Project Genesis

“Avinu Malkeinu” - “Our Father, Our King”

Question: I’ve decided to speak on the topic of the “Avinu Malkeinu” (“Our Father, Our King) prayer. Can you tell me some things about it?

Answer: I’ll try to give you a few of the highlights of the Avinu Malkeinu prayer.

Avinu Malkeinu finds its origins in the Talmud (Taanis 25b): The Talmud relates that a famine hit hard, and as a result, the Sages proclaimed a fast day. During the fast day, Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Sages of Mishnaic times, recited five sentences, each one beginning with the words “Avinu Malkeinu,” “our Father, our King.” Immediately after his recitation of these five sentences, it began to rain.

Over the generations, different communities added to Rabbi Akiva’s original list of five, and eventually, it grew to the list of forty or so lines that we have today.

Avinu Malkeinu is recited on fast days and during the 10 days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. However, it is not recited on Tisha B’av, even though it is a fast day. In addition, Avinu Malkeinu is never recited on Shabbat, except for one occasion: if Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is recited during the last prayer of the day, Neilah.

This should help you get started. I hope it goes well!

Be well,
Rabbi Yoel Spotts

Determining Tribal Lineage

Question: I am trying to discover which of the twelve tribes I descend from. Can you help me with this?

Answer: Unless you are a Kohen or Levi (in which case you are a descendant of the tribe of Levi), there is no way to tell for sure which tribe you are from. Ten of the tribes (there were thirteen because Joseph’s tribe was split into two parts, Ephraim and Menashe) were exiled, and have not been heard from in 2500 years. Therefore, you are most likely from either the tribe of Judah, Benjamin or Levi.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

The Ten Commandments

Question: Please explain each one of the 10 commandments and the Mitzvot included in each one. Is G-d’s name mentioned in the commandments” where and why is it mentioned?

Answer: To make my job easier, I’m quoting the whole thing, from Exodus Chapter 20. In addition to the verse numbers (with no period), I’m breaking it out into its ten sections (numbers with periods):

  1. 2  I am Hashem thy G-d, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

  2. Thou shalt have no other G-ds before Me. 3 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 4 thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I Hashem thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; 5 and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

  3. 6 Thou shalt not take the name of Hashem thy G-d in vain; for Hashem will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

  4. 7 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 8 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; 9 but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto Hashem thy G-d, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; 10 for in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.

  5. 11 Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which Hashem thy G-d giveth thee.

  6. 12 Thou shalt not murder.

  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

  8. Thou shalt not steal.

  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

  10. 13 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.


Torah Given in Installments

Filed under: Shavuos, G-d and Torah

Question: I was wondering what exactly we received at Mt Sinai. I know that we heard the Ten commandments. I am also aware of the fact that there is a dispute in the Talmud as to how the parts in the Torah after Mt Sinai were recorded. I therefore assumed that in addition to the Ten commandments we also received the written scroll by Moses up till and including the Torah portion of Yisro. However recently I have come across things that may indicate differently but I am not sure. If you could answer this and tell me the sources that would be great.

Answer: Thanks for your very important question. There were several different “receptions” at Mt. Sinai. Perhaps the very first was when we said, “We will do and we will hear.” That is, we accepted on ourselves that we would keep whatever commandments we are given. We didn’t know what they were yet, but at that moment we became G-d’s servants.

The first direct reception was the words that we heard from G-d (so to speak). Though the simple reading would be that that included all the ten commandments, our sages say that only the first two commandments were actually heard directly. The most obvious source for this fact is to note that G-d is in the first person in the first two (I am Hashem your G-d…no other gods before me…), whereas in the last eight he is in the third person (Don’t take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain…The seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem your G-d…)

The last eight would have been said to them directly also. Only, they asked Moshe to listen on their behalf. So too for the rest of the Torah. During the forty days that Moshe was on Mt. Sinai, G-d taught him the basic laws and details of the entire Torah. He received the Torah on our behalf. It was parceled out to Israel as it was needed, over the ensuing forty years. As you pointed out, the Talmud in Gittin 60a has a dispute whether the Torah was written down as it was taught, in pieces, or was written only at the very end when it was complete. As to what was given before Mt. Sinai, that is a dispute between the commentaries of Rashi and the Ramban. On Exodus 24(7) “He took the book of the covenant and read it before the people”, Rashi explains that the book of the covenant was the Torah up to the part about the giving of the Torah, plus the Mitzvos that were already commanded at Marah. The Ibn Ezra and the Ramban, though, say there that the “book of the covenant” was read after the giving of the Torah, and contained the laws at the end of Parshas Yisro and in Parshas Mishpatim.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Naming a Torah Portion After Yitro

Question: Why is such an important Torah Portion, where the 10 commandments are presented to the people at the Sinai, named after a polytheistic priest Yitro (Jethro)?

Answer: Thanks for asking this great question. Yitro was not just a priest. He was Moshe’s father-in-law who converted to Judaism after recognizing the greatness of G-d, the greatness of his son-in-law, and the truth of the Torah. Yitro was a very powerful man and a man who always stood for truth and wanted to follow the right way even when he was not familiar with what the right way was. Yitro was righteous and was one of Moshe’s right hand men, sort of speak, and was a powerful influence in the Jewish people. After all, he had the merit of his lineage continuing through Moshe. Therefore, it is very proper that a Torah Portion that is filled with law and instruction be associated with a man who changed his life and his belief once exposed to the truth. We should all be so lucky as to know how to change our lives for the better and follow the truth of Torah.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

How Long Were the Ten Plagues?

Filed under: Biblical History

Question: How long did the ten plagues last?

Answer: According to the Mishnah (Eduyos 2:10), the punishment of the Egyptians lasted for 12 months. This implies about a month for each plague; some say that each plague lasted for a week and was preceded by a three-week warning, and some say the reverse. According to both of these views, the time between the first and tenth plagues (inclusive) was at least ten months. But others say that the plagues lasted for only about 10 weeks. In fact, the Torah says that the first plague lasted seven days (Ex.7:25), and some of the plagues lasted less than seven days; the darkness lasted three days (Ex.10:23), and the firstborn died at midnight of one night.

Yours, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Gid HaNasheh - The Sciatic Nerve and Chickens

Filed under: Kosher Food

Question: I understand it is not permissable for jews to eat the area around the hip of a chicken, is this true and why?

Answer: You are on the right track but not exactly right. The law of “*Gid Ha’nashe”*, commonly known as the inner sinew or sciatic nerve is based on the Biblical encounter between our forefather Jacob and a mysterious man/angel whose actual identity is ambiguous and of much discussion (Genesis 32:25-33). As Jacob is preparing for a fateful meeting with his estranged brother, Esau, this creature intercepts Jacob and they “wrestle”. When this man/angel saw that Jacob had the upper hand he struck him on the socket of his hip in order to get away.

This passage is full of meaning, especially in a metaphorical sense, but as not to digress, I will simply point out that the end of the passage states: “Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the displaced sinew on the hip-socket to this day…” (Gen 32:33). This law is codified in the “Shulchan Aruch”, the Jewish book of Laws (Y.D. 65:5). It is applicable to all livestock but, for technical reasons, chicken is not included in this law as it does not have a proper hip socket. I hope I have satisfactorily answered your question.

R’ Daniel Fleksher

Jacob Earns a Birthright

Question: I just reread the bible story of Jacob and Esau. I am so curious – why do you think G-d changed the birth right order of the brothers?

Answer: Great question! There are many layers of depth to why G-d arranged the world as He did, posing its unique challenges to humankind (infinite layers, actually).

I think the most basic answer here is that G-d did not want the birthright just handed to Jacob—G-d wanted Jacob to have to earn it, thus experiencing the growth and maturity which results from overcoming challenges ourselves. The greater a person’s potential—the greater the challenges they can receive.

That is part of the meaning behind the new name that Jacob received: Yisrael, which means the one who wrestles with G-d. A Jew (and every human being) is responsible to create himself or herself—which is also part of what it means to be created in G-d’s Image and to emulate G-d.

Best Wishes,
Shlomo Shulman

Why Be Nice?

Question:Why should one be nice? When one is nice they can miss out on stuff. When I was playing ball and I saw a kid at the side so I was nice and invited her in the game. Then what happened is she got me out! Now I have mixed feelings ever inviting her again or anyone else on the sidelines because I just lost out on my fun. Thanks so much.

Answer: Perhaps your question is actually far bigger than just “why be nice?” Perhaps we could rephrase it: “why choose one particular option above any other?” Or, in other words, how do we make decisions in a way that both reflects intelligence and produces that greatest value?

You are of course correct that being nice carries the risk of pain and loss, but it also brings benefits. For instance, if you are nice to the people around you when they need it, you might well get some of that back when you’re the one asking for help. I’m sure that you also feel good after having done some act of kindness. Most significantly, by being kind, we are performing the commandment (Mitzva) to emulate our Creator Who is Himself kind (see Devarim 13:5) – and such a Mitzva has all kinds of benefits, including the opportunity to refine our character, bringing us closer to our highest goals in life.

Still, just because something is a Mitzva and can change us in a positive way doesn’t mean that it is always automatically the best thing to do. Sometimes doing kindness for one person can harm another or even oneself (if, for instance, someone gives up necessary sleep or the things he himself might desperately need). So how do we choose? Ideally, moral choices should be the result of conscious deliberation. This is often called a cost-benefit analysis. One might write down on a piece of paper all the reasons why a particular act should not be done. He could then create a second column on the paper to list all the benefits of doing it. Sometimes simply reading through the list is enough to clarify the right choice. Other times, one might have to carefully weigh costs against benefits (working hard to anticipate all the possible consequences of each choice).

But either way, thinking things through in advance will certainly lead to a more informed choice and make it easier to know when a bit of self sacrifice is worthwhile.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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