Project Genesis

Rosh Hashana and Simchat Torah

Filed under: Sukkos, Rosh HaShanah

Question: If Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the year and the time of Adam’s birth why do we not start the cycle of reading the Torah until Simchat Torah? Shouldn’t Simchat Torah and Rosh Hashana technically occur simultaneously?
Answer: Thanks for your really excellent question. Everyone in the world, not just Jews, pass before G-d in review on Rosh Hashana. It’s the beginning, but it’s a general beginning for the whole world.

But as the Jewish month of Tishrei progresses, the process continues to unfold in a way that is specific for Israel. Yom Kippur for change and reconciliation, Sukkos for the joy and closeness that is now restored, and finally, Shemini Atzeres, which our Sages say represents G-d’s full attachment to Israel. “Then you will be fully joyful.” “Please stay with me for just one more day – it’s hard for me to let you leave!” Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah is the culmination of the process that Tishrei represents. It is only then that we can truly celebrate the Torah, the physical manifestation of our bond with G-d.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

The Sages Eternal Decrees

Question: When the Sages ruled not to take medicine on Shabbat, because you may come to grind it, although this is done in some circles, most of the time people do not grind their own medicine. Why would a ruling like this still exist? It would be more logical to decree something like this: Don’t use water unless your hot water tank is turned off, because you may accidentally use hot water. That seems much more common than pestle and mortar.

Obviously the the question does not only concern pills, but any time the Sages words are followed today. Thank you in advance for clarifying this concept.

Answer: According to many sources (Radvaz, Meshech Chochmah, Etc) all of the enactments of the Sages were already hinted to in some way in the Torah (through various expressions, letter shapes, letter crowns called togim, etc) and were supposed to be enacted at some point through history.

Only the Sages of the Talmud and earlier had the power to make the enactment, since they were keyed in to the written and oral Torah in such a way that they knew how, what and where it was was feasible (not too hard on people) to make such an enactment.

Those enactments remain binding even today (medicine on Shabbos) because even though there was a practical reason for the enactment, there was also a deeper idea which is often not readily apparent.

An example of this is 2nd day of Rosh Hashana, even in Israel. While the Talmud says that it was enacted due to witnesses coming to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) too late in the day, the comments of the Zohar state that we needed a second (lighter) judgement on day 2 in order to merit a good, new year. Clearly, there is a deeper reason for the 2nd day which the Talmud didn’t reveal. This is true with most decrees of the Sages.

The question is, if they were hinted to in the Torah, why weren’t they just made to be like all Torah? Why wait till the Sages enact them? Rav Aharon Lopiansky discusses this (I believe its this one) and cites sources that say the Torah laws are those that every parent has for a child. However there are some laws that a parent can’t mandate, but a sensitive child should do (like buying the parent a gift for a birthday). The former are true for our relationship with G-d in the area of Torah laws and the latter is true of Rabbinic enactments.

All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg,
Meor Rutgers Jewish Xperience

Hatarat Nedarim - Annulment of Vows

Question: What is Hatarat Nedarim? Why is it prayed so many times? What is the importance of this prayer, what do we learn from it? What happens with the promises that we are sure we did but not accomplished?

Answer: Hatarat Nedarim is a process to absolve oneself from forgotten unfulfilled vows. If one needs a specific vow he cannot keep to be absolved he must appear before a Beit Din of three knowledgeable scholars and specify the vow before them and they will try to find a loop hole. Before Rosh Hashana we try to absolve vows we are not certain about, in order to enter the New Year with a clean slate. Not keeping one’s vow is a serious offense, and especially if we resolve to G-d that we will improve this coming year, we must first make sure that our word means something. That’s why it is repeated. Have a shana tova!

Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum
Cleveland, OH

Who Wrote Psalms?

Question: Who are the authors of psalms?

Answer: The Talmud (Bava Basra 14b) mentions ten people, in addition to David, who authored Psalms: Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heiman, Yedusun, Asaf, and the three sons of Korach. Rashi explains that these were (respectively) Psalms 139, 110, 89, 90, 88, 62 and 77, 50ff, and 42ff.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schrieber

Infanticide and Divine Justice

Question: Please forgive me if my question is impudent; I certainly do not mean to be disrespectful. My question is this: When Korach and his cohort got swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16:31-33), did that include babies who were not involved in the rebellion? If so, why were they punished? (I have had a similar question about the death of the first-born (Exodus 12:29-30)—as a father, it has bothered me enormously to think of children dying…)

Answer: Thank you for your question. Please do not apologize for it; the question is not disrespectful at all. On the contrary, anyone who takes Torah seriously has to deal with difficult questions and not “brush them under the rug”, as they say. I only want to add a caveat: If my answers are not satisfying, keep struggling with the issue yourself and be patient. In the course of time, you will find a better understanding than mine. Very often, it takes me years to get things straight.

I want to expand the scope of your question. Whether or not children died in the story of Korach, children were certainly killed in other places in the Torah. For instance, there is a commandment to destroy the nation of Amalek—men, women, and children (see Samuel I 15:3). The nation of Midyan was similarly destroyed, with only baby girls, and not boys, being saved (see Nachmanides on Numbers 31:6). So too, the Jews were bidden, “Don’t leave a soul alive” (Deuteronomy 20:16), with regard to the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. This is all in addition to the death of the first-born in Egypt. None of these children and babies sinned.

Furthermore, we believe that God rules the entire world and everything in it. Our health and illness are in His hands, as well as our lives and deaths. When my three-month-old daughter Shulamis died, may she rest in peace, she obviously had had no chance to sin when God took her life. I don’t think that I see a difference in terms of judging God’s actions, so to speak, whether someone dies because a person is ordered to kill him, or if that person dies because God takes away his life directly.

It could be that I have expanded the question far enough so that we can now see how to deal with it correctly. We live in an imperfect world, full of a lot of joy—but also a lot of pain and sadness. This is actually our fault and not God’s, for the world He originally gave to Man lacked all the sadness. But, that is how the world has been ever since the sin of First Man, and it will remain so until it is finally perfected in the end.

People die. Children die. They die for a great number of reasons, some having to do with their circumstances, and some having to do with God’s larger purposes in this world. Generally, we don’t know one reason from another. We have no reason to complain; even when it hurts, we know that God is always acting only for our benefit—individually and collectively. He has absolutely no other goal in this world than to bring it back to the perfection it could have had originally, to give us all the kindness we can accept. And He keeps track. Whatever we deserve and can’t get now, he will give to us at another place and time, in a different way.   (more…)

The Spies and Korach

Question: How much time lapsed between the story of the spies and that of Korach?

Answer: Hi! Very good question. Though there are commentaries (such the Ibn Ezra) who place the story of Korach much earlier chronologically, the Ramban (Nachmanides) says that it’s very important to place the story immediately after the story of the spies. Korach, Dasan and Aviram might have thought of this rebellion much earlier, but they would never have dared to try it. Israel, glorious and standing at Mt. Sinai, grateful to Moshe (Moses) for all that he had done for them, wouldn’t have put up with it for a second. But after that generation was condemned to die in the wilderness, and not to come into Eretz Yisroel at all: then they were depressed, and bitter at heart, and receptive to Korach’s message.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Five Levels of the Soul

Question: What are the five levels of the soul?

Answer: Nefesh is the lowest level, call it the animal level, the level which animates and gives function to the body.

Neshama is the third level, call it the human level. (I’ll get to level number 2 in a minute). Neshama is what allows one to distinguish between good and evil.

The nefesh could be argued not to be a soul at all. It is the most ethereal of all physicality, like a wisp of air disappearing into a small breeze. All animals and all humans have a nefesh, each programmed with the bodily stimuli G-d wanted for the particular individual or species. Only humans have a neshama. If you want to see the difference, watch the animals. Anything both animals and humans do is of the nefesh, for example, eating an
apple. Anything only a human does, is of the neshama. For example, saying a prayer of thanksgiving before and after eating that apple.

The nefesh and neshama are easiest to understand. Between them is Ruach, which one might call an emotion generator.

Chaya is the next emanation and Yechida is the highest level. Understanding these are beyond our grasp but relate to our closest attachments to G-d.

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

Seven-Armed Menorah

Question: When is the seven-armed Menorah used?

Answer: The Menorah that G-d commanded Moses to construct for the Tabernacle had 7 arms. This was used in Temple as well. The menorah that we use to commemorate the Chanukah miracle has 8 arms to commemorate that upon winning back the temple from the Greeks, and relighting the Temple menorah, the oil lasted for 8 days.

Rabbi Aron Yehuda Schwab

Lessons from the Manna

Question: What is the significance of story of the Manna?

Answer: Many commentaries explain that the story of the Manna teaches us about the mechanics of earning a livelihood. Although we must put forth an effort to obtain an income, our livelihood is ultimately a gift from above – like the Manna. This being the case, a person should recognize that putting forth more effort than required will not yield more money.

To this extent we read in the Torah that those Jews who gathered more Manna than their family needed found their extra Manna spoiled in the morning.

It seems to me that the reason that G-d commanded Moses to place a portion of Manna in a flask that would remain in the ark forever, was that G-d desired that the Manna serve as an eternal sign that it is ultimately G-d who provides.

Yochai Robkin

[Reposted from the Archives]

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