Project Genesis

Evil’s Appetite

Question: I once saw this thought tha I can’t find the source for: “If you do not stop evil, it will multiply”. Thanks

Answer: That exact phraseology does not sound familiar. The Sages  do teach with regards to our base nature (Yetzer Hora) that if you feed it, it is starving, and if you starve it, it is sated. That is a similar notion.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Chayim Lando

Age of Spiritual Accountability

Filed under: Reward and Punishment

Question: At what age does God consider a child to be responsible for his/her own soul and not the parents?

Answer: That is an important question. A young boy begins his accountability at thirteen, while a young girl begins at twelve. However, according to most authorities, God withholds punishment of any wrong doing until the individual is twenty, essentially giving a young teenager time to “get their act together.”

Question: What source do “most authorities” use to come to this conclusion?

Answer: There are three primary sources for this conclusion. The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 89b, Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Bikurim Chapter 4 paragraph 1 and the Midrash Rabbah Section Chayeh Sarah chapter 58. Maimonides (Commentary to Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:4) and Nachmanides (in his writings “Gate of Payment”) both quote these citations. The main debate amongst the authorities is whether the quotations only apply to spiritual excises or all forms of punishment.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

G-d Has Faith Us!

Question: What does the “faithful” mean in the phrase said before the Shema prayer – “El melekh ne’eman” – “Mighty, King, Faithful” ? The word “faithful” is also at the end of the first prayer Jews say when they rise – the Modeh Ani prayer: “rabah emunatecha” – “Great is your faith.” How does G-d have faith?

Answer: That is a wonderful question and the answer is (in my opinion) even more wonderful. When we talk about humans being faithful, we think of a person who is dedicated and loyal to others, who will stand by the other through thick and thin. When we speak about G-d’s “faithfulness”, it is referring to the faith that G-d has in us! No matter how far we stray, how many sins we commit, or mistakes we make, G-d has faith in our ability to improve and repent. The world is based on this kindness and faithfulness. If judgement were instantly meted out, very few (if any) of us would be left standing! That is exactly why the first thing we say each morning, after G-d has returned our souls to our bodies, is a declaration of G-d’s faithfulness. He believes in us and demonstrates this fact by giving us a fresh start each day and we should take this knowledge and use it to strengthen ourselves as we prepare to meet the challenges of a new day. After all, if G-d believes in you, shouldn’t you?

R’ Daniel Fleksher

Prescription for Material Wealth

Question: What is the Torah’s prescription for material wealth? I once heard that a person should invest 1/3 of his money in stocks, another third in real estate and the last third in cash. Please provide me some other Torah thoughts and advise.

Answer: The comment you refer to was made by Rabbi Yitzchok, and is quoted in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 42a).

Other than this comment, we do find many instances of business advice, but mostly for specialized industries, not so much of general interest that might be relevant to us today. There are many business laws that must be kept. These are discussed at length in Kitzur Shulchan Oruch/ Concise Code Of Jewish Law, Chapters 62-66, and 179-188.

Perhaps the most constructive advice and command that we find in the Torah is that a person should invest his money with G-d to be profitable. We are supposed to make G-d 10% partners in all net profits after business expenses. This is done by giving a minimum of 10% to causes that do G-d’s work, most notably Jewish charities for the poor, and traditional Jewish education. We are told that if G-d is a partner in your business, you can rest assured that it will be a successful one!

If you are looking for such investment opportunities, I know some advisers that can guarantee an excellent return on your money, not only in this world, but you will be able to “take it with you” in the future.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Simple Method to Strengthen Trust in G-d

Question: How do I keep my trust in G-d strong and not think it’s my efforts that are doing everything?

Answer: Thanks for sending this important question.

Here’s a simple but powerful suggestion:

Say “Please help me make this an honor to Your name and successful” before…

1. Turning on the computer each time

2. Clicking “send” on each email

3. Making any phone call.

4. Meeting with anyone.

5. Getting into your car

6. Giving a presentation.

7. Etc.

Hope that’s helpful,

Rabbi Seinfeld

Kabbalah Study

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: Do you guide students in the study of Kabbalah? I have spent many years reading books that were written by Non-Jews about the Kabbalah and would like to learn from our heritage.

Answer: Your question was forwarded to me as I have done some teaching and writing on this topic.

As you point out, there are many books about Kabbalah, both by Jews and non-Jews.

The question is, do you want to “learn Kabbalah” or to “learn about Kabbalah”?

The difference? In a nutshell, the question may be compared to “learning quantum physics” v. “learning about quantum physics.”

I address both of these goals in my book but in different ways. In Ch.1-3 I talk a little bit about Kabbalah – as much (in my opinion) as an educated person should know without getting into Kabbalah.

In order to get into Kabbalah, like getting into quantum mechanics, there is some prerequisite knowledge. (To do physics, for instance, one must have a solid foundation in mathematics, beginning with arithmetic.)

My book, The Art of Amazement, will take you through the prerequisite “arithmetic” of Kabbalah. After you master that, please be back in touch for the next steps.

(Of course, feel free to be in touch at any time in the interim. There are indeed other books I would recommend if you are interested in more than one.)

May your search be fruitful!

Warm regards,
R. Alexander Seinfeld
the book, the blog

Golden Calf Casualties

Question: At Mt Sinai what happened to those who built the Golden Calf. I understand they were all destroyed when the earth opened up. Are their souls also now in the earth? Was that the punishment for not believing in G-d after they seen all those miracles? Is that what happens to all who do not believe in G-d that their souls are destroyed or was that a special case?.

Answer: Thank you for the great question. The Jews at Mount Sinai were killed because they were standing against everything that G-d and Moses stood for. They represented opposition. Not all the Jews were killed. As a matter of fact, most were not.

In terms of the question about their souls, when anybody dies the soul eventually departs from the body and goes to it’s Maker. There is a judgment passed on the soul as to what amount of purification it needs before it can become pure again. Every soul in this world is unique, as is every individual. There is no catagory that we can put everybody who has a certain belief into. However, there is definitely an idea of reward and punishment. This is a very detailed and interesting topic that I recomend you seek further knowledge about. Try to seek out a partner to learn Derech Hashem, The Way of G-d with you. This is a book by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato. It goes through many of these issues and would give you a great base of knowledge.


Babylonian Exile

Question: I am a little confused as to when the Babylonian exile began and ended. Did the seventy years prophesised by Jeremiah begin whith the destruction of the Temple? What were the years of the exile (from when to when)? When Daniel refers to the destruction in his prayer in Daniel 9, how many more years of exile were left to be accomplished?

Answer: That is a great question. The Talmud in tractate Megilla discusses at length this very issue. As we will see, while the final answer is clear, there were a number of people of made serious errors in the calculation of the 70 years. In order to understand the chronology of events, a timeline is helpful:

(All dates are BCE)

605 – Ascension of Nebuchadnezzar to the throne of Babylonia
604- Nebuchadnezzar subdues Jehoiakim and Judea becomes a vassal state to Babylonia
597- Jehoiachin (successor to Jehoiakim) along with the scholars and upper class of society are exiled to Babylonia. This the first wave of exile of Babylonia.
586 – Destruction of First Temple
536 – Belshazzar errs and believes the 70 years have passed without salvation
534 – Cyrus conquers Babylonia and allows Jews to begin returning to Israel and re-building Temple, but recants the permission
529 – Achashverosh errs and believes the 70 years of exile have passed without salvation
517 – First year of reign of Darius II —Daniel prays to G-d for salvation
516 – Second year of Darius II - allows the Jews to complete the rebuilding of the Temple

Two caveats are in order regarding the above timeline:

a) I have used the year 586 B.C.E as the year of the destruction of the Temple. This is the year accepted by most historians. There is an opinion (based upon various Rabbinical sources) that the date should be 423 or 422 BCE. This discrepancy is the source of much discussion and conjecture, and outside the purview of this discussion. As mentioned, for the sake of simplicity, I have set the date accepted by most historians of 586 BCE.

b) The year I have set for Cyrus’ ascension to the throne is based the Talmud’s timeline of events. Many historians place the event about 3 years prior. Some of the other events are possibly a year off from many historians’ accounts.

Now we can being the analysis. As can be seen, in the final analysis, the 70 years of exile are counted beginning from the destruction of the Temple. Exactly 70 years later, the Second Temple was built. However, that starting point and ending point were not at all clear at the time. There were two basic areas of confusion which led to errors regarding the beginning and end of the exile: (more…)

Jewish Prayer and Freud’s Views on Women

Filed under: Prayer and Blessings

Question: When I was in graduate school a profesor of mine told me that there was a prayer in orthodox Jewish churh that ends – Thank God I was not born a woman or a dog. He was trying to explain why Sigmund Freud might have seen woman as slighty less equal to man. Is it true that there is a prayer that ends this way?

Answer: Thanks for submitting your very interesting question.

There is a prayer that observant Jews say every morning that consists of 13 consecutive blessings and 3 of those blessings go as follows:

Blessed are You …. that You did not make me a non-Jew
Blessed are You …. that You did not make me a slave.
Blessed are You …. that You did not make me a woman.

Women substitute the last blessing with “Blessed are You …. that You made me according to Your will.”

The succession of these 3 is curious and the classic interpretation of the succession is that Jews are thanking G-d for the commandments they were given, starting from the individual with the least commandments, a non-Jew who only has 7, moving on to a Slave who has many more commandments, and finally a woman who has even more commandments. The Jew thanks G-d that he was given 613 commandments, many more than a non-Jew, a slave, or even a woman. The prayer has nothing to do with the equality of these individuals. It is only a contrast of the amount of commandments each was given by G-d. There is absolutely no mention of dogs..

If Freud was influenced by this prayer it was a result of his own warped interpretation. If he was indeed influenced by anything, I would say it’s safer to assume he was influenced by the common attitude of society at his time that women were 2nd class citizens. The Jewish approach throughout the ages gave great reverence to the role and contribution of women, even when it was unpopular.

All the Best,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler

Follow-up Question:

Question: I read the answers that this blessing is merely a statement of fact about having more mitzvos, not of equality. My question is, if we actually make a bracha that something is good… ie. having mitzvos and say “you didn’t make me a woman” isn’t that stating, Thanks Gd I am not a woman and have so many more mitzvos? Thank Gd my role is one that enables me to have more mitzvohs! Clearly this bracha disputes the “equal but different” gender role explanation. I mean different roles yes, but how are they equal? Her role is less. It is not as good, just as a slave’s role isn’t as good or a non Jew’s role. The woman doesn’t say “thank you for giving me the role of a woman to raise children, and not the role of a man who doesn’t.”

Answer: In a sense you are correct by saying that the role of a women is inferior in terms of Mitzva responsibility. However this is not a “put down” in terms of a gender’s intrinsic worth any more than saying that the Navy has more
value than the Air Force. Gd created different souls with different potentials and gave them instructions on how to activate their potentials. A man’s soul does need more work to perfect than a women’s much like the airman needs more training than the sailor. A man thanks Hashem for the added opportunity he has to activate his potentials which he would not have
as a women. Hope this helps.

Yours, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

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