody truly understands or can fully comprehend these things. We try our best to explain them in human terms, but as the Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes – no human being can truly understand The Creator and the creation and constant divine manipulation of this world.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

A Cohen by Name

Question: Is there a way I can check from someone’s last name if they are a Cohen (a member of the priestly Jewish tribe)? Where can I find that out?

Answer: The short answer is no. There are many names that are much much more common among Cohanim like the name Cohen, Katz, Kagan, Kahana, Azulai and quite a few more but there are non-Cohanim who have these names as well (there are even non-Jews with these last names. In Europe it was common to “borrow” a last name to help get out of the draft and there are Cohanim that married women which they were not allowed to marry thus rendering their offspring non-Cohanim according to Jewish marital law.

All the best,
Rabbi Benyowitz

Diversity and Multiculturalism

Question: I am seeking biblical text that describes the Jewish view of diversity and multiculturalism. I assume there’s some information that discusses the importance of respecting those from other cultures.

Answer: This is a subject of such complexity that I couldn’t possibly do it justice in a few short paragraphs. Nevertheless, I’ll certainly try to offer some introductory ideas.

While there are clear Biblical sources requiring respect, protection and support for “strangers” living within Jewish communities (Levit. 25:35), it wouldn’t be honest to equate them with any modern definition of “multiculturalism”, as Torah law actually only extends those protections to non-Jews or converts who share our basic world-view. And, while robust legal protection (see Shulchan Aruch Yore Deah 348) is extended even to idolaters (who dwell, in the Torah’s hierarchy of merit, on the very lowest rung), that can hardly be considered “cultural respect.”

If anything, the Torah’s preference for cultural isolation has more often led to a policy of exclusion – sometimes even violent (Deut. 20:11 et. al.).

Still, the legal or moral prescription appropriate for one particular historical situation is not necessarily similarly fitted to another. There have been times in which moral differences between Jews and their neighbors are overlooked so that common interests can be cheerfully and lovingly pursued. An obvious case in point would be the productive relationship between King Solomon and the Tyrian-Phoenician king, Hiram (I Kings 5: 15 et. al.).

Was Solomon’s effort contradictory with historical precedent? I doubt it. Rather, choosing an appropriate approach for a particular generation and community is less the result of explicit Biblical passages than of the subtle assessment of the relationship between risk and benefit played against a tapestry made up of the entire corpus of Torah literature. If, as in Solomon’s case, the Jews find themselves in a position of cultural strength, or, as in the case of contemporary Jews throughout much of the Western World, we are in any case heavily integrated with larger general communities, then managed association and careful, sincere mutual respect are appropriate.

I know this is far from a complete treatment of the subject, but I hope that it will be of some use.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Social Responsibility vs. Visiting Israel

Question: My dilemma is choosing between a trip of a lifetime to Israel with my class which will help my growth with my education and my Judaism or staying home and attending my cheerleading practices so I do not let my team down with my absence which would mean fulfilling my responsibility and keeping a good relationship with my coaches and teammates.

Answer: Thanks for asking this great question. To me, this is a “no brainer,” but I understand the internal conflict. The truth is that it is great that this is a conflict for you. It means that you take responsibility very seriously. It means that you know when others are depending on you and that is a priority for you. You obviously are a caring person who wants to do for others and takes other people’s needs into consideration before making decisions.

With that said, I would strongly urge you to go to Israel. You are young. You are committed to school, to your clubs, to your hobbies, and to your friends and family. In 10 years that set of people, hopefully minus your family, will no longer be the ones that you spend time with and you will have a new set of friends. You will have a new set of interests. You will have a totally different life than you do now with a completely new set of priorities. In high school and college a student’s job is to figure out who they are. In 10 years you will look back on that Israel trip with awe and amazing feelings and emotions. If you stay with the group of cheerleaders you will know that you had a good time with friends that you probably will no longer, for the most part anyway, even associate with.

The trip to Israel can change your life forever. The cheerleading is a fleeting hobby that will go by the wayside when you leave your school. (Unless, of course, your life’s goal is to be a professional cheerleader, which I am betting that it is not).

Alice, Israel has the power to change people and quickly help them see who they are. Don”t waste that opportunity. Don’t let it slip by and always wonder, “What if I would have gone?” Don’t wake up the morning after cheerleading is over and wish you would have made a different decision. Your group will replace you, but you can’t replace this experience with anything. It is an amazing opportunity. Take it, savor it, and enjoy it. It is not greedy or wrong to commit to something that you need. Your team will continue without you. You need this for yourself.

I hope you have the internal strength to make the right choice.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

“The Sons of Korach Did Not Die”

Question: I have read that Samuel was a descendant of Korach. If Korach and his entire family fell into the earth (Numbers 16:31-33), how could Shmuel have been his descendant?

Answer: In Numbers 26:11 it states, “The sons of Korach did not die.” Therefore, when the verse (ibid 16:32) says that “all the men who were with Korach” were swallowed in the ground, it did not include Korach’s children.

There is even a very fascinating Midrash, brought by the medieval commentator, Rashi, that says as follows: The children were indeed swallowed, but repented on the way down. Therefore, they did not die!

The nature of the way the Torah is written is that it is “skimpy in one place and rich in another”, and often the information from different places has to be worked out together.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

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