Category Archives: Archives 5763

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Nissan 5763 – Proving Right & Wrong

1 Nissan 5763

Proving Right & Wrong

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

Firstly I’d like to say how much I enjoy your tapes – they are a great source of amusement and education. Now, I have a very puzzling question.
How is possible to demonstrate to someone that there really exists a definite right and wrong – that certain acts are, by their essence, inherently evil, and indeed that there is such a thing as evil. From talking to people and trying to prove this point I receive responses like, “Right and Wrong is totally subjective and is simply dependent on one’s personal feeling and opinion.”

This infuriated me considerably (understandably) and I attack them with tirades of examples of atrocious and horrific acts (appealing to their emotions and inbuilt sense of right and wrong) – the holocaust, 9/11, etc. I then ask them, “are not these acts inherently evil?” They simply respond that it is subjective again – and the fact that the perpetrators didn’t think themselves evil proves this…. This infuriates me considerably more and I am left totally deprived of my argument and made to feel very stupid indeed. I thought I would consult your wisdom on this most puzzling and intriguing matter. How IS it possible to prove that there is indeed a definite right and wrong – goodness and evil?

Thank you very much and eagerly awaiting our response.
Yours Most Puzzledly,
Dovid

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Dear Dovid,

First of all, I assume that Dovid has become a popular girls’ name, because after all this is JEMSEM, the premier website for wayward seminary girls.

Anyway, I hate to get you more upset, but they’re all right! There is no way to prove that my opinion of right or wrong is absolutely and not relatively true. A good Nazi was one that turned in Jews, a bad one was one that hid them. In communist Russia there was a statue to a young boy who had turned in his own parents to the authorities. 50 years ago in the US homosexuality was a punishable crime. Psychologists treated it as an illness. Today if you think there is something wrong with homosexuality you’re sick. They call it homophobic.

Corporal punishment, abortion, death penalty, physician assisted suicide are all issues where both sides strongly believe they are morally right and the other side is morally wrong.

Judaism doesn’t claim we have the knowledge of absolute good because we are smarter or more morally developed. We think we have the absolute good because it came from the Absolute source of the universe – Hashem. We don’t believe it is our opinion, but rather that Hashem told us that this is the true good. But of course without the belief in an all-powerful G-d there can’t be any “absolute” anything.

People will counter that every religion believes it is “the” truth. I agree. But they can’t ALL be right. Either JC was the son of G-d or he wasn’t. Either there is a world to come or there isn’t.

The question is not who thinks they’re right. The question is who can provide evidence that they’re right. We argue on the basis of evidence, not blind faith. For a greater discussion of this I refer you to Rabbi Leib Keleman’s “PERMISSION TO RECEIVE”, his sequel to “PERMISSION TO BELIEVE”. His next book will be a defense of Orthodox families who have lots of children (sorry, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself).

Sincerely,

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

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Adar II 5763 – Kashrus: D’oraysa and D’rabbanan

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

I learn with a conservative girl at my college, and she recently asked me a question that I had a hard time answering. She said that she remembered hearing that there’s a prohibition against eating an animal in its mother’s milk, but she was confused as to how that developed into the whole idea of
Kashrut today. And while it makes sense to me at a fundamental level, it’s really hard trying to explain how that ends up with not being allowed to eat ice cream after eating chicken.

Thanks so much for your help,
Ayala Rosen
Michlala 5762

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Dear Ayala,

She is referring to a not particularly funny e-mail joke that has been going around for a while. G-d is on Mt. Sinai and He tells Moses that you can’t eat a goat cooked in its’ mothers’ milk. Moses replies that it must mean you can’t eat any animal with milk, then that you have to wait six hours, etc. Finally G-d in frustration gives up and says, “do want you want.”

The underlying principle upon which the question is based is flawed according to Jewish law. Even taking the posuk itself, “lo sivashel gidi bichalaiv imo” raises a number of problems. Why would G-d care only about a goat and not a calf? Does it mean you can’t cook it or eat it? IF it means cook it, then what if someone else cooks it, can I eat it? If it means eat it, then why does it say cook it?

What’s considering cooking? Is frying cooking? What about too hot things put together? What about salting or pickling? You could say cooking means boiling, but can’t cooking imply those other things as well? And why in the world would the passuk be repeated three times!

A literal reading of the Torah is obviously impossible. The clearest example is when Hashem tells Moshe that he should slaughter the animals “the way I showed you on the mountain”. Kind of hard to deal with that literally.

The traditional Jewish approach has always been that Hashem gave Moshe the Oral Torah on Har Sinai. The written Torah in its’ present form was not finished until forty years later, on the day of Moshes’ death.

And so, when G-d gave Moshe the law on Mt. Sinai He said that the law applies to all domesticated animals, goat is merely a common example of that category. It’s only forbidden cooked, and the gemera goes on to discuss what exactly was covered by that. It is forbidden to eat it cooked, to cook it without eating it, or to derive benefit from it. These were all told to Moshe by G-d on Mt. Sinai.

As time went on, the Sages saw that people were making mistakes. The law only applied to domesticated animals, not wild animals or chicken. People however were becoming confused; it’s hard to differentiate between a beef burger and a bison burger. Not everyone knows the defense between the taste of goat and ibex, or sadly, the difference between a chicken cutlet and a veal cutlet. As such the Sages make a gezeira that the law should be
extended to all these categories because of those Jews who did not possess the culinary expertise of the better informed.

This is the responsibility of every governing body – to make laws to protect the weaker elements in society. This law was obviously accepted early on, because the sages of the mishna already treat it as an accepted ruling.

The sages also prohibited mixing meat and milk when cold, because it could easily become hot, or to put it on the same table, because it could get mixed together. Anyone who has ever grown up in a kosher home can easily attest to the correctness of these laws, and even with these laws to protect us problems pop up.

The simplistic literal understanding of Jewish law she is suggesting was the philosophy of the Sadducees and the Kararites. They eventually disappeared, because they represented a philosophy that was ultimately nonsensical. The Torah needs an explanation to make it understandable. It’s ludicrous to
suggest therefore that G-d gave it without the means to understand it.

I hope this is helpful.
Sincerely,
Rabbi Orlofsky

Adar I 5763 – Ratzon and Alei Shur

1 Adar Aleph 5763

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

There is an issue that has been bothering me ever since I learned the section about “Ratzon” in the sefer “Alei Shor.” I’m not sure if this is exactly how it is put in the sefer, but basically that everything we do, all our actions and who we are, all comes from our Ratzon. So if we ask, “why did this person do this thing?” It traces back to, “because he chose to.” Well, then why did he choose to? “Because he has bechirah.”

That is the answer that I always get when I ask the question of what makes people choose the way they do. But that is not answering my question. My question is why does person A choose to do good and person B chooses to bad? “Because they have bechirah.” No – I know that, but why, if they both have bechirah, what makes one choose to be good and one choose to be bad?! So, it all boils down to their Ratzon, if one has a good Ratzon, they do good and vice versa. Well, then why does one person have a good Ratzon and one person have a bad Ratzon? Because of their actions, if they do good they get a good Ratzon and vice versa. But – what makes them do good in the first place?!?

And it keeps going on like that, in circles forever. I want to know what makes different people choose different ways when you boil down to it – how is it in a person’s control what their Ratzon is? Ok, I think you get my question by now, I’m sorry if I confused you, thank you so much for your time.

Sincerely,

Name Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

I had to reread your letter a few times because I was starting to get confused myself.

Let’s try a different approach. If Hashem wants us to enjoy the greatest pleasure there is in the world, then he has to make us as much like Him as possible. And He did. He gave us the ability to choose what to do in this world, even as Hashem Himself can choose what to do.

Hashem has a name Elokim that can also be pronounced as chol, as Elohim and refer to avoda zara. How can Hashem have a name that can refer both to Him and to other gods?

Because He created the world with the ability to choose to be like Him or not like Him. A person can choose to make Hashem the Power of the universe or make himself the “power” of the universe. You can choose.

How does a person choose? Inside everyone wants to do the right thing. But, as the Mesillas Yesharim explains in the first perek, there are things in this world that pull us away. We can choose to focus on Hashem or us.

Who are we? Well, we are not our neshama, because Hashem gives that to us. And we are not the nefesh that sits in the body (which is not us either, obviously).

We are probably what we would call the ruach, the part in between that links us up and down. That is our ratzon, our sense of self.

The yetzer hora, being sneaky, talks to you and pretends that he is you (“I want to do this”). That’s not you, that’s the nachash in Gan Eden. You are the one who will ultimately choose to listen to those voices, or to the voice that is really you.

I hope this has been helpful and may the real you find only meaning, goodness and fulfillment.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

Archives

Kislev 5763 – Is It MY Fault That Others Are Sick??

1 Kislev 5763

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

You’ve been helpful to me with my Mesilas Yeshorim questions in the past and I was confronted with a question in my Hashkofo class today, with which I hope you’ll be able to help me again.

We were talking about what our reaction should be when a person is in a tzoro. What was being discussed specifically was our hashkofo – not what we could do for that person. This discussion came on the heels of a Kinus we in our city, with a Hisorerus speech by a guest speaker and Tehillim, on behalf of the Rav of a major shul here (Doniel ben Leah) who is very ill. Since the speaker spoke about how we have to daven and how we have to improve ouselves, and the speaker said that we didn’t do enough the last time someone was sick in our city (and who was niftar), the question came up in class: “So is it MY fault that Rav Reuven got sick?”

I told them that it wasn’t, whereupon one girl said, “But if we were all perfect, he wouldn’t have gotten sick, would he?” And here I think I made a mistake, and replied, “No.”

I did remind them that “Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka ma’avirin es roah ha’gezeirah” and that this could elevate us to a level where we will be zocheh to a miracle. But that still leaves them with the question whether they were guilty of causing his sickness.

What can I tell them?

Thank you in advance,

Rochel Rabinowitsch

Dear Rochel,

Rashi in Parshas VaYishlach asks what avaira Yaakov did to deserve the terrible maaseh that happened to Dinah. But Rashi already explained what Dinah did to cause what happened to her. Why are we now asking about Yaakov?

The answer I give is that when something happens to someone, it doesn’t only affect them. It affects their parents, their children, their extended family, their neighbors, their town and ultimately al of klal yisroel.

A person may deserve a particular punishment, but by inspiring tefillos the person might be considered as a diffrent person. I am know a person who has caused hundreds of people to daven.

Similarly we ask a tzaddik to daven. Even if the person doesn’t deserve to be saved, Hashem may save him because of the tzaddik. He doesn’t want to do something that will upset a tzaddik, since the entire world exists only to be mishamesh the adom hashalem.

After all the 98 curses listed in Parshas Ki Savo we are told, “Vigam kol choli vikol machala asher lo kasuv bi sefer hatorah hazos.” The chazal say this is referring to misas tzaddikim. Yes, if we are not worthy than Hashem may take away our tzaddikim. We aren’t on the level to have people of such caliber around.

However, it’s impossible for anyone without nevuah to make such associations. We can be very good and still Hashem may take away the tzaddik because of the state of Klal Yisroel in general. For any individual or group to say definitively that it’s their fault, means you have the gift of prophecy.

A Rebbe of mine used to respond to certain types of questions, “That’s Hashem’s department.” I never liked that answer, but with time I have been able to see how true it is. We have to do what we have to do and what happens as a result is up to Hashem.

Avraham davens with all his strength to save the five cities of Sodom. He is apparently unsuccessful, yet he doesn’t question Hashem. With hindsight we see that he davened to save the people of the world – even the worst of them. His tefilla was successful in that it saved Lot and through him Rus and ultimately Melech HaMashiach who will save the people of the world.

We have to try. The results of our tefillos will be up to Hashem. But yes, it is important to know that our actions, good or bad have profound consequences, though we don’t have the ability to determine how or why.

I hope this was helpful.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky